Any bike that gets ridden seriously as transportation or on long rides needs at least a basic tool/emergency kit, and the knowledge to use it, unless the rider is always in a position to call a friend with a car or a cab when their bike needs a quick fix on the road. If you never travel more than a few miles, this can be overkill, and calling a friend or a cab may be just the ticket, but if you want to be more self reliant, this is something you should seriously consider. This list may sound like an awful lot of stuff to carry, but really, it only weighs a few lbs and fits in a small, under-seat bag that comes off quickly so I don’t have to leave it with the bike if theft is a concern. If you always carry a regular rack top bag, you can also just put all this in a small nylon bag and throw it in there, but I prefer an under-seat bag.
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.
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.
It’s both surprising, and not, if you think about it. The way I’ve usually seen it happen is first the rear tire goes flat, then the front one. My theory is that both tires went through the same pile of glass/thorns/metal bits and they both picked up junk. the reason for the flat occurring on the back first is because there’s more weight on that tire, so the offending article works its way through the tread more quickly.
We like, and recommend, the Crankbrothers Speedier Lever. If you have to pick only one, go with the Pedro’s, but if you want a backup or have some hard tires to unseat, Crankbrothers is a great choice. It’s only one lever (as opposed to a set of two, like the Pedro’s) and it’s longer, so we didn’t pick it over the Pedro’s for portability reasons. But it’s an excellent tool. It has a wide handle you can grip with your whole hand. Like the Pedro’s, the tip is the right size and shape to prevent slipping and stay in place, and the shape of the handle happens to protect your knuckles if you do slip. Even in situations where I didn’t need it, I liked having it because it made me feel like a pro.
We rented a tandem bike from here for an hour, and they were super chill! We dropped by on a Sunday and decided to go eat first; Andy, one of the owners, was awesome about holding the bike for us while we went to eat before renting. We enjoyed our ride for just over an hr, but Andy was also super relaxed about our return time and only charged us for an hour. We had a fantastic time and would definitely recommend renting bikes from here!
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.
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