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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.
Packed with basic tools, this compact tin rescues puncture-interrupted bike trips. Pedaling away to a picnic spot with a pal, you hear a disconcerting "pop!". Your two-wheeler is now down one wheel, and unless you've got mad unicycle skills, you need tools. Good thing you brought this handsome, compact tin. Just break out the metal tire levers and patch kit, and you're rolling along again in no time. The six-sided, dog bone-style hex wrench adjusts the most common bike screws and bolts and screws. Made in China.
Unlike floor pumps, most hand pumps do not have pressure gauges. To get readings during my original round of testing for this guide, I built a special rig involving simple hardware-store parts. But the experts I spoke to seem divided on the usefulness of gauges. Half thought they were unnecessary, added bulk, and drove up cost. Why do you need a gauge if you know 100 pumps inflates your tire? But the other half liked them, because the “thumb test” is notoriously inaccurate.
Next, two-stage designs. There are two types of hand pump. HV (high-volume) pumps, ones that pump a lot of air but don’t have a lot of pressure, which are used for mountain bikes. The Lezyne Alloy Drive is a high-volume pump. Then there are HP (high-pressure) pumps, which pump a small amount of air but can inflate to very high pressures and are used on road bikes. Our top pick is a high-pressure pump.
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.