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.
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.
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.
We like, and recommend, the Crankbrothers Speedier Lever. If you have to pick only one, go with the Pedro’s, but if you want a backup or have some hard tires to unseat, Crankbrothers is a great choice. It’s only one lever (as opposed to a set of two, like the Pedro’s) and it’s longer, so we didn’t pick it over the Pedro’s for portability reasons. But it’s an excellent tool. It has a wide handle you can grip with your whole hand. Like the Pedro’s, the tip is the right size and shape to prevent slipping and stay in place, and the shape of the handle happens to protect your knuckles if you do slip. Even in situations where I didn’t need it, I liked having it because it made me feel like a pro.
Want to be your own grease monkey? This plain-English guidegives you expert tips for keeping your bicycle in great conditionand handling most repairs by yourself. You'll also see how toextend the life of your bike, increase your riding comfort, andimprove safety through routine maintenance. No matter the make orsize of bicycle, this hands-on resource has all the tips youneed!
Road riders need lightweight, tiny tools that can fit into jersey pockets. A lot of those items are made of carbon fiber, which is lighter than aluminum. Other iconic trappings of road riding, like CO2 cartridges and spandex outfits, are also geared toward minimalism, but all of that downsizing comes at a cost. Commuters don’t have to be as concerned with weight, so unless you covet something specific, don’t spend the extra money.
It has some useful information for basic repairs... not so heavy on the maintenance side but there is some in there. The pictures and drawings are in black and white, but mostly visible. Only a few are difficult to see. However, they are in 2-dimensions and they don't show you HOW to do the thing, they only show you the general area and the part you want to manipulate. The phrasing in the instructions can be hard to follow without a good visual reference unless you're already a master bike mechanic (which you aren't if you're thinking about buying this). So, buy this for general reference and rely on Youtube for video. The two together are better than either one alone.
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.
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.
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.
Every person who considers themselves a cycling enthusiast should know how to do at least some basic bike repairs. This is not just to satisfy an unwritten standard of being a bikehead, but because it has a lot of practical implications as well. It can make the difference between dealing with a minor issue quickly on your own or waiting a couple of days for a busy mechanic to squeeze you in. Moreover, in the long run, doing the dirty work yourself will save you a lot of money.
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