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.
On a very sunny Saturday I had a rear spoke break - you can imagine that no shop was willing to promise a quick repair! I was so fortunate to find this shop and will come back - Andy not only told me to come down and he'd get it fixed, he had his assistant work with another couple while he measured, cut to the right size, installed and trued the wheel while I waited! It was awesome, and the whole place had a great feel and good people. Best of all he charged a very fair $20 for all that work - I would have paid a premium for the quick service! After experiencing lots of attitude at other shops and poor service, this was a real find. I hope you will check them out, they have a great selection of bikes and accessories too! Good people and good craftsmanship should be rewarded.
Based on what we found, we chose the most relevant items and used them all. To test patches, I repaired holes using four different types of patches, from Novara (REI’s now-discontinued house brand), Park Tool, and Rema. Patching a tube isn’t hard but there are a few tricks, and the key was attention to detail and patience. I was extremely diligent in following proper patch procedure, which includes a thorough sanding of the entire area to be patched (for max stickiness) and properly letting the vulcanizer dry on both surfaces before applying. For the peel-and-stick patches, I went so far as to prep the area with canned air to ensure as tight a seal as we could possibly muster.
Otherwise, this tool should serve the average commuter well. Specifically, we think you’ll find the size 4, 5, and 6 hex keys, extremely common sizes in bicycles, very helpful. They’ll adjust seat-post heights or let you remove the saddle entirely, or tighten a loose stem that’s always rattling apart. The Phillips head will tighten loose bolts on shoe cleats or the rear derailleur. The most common use for the torx would be adjusting disc brakes if you have ’em.
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.
I brought my bike into Kyle's shop to fix the noise in my rear wheel. The mechanic suggested that I need to overhauled the rear hub for $30. The next day the noise came back even worst. I brought it back to the shop and they said it was the freewheel driver not the hub that needed to be work on and it would cost me extra $30 to overhauled it again plus the part to fix it. At this point I walked out of the shop and took my bike to David's world. The mechanic at David's world took a quick look at the rear hub and indicated that the axle was put back too tight when Kyle's mechanics were working on it and further identify the issue. I ended up paying David's world the $30 plus part to fix my bike, but the major different is that David's World has 30 Days services warranty claim. If you have any issue with your bike within the 30 days the service was performed you can bring it back and they will fix it no question ask.
Since then, I’ve found a few decent alternatives to my dilemma: The Venzo Pro Mechanic Stand that runs at about $88, and the Cave Competitor Service Post for $59. While there are other alternatives out there—sometimes cheaper ones—these are the two that I think are actually worth the price. I can’t really vouch for any others out there. But there just ain’t getting around this one. You’ll need something to hold your bike while you work on it.
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.
On the other hand, an on-bike repair kit will be a much smarter selection of tools that you are most likely to need. You should figure out the type of screws that are fitted on your bike and the things that are most likely to go wrong on a ride. Address only these things so as not to burden yourself too much with unnecessary stuff. Moreover, there are bike repair kits used on long rides and those used on shorter rides. The longer the ride, the more tools, and spare parts you will have to bring unless you want to have a very long hike back home.
Modern bottom brackets use a sealed bearing type construction that keeps water and debris locked out, so they seldom go wrong. Maintenance is impossible so they need replacing when they do wear out. Older style cup bottom brackets need to be re-greased every now and again, and occasionally will need to have their bearings replaced. There are a lot more teeth on the chainring cogs than those on the rear cassette, so need changing less regularly. Cranks usually a solid one piece construction so there is not much to go wrong.