I've been spending quite a bit of time refining my bicycle repair and maintenance toolkit. This was brought on by a couple of recent revelations in my life.
First, I'd gotten away for far too long with probably too minimal of a repair kit while on the road or trail than I deserved. I've had plenty of times where I've needed to make repairs or changes to my setup while out, but I've never really had a bigger test than a tubeless setup that won't seal and needs a temporary tube. Or a chain break. Mostly this was a function of riding single speed for so many years and having the proverbial single speed repair and maintenance kit: 1 master link.
Second, my tools for the house and garage were intermingled with my bicycle tools. This meant I spent a lot more time looking for tools that walked away (or stayed at their last job location) than addressing the needed maintenance or repair. Say what you will, but the less friction there is in life, the more likely it's to be done. So I decided to assemble a toolkit for the bicycle only. Stored elsewhere and only to be used for bicycle maintenance and repair in the garage.
The Importance of a well-equipped bicycle repair kit
A well-prepared repair kit isn't just a set of tools and spare parts; it's a lifeline that ensures your adventures are enjoyable and free from anxiety. It offers you a sense of self-sufficiency, knowing that you have the means to address common issues on the spot. Instead of a call for help (AAA allegedly will pick you and your bicycle up here in Colorado, but I'm not sure I want to bank on it) or a long walk home, you can quickly and effectively resolve problems, getting back on the trail or road with minimal disruption.
Moreover, a well-equipped repair kit empowers you with the confidence to explore new routes and tackle longer distances, knowing that you're prepared for whatever the road throws your way. I know I've shied away from longer, more adventurous routes for lack of feeling confident I could handle any repair required to maintain comfort and safety on a long ride over the Rockies. It's not just about fixing problems but also about having the peace of mind that comes with being self-reliant.
So, whether you're a beginner or an experienced cyclist, investing in a comprehensive bicycle repair kit is a small effort that can lead to immeasurable rewards in terms of safety, convenience, and the pure joy of cycling. It's not just a set of tools; it's your ticket to unbounded two-wheeled adventures--and more smiles.
I'm tackling this first with my on-the-bike carry. So what follows is now what I have on every ride and it's neatly fitted inside my Dispatch Slimline Go-Ride Wallet. Grab and go!
For on the bike carry, I look at the world of tools and items I want to have on my ride as two categories: Tire repair (most common issue) and Multi-tools for pretty much everything else (saddle adjustment, tightening cockpit slack, chain repair)
For Tire Repair Tools, I'd say the following are the minimum required:
- Spare inner tube (I've been carrying Tubelito tubes lately, but admit these are very precious--and expensive--little tubes and I've had them fail as quickly as they went into the tire.)
- Patch kit
- Tire lever(s)
- Mini pump or CO2 inflator (I've historically carried CO2, but have recently converted back to a mini pump for it's infinite resource advantage over CO2)
- Valve extender (if needed)
- Tire Plug Kit
For my multi-tool
- Compact multi-tool but still useable (this is no place to get too cute)
- Allen wrenches (for bolts and adjustments--and I find these and Torx to be the most common tools I use)
- Screwdrivers (flathead and Phillips)
- Torx wrenches
- Chain breaker (please never let this have to be used)
- Spoke wrench (this can stop a catastrophic failure from manifesting)
- Tool to fit any proprietary bolts or screws
Getting Real About Repairs
Flat tires are one of the most common issues cyclists encounter. I can personally attest to this being at least 5:1 of any other repair I've had to make on a ride. To tackle this, your repair kit should include a spare inner tube that matches your tire size. (Ask me if a 26' tube fits a 29" wheel and I'll ask you how desperate you are to not have to walk it out.) A patch kit is handy for fixing small punctures if you've already used your spare tube. You'll also need tire levers to remove the tire from the rim, making it easier to access the tube and to keep things out of the way during reinsertion. A mini pump or CO2 inflator is crucial for reinflating your tire once you've made the necessary repairs. I find CO2 to be fine for a closed circuit event or a shorter ride where a single 16g cartridge might make due, but a mini pump can produce until your arms are spaghetti. I've recently added a Dynaplug to my set up. Don't forget a valve extender if you have deep-dish rims that may require one.
So many Multi-Tools
A versatile multi-tool is your Swiss Army knife for bike repairs. Look for one that includes a variety of functions like Allen wrenches for adjusting bolts, screwdrivers for miscellaneous fixes, Torx wrenches for components like disc brakes, a chain breaker for emergency chain repairs, and a spoke wrench for wheel truing. Having a multi-tool ensures you can make minor on-the-go adjustments and repairs to keep your ride running smoothly. I haven't found I'm a bigger fan of one tool over any other. They all seem to be subject to some degree of compromise, but definitely make sure the tool you carry can address the needs of your particular build. It wasn't too long ago you wouldn't see a Torx on any multi-tool because fewer bicycles had them as fasteners. Now, you'll be hard-pressed to find a bicycle that doesn't have them in use--particularly on components.
Keeping the Chain in Tip-Top Shape
Maintaining your bike's chain is essential for a smooth ride. Aside from your tires, this is the part of the bicycle that takes the brunt of the ride. Carry a small bottle of chain lube to keep your chain lubricated, especially on long rides. (You can find .5oz bottles on Amazon that can be used to transfer some lubricant from your larger bottle at home to a very small bottle for use in your ride kit.) Use a rag or disposable wipes for quickly cleaning large debris from the chain if needed. If you carry nothing else, a quick link or master link that's compatible with your chain will be the cheapest, lightest and most valuable insurance you'll ever carry on a ride other than a tube. This can be a lifesaver if you need to fix a broken chain quickly. Back home, make sure to add a chain wear indicator to your maintenance kit. It's useful to check the chain's condition and prevent premature wear and super cheap to pick one up.
A Little Back Up
Without trying to turn this into a massive kit of stuff you'll never need, a couple of additional items you might consider: Cable zip ties are useful for securing loose parts temporarily and take up very little space. Duct tape or electrical tape can patch up almost anything temporarily and can be wrapped around tool handles, preserving limited space. I always carry a $1 and $10 bill in my kit. $1 for tire boots. $10 for the person kind enough to let me buy a tube or helps out on the side of the trail or road. Credit card (ultimate insurance) and ID. Finally, my phone.
What's in your kit? Ultimately, this is a risk mitigation exercise and like all other risks in life, you have to balance what's right for your level of risk tollerance with the inconvenience of addressing the risk. For me it's a weight vs reward thing. While I'd love to go with nothing, I know that's not going to work for me and my riding style. On the flipside, I've seen riders with full backpacks of tools you could probably address a jet's repair needs--and I'd never be able to enjoy a ride with that sort of load on my shoulders.
Stay safe out there. Keep that bicycle running in tip-top shape. Next installment, I'll share my in-garage repair setup and tools I've added to keep my bicycles running smoothly for years to come.