A multitool is a highly versatile piece of repair equipment that can address most of your maintenance needs. Ideally, you should use it before a ride to tighten and adjust everything properly, but sometimes it’s necessary on a ride as well. If you encounter a loose screw, realize your saddle height is not right, or that your brakes need tightening, you will be happy to have it.
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.
Every expert I spoke to recommended Pedro’s Tire Levers by name. They have a wide body—a different shape than other models we tested—and that prevents breakage, but more important, the broad, flat surface area of the tip helps it stay locked under your tire. When a lever slips from under the bead of the tire, you can end up repeatedly scraping your knuckles on the spokes of the wheel, which is so annoying. Pedro’s levers are small enough to fit into a saddlebag, are sold widely in bike shops, and even come with a lifetime guarantee. If one breaks, Pedro’s will replace it.
Over the years, I’ve come across plenty of articles that claim to tell you how to build up your cycling toolkit for cheap. Somehow the word “cheap” stops recurring in the long list of “essential” bike repair bits and pieces. The truth is, there is no real way to build a whole shop of tools all at once without plopping down a few hundred bucks. But in an attempt to show everyone that not all of us truly need a full complement of bike tools, I present the truest, most budget-conscious, and barest of bones options to you.
Next to everything else that might go wrong with a bicycle on an extended ride, a flat is a relatively minor issue that can be easily repaired trailside, if the right tools are at hand. If they aren’t, a quick fix can turn into a long walk. Well-prepared riders will perform a tune-up regularly and clean their bikes after every ride. For the less-diligent, a well-stocked repair kit will suffice.
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.”
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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.
Writer Peter Flax, the former editor-in-chief of Bicycling magazine, rode over 1,000 miles and tested 15 tools for our full-length guide to multi-tools, and he concluded the Topeak Mini 9 is the best for casual cyclists. It’s tiny, it’s light, it’s easier to get some leverage with than other tools that have different designs. It’s not meant for serious wrenching on your bike, but it’s good for on-the-fly adjustments.
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.