More than any other tool in the kit, a reliable lever makes changing a tire easier, especially if you have road bike tires, which are difficult to remove. However, throughout testing, levers seemed to be the one item more prone to failure and poor design than anything else. For example, I found a random orange lever floating around my basement and I threw it in the test pool for fun—it seemed solid enough … until I began prying at the rim of a tire. It bent directly in half, slowly and smoothly, like taffy, and then was boomerang shaped forevermore.
Nice, helpful, friendly. Central location. Good bikes (I had two over two days.) Bikes had a water bottle cage (some places don't do that!) Provided helmets if needed (I didn't) and a one-sided pannier containing a decently strong but not super-heavy cable lock and a patch kit. Only quibbles: 1) The owner helping me with getting my bikes seemed to 'drop me' for too long when someone else walked in. He should have said to them, after asking what they were in for, that 'I'll be with you as soon as I'm finished with this person.' So I had to wait a little longer than desired, but not bad. 2) On my second day, the pannier bag fell off and got lost after I stopped for lunch, which required locking up the bike somewhere, so I took the bag into restaurant and re-attached it using the two velcro straps on the rear rack. I've used many panniers before, thought I did it correctly. But apparently I did not. So I paid $55 (cost) to replace everything in bag and bag. In hindsight, I wished I'd put a bungee around bag straps to really secure it to bike. PROBABLY MY FAULT. 3) Bring a second lock to lock quick-release front wheel, as decently strong but not super-heavy cable lock isn't long enough for both wheels and frame.I had a second cable lock.
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.

Based on what we found, we chose the most relevant items and used them all. To test patches, I repaired holes using four different types of patches, from Novara (REI’s now-discontinued house brand), Park Tool, and Rema. Patching a tube isn’t hard but there are a few tricks, and the key was attention to detail and patience. I was extremely diligent in following proper patch procedure, which includes a thorough sanding of the entire area to be patched (for max stickiness) and properly letting the vulcanizer dry on both surfaces before applying. For the peel-and-stick patches, I went so far as to prep the area with canned air to ensure as tight a seal as we could possibly muster.


Modern bottom brackets use a sealed bearing type construction that keeps water and debris locked out, so they seldom go wrong. Maintenance is impossible so they need replacing when they do wear out. Older style cup bottom brackets need to be re-greased every now and again, and occasionally will need to have their bearings replaced. There are a lot more teeth on the chainring cogs than those on the rear cassette, so need changing less regularly. Cranks usually a solid one piece construction so there is not much to go wrong.
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