First, I researched. I looked at Amazon’s top-rated products and their user reviews. Then I consulted Bicycling magazine, Gear Junkie, Bike Radar, Outside, and the occasional bit by Lennard Zinn via Velonews. I also found some worthwhile discussions at Bike Forums. Then I spoke with four experts, Ramona Marks, Scott Karoly, Cari Z, and Alison Tetrick, riders from all across the spectrum, who tour, repair, and race.
Every expert I spoke to recommended Pedro’s Tire Levers by name. They have a wide body—a different shape than other models we tested—and that prevents breakage, but more important, the broad, flat surface area of the tip helps it stay locked under your tire. When a lever slips from under the bead of the tire, you can end up repeatedly scraping your knuckles on the spokes of the wheel, which is so annoying. Pedro’s levers are small enough to fit into a saddlebag, are sold widely in bike shops, and even come with a lifetime guarantee. If one breaks, Pedro’s will replace it.
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More than any other tool in the kit, a reliable lever makes changing a tire easier, especially if you have road bike tires, which are difficult to remove. However, throughout testing, levers seemed to be the one item more prone to failure and poor design than anything else. For example, I found a random orange lever floating around my basement and I threw it in the test pool for fun—it seemed solid enough … until I began prying at the rim of a tire. It bent directly in half, slowly and smoothly, like taffy, and then was boomerang shaped forevermore.
It is a good solid stand made mostly from heavy metal, but it does have a couple of problems. (I will use part names from the instructions to explain.) First, the clamp between the "telescopic bar" and the "upright" is plastic. It arrived broken in the box. Whoever boxed it should understand that if you put it in the box broken, the customer will remove it from the box broken. I did not return it as broken because I was able to Gorilla Glue it back together and it works fine; it clamps tight enough to hold the telescopic bar in place. Second, the "bike support stand" (the horizontal bar at the top that holds the bike), when attached to the seat support does not grip tight enough to hold the bike in the position I set because there is too much weight from the front of the bike. The torque causes the bike to rotate until the front wheel is on the ground. That is not enough for me to return the stand because I seldom work on the front wheel and if I do I can attach the stand to the top horizontal of the bike frame. I think they could fix the problem by not making the "bike support stand" so smooth, give that part a sandpaper like finish or put rubber fingers inside the clamp so the part does not slip under the torque from the weight of the front of the bike. I might rough up the stand part with sandpaper, or put small grooves in it to give the clamp something to grip on to see if that solves the problem. Third, the clamp holding the bike frame even at full tight will not keep the bike from rotating around the frame. It is not enough for me to send the stand back, just a minor annoyance. The problem is there is smooth plastic trying to clamp a smooth metal frame. I think they could fix this by putting thin rubber pads in the clamp. I will probably run out and get some pads to try that out. I think it is a good stand for the price. The stand itself is made from much heavier metal than I expected. It is very stable with the four legs. I easily overcame all the issues so I kept it.
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.”
Bike Radar gives the Pedro’s levers 4.55 out of five stars and claims they’re the “best out there.” (Can we pause to admire the extra five hundredths of a star the site chose to award it? Very specific.) Aaron Gulley, writing for Outside, states, “I can’t count the number of times I’ve snapped cheap plastic sticks, shredded my hand in the process, stomped around cursing in pain for 10 minutes, and then, insult to injury, been tool-less and unable to get my tire off anyway. That will never happen with Pedro’s.”
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.
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.
Our favorite hand pump for commuters is the Lezyne Sport Drive HP, and you can read more specifics about why in our full-length guide, written by Dave Yasuda, a writer and tester with over 30 years in the saddle. To sum it up, Lezyne makes pumps with an extendable rubber tube that connects to your tire valve, and that’s the difference between awkward and demoralizing. It’s not the only company that does so, but it is one of the few, and it does it the best. The Sport Drive HP can adapt to any tire valve, has no small fussy parts to lose, and inflates more easily to higher psi levels than anything we tested without floor leverage.
Owning a bicycle is a good idea, but taking care of it yearns for an experts’ piece of mind. You should not worry too much about taking your bicycle to a mechanic when you can handle the repairing on your own. It will rather save you the cost of every moment you get into a problem. Grab a pick of one of the toolkits from the above review. I assure you that, absolutely no day will you seek a mechanic for service.
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.
But before I get started, let me share with you a few tips. OK, one tip: Get a work stand. Because putting your bike upside down isn’t good for it—yes, I said it. When I first started fixing my own bikes, I couldn’t afford a fancy $300, folding, magnetic, fixes-the-bike-for-you stand. I tried piecing together a “DIY $30 Stand.” I followed all the directions that the Internet demanded, and once I’d bought all the clamps and pipes, this thing cost really more in the neighborhood of $60—but it only stayed upright with a rope tied to something sturdy in the garage. It was one word: junk. So I bit the veritable chainring and charged a decent stand on my credit card (I hate debt, folks).