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.
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.
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.
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.
I own the Lezyne CNC Chain Rod, which I’m a big fan of (yes, I know I’m partial to Lezyne here–they’re a local-to-me, San Luis Obispo company and they sponsored my collegiate team, so I got tons of gear) and it costs right around $30. But the truth is that even the cheapest of chain whips will likely do the job. In fact, I’ve found a dude who knows his stuff and shows you how to make this tool all by yourself. I would even go so far as to say that you probably have enough materials laying about your garage (if not, try your parents’ garage ? ) to put this together without spending anything. Check out the video below:
It has some useful information for basic repairs... not so heavy on the maintenance side but there is some in there. The pictures and drawings are in black and white, but mostly visible. Only a few are difficult to see. However, they are in 2-dimensions and they don't show you HOW to do the thing, they only show you the general area and the part you want to manipulate. The phrasing in the instructions can be hard to follow without a good visual reference unless you're already a master bike mechanic (which you aren't if you're thinking about buying this). So, buy this for general reference and rely on Youtube for video. The two together are better than either one alone.
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.
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.
Keychain style flashlight or headlamp, LED type, not incandescent: The keychain style is tiny and lightweight, the headlamp style is a bit bulkier but easier to use. You can get these for a couple of bucks or less at the local big box hardware store. The LED ones are lighter, more durable and last considerably longer. Very useful if you need to make a repair after dark! I keep a keychain style one as a backup as I normally have a headlamp in my backpack.
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.