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.
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Road riders need lightweight, tiny tools that can fit into jersey pockets. A lot of those items are made of carbon fiber, which is lighter than aluminum. Other iconic trappings of road riding, like CO2 cartridges and spandex outfits, are also geared toward minimalism, but all of that downsizing comes at a cost. Commuters don’t have to be as concerned with weight, so unless you covet something specific, don’t spend the extra money.
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.
If you are planning on going on a multi-day ride or just riding a long distance in a day, you should have something for first aid, just in case. Unfortunately, almost everyone who cycles frequently will go down at least once in their life. This kit can be really small and compact and can include bandages, some gauze, and a small bottle of a disinfectant.
Be organized. “I like having everything be really small and super organized. I put all of my tools in CamelBak’s Tool Roll. It’s got little compartments, and I can separate tire changing stuff in one place, stuff like extra pedal cleats or an extra derailleur hanger in another, and it all rolls up into this tidy pouch. If I do have a repair, I can pull that one thing out and lay it out on the ground and it’s easy to work.”
A bicycle costs anywhere from $250-$9,000 depending what type and quality of bike you want. A utility bike from a department store might cost $300-$500, but experts caution that it will be quite a bit heavier and not as well constructed as other bikes. For a durable, lightweight bike with front-suspension and decent parts, it’s reasonable to pay $750-$1,200. You might be able to pay slightly less, but expect to need some repairs after several months of heavy use.
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.
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