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.
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 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!
I bicycle to and from work to save gas. I don't have a fancy bike, it's just a Schwinn mountain bike that's comfortable and can carry me plus gear but I want to be able to do my own work on it. I needed a book that was simple enough for someone new to bicycle repair and maintenance but could take me through all the upkeep my workhorse needs, and this book does just that. It's well-written and easy to follow.
We rented a tandem bike from here for an hour, and they were super chill! We dropped by on a Sunday and decided to go eat first; Andy, one of the owners, was awesome about holding the bike for us while we went to eat before renting. We enjoyed our ride for just over an hr, but Andy was also super relaxed about our return time and only charged us for an hour. We had a fantastic time and would definitely recommend renting bikes from here!
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.”
Be organized. “I like having everything be really small and super organized. I put all of my tools in CamelBak’s Tool Roll. It’s got little compartments, and I can separate tire changing stuff in one place, stuff like extra pedal cleats or an extra derailleur hanger in another, and it all rolls up into this tidy pouch. If I do have a repair, I can pull that one thing out and lay it out on the ground and it’s easy to work.”
If you own a bike, you need a flat-fixing kit. It’s really that simple. Sure, maybe you’ll get lucky and get a flat close to a shop, or the buses will be running on time for once, but even with all that going for you, getting stranded across town will cost you time, money, and precious sanity. You can put together a great kit in less time than it takes to read this guide.
Yes, bicycle shops generally provide repair services. A typical list of offered services includes regular service/adjustment (including safety check; and brake, drivetrain, and tire inspection); premium, and annual service, which is a more extensive tune-up. More specific repairs include drivetrain tune-up, brake system tune-up, flat tire fixes, brake repairs, cleaning and touching up the bike frame.
More than any other tool in the kit, a reliable lever makes changing a tire easier, especially if you have road bike tires, which are difficult to remove. However, throughout testing, levers seemed to be the one item more prone to failure and poor design than anything else. For example, I found a random orange lever floating around my basement and I threw it in the test pool for fun—it seemed solid enough … until I began prying at the rim of a tire. It bent directly in half, slowly and smoothly, like taffy, and then was boomerang shaped forevermore.
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.