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.
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.
This is a very basic book and unnecessarily repetitive in sections. It does introduce the reader to the basic nomenclature of bicycles and this is helpful when conversing with others. Unfortunately the repetitive sections were not replaced with chapters on 3 Speed in hub gear drives, or coaster breaks, or a chapter on Adult Tricycles and Tandems and E-Bikes.
But before I get started, let me share with you a few tips. OK, one tip: Get a work stand. Because putting your bike upside down isn’t good for it—yes, I said it. When I first started fixing my own bikes, I couldn’t afford a fancy $300, folding, magnetic, fixes-the-bike-for-you stand. I tried piecing together a “DIY $30 Stand.” I followed all the directions that the Internet demanded, and once I’d bought all the clamps and pipes, this thing cost really more in the neighborhood of $60—but it only stayed upright with a rope tied to something sturdy in the garage. It was one word: junk. So I bit the veritable chainring and charged a decent stand on my credit card (I hate debt, folks).
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.
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.
It is a good solid stand made mostly from heavy metal, but it does have a couple of problems. (I will use part names from the instructions to explain.) First, the clamp between the "telescopic bar" and the "upright" is plastic. It arrived broken in the box. Whoever boxed it should understand that if you put it in the box broken, the customer will remove it from the box broken. I did not return it as broken because I was able to Gorilla Glue it back together and it works fine; it clamps tight enough to hold the telescopic bar in place. Second, the "bike support stand" (the horizontal bar at the top that holds the bike), when attached to the seat support does not grip tight enough to hold the bike in the position I set because there is too much weight from the front of the bike. The torque causes the bike to rotate until the front wheel is on the ground. That is not enough for me to return the stand because I seldom work on the front wheel and if I do I can attach the stand to the top horizontal of the bike frame. I think they could fix the problem by not making the "bike support stand" so smooth, give that part a sandpaper like finish or put rubber fingers inside the clamp so the part does not slip under the torque from the weight of the front of the bike. I might rough up the stand part with sandpaper, or put small grooves in it to give the clamp something to grip on to see if that solves the problem. Third, the clamp holding the bike frame even at full tight will not keep the bike from rotating around the frame. It is not enough for me to send the stand back, just a minor annoyance. The problem is there is smooth plastic trying to clamp a smooth metal frame. I think they could fix this by putting thin rubber pads in the clamp. I will probably run out and get some pads to try that out. I think it is a good stand for the price. The stand itself is made from much heavier metal than I expected. It is very stable with the four legs. I easily overcame all the issues so I kept 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.
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.
Good bike repair stand. I can't say "great," because it arrived with some small plastic pieces broken. These are small pieces that go between the legs and the supports for the legs to act as a sort of buffer to prevent metal to metal scraping. They are just too fragile, it seems. 3 out of 4 legs had these broken upon arrival. However, these are really only "nice" to haves, not need to haves, and they don't really detract from using the stand in any way. Once you have the stand set up, you don't worry about these at all. The main clamp holds the bike well, if you take care to balance the bike properly. The bike may tilt in the stand if you don't balance it - there is a weight limit to the clamp. I like the included tool tray, but I wish it was more adjustable in height (it is essentially fixed in one position). And the tray could be larger. Otherwise, I am quite happy with this stand. I have worked on several bikes using it, and assembled one out of the box. It makes the job of doing things like adjusting brakes and indexing derailleurs so much easier. The price of this stand is excellent considering the quality.
The retractable tube is stored inside the body of the pump when not in use, and it can attach to either a Schrader or a Presta valve, the two types of valves you’ll see. Some pumps can accommodate only one type, making them less universal. Toggling between the two is simple, which can’t be said of other models with itty parts that require nerves of steel to handle on a good day, let alone while wearing gloves, crouching in the wind, oblivious to the sewer grate a few feet away.
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