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.
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.
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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.
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.
Brakes come in a variety of designs depending on the age and style of your bike. Rim brakes offer more modulation but have less stopping power, so are more suited to riding on the roads. Disc brakes can provide huge amounts of stopping power so are best suited to off road riding, although ‘V’ rim brakes are also well suited to mountain biking. All brakes use a friction system to stop the movement of the wheel, so regular checks of the contact pads should form part of your regular cycle maintenance.