Mini Pump: This actually goes on the frame of your bike, as it’s a bit too big for most under-seat bags. Coming soon, we’ll have a review from Bill of his very favorite one, but a good pump is a lifesaver. Some people instead carry a CO2 inflator, which is faster and easier to use but does require disposable cartridges, and each time you have a flat, you’ll need at least 2 of those cartridges. There are combined pump/inflator tools that we’ll also talk about soon.
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.
Our favorite hand pump for commuters is the Lezyne Sport Drive HP, and you can read more specifics about why in our full-length guide, written by Dave Yasuda, a writer and tester with over 30 years in the saddle. To sum it up, Lezyne makes pumps with an extendable rubber tube that connects to your tire valve, and that’s the difference between awkward and demoralizing. It’s not the only company that does so, but it is one of the few, and it does it the best. The Sport Drive HP can adapt to any tire valve, has no small fussy parts to lose, and inflates more easily to higher psi levels than anything we tested without floor leverage.
Spare tube: Sometimes, a tube is just too damaged to be patched, or has had a failure such as the valve stem breaking off which isn’t something that can be patched. To save weight and space, I usually keep a lightweight version of the right size tube for my bike. Since one of the first things I do with most bikes that I own is switch them over to heavy-duty thorn resistant tubes, I just take one of the originals and put that in the toolkit.
The retractable tube is stored inside the body of the pump when not in use, and it can attach to either a Schrader or a Presta valve, the two types of valves you’ll see. Some pumps can accommodate only one type, making them less universal. Toggling between the two is simple, which can’t be said of other models with itty parts that require nerves of steel to handle on a good day, let alone while wearing gloves, crouching in the wind, oblivious to the sewer grate a few feet away.
It includes nine tools: seven hex bolts, one torx bolt (the star-shaped one), and a Phillips screwdriver (also the star-shaped one). Like Peter says in our guide, if you have a newer mountain bike or road bike it pays to take a quick look at what types of tools you need, as torx bolts are becoming more common. And a quick glance at the bottom of your shoes or derailleur bolts will confirm if a Phillips head is the right choice.
Basic first aid supplies: A few bandages of varying sizes. 6 Aspirin, or other OTC painkiller of choice. A few alcohol pads in sealed foil packs, useful for cleaning grease off grease and grit off of the bike, and also cleaning cuts on yourself if you take a spill. 1 day supply of any prescription drugs you need to take regularly. Wrap these up in tinfoil and tuck away. It might just save your day.
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.
On the other hand, an on-bike repair kit will be a much smarter selection of tools that you are most likely to need. You should figure out the type of screws that are fitted on your bike and the things that are most likely to go wrong on a ride. Address only these things so as not to burden yourself too much with unnecessary stuff. Moreover, there are bike repair kits used on long rides and those used on shorter rides. The longer the ride, the more tools, and spare parts you will have to bring unless you want to have a very long hike back home.
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.
A wrench that fits the hub nuts: If your bike has quick release front and rear wheels, you don’t need this, but if you have an internal hub on the back, such as the NuVinci, a wrench that fits is a great idea. 99% of the time, this is a 15mm wrench, but you should check your bike. A 6 inch adjustable wrench can also work, but it will be heavier, and when using an adjustable wrench, you do need to take more care to not round over the nuts. A fixed wrench is the best choice. Some multi-tools have a 15 mm wrench built in, but again, if you have limited hand strength, something with more leverage is a great idea.
A good patch will stick to your tube enough to keep air from leaking out. A great patch will act like a second skin and actually strengthen the tube where it’s applied, flexing and stretching with the tire. After 36 hours of testing, our official endorsement goes to the Rema TT 02 Touring Repair Kit. Its patches do everything other patches do, just better. The edge of the patch is also ruffled, which provides more edge surface area to bond—that’s a good thing.
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.
Change and a $20 bill: In case your cell phone’s battery dies, it’s nice to still be able to use a payphone if you need to. Also, the $20 is a great thing to have in case you lose your wallet or have some other mishap. I’d rather be able to sit in a coffee shop or fast food restaurant when it starts raining while I’m waiting for my friend or cab ride, and a hot cup of tea or coffee or the beverage of your choice and a snack makes it all the more pleasant. Just try to remember, this is for emergencies, and if you use it, replace it ASAP!
Now you might be wondering: “I’m carrying a tube; why carry patches at all?” As insurance for the unforeseeable. Wirecutter senior editor Christine Ryan admits she didn’t use to pack them, but said, “I’ve regretted that decision when I’ve had a flat on a ride, used my spare tube, and then, half an hour later, had a second flat. Also, lots of people aren’t very good at figuring out—or don’t take the time to figure out—what caused their flat and remove the cause: thorn, eensy bit of glass, whatever. Then they promptly have a second flat, and everyone else laughs at them.”
Riding the bus with three infants in a stroller is no easy task, especially when you realize you have a flat tire as soon as you step foot on the pavement of 2nd and University. Luckily, I found The Bicycle Repair Shop. Andy happily filled my tire with air, and when it was flat again an hour later, found a replacement tube in minutes. He changed the tire with the babies still in the stroller! This was such an amazing experience that totally made a fun day possible for us! Thank you, Andy!
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.