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.
Professional mountain biker Rebecca Rusch has been on plenty of long rides and experienced enough mechanical failures to know what makes a fully-stocked repair kit. One of her recent journeys, a 1,200-mile journey through the jungles of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia along the Ho Chi Minh Trail required the utmost degree of preparedness — “We brought with us a lot of extra bearings, o-rings, stuff that you would never be able to find in Laos and Cambodia. Before I go out on these big adventures, I replace every bearing in my bike, my fork got a total rebuild — everything is in pristine condition,” says Rusch.
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.
If you are planning on going on a multi-day ride or just riding a long distance in a day, you should have something for first aid, just in case. Unfortunately, almost everyone who cycles frequently will go down at least once in their life. This kit can be really small and compact and can include bandages, some gauze, and a small bottle of a disinfectant.
I chose to test these four levers after eliminating everything out there that’s not appropriate for a roadside emergency kit. That includes metal levers. They’re durable, but according to touring cyclist Ramona Marks, “Metal tire levers are trouble. It’s possible to rip your tube even with the plastic ones if you’re not careful, so metal is out of the question, and you don’t want to put pressure against the wheel rim with a metal lever.”
In spite of seat bags’ diminutive size, a lot of people really, really want them to accommodate more stuff. If that’s you, the medium and large seat bag (but not the small) have an extendable gill at the bottom, which you can see in the image up top. It zips open to create more room. With it unzipped, we could cram a wallet, keys, and phone inside the medium as well.
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!
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.
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