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.
If you are planning on going on a multi-day ride or just riding a long distance in a day, you should have something for first aid, just in case. Unfortunately, almost everyone who cycles frequently will go down at least once in their life. This kit can be really small and compact and can include bandages, some gauze, and a small bottle of a disinfectant.
First, I researched. I looked at Amazon’s top-rated products and their user reviews. Then I consulted Bicycling magazine, Gear Junkie, Bike Radar, Outside, and the occasional bit by Lennard Zinn via Velonews. I also found some worthwhile discussions at Bike Forums. Then I spoke with four experts, Ramona Marks, Scott Karoly, Cari Z, and Alison Tetrick, riders from all across the spectrum, who tour, repair, and race.
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.
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.
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.”
First, carbon. You already know you don’t need it for your casual weekend pursuits, because you’re not counting ounces the way a professional road racer would. But to quote an article from Velonews, “Remember that professional athletes operate in an entirely different environment than the rest of us. They are all very close to each other in terms of fitness, and they are also all very close to being the absolute best a human being can be. In short, you’re much better off upgrading your legs and dropping body fat through proper training and diet.”
Return: Bicycle and lock must be returned by the end of the loan period. User will be charged a $10.00/day late fee. After 10 business days user will be charged the full cost of the bicycle ($350) and rented equipment ($50 for lock and/or key). Failure to return bicycle, helmet and lock will subject user to legal liability of $400.00, as well as having student account placed on hold.
There are patches that don’t require vulcanizer—the infamous peel-and-stick. One brand, the Park Tool GP-2, has some genuinely enthusiastic endorsements, so we tested it. I applied Park Tool patches to four different tires, at three different psi levels (60, 90, and 120). Three of the four didn’t hold—two released within minutes. The fourth deflated overnight. I redid the test, but repeated a second time, they all leaked within a day.
A bicycle costs anywhere from $250-$9,000 depending what type and quality of bike you want. A utility bike from a department store might cost $300-$500, but experts caution that it will be quite a bit heavier and not as well constructed as other bikes. For a durable, lightweight bike with front-suspension and decent parts, it’s reasonable to pay $750-$1,200. You might be able to pay slightly less, but expect to need some repairs after several months of heavy use.
Friction gear systems are a lot simpler to adjust, because the movement of the derailer cable can be modulated as you ride, every time you change the gear- they require less cycle maintenance. Modern index shifting systems are a little more complicated because each ‘click’ must release the exact right amount of cable to allow the derailer to move the correct distance to move the chain from one gear to another. Setting up and adjusting a derailer is not difficult and requires only basic tools, but there is a methodical procedure to follow.