Spare tube: Sometimes, a tube is just too damaged to be patched, or has had a failure such as the valve stem breaking off which isn’t something that can be patched. To save weight and space, I usually keep a lightweight version of the right size tube for my bike. Since one of the first things I do with most bikes that I own is switch them over to heavy-duty thorn resistant tubes, I just take one of the originals and put that in the toolkit.
Any bike that gets ridden seriously as transportation or on long rides needs at least a basic tool/emergency kit, and the knowledge to use it, unless the rider is always in a position to call a friend with a car or a cab when their bike needs a quick fix on the road. If you never travel more than a few miles, this can be overkill, and calling a friend or a cab may be just the ticket, but if you want to be more self reliant, this is something you should seriously consider. This list may sound like an awful lot of stuff to carry, but really, it only weighs a few lbs and fits in a small, under-seat bag that comes off quickly so I don’t have to leave it with the bike if theft is a concern. If you always carry a regular rack top bag, you can also just put all this in a small nylon bag and throw it in there, but I prefer an under-seat bag.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Pedals are important because the serve as the contact point between the rider and the bike’s transmission. Clip-less pedals systems come in a variety of designs favoured by individual manufacturers, but the mechanics of all styles are roughly the same. Tiny adjustments in the position of the show cleat – that snaps into position on the pedal – can make a big difference to the comfort and health of the rider.