Professional mountain biker Rebecca Rusch has been on plenty of long rides and experienced enough mechanical failures to know what makes a fully-stocked repair kit. One of her recent journeys, a 1,200-mile journey through the jungles of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia along the Ho Chi Minh Trail required the utmost degree of preparedness — “We brought with us a lot of extra bearings, o-rings, stuff that you would never be able to find in Laos and Cambodia. Before I go out on these big adventures, I replace every bearing in my bike, my fork got a total rebuild — everything is in pristine condition,” says Rusch.
We spoke to a broad spectrum of cyclists—from a pro racer to a bike messenger turned mechanic to a touring cyclist who has logged thousands of miles throughout Europe—to find out what items they find indispensable. We sorted through 40 tire levers, almost 30 different kinds of patches, 120 different hand pumps, and 57 seat bags before we narrowed our choices for testing. And then we changed and patched tires more than 50 times, using four different bikes, five different wheels, six different tires, and almost 10 different sizes of tubes. After 96 hours of combined testing, we agree these essentials are some of the best you can buy.
More than any other tool in the kit, a reliable lever makes changing a tire easier, especially if you have road bike tires, which are difficult to remove. However, throughout testing, levers seemed to be the one item more prone to failure and poor design than anything else. For example, I found a random orange lever floating around my basement and I threw it in the test pool for fun—it seemed solid enough … until I began prying at the rim of a tire. It bent directly in half, slowly and smoothly, like taffy, and then was boomerang shaped forevermore.
Nice, helpful, friendly. Central location. Good bikes (I had two over two days.) Bikes had a water bottle cage (some places don't do that!) Provided helmets if needed (I didn't) and a one-sided pannier containing a decently strong but not super-heavy cable lock and a patch kit. Only quibbles: 1) The owner helping me with getting my bikes seemed to 'drop me' for too long when someone else walked in. He should have said to them, after asking what they were in for, that 'I'll be with you as soon as I'm finished with this person.' So I had to wait a little longer than desired, but not bad. 2) On my second day, the pannier bag fell off and got lost after I stopped for lunch, which required locking up the bike somewhere, so I took the bag into restaurant and re-attached it using the two velcro straps on the rear rack. I've used many panniers before, thought I did it correctly. But apparently I did not. So I paid $55 (cost) to replace everything in bag and bag. In hindsight, I wished I'd put a bungee around bag straps to really secure it to bike. PROBABLY MY FAULT. 3) Bring a second lock to lock quick-release front wheel, as decently strong but not super-heavy cable lock isn't long enough for both wheels and frame.I had a second cable lock.

The Pedro’s lever slipped only once throughout testing, though that may have been my fault because I was spaced out after changing 16 different tires. So they’re not foolproof, but they are far and away more reliable than the next closest competitor, from Park Tool, because the small, rounded tip on that one is hard to keep seated under the tire. Not impossible, but I wouldn’t choose it over Pedro’s.
The thumb test is the fine art of pressing on the tube with your thumb to see if it’s inflated. During testing, I took a pressure reading out of curiosity, and to the touch, road tires feel fully inflated around 30 psi. How pathetically sad—30 psi!—when you’re probably trying to reach at least 60 psi on a mountain bike, 70 or more on a hybrid, and it only goes up from there.

In addition to the Rema patches, put a new tire tube in your kit. The best method for dealing with a flat roadside is to swap out the tube and save the task of patching for later. If you’re not sure what size your tires are, it’s printed on the sidewall of the tire. This inner-tube buying guide has some photos of where to look. What brand is almost irrelevant as many tubes get manufactured in the same place, so whatever your local shop has behind the counter for under $10 will work fine. The only reason to spend more would be to save weight.
I own the Lezyne CNC Chain Rod, which I’m a big fan of (yes, I know I’m partial to Lezyne here–they’re a local-to-me, San Luis Obispo company and they sponsored my collegiate team, so I got tons of gear) and it costs right around $30. But the truth is that even the cheapest of chain whips will likely do the job. In fact, I’ve found a dude who knows his stuff and shows you how to make this tool all by yourself. I would even go so far as to say that you probably have enough materials laying about your garage (if not, try your parents’ garage ? ) to put this together without spending anything. Check out the video below:
One key difference, that you can see in the photo, is that the BV uses buckles instead of Velcro on the straps that attach the bag to the underside of the saddle, something much more important than it may seem. A pair of bike shorts (or any shorts) will shred quickly if they’re rubbing against that tiny bit of Velcro protruding from the side of the bag, and it’s sure to destroy expensive sweaters and gym clothes if you stuff the bag into your backpack or messenger bag.
Brakes come in a variety of designs depending on the age and style of your bike. Rim brakes offer more modulation but have less stopping power, so are more suited to riding on the roads. Disc brakes can provide huge amounts of stopping power so are best suited to off road riding, although ‘V’ rim brakes are also well suited to mountain biking. All brakes use a friction system to stop the movement of the wheel, so regular checks of the contact pads should form part of your regular cycle maintenance.
×