If you interact with something long enough, sometimes you lose sight of the obviousness of the thing; it’s a fairly common phenomenon, especially when it comes to products. Once you’ve used your camping stove for a few months, you forget that it was tricky to just the right amount of fuel and flame to cook your food. After you’ve spent a few seasons camping, your tent setup goes from cumbersome to muscle memory. Familiarity can take many forms, but once we become comfortable with something, we tend to forget either our initial struggles with it or what makes it special.
Take a bicycle, for instance. If you ride, maybe you ride every day. The wheels turn, the brakes engage, your morning commute continues day in and day out. At some point, you may even forget that the bike you know and love is actually a machine, and machines break down. This realization may come in the form of a flat tire on the side of a busy highway or loose handlebars after you take a spill on the trail. If a repair is necessary and you’re not prepared, familiarity quickly goes out the window, to be replaced almost instantly by panic, frustration and finally, resignation. After all, there’s nothing like a flat tire to make you appreciate when your bike is working.
If you’re an avid rider and you haven’t already put together a simple toolkit to carry in your bike bag, we suggest you get one together before your next ride. A quick Google search will reveal quite a few recommendations on what to carry in your bag and when; if you don’t know where to start, we’re here to help.
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What should I always have with me when I ride?
Before we get into tools and accessories, it’s important to note that you should always have a communication device (for most of us, that’s a cell phone), your driver’s license or alternate form of identification and your house or car key. You can keep all of these stashed together in a waterproof container, like a plastic bag, to keep them safe and easily accessible.
Should I have separate kits for my road bike and mountain bike?
You won’t need a separate kit for your road and mountain bikes, respectively, but any on-bike repair kit should be suited to the specific bike you’re riding. That means any multitools, wrenches or screwdrivers should fit with the screws and other hardware on your bike. If you’re running tubeless tires, make sure your kit caters to that: you can leave the spare tube at home. When putting your kit together, it’s all about what you’ll find useful out on a ride: some tools will be universal in all kits, but each rider’s supplies will be unique and suited to them.
Make sure the valve is the correct type for your wheel: A Presta valve won’t fit a Schrader, and vice versa. Check that the valve stem is the correct length for the wheels you’re running and verify that the tube you’ve just packed is the right size, as well.
If you’re running a tubeless setup on either a road or mountain bike, a small bottle of sealant is a non-negotiable. Liquid sealant is applied through the valve, and seals and repairs small holes that could turn into holes or punctures. There are two types of sealants: latex-based and latex free. If you’ve got a small hole or puncture in one of your tires, this is what you’ll use to get going again.
Multi-Tool (With Chain Tool)
Multi-tools aren’t just great for your EDC kit — they’re also incredibly useful to have on bike rides, as well. Make sure you’re investing in a multi-tool that’s designed specifically for bikes: common tools on a bike multi-tool include screwdrivers, hex keys, a torx driver, chain splitter, spoke wrench and tire lever, among others. There are as many multi-tools as there are bike models, but we like Blackburn’s for its simplicity, minimal profile and affordability.
Pump/ CO2 Inflator
When it comes to filling your tire with air (assuming you don’t run tubeless at this point), both the traditional hand pump and the CO2 inflator have their place. A CO2 inflator can inflate your tire in a minute; much faster, and easier than a hand pump. However, a CO2 inflator will run out of air at some point, depending on its capacity; a hand pump may take longer and require more effort, but you’ll always be able to inflate your tires (and your friends’ tires, if necessary) without coming up short.
If you’re into bike racing, a CO2 inflator is probably the better choice — it’ll get you back in the game faster and more efficiently. Most CO2 inflators can fill two tires; they’re not refillable, so if you’re eco-minded and have a little more time on your hands, a traditional hand pump is never a bad idea.
Tire Patch Kit
The most common problem cyclists face is a flat tire; as the other tools in this guide suggest, it’s important to be prepared, because more likely than not, at some point you’re going to get a flat. A tire patch kit comes in handy when you’ve got an inner tube in need of repair: you can either patch it on the go or slip in a new tube and repair your punctured one at home. Repairing inner tubers prolongs their shelf life, saves you money and keeps unnecessary inner tubes out of the landfill.
Again, as tubeless setups become more prominent, tools to complement the design do so as well. Once installed, the tubeless tire’s beads are constructed to be airtight against the rim of your bike’s wheel, and as such, it makes it almost impossible to get off if you need to change a tire. That’s where tire levers come in: these small but mighty tire change accessories make it much easier to lift the tire from the rim, allowing you to remove and install tubeless tires without damaging your wheel. The best tire levers aren’t necessarily the strongest, by the way: it’s the most ergonomic designs that end up being the most useful.