Going on a bike ride unprepared is about the worst way to go about it. Not only do you need the right tools for a possible–sometimes, probable–breakdown, you also need to know how to use them.
Flat tires are the most common breakdown. being forced to walk anywhere from a mile to ten miles or more due to a tiny–almost invisible–hole in your innertube simply because you failed to bring along $1 stick-on patches and a 50-cent plastic tire lever, or never practiced removing your tire in the first place, is about as bad as it gets, especially when you consider it’ll take less than five minutes to repair a simple flat tire with very little practice at all.
Another common occurance is a brake pad rubbing against your wheel rim. Are the brakes badly aligned? That’s about a 15-second fix. Perhaps the wheel is no longer true, which could take a couple minutes before you’re back on your way again. Or do you even know how to tell which part is causing the rubbing?
It all comes down to a simple choice: on a beautiful day, would you rather be knowledgable and prepared for a quick bike fix, or be forced to walk or call for a ride home when you break down? Ignorance can be bliss, but not in this case. Prepare yourself now, or wish you had later.
As with anything you take along, you need to keep two things in mind: keep everything as light weight and compact as possible. The smaller your equipment, the smaller a bag you can fit it in, and the more you’ll have room for. Make sure nothing weighs very much so you don’t feel like you’re weighed down with equipment as you ride.
bike prep list:
(it’s up to you to find the tools & learn how to use them)
what: compact chain tool
why: your bike doesn’t move without a chain; it’s what ultimately connects your feet to the back wheel. when it breaks or a chain link becomes damaged, you’ll need to be able to press a link pin out, remove a couple links, and press a new pin in. a chain tool is the only way to accomplish this.
what: chain pins
why: once you press a chain pin out of a link, it’s pretty much unusable ever again. keeping at least two or three pins in a tiny plastic baggy will keep you ready for this rare breakdown. make sure you know if you have an 8-speed or 9-speed chain (as they are different widths, and therefore require different pins). it’s also considerate to keep an extra pin or two of a different size in case a fellow rider (who is unprepared) needs some help.
what: chain links
why: to replace damaged links. take 2-4 extra links with you in a small, plastic baggy.
what: glueless innertube patches
why: to repair flat tires, obviously. there’s no reason to use the old-fashion patches that require a glue kit to adhere them. glueless patches work great so long as you READ THE SIMPLE INSTRUCTIONS and follow them. since the kits are incredibly small, light and cheap, buy at least a couple sets and take them all with you.
what: tire levers
why: patches aren’t going to do you any good if you can’t take the tire off the rim to get to the innertube. take at least two–but probably no more than three–high-quality plastic tire levers with you (don’t use metal ones). personally, i always take along one standard lever and a crank bros. speedlever. often, all i need is the speedlever, but it’s smart to have backup.
what: tire pump
why: for air. another option is to take C02 cartridges, but a pump is more reliable. one with both schraeder and presta heads is your best choice.
what: spoke wrench(es)
why: an untrue wheel is often the cause of a rim rubbing a brake pad. spoke wrenches are needed to get the wheel running true again. make sure you know the size you need so you don’t end up destroying the spoke nipple, and maybe take a couple other sizes along, as well, to help others.
what: something with a sharp edge
why: a miniature pocket knife can come in handy in a million ways. don’t take one with you, and you’re likely to discover more of those ways than you’d like.
what: mini mag-lite
why: without your sight, you’re basically useless as a trail-side bike repairman. take along a single-AAA mini mag-lite flashlight so the darkness doesn’t become your worst enemy. they can also be somewhat useful for just finding your way down a trail or telling scary stories.
what: spare shoestring
why: sometimes things need tied down. sometimes shoestrings break. a simple 54" shoestring can save your day–or help you transport those illegally obtained wild flowers ’til you get home.
what: a bag to carry everything in
why: i prefer to keep a small seatbag under my seat. i can fit all my tools listed above, some cash and my keys in it. you could also cram all your supplies in a camelbak or backpack of your choice, but make sure you always take that bag with you. another option is to make use of a spare water bottle and bottle cage–as opposed to using a bag–to store all your items in. just be sure to pack them in such a way that they don’t bang around inside the bottle while you ride, and you can transfer it from one bike to another in seconds.
what: allen wrenches/screw drivers
why: most of the allen bolts on your bike require a 5mm or 6mm wrench. 8mm wrenches are also needed for most crank bolts. check over every bolt on your bike and make sure you have a wrench for all of them. if you take standard allen wrenches, put yellow electrical tape around each one in case you drop them in thick grass. or, you could buy one of hundreds of small cycling multi-tools with all the wrenches on it that your bike needs. in addition to allen bolts, you’ll most likely have a philips or flat screw or two. make sure you carry the appropriate drivers. most cycling multi-tools have both types included.
why: when all else fails, you need to be able to contact help. make sure it’s properly charged before you leave for the ride.
why: your blood sugar level will drop over time. i’ve found the fastest way to get mine back up so i don’t feel sluggish near the last part of a 30+ mile ride, is to eat a handful of skittles. they don’t melt, go stale or weigh very much. plus, they are straight sugar and will go to work in your system in about a minute. put a handful in a small zip-lock bag and you’ll be glad you did.
why: so you stay hydrated. make sure you take enough for your ride. short rides might only require a 20-oz bottle, while multi-hour rides require 100oz. bladders in a camelbak. don’t be unprepared; take all that you’ll need plus a little extra.
what: a picture i.d.
why: in case you hit your head and lay unconscious for someone else to find you.
why: you never know when you might run out of water or need a bite to eat. a five or ten dollar bill and a dollar in quarters should have you covered.
what: a clock
why: if you use a cyclo-computer, it’ll have a clock function built in. or you can go with a watch or your cellphone’s clock. however you wish to do it, make sure you can keep an eye on the time.
what: spare innertube
why: most punctures can be taken care of with patches, but for extra security–especially on long rides–it’s a good idea to take along a spare tube. just make sure you pack it in such a way that the other items in your pack don’t rip it.
what: duct tape
why: it can always come in handy during repairs, or if you rip clothing or a backpack. rip off a piece of tape about 24" long, then carefully fold it over itself until you have a flat, square piece that can be slipped into a bag or pocket.
what: cable ties
why: cable ties are great when you need to clamp something tight against your bike frame. one or two smaller ties should do, and you can use your small pocket knife to cut off the extra length.
what: toilet paper
why: because poison ivy leaves aren’t as soft and absorbant. pack into a zip-lock bag enough to take care of business, roll the bag up tight, and stuff it up your seatpost (but not so far you can’t retrieve it). you’ll thank me someday. (it’s also a great money-making commodity)
why: because it’s easier to ride when you don’t have blood running down your arm or leg. take a couple medium-sized band-aids; they weigh nothing and could be a huge help someday.
why: wet-wipes, particularly with a disinfectant, will come in handy should you have a wreck. they can also get grease off your hands after servicing your bike along the trail. an even smaller option is the pill towel.