A plastic garbage bag, or $2 disposable poncho:  Just in case of an unexpected downpour or getting caught out after dark.   More than once, I’ve gone for a ride on a beautiful day with a perfect forecast, not taken a jacket and had the weather go south on me.  Being able to cover up can mean the difference between just mild discomfort or a freezing cold, shivering ride home!
We focused on tools that would be useful to a commuter—someone trying to use a bike as a functional way to get around town, as opposed to riding recreationally (road biking and mountain biking). That said, it’s a wild and wooly bicycling world out there, and the streets are packed with so many different bikes, all shapes and sizes, new and old. Customizing your flat-fixing kit has advantages over buying a preassembled kit that always contains a tool (or two or three) that’s a piece of junk, or you don’t need. Or it’s missing something you do need. If you build your own kit, at least you know everything works. And you can add only what’s necessary for your specific bike without ending up with stuff you don’t need.
Maintenance is the best prevention. “Prevention is the best medicine, and if you’re taking care of your equipment it’s super key. Bikes don’t just fail. If they’re in really good working condition and you clean them at night, and you’re religious about it, bikes are kind of like cars — they’ll start talking to you if something is getting worn or getting creaky or needs to be replaced.”
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.
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.
Broadly speaking there are two major wheel sizes – 700c for road bikes and 26 inch off-road wheels. However there are a whole variety of older, less common wheel sizes and of course fold up bikes have much smaller wheels altogether. Repairing a puncture is not an emergency! It’s a basic procedure that every cyclist should be able to to perform, but doing it correctly involves more steps than many people realise. Wheel building is often seen as the most artful skill in bicycle maintenance, and separates the professionals from the amateurs but that doesn’t mean you should consider it out of reach. Truing a slightly misaligned wheel is a cycle maintenance job that almost any cyclist can perform.
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