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.
Professional mountain biker Rebecca Rusch has been on plenty of long rides and experienced enough mechanical failures to know what makes a fully-stocked repair kit. One of her recent journeys, a 1,200-mile journey through the jungles of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia along the Ho Chi Minh Trail required the utmost degree of preparedness — “We brought with us a lot of extra bearings, o-rings, stuff that you would never be able to find in Laos and Cambodia. Before I go out on these big adventures, I replace every bearing in my bike, my fork got a total rebuild — everything is in pristine condition,” says Rusch.
We offer several bicycle repair packages, or individual services in the case that you don’t need a full “tune-up”. Whether it’s a small brake adjustment or a complete bike overhaul, we’re happy to help. Our highly experienced staff is here to answer any questions you may have and will help get you and your bike back on the road as quickly as possible.
We like, and recommend, the Crankbrothers Speedier Lever. If you have to pick only one, go with the Pedro’s, but if you want a backup or have some hard tires to unseat, Crankbrothers is a great choice. It’s only one lever (as opposed to a set of two, like the Pedro’s) and it’s longer, so we didn’t pick it over the Pedro’s for portability reasons. But it’s an excellent tool. It has a wide handle you can grip with your whole hand. Like the Pedro’s, the tip is the right size and shape to prevent slipping and stay in place, and the shape of the handle happens to protect your knuckles if you do slip. Even in situations where I didn’t need it, I liked having it because it made me feel like a pro.
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.”
Maintenance is the best prevention. “Prevention is the best medicine, and if you’re taking care of your equipment it’s super key. Bikes don’t just fail. If they’re in really good working condition and you clean them at night, and you’re religious about it, bikes are kind of like cars — they’ll start talking to you if something is getting worn or getting creaky or needs to be replaced.”
Unlike floor pumps, most hand pumps do not have pressure gauges. To get readings during my original round of testing for this guide, I built a special rig involving simple hardware-store parts. But the experts I spoke to seem divided on the usefulness of gauges. Half thought they were unnecessary, added bulk, and drove up cost. Why do you need a gauge if you know 100 pumps inflates your tire? But the other half liked them, because the “thumb test” is notoriously inaccurate.
The best type of bike for exercise depends what level of rider you are and whether you would rather ride on trails or on the road. There is a type of road bike that is called a “Fitness Bike,” and features a lightweight frame and narrow tires, but do not have a drop handlebar. This may be the best type of bike for someone who intends to ride regularly and strenuously on the roads. If you plan to do a lot of trail riding, the best bike for exercise would probably be a mountain bike. For a person who uses bikes for transportation and exercise, but doesn’t go off-road, the hybrid bike build is a good type of bike.
There are patches that don’t require vulcanizer—the infamous peel-and-stick. One brand, the Park Tool GP-2, has some genuinely enthusiastic endorsements, so we tested it. I applied Park Tool patches to four different tires, at three different psi levels (60, 90, and 120). Three of the four didn’t hold—two released within minutes. The fourth deflated overnight. I redid the test, but repeated a second time, they all leaked within a day.
There are two major types of headset- older, threaded headsets that have a quill that drops into the stem of the fork creating an interference connection, and newer threadless headsets that the stem is bolted and clamped on to. Flat handle bars are preferred by off road cyclists who can ride in a more upright postion whilst still having the controls at their fingertips, whereas drop handlebars offer more cycling positions and are favoured by road cyclists who typically spend more time in the saddle. The controls attached to the different styles of bar are operated and maintained in different ways.