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.
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.
Mountain bikers are in different world of repair entirely, one that borders on the comedic absurd. It includes large pumps designed to fill up big, fat tires that squish over things, and a medley of assorted slimes meant to be injected into tubes or tires. In that world, the number of days it takes you to fix your tire and return from the wilderness is a badge of courage—bonus points if you’re bleeding—and we’re guessing that’s not what you’re going for next time you set out for groceries.
The fabric attachment system is low-tech, but that seems to be helpful, as it can adapt to seat rails of different widths. One fancier option you might see on more expensive seat bags is a quick-release mount that you install under your saddle. But those have a fixed width, and therefore can fit under seats with only those exact specs. Brooks saddles, for example, are too wide for these mounts.

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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.

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.


If you’re going to use the chain whip you just made, you’ll also need a way to get that cassette off. A lockring remover is a must-have; unless you use one of the shady removal methods I’ve seen on the internet—which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend unless you don’t care much about the condition of the wheel after you use them. I recommend Park Tool’s iterations here that cost about $6, but you’ll need to buy the specific one for your brand/type of cassette. (By the way, I’m assuming you already have an adjustable wrench laying around somewhere to use with this tool. If you don’t, well, you’ll need one of those too.)

Whether you ride a single, 7, or 10 speed bike or anything in between, you will need a slightly different chain. The major difference is that they come in varying widths to accomodate the different spaces between the gears, but quality of construction is also a factor in choosing a chain. Inspecing the chain should be a part of your regular cycle maintenance procedure- It’s important to keep a chain well lubricated, but oil will also attract dirt and so different oils for specific riding conditions are available. Remember to clean your chain regularly to get the longest life out of it and the gears.

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