We focused on tools that would be useful to a commuter—someone trying to use a bike as a functional way to get around town, as opposed to riding recreationally (road biking and mountain biking). That said, it’s a wild and wooly bicycling world out there, and the streets are packed with so many different bikes, all shapes and sizes, new and old. Customizing your flat-fixing kit has advantages over buying a preassembled kit that always contains a tool (or two or three) that’s a piece of junk, or you don’t need. Or it’s missing something you do need. If you build your own kit, at least you know everything works. And you can add only what’s necessary for your specific bike without ending up with stuff you don’t need.
Modern bottom brackets use a sealed bearing type construction that keeps water and debris locked out, so they seldom go wrong. Maintenance is impossible so they need replacing when they do wear out. Older style cup bottom brackets need to be re-greased every now and again, and occasionally will need to have their bearings replaced. There are a lot more teeth on the chainring cogs than those on the rear cassette, so need changing less regularly. Cranks usually a solid one piece construction so there is not much to go wrong.
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.
Owning a bicycle is a good idea, but taking care of it yearns for an experts’ piece of mind. You should not worry too much about taking your bicycle to a mechanic when you can handle the repairing on your own. It will rather save you the cost of every moment you get into a problem. Grab a pick of one of the toolkits from the above review. I assure you that, absolutely no day will you seek a mechanic for service.
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.
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.
Dennis Bailey has been actively involved in bike repair and maintenance for almost two decades. He has worked on bikes on bike tours in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. Keith Gates has been repairing bikes for more than 30 years and provides personalized service as the owner of A-1 Cycling, with locations in Manassas and Herndon, Virginia.
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.
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.
Basically, you’re stuck with toggling between systems for the advantage of a few pumps, and it doesn’t seem worth it. In the original iteration of this guide, I tested 12 pumps and inflated three different tires completely full to their psi rating, and measured how many pumps it took. Yasuda did similarly for his revamped full-length exploration. That’s 36 tires, and I can guarantee there is no difference between 50 pumps and 100—it’s all terrible.
Many bikes, including older models and track bikes, have bolts attaching the wheels to the frame instead of quick-release levers. If your wheels are bolted on, in most cases you’ll need a 15 mm wrench to remove it. We didn’t test wrenches, because there aren’t that many tiny 15 mm wrenches, but the GearWrench 15mm 12-Point Stubby Combination Wrench is perfect for stuffing into a flat kit and Amazon reviewers seem to think the same. Our experts also recommended the Surly Jethro Tule, but it’s expensive and harder to find.
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.)
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.