That’s right, nothing. Why buy shit for someone who already has everything?
Okay, you came here for more than that. Number one is time. Interpret that as you wish. Offer to do something for them to free up their time for a ride. Invite them on a ride that you plan as elaborately as you choose. You could draw up a route and make maps and cue sheets (or the electronic version thereof if you’re a modern person). You could make it a “choose your own adventure” day, in which you pick a direction, head out of town, and turn when a road looks inviting. You could pick a destination and treat your friend to a meal at the end, or stop for snacks along the way (if you have a safe place for the bikes).
So you want stuff? Save your old toothbrushes and give them to your friend. They come in handy for bike cleaning and can get pretty dirty. Rags are always handy. Old flannel sheets make soft rags. The gathered and stitched edge of a fitted sheet makes a handy tool for cleaning between freehub cogs. An old spoke works to lever out chunks of dirt (which tend to build up between cogs if you use wax lube). Q-tips work in some places.
We need to eat and drink on the road. What is your friend’s favorite? You won’t be buying them a case of bananas (and some of us don’t like bananas, despite the stereotype). In the old days I carried figs and dates. There are various bars out there. Some are almost good enough to eat the bar instead of the packaging. Find out what your friend likes and get those. Nothing worse than a whole case of tasteless cardboard. Electrolytes are necessary. I’ve said before that I consider Gatorade only for pouring over a winning coach’s head, but your friend might like Gatorade. I’m a Cytomax fan, but it keeps getting harder to find.
I do not receive payment for any of these recommendations. They are based on my personal experience and preferences.
Some people like gels. I think the single serving foil or plastic packs are a waste of resources, and it’s hard to use them without getting your hands and jersey pockets sticky. Buy gel in bulk, if at all. Hammer gel comes in quart size bottles that you can pour into a smaller bottle to slip into a pocket. Gummies can take the place of gels and powders. I’m a fan of Clif Shot Bloks in the margarita flavor – both for the taste and the extra sodium. They stave off incipient cramps and you can carry a two month supply on a long tour more easily than drink mixes and gels. They come in a sleeve of six (pictured) and in boxes of 18 sleeves.
Bike polish is handy. I used to use the same paste wax I used on cars. It is tricky to get out of nooks and crannies (e.g. the joints on lugged frames). A liquid polish works well and helps repel dirt.
Chain lube is always handy. Find out what your friend likes and get a bottle. Cleaner/degreaser is another handy thing to have around. Avoid aerosol spray products. NEVER clean bike parts with gasoline. Pump bottles, especially if the product is available in bulk to refill the bottle, are a good choice.
Does your friend do their own repairs or at least roadside emergency repairs? Tools are always a good gift. Good tools are expensive and should last for years. The Silca T-Rachet and Ti-Torque Kit is an excellent tool to carry along and newer bikes often have torque specifications. (We used to just tighten until it felt right.) It is expensive.
Is your friend someone who works on their bike, or do they take it to the shop for everything except pumping up the tires? The need for tools beyond tire levers and an on-the-road multi-tool is variable. Some specialized tools that are handy for the home shop include the third hand tool (due to the need for a third hand while making adjustments to rim brakes), cable and housing cutters (get good ones), spoke wrenches, chain master link pliers, and a shop stand (to hold the bike while making repairs). Beyond that depends on what the person has and does. Good tools are an investment. Cheap tools are a disposable waste.
Coffee and beer have become associated with bicycling. IF your friend drinks either, consider a pound (or 12 oz, since that’s how it’s often sold) of coffee or a six pack of beer – either a favorite or a selection. Find out what they like. If they grind their own coffee, buy whole beans. If they don’t grind their own, consider a burr grinder as a gift. As to beer, some people would love a hearty stout in the winter, while others won’t drink anything they can’t see through. Some drink nothing but IPAs, while others drink that only on a hot summer day, if at all.
If all else fails, a gift certificate to a favorite local bike shop works. Your friend is bound to need something some time, the local shop is a great place to start, and they can choose what they want when they want it.
Some people don’t need anything, and what they want is too extravagant to consider as a gift. Go back to the top of this post and think of how you can share your time with them.