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.
Over the years, I’ve come across plenty of articles that claim to tell you how to build up your cycling toolkit for cheap. Somehow the word “cheap” stops recurring in the long list of “essential” bike repair bits and pieces. The truth is, there is no real way to build a whole shop of tools all at once without plopping down a few hundred bucks. But in an attempt to show everyone that not all of us truly need a full complement of bike tools, I present the truest, most budget-conscious, and barest of bones options to you.
For the budding mechanic:  A good pocket sized repair guide.   One good option is the “Pocket Guide to Emergency Bicycle Repair”  by Ron Cordes and Eric Grove.   It’s only 3.5×4.5 inches and a half inch thick.   I don’t carry this myself, but for someone who’s new to this whole bike repair business, it’s really helpful to have. A future blog post will cover this book in detail.
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.
The fabric attachment system is low-tech, but that seems to be helpful, as it can adapt to seat rails of different widths. One fancier option you might see on more expensive seat bags is a quick-release mount that you install under your saddle. But those have a fixed width, and therefore can fit under seats with only those exact specs. Brooks saddles, for example, are too wide for these mounts.
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.
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.
The thumb test is the fine art of pressing on the tube with your thumb to see if it’s inflated. During testing, I took a pressure reading out of curiosity, and to the touch, road tires feel fully inflated around 30 psi. How pathetically sad—30 psi!—when you’re probably trying to reach at least 60 psi on a mountain bike, 70 or more on a hybrid, and it only goes up from there.
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.

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In addition to the Rema patches, put a new tire tube in your kit. The best method for dealing with a flat roadside is to swap out the tube and save the task of patching for later. If you’re not sure what size your tires are, it’s printed on the sidewall of the tire. This inner-tube buying guide has some photos of where to look. What brand is almost irrelevant as many tubes get manufactured in the same place, so whatever your local shop has behind the counter for under $10 will work fine. The only reason to spend more would be to save weight.
Since then, I’ve found a few decent alternatives to my dilemma: The Venzo Pro Mechanic Stand that runs at about $88, and the Cave Competitor Service Post for $59. While there are other alternatives out there—sometimes cheaper ones—these are the two that I think are actually worth the price. I can’t really vouch for any others out there. But there just ain’t getting around this one. You’ll need something to hold your bike while you work on it.
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.
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