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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A plastic garbage bag, or $2 disposable poncho: Just in case of an unexpected downpour or getting caught out after dark. More than once, I’ve gone for a ride on a beautiful day with a perfect forecast, not taken a jacket and had the weather go south on me. Being able to cover up can mean the difference between just mild discomfort or a freezing cold, shivering ride home!
First, carbon. You already know you don’t need it for your casual weekend pursuits, because you’re not counting ounces the way a professional road racer would. But to quote an article from Velonews, “Remember that professional athletes operate in an entirely different environment than the rest of us. They are all very close to each other in terms of fitness, and they are also all very close to being the absolute best a human being can be. In short, you’re much better off upgrading your legs and dropping body fat through proper training and diet.”
But before I get started, let me share with you a few tips. OK, one tip: Get a work stand. Because putting your bike upside down isn’t good for it—yes, I said it. When I first started fixing my own bikes, I couldn’t afford a fancy $300, folding, magnetic, fixes-the-bike-for-you stand. I tried piecing together a “DIY $30 Stand.” I followed all the directions that the Internet demanded, and once I’d bought all the clamps and pipes, this thing cost really more in the neighborhood of $60—but it only stayed upright with a rope tied to something sturdy in the garage. It was one word: junk. So I bit the veritable chainring and charged a decent stand on my credit card (I hate debt, folks).
Some years ago, I used to live on my bike. Riding around daily through any weather condition was bound to quickly wear down on the bike over time. I like some of the stuff that you have in your toolkit. I would say zip ties are actually really convenient, because when something came loose you could go ahead and use those to fasten them down to keep on moving ahead until you had enough time to fix it or get it checked at a bike repair shop.
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Unlike floor pumps, most hand pumps do not have pressure gauges. To get readings during my original round of testing for this guide, I built a special rig involving simple hardware-store parts. But the experts I spoke to seem divided on the usefulness of gauges. Half thought they were unnecessary, added bulk, and drove up cost. Why do you need a gauge if you know 100 pumps inflates your tire? But the other half liked them, because the “thumb test” is notoriously inaccurate.
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.
Dennis Bailey has been actively involved in bike repair and maintenance for almost two decades. He has worked on bikes on bike tours in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. Keith Gates has been repairing bikes for more than 30 years and provides personalized service as the owner of A-1 Cycling, with locations in Manassas and Herndon, Virginia.
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.
Let me go ahead and get the bad stuff out of the way. First of all, this stand is NOT the same level of quality as something you would find in a bicycle shop being used for the shop's repairs. it's quite a bit more flimsy, and the grip likes to rotate if you don't get the bike's center of gravity just right. The tool tray is also made out of a rather cheap plastic that can break easily at the rim. That being said, this stand is perfect for home users and makes mundane tasks like fixing a flat or cleaning the chain much easier. It easily holds my Raleigh Merit 3, and I don't worry about the thing falling even if the grip tilts a bit. The stand significantly shortened the time I needed to change an inner tube on my bicycle, and made me less worried about damaging something on the bike by jury-rigging a stand out of whatever I had lying around.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Man, if you're starting out and you know you'll need several components for a bag... just get this. It will save you so much time picking everything out that even if you balk at the price (amazing value, by the way) I bet that if you did the math using your hourly wage and the time spent picking everything out and making sure it fits... you'd save a lot of money and a lot of irritation if you just got this. Just get this.
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!
The Bicycle Repair Shop does rentals by the hour or by the day. They have reasonable rates. They have solid, lightweight hybrid bikes so you can tackle train tracks and brick streets and hills. They also have road bikes for the more experienced. You can reserve online in advance. You get a helmet and a lock with your rental. The staff in the shop are friendly and will suggest routes and point out hills if you're new to the area. And believe me these hills are no joke!
Nice, helpful, friendly. Central location. Good bikes (I had two over two days.) Bikes had a water bottle cage (some places don't do that!) Provided helmets if needed (I didn't) and a one-sided pannier containing a decently strong but not super-heavy cable lock and a patch kit. Only quibbles: 1) The owner helping me with getting my bikes seemed to 'drop me' for too long when someone else walked in. He should have said to them, after asking what they were in for, that 'I'll be with you as soon as I'm finished with this person.' So I had to wait a little longer than desired, but not bad. 2) On my second day, the pannier bag fell off and got lost after I stopped for lunch, which required locking up the bike somewhere, so I took the bag into restaurant and re-attached it using the two velcro straps on the rear rack. I've used many panniers before, thought I did it correctly. But apparently I did not. So I paid $55 (cost) to replace everything in bag and bag. In hindsight, I wished I'd put a bungee around bag straps to really secure it to bike. PROBABLY MY FAULT. 3) Bring a second lock to lock quick-release front wheel, as decently strong but not super-heavy cable lock isn't long enough for both wheels and frame.I had a second cable lock.
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.
First, I researched. I looked at Amazon’s top-rated products and their user reviews. Then I consulted Bicycling magazine, Gear Junkie, Bike Radar, Outside, and the occasional bit by Lennard Zinn via Velonews. I also found some worthwhile discussions at Bike Forums. Then I spoke with four experts, Ramona Marks, Scott Karoly, Cari Z, and Alison Tetrick, riders from all across the spectrum, who tour, repair, and race.