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.”
Over the years, I’ve come across plenty of articles that claim to tell you how to build up your cycling toolkit for cheap. Somehow the word “cheap” stops recurring in the long list of “essential” bike repair bits and pieces. The truth is, there is no real way to build a whole shop of tools all at once without plopping down a few hundred bucks. But in an attempt to show everyone that not all of us truly need a full complement of bike tools, I present the truest, most budget-conscious, and barest of bones options to you.
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.