Dennis Bailey has been actively involved in bike repair and maintenance for almost two decades. He has worked on bikes on bike tours in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. Keith Gates has been repairing bikes for more than 30 years and provides personalized service as the owner of A-1 Cycling, with locations in Manassas and Herndon, Virginia.
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.
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.
To pick the right size bicycle, you want to measure your height, and specifically your inseam (inside leg), in proportion to the size of the bike frame. The inseam measurement determines the seat height, or the “stack.” Next, you must calculate the “reach,” which is the horizontal distance between the bottom of the frame and the head of the bike -- or, in layman’s terms, the distance between seat and handlebars.
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.
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.
But before I get started, let me share with you a few tips. OK, one tip: Get a work stand. Because putting your bike upside down isn’t good for it—yes, I said it. When I first started fixing my own bikes, I couldn’t afford a fancy $300, folding, magnetic, fixes-the-bike-for-you stand. I tried piecing together a “DIY $30 Stand.” I followed all the directions that the Internet demanded, and once I’d bought all the clamps and pipes, this thing cost really more in the neighborhood of $60—but it only stayed upright with a rope tied to something sturdy in the garage. It was one word: junk. So I bit the veritable chainring and charged a decent stand on my credit card (I hate debt, folks).
Good bike repair stand. I can't say "great," because it arrived with some small plastic pieces broken. These are small pieces that go between the legs and the supports for the legs to act as a sort of buffer to prevent metal to metal scraping. They are just too fragile, it seems. 3 out of 4 legs had these broken upon arrival. However, these are really only "nice" to haves, not need to haves, and they don't really detract from using the stand in any way. Once you have the stand set up, you don't worry about these at all. The main clamp holds the bike well, if you take care to balance the bike properly. The bike may tilt in the stand if you don't balance it - there is a weight limit to the clamp. I like the included tool tray, but I wish it was more adjustable in height (it is essentially fixed in one position). And the tray could be larger. Otherwise, I am quite happy with this stand. I have worked on several bikes using it, and assembled one out of the box. It makes the job of doing things like adjusting brakes and indexing derailleurs so much easier. The price of this stand is excellent considering the quality.
Riding the bus with three infants in a stroller is no easy task, especially when you realize you have a flat tire as soon as you step foot on the pavement of 2nd and University. Luckily, I found The Bicycle Repair Shop. Andy happily filled my tire with air, and when it was flat again an hour later, found a replacement tube in minutes. He changed the tire with the babies still in the stroller! This was such an amazing experience that totally made a fun day possible for us! Thank you, Andy!
Every expert I spoke to recommended Pedro’s Tire Levers by name. They have a wide body—a different shape than other models we tested—and that prevents breakage, but more important, the broad, flat surface area of the tip helps it stay locked under your tire. When a lever slips from under the bead of the tire, you can end up repeatedly scraping your knuckles on the spokes of the wheel, which is so annoying. Pedro’s levers are small enough to fit into a saddlebag, are sold widely in bike shops, and even come with a lifetime guarantee. If one breaks, Pedro’s will replace it.
On a very sunny Saturday I had a rear spoke break - you can imagine that no shop was willing to promise a quick repair! I was so fortunate to find this shop and will come back - Andy not only told me to come down and he'd get it fixed, he had his assistant work with another couple while he measured, cut to the right size, installed and trued the wheel while I waited! It was awesome, and the whole place had a great feel and good people. Best of all he charged a very fair $20 for all that work - I would have paid a premium for the quick service! After experiencing lots of attitude at other shops and poor service, this was a real find. I hope you will check them out, they have a great selection of bikes and accessories too! Good people and good craftsmanship should be rewarded.
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.
Friction gear systems are a lot simpler to adjust, because the movement of the derailer cable can be modulated as you ride, every time you change the gear- they require less cycle maintenance. Modern index shifting systems are a little more complicated because each ‘click’ must release the exact right amount of cable to allow the derailer to move the correct distance to move the chain from one gear to another. Setting up and adjusting a derailer is not difficult and requires only basic tools, but there is a methodical procedure to follow.