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.
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.
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.
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.
To pick the right size bicycle, you want to measure your height, and specifically your inseam (inside leg), in proportion to the size of the bike frame. The inseam measurement determines the seat height, or the “stack.” Next, you must calculate the “reach,” which is the horizontal distance between the bottom of the frame and the head of the bike -- or, in layman’s terms, the distance between seat and handlebars.
I just got a tune up on my bike and it rides so much better now! It takes half as much effort to petal, it is like a new bike. The guys who work there are so nice and always make you feel like your time is important. They don't overcharge or sell you things you don't need. I thought for sure I needed a new chain, but as it turns out, it's fine! He gave me some extra foam for my bike helmet, free of charge! I'll definitely come back here for all my bike needs!
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.