Spare tube: Sometimes, a tube is just too damaged to be patched, or has had a failure such as the valve stem breaking off which isn’t something that can be patched. To save weight and space, I usually keep a lightweight version of the right size tube for my bike. Since one of the first things I do with most bikes that I own is switch them over to heavy-duty thorn resistant tubes, I just take one of the originals and put that in the toolkit.
Next to everything else that might go wrong with a bicycle on an extended ride, a flat is a relatively minor issue that can be easily repaired trailside, if the right tools are at hand. If they aren’t, a quick fix can turn into a long walk. Well-prepared riders will perform a tune-up regularly and clean their bikes after every ride. For the less-diligent, a well-stocked repair kit will suffice.
Mountain bikers are in different world of repair entirely, one that borders on the comedic absurd. It includes large pumps designed to fill up big, fat tires that squish over things, and a medley of assorted slimes meant to be injected into tubes or tires. In that world, the number of days it takes you to fix your tire and return from the wilderness is a badge of courage—bonus points if you’re bleeding—and we’re guessing that’s not what you’re going for next time you set out for groceries.
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.
I chose to test these four levers after eliminating everything out there that’s not appropriate for a roadside emergency kit. That includes metal levers. They’re durable, but according to touring cyclist Ramona Marks, “Metal tire levers are trouble. It’s possible to rip your tube even with the plastic ones if you’re not careful, so metal is out of the question, and you don’t want to put pressure against the wheel rim with a metal lever.”
Pedals are important because the serve as the contact point between the rider and the bike’s transmission. Clip-less pedals systems come in a variety of designs favoured by individual manufacturers, but the mechanics of all styles are roughly the same. Tiny adjustments in the position of the show cleat – that snaps into position on the pedal – can make a big difference to the comfort and health of the rider.