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.
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.
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.
Man, if you're starting out and you know you'll need several components for a bag... just get this. It will save you so much time picking everything out that even if you balk at the price (amazing value, by the way) I bet that if you did the math using your hourly wage and the time spent picking everything out and making sure it fits... you'd save a lot of money and a lot of irritation if you just got this. Just get this.
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.
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!