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.
These are some great ideas, especially the simple ones like bringing a garbage bag. That’s something so easy and cheap that it’s easy to forget entirely, but as you say, it can make a huge difference in the right circumstances. It’s also good that you discuss some minor bike repairs. That’s another thing that can salvage or destroy your ride. You want to be as prepared as possible for the best possible experience.
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.
All multi-tools are not created equal, but most with a plethora of features will get plenty of the jobs done. I personally like, and use often, the Lezyne RAP-21 LED tool, which will run you around $30. I like it because not only is it a high quality construction, but it has just about everything you’ll need, plus a sweet mini light. This will give you a chain breaker, spoke wrench, disc brake wedge, and all the most often used Allen keys and drivers. We’re talking a decent number of tools for 1/4 of what they would cost buying them separately.
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.
Patch kit: Patch kits are easy to use, light and compact, and if you get more than one flat on a ride (it happens more than you’d expect), it can save you when you’ve already used your spare tube. Plus, on a rear wheel, patching a tube can be faster than replacing it, as you can often do this without removing the wheel at all. Another upcoming post is going to show you how to patch a tube.
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.
Brakes come in a variety of designs depending on the age and style of your bike. Rim brakes offer more modulation but have less stopping power, so are more suited to riding on the roads. Disc brakes can provide huge amounts of stopping power so are best suited to off road riding, although ‘V’ rim brakes are also well suited to mountain biking. All brakes use a friction system to stop the movement of the wheel, so regular checks of the contact pads should form part of your regular cycle maintenance.