Whether you’re commuting to work, going out for an intense group ride, or just pedaling on the local greenway, it’s never a bad idea to be prepared for a simple repair. Typically the worst you’ll encounter is a flat tire, which thankfully is a relatively easy fix for the majority of bikes. While rarely you’ll suffer something more severe, like a broken chain, broken derailleur hanger, or broken spokes in your wheel, I’ll just focus here on the basic essentials.
I’m not saying you need to train as a mechanic and make your bicycle a rolling bike shop just to ride to work, but you should be prepared for these basic “emergencies” – especially when it may be the difference between a ride to work and a miserable walk to work (or even back home to your car!) while pushing your bike.
Tools For Fixing a Flat
The roadside repair you will most often encounter will be a flat tire. Thankfully this is very easy to pack for, the tools you need are cheap, and all the items you need take up practically no space at all in your bag. Firstly, you should have tire levers, which come in many sizes and materials. Generally, plastic levers will do, but some rim and tire combinations prove impossibly tight and metal levers or metal core levers may be desired. Just be careful – metal levers can scratch or damage rims if used incorrectly. And as for the screwdriver you may have used when a kid? Avoid using one at all costs, unless you really like poking holes in brand new tubes. One or two levers should be all you need to keep with you.
Next you will need a tube that’s the correct size for your rim and tire. Besides the rim diameter of your wheel – 26”, 29”, 700C, etc. – you should pay attention to the width of the tube as well. A tube for 700x23C tires may indeed fit inside a 700x45C tire, but it will stretch beyond what it was designed to and may lead to premature failures or tears. Sometimes it may be prudent to carry two tubes, especially if you’re prone to flats, or simply a patch kit in addition to a tube. Many companies like Park Tools make peel-and-stick patches that can be easily applied on the roadside, much quicker than a traditional patch with vulcanizer that needs time to cure.
Finally, you’ll need a pump or CO2 cartridges, as having a spare tube is worthless without a way to pump it full of air! Usually there are two styles of portable pumps, which are often called mini-pumps or frame pumps, and you should get the right size to avoid wasting effort. Some pumps are designed for high volume (HV), which would apply to fat mountain bike tires or hybrid tires, and some are designed for high pressure (HP), such as road bike tires that can go over 100PSI! HV will be unable to get a road bike tire up to the proper pressure, and an HP pump will take a long time to get a large tire up to pressure, so get the one that suits your bike best. Most frame pumps will include a bracket to mount directly to your bike, but they also fit inside a bag fairly easily.
One quick trick I learned involving pumps is to wrap about 12” of duct tape around the pump, which can be peeled off as if it was on a new roll. You can peel a piece off to be used as a tire boot to cover a slash in a tire that otherwise would cause a tube to poke through the tire casing, tape a broken spoke to another spoke to stop it from hitting (and scratching!) your frame as you hobble home, and a number of other uses.I thought it was a silly idea at first but the humble duct tape has bailed me out more times than I can count!
Multi-Tool for Roadside Adjustments
A handy and simple tool to carry with you is often called a multi-tool. These tools are compact and generally lightweight, and will be of use for most adjustments you may do on the roadside, such as tightening loose handlebars, adjusting your seat height, or making a quick cable adjustment. Some basic tools, like the Park Tools MT-1 on the left, can adjust almost every hex bolt or screwhead on most bikes, whereas some more advanced tools like the one on the right have not only hex keys and screwdriver heads, but Torx heads for disc brake bolts, a chain breaker, and even spoke tools all built into the same unit which folds up into a small package. And the great thing about these multi-tools is that they will work on practically any bike – the Park MT-1 in the picture was purchased when I was 13 years old and I’ve been using it on every bike (BMX, road, mountain, cyclocross) I’ve owned since!
While not a mechanical failure to prepare for, keeping emergency lights with you will help you both comply with your local laws but also ensure you are visible to other road users if you happen to unintentionally get caught in the dark. At the bare minimum you should have a blinking taillight and a blinking headlight if you at all expect to be on the road near dawn or dusk.
Most manufacturers make small lights that are easy to remove with quick-release brackets or bands, so you can remove them to prevent theft when your bike is locked up. Lights have improved by leaps and bounds over the last decade thanks to LED and rechargeable battery technology, so it’s not hard to put inexpensive quality lights on your bike to make yourself visible in case you end up caught in the dark.
Coming up next week: Riding At Night: Finding yourself heading to work before sunrise, or will sunset have come and gone before you’ll make it home? Find out the best ways to make yourself visible with both active and passive lighting so you can get to and from work safely.
Rob is a New England native who has been living in Charlotte, North Carolina, since 2012. Upon learning how to ride at the age of five he quickly found that everything is better on a bicycle, and hasn’t stopped riding since.