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 SGA Bike Share is open to all students with a valid UCF Card. There is no rental fee to rent a bicycle, lock, helmet, and light for one work day. Participants may rent and return our bikes from the following four locations: the Student Union, Recreation and Wellness Center, RWC @ Knights Plaza and Lake Claire Apartments. Use of our equipment is strictly on a first-come-first-served basis.
First, I researched. I looked at Amazon’s top-rated products and their user reviews. Then I consulted Bicycling magazine, Gear Junkie, Bike Radar, Outside, and the occasional bit by Lennard Zinn via Velonews. I also found some worthwhile discussions at Bike Forums. Then I spoke with four experts, Ramona Marks, Scott Karoly, Cari Z, and Alison Tetrick, riders from all across the spectrum, who tour, repair, and race.
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.
As you mentioned, it is surprising how often you can get multiple flat tires on while riding, particularly on longer sprints. The tip about bringing a patch kit in your bike repair kit can be incredibly helpful if you’ve already had one flat tire. I agree that all you listed seems like an awful lot to carry, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry, isn’t it?
The retractable tube is stored inside the body of the pump when not in use, and it can attach to either a Schrader or a Presta valve, the two types of valves you’ll see. Some pumps can accommodate only one type, making them less universal. Toggling between the two is simple, which can’t be said of other models with itty parts that require nerves of steel to handle on a good day, let alone while wearing gloves, crouching in the wind, oblivious to the sewer grate a few feet away.
Mountain bikers are in different world of repair entirely, one that borders on the comedic absurd. It includes large pumps designed to fill up big, fat tires that squish over things, and a medley of assorted slimes meant to be injected into tubes or tires. In that world, the number of days it takes you to fix your tire and return from the wilderness is a badge of courage—bonus points if you’re bleeding—and we’re guessing that’s not what you’re going for next time you set out for groceries.
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.
Otherwise, this tool should serve the average commuter well. Specifically, we think you’ll find the size 4, 5, and 6 hex keys, extremely common sizes in bicycles, very helpful. They’ll adjust seat-post heights or let you remove the saddle entirely, or tighten a loose stem that’s always rattling apart. The Phillips head will tighten loose bolts on shoe cleats or the rear derailleur. The most common use for the torx would be adjusting disc brakes if you have ’em.
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.
This gentleman is a true professional!! He is an ex-Marine and I will tell you that he represents them well. He is honest, knowledgeable and extremely reasonable. He repaired my son's bike while I waited and went over the whole bike and made the required adjustments replaced an inner tube and all for 20 dollars!!All the kids in the area pass by and call him by his first name. I will recommend him to everyone I know since there are very little of them out there!!
Professional mountain biker Rebecca Rusch has been on plenty of long rides and experienced enough mechanical failures to know what makes a fully-stocked repair kit. One of her recent journeys, a 1,200-mile journey through the jungles of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia along the Ho Chi Minh Trail required the utmost degree of preparedness — “We brought with us a lot of extra bearings, o-rings, stuff that you would never be able to find in Laos and Cambodia. Before I go out on these big adventures, I replace every bearing in my bike, my fork got a total rebuild — everything is in pristine condition,” says Rusch.
These folks took me in right away, diagnosed and fixed my stripped handle bar clamps and had me on my way to work in about 15 minutes. Friendly, straightforward, understands the rider's objectives (in my case, how do I get home from work). Not to mention, the fee was reasonable. I have been in many bike repair places in my 6 decades. This is the best.
For the budding mechanic: A good pocket sized repair guide. One good option is the “Pocket Guide to Emergency Bicycle Repair” by Ron Cordes and Eric Grove. It’s only 3.5×4.5 inches and a half inch thick. I don’t carry this myself, but for someone who’s new to this whole bike repair business, it’s really helpful to have. A future blog post will cover this book in detail.