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.
Be organized. “I like having everything be really small and super organized. I put all of my tools in CamelBak’s Tool Roll. It’s got little compartments, and I can separate tire changing stuff in one place, stuff like extra pedal cleats or an extra derailleur hanger in another, and it all rolls up into this tidy pouch. If I do have a repair, I can pull that one thing out and lay it out on the ground and it’s easy to work.”
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.
We like, and recommend, the Crankbrothers Speedier Lever. If you have to pick only one, go with the Pedro’s, but if you want a backup or have some hard tires to unseat, Crankbrothers is a great choice. It’s only one lever (as opposed to a set of two, like the Pedro’s) and it’s longer, so we didn’t pick it over the Pedro’s for portability reasons. But it’s an excellent tool. It has a wide handle you can grip with your whole hand. Like the Pedro’s, the tip is the right size and shape to prevent slipping and stay in place, and the shape of the handle happens to protect your knuckles if you do slip. Even in situations where I didn’t need it, I liked having it because it made me feel like a pro.
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?
Next to everything else that might go wrong with a bicycle on an extended ride, a flat is a relatively minor issue that can be easily repaired trailside, if the right tools are at hand. If they aren’t, a quick fix can turn into a long walk. Well-prepared riders will perform a tune-up regularly and clean their bikes after every ride. For the less-diligent, a well-stocked repair kit will suffice.
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.