Change and a $20 bill: In case your cell phone’s battery dies, it’s nice to still be able to use a payphone if you need to. Also, the $20 is a great thing to have in case you lose your wallet or have some other mishap. I’d rather be able to sit in a coffee shop or fast food restaurant when it starts raining while I’m waiting for my friend or cab ride, and a hot cup of tea or coffee or the beverage of your choice and a snack makes it all the more pleasant. Just try to remember, this is for emergencies, and if you use it, replace it ASAP!
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.
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.”
For the budding mechanic: A good pocket sized repair guide. One good option is the “Pocket Guide to Emergency Bicycle Repair” by Ron Cordes and Eric Grove. It’s only 3.5×4.5 inches and a half inch thick. I don’t carry this myself, but for someone who’s new to this whole bike repair business, it’s really helpful to have. A future blog post will cover this book in detail.
There are patches that don’t require vulcanizer—the infamous peel-and-stick. One brand, the Park Tool GP-2, has some genuinely enthusiastic endorsements, so we tested it. I applied Park Tool patches to four different tires, at three different psi levels (60, 90, and 120). Three of the four didn’t hold—two released within minutes. The fourth deflated overnight. I redid the test, but repeated a second time, they all leaked within a day.
Our favorite hand pump for commuters is the Lezyne Sport Drive HP, and you can read more specifics about why in our full-length guide, written by Dave Yasuda, a writer and tester with over 30 years in the saddle. To sum it up, Lezyne makes pumps with an extendable rubber tube that connects to your tire valve, and that’s the difference between awkward and demoralizing. It’s not the only company that does so, but it is one of the few, and it does it the best. The Sport Drive HP can adapt to any tire valve, has no small fussy parts to lose, and inflates more easily to higher psi levels than anything we tested without floor leverage.
On a very sunny Saturday I had a rear spoke break - you can imagine that no shop was willing to promise a quick repair! I was so fortunate to find this shop and will come back - Andy not only told me to come down and he'd get it fixed, he had his assistant work with another couple while he measured, cut to the right size, installed and trued the wheel while I waited! It was awesome, and the whole place had a great feel and good people. Best of all he charged a very fair $20 for all that work - I would have paid a premium for the quick service! After experiencing lots of attitude at other shops and poor service, this was a real find. I hope you will check them out, they have a great selection of bikes and accessories too! Good people and good craftsmanship should be rewarded.
Road riders need lightweight, tiny tools that can fit into jersey pockets. A lot of those items are made of carbon fiber, which is lighter than aluminum. Other iconic trappings of road riding, like CO2 cartridges and spandex outfits, are also geared toward minimalism, but all of that downsizing comes at a cost. Commuters don’t have to be as concerned with weight, so unless you covet something specific, don’t spend the extra money.
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.
There are two major types of headset- older, threaded headsets that have a quill that drops into the stem of the fork creating an interference connection, and newer threadless headsets that the stem is bolted and clamped on to. Flat handle bars are preferred by off road cyclists who can ride in a more upright postion whilst still having the controls at their fingertips, whereas drop handlebars offer more cycling positions and are favoured by road cyclists who typically spend more time in the saddle. The controls attached to the different styles of bar are operated and maintained in different ways.