Road riders need lightweight, tiny tools that can fit into jersey pockets. A lot of those items are made of carbon fiber, which is lighter than aluminum. Other iconic trappings of road riding, like CO2 cartridges and spandex outfits, are also geared toward minimalism, but all of that downsizing comes at a cost. Commuters don’t have to be as concerned with weight, so unless you covet something specific, don’t spend the extra money.
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.
Don’t rely on others. “People need to recognize that now there are different cassette sizes, so there are different chains depending on what gear you have. A lot of people are like, ‘Oh my friend is always prepared they always have the stuff, I’m not going to bring anything.’ All of the stuff now is very bike-specific, and you have to have your own package of stuff.”
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 bicycle costs anywhere from $250-$9,000 depending what type and quality of bike you want. A utility bike from a department store might cost $300-$500, but experts caution that it will be quite a bit heavier and not as well constructed as other bikes. For a durable, lightweight bike with front-suspension and decent parts, it’s reasonable to pay $750-$1,200. You might be able to pay slightly less, but expect to need some repairs after several months of heavy use.
A two-stage hand pump tries to marry the best features of both types of pumps: the quick inflation of high volume that can achieve the higher psi ranges of high pressure. But to steal a quote from our floor pump guide, “You pump eight times or you pump 10 times—what does it matter?” That’s a quote from Daimeon Shanks, who at the time was a mechanic for the Garmin-Sharp pro tour team—that’s right, Tour de France, baby.