Basically, you’re stuck with toggling between systems for the advantage of a few pumps, and it doesn’t seem worth it. In the original iteration of this guide, I tested 12 pumps and inflated three different tires completely full to their psi rating, and measured how many pumps it took. Yasuda did similarly for his revamped full-length exploration. That’s 36 tires, and I can guarantee there is no difference between 50 pumps and 100—it’s all terrible.
Mini Pump: This actually goes on the frame of your bike, as it’s a bit too big for most under-seat bags. Coming soon, we’ll have a review from Bill of his very favorite one, but a good pump is a lifesaver. Some people instead carry a CO2 inflator, which is faster and easier to use but does require disposable cartridges, and each time you have a flat, you’ll need at least 2 of those cartridges. There are combined pump/inflator tools that we’ll also talk about soon.
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.
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.
Next to everything else that might go wrong with a bicycle on an extended ride, a flat is a relatively minor issue that can be easily repaired trailside, if the right tools are at hand. If they aren’t, a quick fix can turn into a long walk. Well-prepared riders will perform a tune-up regularly and clean their bikes after every ride. For the less-diligent, a well-stocked repair kit will suffice.
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.
The fabric attachment system is low-tech, but that seems to be helpful, as it can adapt to seat rails of different widths. One fancier option you might see on more expensive seat bags is a quick-release mount that you install under your saddle. But those have a fixed width, and therefore can fit under seats with only those exact specs. Brooks saddles, for example, are too wide for these mounts.
We focused on tools that would be useful to a commuter—someone trying to use a bike as a functional way to get around town, as opposed to riding recreationally (road biking and mountain biking). That said, it’s a wild and wooly bicycling world out there, and the streets are packed with so many different bikes, all shapes and sizes, new and old. Customizing your flat-fixing kit has advantages over buying a preassembled kit that always contains a tool (or two or three) that’s a piece of junk, or you don’t need. Or it’s missing something you do need. If you build your own kit, at least you know everything works. And you can add only what’s necessary for your specific bike without ending up with stuff you don’t need.
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.
Now you might be wondering: “I’m carrying a tube; why carry patches at all?” As insurance for the unforeseeable. Wirecutter senior editor Christine Ryan admits she didn’t use to pack them, but said, “I’ve regretted that decision when I’ve had a flat on a ride, used my spare tube, and then, half an hour later, had a second flat. Also, lots of people aren’t very good at figuring out—or don’t take the time to figure out—what caused their flat and remove the cause: thorn, eensy bit of glass, whatever. Then they promptly have a second flat, and everyone else laughs at them.”
Modern bottom brackets use a sealed bearing type construction that keeps water and debris locked out, so they seldom go wrong. Maintenance is impossible so they need replacing when they do wear out. Older style cup bottom brackets need to be re-greased every now and again, and occasionally will need to have their bearings replaced. There are a lot more teeth on the chainring cogs than those on the rear cassette, so need changing less regularly. Cranks usually a solid one piece construction so there is not much to go wrong.