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.
In addition to the Rema patches, put a new tire tube in your kit. The best method for dealing with a flat roadside is to swap out the tube and save the task of patching for later. If you’re not sure what size your tires are, it’s printed on the sidewall of the tire. This inner-tube buying guide has some photos of where to look. What brand is almost irrelevant as many tubes get manufactured in the same place, so whatever your local shop has behind the counter for under $10 will work fine. The only reason to spend more would be to save weight.
One key difference, that you can see in the photo, is that the BV uses buckles instead of Velcro on the straps that attach the bag to the underside of the saddle, something much more important than it may seem. A pair of bike shorts (or any shorts) will shred quickly if they’re rubbing against that tiny bit of Velcro protruding from the side of the bag, and it’s sure to destroy expensive sweaters and gym clothes if you stuff the bag into your backpack or messenger bag.
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On the other hand, an on-bike repair kit will be a much smarter selection of tools that you are most likely to need. You should figure out the type of screws that are fitted on your bike and the things that are most likely to go wrong on a ride. Address only these things so as not to burden yourself too much with unnecessary stuff. Moreover, there are bike repair kits used on long rides and those used on shorter rides. The longer the ride, the more tools, and spare parts you will have to bring unless you want to have a very long hike back home.
The thumb test is the fine art of pressing on the tube with your thumb to see if it’s inflated. During testing, I took a pressure reading out of curiosity, and to the touch, road tires feel fully inflated around 30 psi. How pathetically sad—30 psi!—when you’re probably trying to reach at least 60 psi on a mountain bike, 70 or more on a hybrid, and it only goes up from there.
These guys are awesome. After work, I got to my bike to discover my back tire was completely flat. It had a slow leak, so I was able to pump it up enough to make it to their shop. I got there 10 minutes before closing and they were able to fit me in. They replaced my tube and picked all of the glass shards out of my tire. Awesome customer service and they saved me from having to do this myself in the dark and the cold.
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.
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.
A good patch will stick to your tube enough to keep air from leaking out. A great patch will act like a second skin and actually strengthen the tube where it’s applied, flexing and stretching with the tire. After 36 hours of testing, our official endorsement goes to the Rema TT 02 Touring Repair Kit. Its patches do everything other patches do, just better. The edge of the patch is also ruffled, which provides more edge surface area to bond—that’s a good thing.
If you own a bike, you need a flat-fixing kit. It’s really that simple. Sure, maybe you’ll get lucky and get a flat close to a shop, or the buses will be running on time for once, but even with all that going for you, getting stranded across town will cost you time, money, and precious sanity. You can put together a great kit in less time than it takes to read this guide.