Every person who considers themselves a cycling enthusiast should know how to do at least some basic bike repairs. This is not just to satisfy an unwritten standard of being a bikehead, but because it has a lot of practical implications as well. It can make the difference between dealing with a minor issue quickly on your own or waiting a couple of days for a busy mechanic to squeeze you in. Moreover, in the long run, doing the dirty work yourself will save you a lot of money.
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.
All multi-tools are not created equal, but most with a plethora of features will get plenty of the jobs done. I personally like, and use often, the Lezyne RAP-21 LED tool, which will run you around $30. I like it because not only is it a high quality construction, but it has just about everything you’ll need, plus a sweet mini light. This will give you a chain breaker, spoke wrench, disc brake wedge, and all the most often used Allen keys and drivers. We’re talking a decent number of tools for 1/4 of what they would cost buying them separately.
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.
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.