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.”
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.
Whether you ride a single, 7, or 10 speed bike or anything in between, you will need a slightly different chain. The major difference is that they come in varying widths to accomodate the different spaces between the gears, but quality of construction is also a factor in choosing a chain. Inspecing the chain should be a part of your regular cycle maintenance procedure- It’s important to keep a chain well lubricated, but oil will also attract dirt and so different oils for specific riding conditions are available. Remember to clean your chain regularly to get the longest life out of it and the gears.
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.
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.
These guys are awesome. After work, I got to my bike to discover my back tire was completely flat. It had a slow leak, so I was able to pump it up enough to make it to their shop. I got there 10 minutes before closing and they were able to fit me in. They replaced my tube and picked all of the glass shards out of my tire. Awesome customer service and they saved me from having to do this myself in the dark and the cold.
Many bikes, including older models and track bikes, have bolts attaching the wheels to the frame instead of quick-release levers. If your wheels are bolted on, in most cases you’ll need a 15 mm wrench to remove it. We didn’t test wrenches, because there aren’t that many tiny 15 mm wrenches, but the GearWrench 15mm 12-Point Stubby Combination Wrench is perfect for stuffing into a flat kit and Amazon reviewers seem to think the same. Our experts also recommended the Surly Jethro Tule, but it’s expensive and harder to find.
The Pedro’s lever slipped only once throughout testing, though that may have been my fault because I was spaced out after changing 16 different tires. So they’re not foolproof, but they are far and away more reliable than the next closest competitor, from Park Tool, because the small, rounded tip on that one is hard to keep seated under the tire. Not impossible, but I wouldn’t choose it over Pedro’s.
Patch kit: Patch kits are easy to use, light and compact, and if you get more than one flat on a ride (it happens more than you’d expect), it can save you when you’ve already used your spare tube. Plus, on a rear wheel, patching a tube can be faster than replacing it, as you can often do this without removing the wheel at all. Another upcoming post is going to show you how to patch a tube.