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.
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.
A good patch will stick to your tube enough to keep air from leaking out. A great patch will act like a second skin and actually strengthen the tube where it’s applied, flexing and stretching with the tire. After 36 hours of testing, our official endorsement goes to the Rema TT 02 Touring Repair Kit. Its patches do everything other patches do, just better. The edge of the patch is also ruffled, which provides more edge surface area to bond—that’s a good thing.
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.
Friction gear systems are a lot simpler to adjust, because the movement of the derailer cable can be modulated as you ride, every time you change the gear- they require less cycle maintenance. Modern index shifting systems are a little more complicated because each ‘click’ must release the exact right amount of cable to allow the derailer to move the correct distance to move the chain from one gear to another. Setting up and adjusting a derailer is not difficult and requires only basic tools, but there is a methodical procedure to follow.