Mini Pump: This actually goes on the frame of your bike, as it’s a bit too big for most under-seat bags. Coming soon, we’ll have a review from Bill of his very favorite one, but a good pump is a lifesaver. Some people instead carry a CO2 inflator, which is faster and easier to use but does require disposable cartridges, and each time you have a flat, you’ll need at least 2 of those cartridges. There are combined pump/inflator tools that we’ll also talk about soon.
Keychain style flashlight or headlamp, LED type, not incandescent: The keychain style is tiny and lightweight, the headlamp style is a bit bulkier but easier to use. You can get these for a couple of bucks or less at the local big box hardware store. The LED ones are lighter, more durable and last considerably longer. Very useful if you need to make a repair after dark! I keep a keychain style one as a backup as I normally have a headlamp in my backpack.
I chose to test these four levers after eliminating everything out there that’s not appropriate for a roadside emergency kit. That includes metal levers. They’re durable, but according to touring cyclist Ramona Marks, “Metal tire levers are trouble. It’s possible to rip your tube even with the plastic ones if you’re not careful, so metal is out of the question, and you don’t want to put pressure against the wheel rim with a metal lever.”
Packed with basic tools, this compact tin rescues puncture-interrupted bike trips. Pedaling away to a picnic spot with a pal, you hear a disconcerting "pop!". Your two-wheeler is now down one wheel, and unless you've got mad unicycle skills, you need tools. Good thing you brought this handsome, compact tin. Just break out the metal tire levers and patch kit, and you're rolling along again in no time. The six-sided, dog bone-style hex wrench adjusts the most common bike screws and bolts and screws. Made in China.
If you own a bike, you need a flat-fixing kit. It’s really that simple. Sure, maybe you’ll get lucky and get a flat close to a shop, or the buses will be running on time for once, but even with all that going for you, getting stranded across town will cost you time, money, and precious sanity. You can put together a great kit in less time than it takes to read this guide.
These guys are awesome. After work, I got to my bike to discover my back tire was completely flat. It had a slow leak, so I was able to pump it up enough to make it to their shop. I got there 10 minutes before closing and they were able to fit me in. They replaced my tube and picked all of the glass shards out of my tire. Awesome customer service and they saved me from having to do this myself in the dark and the cold.
Now you might be wondering: “I’m carrying a tube; why carry patches at all?” As insurance for the unforeseeable. Wirecutter senior editor Christine Ryan admits she didn’t use to pack them, but said, “I’ve regretted that decision when I’ve had a flat on a ride, used my spare tube, and then, half an hour later, had a second flat. Also, lots of people aren’t very good at figuring out—or don’t take the time to figure out—what caused their flat and remove the cause: thorn, eensy bit of glass, whatever. Then they promptly have a second flat, and everyone else laughs at them.”
Unlike floor pumps, most hand pumps do not have pressure gauges. To get readings during my original round of testing for this guide, I built a special rig involving simple hardware-store parts. But the experts I spoke to seem divided on the usefulness of gauges. Half thought they were unnecessary, added bulk, and drove up cost. Why do you need a gauge if you know 100 pumps inflates your tire? But the other half liked them, because the “thumb test” is notoriously inaccurate.
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.