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.
The Bicycle Repair Shop does rentals by the hour or by the day. They have reasonable rates. They have solid, lightweight hybrid bikes so you can tackle train tracks and brick streets and hills. They also have road bikes for the more experienced. You can reserve online in advance. You get a helmet and a lock with your rental. The staff in the shop are friendly and will suggest routes and point out hills if you're new to the area. And believe me these hills are no joke!
Basic first aid supplies: A few bandages of varying sizes. 6 Aspirin, or other OTC painkiller of choice. A few alcohol pads in sealed foil packs, useful for cleaning grease off grease and grit off of the bike, and also cleaning cuts on yourself if you take a spill. 1 day supply of any prescription drugs you need to take regularly. Wrap these up in tinfoil and tuck away. It might just save your day.
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.
Now you might be wondering: “I’m carrying a tube; why carry patches at all?” As insurance for the unforeseeable. Wirecutter senior editor Christine Ryan admits she didn’t use to pack them, but said, “I’ve regretted that decision when I’ve had a flat on a ride, used my spare tube, and then, half an hour later, had a second flat. Also, lots of people aren’t very good at figuring out—or don’t take the time to figure out—what caused their flat and remove the cause: thorn, eensy bit of glass, whatever. Then they promptly have a second flat, and everyone else laughs at them.”
On a very sunny Saturday I had a rear spoke break - you can imagine that no shop was willing to promise a quick repair! I was so fortunate to find this shop and will come back - Andy not only told me to come down and he'd get it fixed, he had his assistant work with another couple while he measured, cut to the right size, installed and trued the wheel while I waited! It was awesome, and the whole place had a great feel and good people. Best of all he charged a very fair $20 for all that work - I would have paid a premium for the quick service! After experiencing lots of attitude at other shops and poor service, this was a real find. I hope you will check them out, they have a great selection of bikes and accessories too! Good people and good craftsmanship should be rewarded.
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.
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.