I am often asked coaching- and riding-related questions on rides. A recent one is a fairly common question, but it’s an important one to new riders – and one that most experienced roadies find interesting in terms of comparing how they would answer it to how another rider would reply.
That question is: “What are the most important tools/gear I should carry with me while on the bike?”
This is a great question, because it brings up a couple of “gotchas,” or catches to consider. So, let’s get to my list. (You may not agree with everything I include, and may think other items are needed. Feel free to Comment below.)
Most Important Items to Carry
The most important items to carry while riding are your cell phone, house and/or car key and driver’s license (or a photocopy of your license). You can carry all of this in a small plastic bag stuffed in one of your jersey pockets. Also consider carrying your insurance card (or a copy), some cash and, optionally, a credit card. (Another option there is to memorize your CC info.)
When out on the road, or on your MTB, the No. 1 problem cyclists experience is a flat. So, this next grouping are essentials needed to get you back onto the bike quickly. Depending on what types of roads or trails you ride, many cyclists opt for a tire sealant. If you run clinchers, you can add a sealant to both tubes; if you run tubeless, add some to the inside of the tire. Sealant used in tubeless tires should last several months before drying out and needing to be added again.
One area of concern for the tubeless route is how corrosive is the sealant to the inside of the rim. Do a little research and contact the wheel manufacturer first before selecting a sealant for your tires. I have seen a certain sealant used with a certain wheel and after six months, the inside of the tubeless wheel was completely rusted.
The Rest of the List
1) SPARE TUBE(S) – Carry at least 1 spare tube, AND, make sure that the:
- Valve is the right type for your wheels. A Schrader valve won’t fit in a wheel designed for a Presta valve.
- Valve stem length works with the wheels you are riding. Tubes come with valves of varying length.
- Tube(s) is the right size to fit your tire.
Last Sunday, I was on a group ride when one of the guys got a flat. We stopped and he pulled his spare tube from his saddle bag. The valve stem length was 48mm, but he had 50mm deep rims. He just upgraded his wheels and forgot to get the right tubes. Luckily, someone had a spare that fit his new wheels, and we were back on the road.
So, go out right now and check two things: (1) that your tubes will fit your wheels (both in terms of valve stem type and length, and in terms of correct size for your tire) and (2) that your tubes are in good shape. Sometimes, when they sit in a saddle bag for a long time, they rub against other items in the bag and end up with a small hole. At the same time, check your CO2 cartridges to make sure they are in good shape, with no rust or dents or other compromises. And make absolutely sure you know how to use your air chuck or pump before hitting the road.
TIP – The valve stem hole (on the inside of the rim) on some wheels can be sharp enough to cut a tube. Take some sand paper or a small file and remove any burrs on the inside of the rim. This will ensure that your tubes won’t be cut where they insert into the valve stem hole.
Tubes come in different materials and types:
- lightweight (butyl) – more for racing bikes, and where weight and durability is a consideration
- standard (butyl) – these work best for all-around general riding, club riding, club racing
- puncture-resistant (sometimes called thorn-proof) – HEAVY tubes when you don’t want a flat
- self-sealing (sealant already included) – HEAVY since they already have sealant installed
- lightweight (latex) – the LIGHTEST tube for racing only (since they are more fragile)
Make sure to choose a tube material that will match your riding. In general, standard butyl works best for riding on a smooth surface. If you’re racing, you may choose a lightweight butyl or latex tube. If you do get a flat, roll the tube up and patch it at home. For the cost-conscious, when tubes have 3 patches and you get the 4th flat, time to throw it out.
Match the tube size to your tire size. For example, if you are running 700x25C tires, you can use 18-25mm, 19-25mm, 19-26mm, 23-26mm or 25-28mm tubes.
2) PUMP/CO2 INFLATOR – CO2 systems are for those who don’t want to carry a small/mini hand pump on their bike. Even though I have seen a lot of cyclists carry their hand pump in their jersey pocket, I have also seen 2 separate crashes where the cyclist had broken ribs due to the mini-pump being in their back pocket.
A CO2 inflator system can be purchased as a kit that is composed of the air chuck, and 1 or 2 CO2 cartridges. With this system, there’s no need to carry a patch repair kit. Make sure you read the instructions since there are both threaded and non-threaded CO2 cartridges and you will need to us the correct one with the chuck. CO2 cartridges also come in different capacities, usually 12g, 16g and 25g. The smaller capacity cartridges are usually used for road bikes, while the 25g is used for MTBs. There are lots of options out there, so pick one that best meets your needs.
3) TIRE LEVERS – you will need at least two to get most tires off. Tire levers come in 3 flavors, a) plastic, b) plastic with a steel core, c) heavy duty steel. Here are my observations, having used virtually every type of tire lever made.
- Plastic – Most break easily, especially when trying to take off or put on a tight tire.
- Plastic w/Steel Core – Will also break easily where the steel ends.
- Steel Levers – DO NOT USE on modern road wheels, especially carbon wheels. Use only for kid’s bikes or big box store bikes.
The BEST tirelever I have ever used is Pedro’s Tire Levers, and, for the past 6 years, these are the only levers I have used. Even though they are plastic, I have yet to break even one! They currently come in yellow, pink, green and red and come with a lifetime warranty.
TIP: ALWAYS wear eye protection when taking off/putting on a tire in case the lever breaks. You don’t want the broken plastic to hit you in the eye.
4) TIRE BOOT (plus 4mm & 5mm allen wrenches) – What happens when you run over a piece of glass or metal and get a slice in your tire? You basically have 2 options: you can use your cell phone and call for help, or you can boot the tire.
The best boot material I have found is plain duct tape. I take both a 4mm and 5mm allen wrench and lay them back-to-back so that on one end I have the angle of the 4mm and on the other end the angle of the 5mm. That way I can use either tool if needed. I then secure them together using duct tape. I wrap the wrenches together with at least 10 turns of duct tape. This gives me plenty to use if needed. When I need to boot a tire, I can rip off the exact amount of tape to form 2-3 layers on the inside of the tire.
5) MULTI-TOOL w/CHAIN TOOL – Pedro’s also has a $25 tool that does it all, including a chain tool. No more fixing a chain by pounding links in with a rock! There are any number of good multitools out there. Ask your riding buddies what they use.
How To Carry All of This
The right saddle bag will work the best for you. I prefer TOPEAK bags as they have always been consistently the highest quality – lasting the longest. They have a full range of bags, including my favorite, the AERO WEDGE PACK. Sizes available are XS, S, M and L.
Spend some time and make a list of what you need. All of this can be procured at your LBS or on-line. Again, readers, share your Comments below.
Coach Rick Schultz is an avid cyclist who trains, races and coaches in Southern California. Rick is an engineer by trade, and in addition to being a coach, he's a bike fitter and prolific product reviewer. He's the author of Stretching & Core Strengthening for the Cyclist and Bike Fit 101: Your Toolset for a Great Bike Fit in the RBR eBookstore. Check his product reviews website, www.biketestreviews.com, and his coaching site, www.bikefitnesscoaching.com. Click to read Rick's full bio.