The inevitability of dealing with a flat tire or a mechanical issue when on the bike is frustrating, but even more so if you are ill-prepared to deal with it. Packing the right tools and educating yourself on how to use them will make this job easier and quicker, and have you back rolling again in no time.
Having a mechanical issue with your bike is less common than getting a flat tire, but may impact your ride to a far greater extent. Loose handlebars, a dropped seatpost, rubbing brakes: these are just some of the common issues a multi-tool, or small range of spares will be able to fix in the blink of an eye.
There are no guarantees in life, as such, there is not yet a definite solution to circumvent a dreaded flat tire or mystery mechanical out on a ride. However, you can help yourself ahead of time by ensuring your bike is in the best working condition before you roll out the door. So what does this look like?
Make sure your tires are pumped up. Bicycle tubes naturally lose air over time, so keeping them at the optimal pressure will reduce the risk of pinch flats. The recommended pressure (PSI) for your tires will be written on the sidewall. If you are unsure, ask your local bike shop and they will be able to advise.
Make sure your tires are not worn out. Tires are a consumable item and will inevitably wear and perish. Look to see if the top of your tire where it contacts the road the most has lost its round profile and begins to look squared off or flat on top. Also be on the the lookout for little cuts, cracks or splits in the tire. These are an indication that your rubber has seen better days, after all, If it looks like you need a replacement, you probably do. Perished tires also present a safety hazard due to the reduced grip they provide, as well as being more likely to puncture.
Have your bike serviced regularly. There is no point owning nice or functional equipment if it is not maintained well. A regular general service will mean the moving parts are kept lubricated, the gears are tuned, chain wear checked and all bolts tightened. Do this regularly enough and you will prevent issues, likely saving money in the long run.
Keep your toolkit stocked! When you do have to use a tube out on the road, replace it as soon as possible so you are not caught out again. We have compiled a list of the on-bike necessities to tide you by, as well as a few extra helpful items depending on whether you are commuting, road riding or mountain biking.
What you will need - the bare necessities
No matter what the discipline, your core spares kit should contain the following items:
Tire levers x2: Used to scoop the edges of the tires out of the rim, these are either made of plastic or steel. Typically the plastics ones are best (but not all are equal in quality) and won't scratch your rims.
Tubes x2: Make sure you have the right size and valve! If you are unsure what size tube your tire takes, if you look at the sidewall of your tire, most of them will read something like ‘700 x 28c’ or ‘27.5 x 2.1”, which is what you should match the tube to. If you are having trouble decoding the numbers, drop by a bike shop with your bike and they will be able to establish which tube you need.
Hand pump: Find a pump that either fits neatly in your jersey or sits snug to your bike's downtube. Some pumps will have a head that fits both Presta (French type) and Schrader (car-type) valves, other high-pressure pumps will just fit for Presta.
CO2 Cartridge: This is a small gas canister or 'air-in-a-can' which has enough air to inflate your tire rapidly to around 100 PSI or so. C02 cartridges come in different sizes to suit different applications with the most common sizes being 12g, 16g and 25g.
CO2 Inflator: This is the adaptor that the CO2 cartridge screws into so you can fit it over your valve and release the air. Many inflators will allow you to control the flow of air into the tube.
Why a CO2 kit and a pump? If you are not in a rush, gather a little patience and use the pump, get your friends to all take turns! CO2 cartridges are more costly to replace and less environmentally friendly than good old free air. Using a CO2 means the job is done quickly, but leaves more room for user error than a pump.
Patch kit: As long as tubes have existed so has the humble patch kit. Traditional kits will come with a few patches, a buff, and some tire glue or 'cement' to fix the patch over the hole in your tube. Newer versions come with glueless patches which you can stick on like a bandaid. This helps if you don't have a spare tube, or want to fix a damaged one later to use again.
Waterproof case: This is ideal to keep your phone and spares from becoming water damaged if the heavens suddenly open
Nutrition: Important to keep brain glucose levels up so you can focus on the task at hand and make it to your destination.
Multi-tool: Multi-tools can contain a variety of Allen key sizes, screwdriver heads (flat and Phillips), a chain breaker, a torque wrench, spoke wrench, and some will even contain a bottle opener (perhaps to celebrate once the job's done?). Whichever multi-tool you decide on, make sure you know how to use it. There is no point parting with lots of cash for a multi-tool with everything including the kitchen sink if you have no idea what to do with it.
I.D: In a worst-case-scenario, having emergency service workers be able to identify you if you are unconscious or unable to communicate will help them notify the right people sooner.
Cash (or credit card): As well as being handy for bakery stops, cash notes can be cleverly placed inside a tire to cover a split or large hole if you have replaced the tube but the tire is still damaged. This trick will see you out of trouble, but replace the tire as soon as you can - additionally, this is also a great way to hoard money.
Phone: Although it might be nice to be off-grid and in nature, take a phone to contact anyone in case of emergency or a failed tube change mission. Also useful for taking Instagram photos of your ride (when stopped of course).
Depending on what discipline you are taking part in, tailor your spares kit to suit the ride. here are a few extra things to consider:
Commuting to work by bicycle is one of the great liberations of leading a metropolitan lifestyle. You arrive at the office exhilarated and chirpy - perhaps to the disdain of your colleagues who have been creeping along among a cluster of frustrated motorists. That mood can be dampened at the hand of a mechanical or flat tire when you were on track to win the commuter cup. By ensuring you have a basic bike first-aid kit, you might just make that 9.00am meeting.
How to carry
Depending on your bike set-up, keep your spares in the bag you always use for riding to work, or even better, if you use pannier bags that stay on your bike, allocate a pocket where they stay. Other options are of course backpacks secured with hip straps, and an ergonomic shape or frame bags (sometimes called bento bags) which secure directly to your frame.
In addition to the essentials list above, these extra bits and bobs will come in handy when you are commuting by bike.
Valve adaptor: These are a little extension that fit over your presta valve to make it into a schrader valve or car valve. This is handy if you need to use the air-pump at a service station.
Lightweight spray jacket: You never know when the weather will turn, and light-weight rains jackets can scrunch down to a tissue and will keep you dry, you may want to wait for the rain but your boss won’t like waiting for you!
Spare socks; Trust us. If even only the roads are wet these will be your savior.
- A good lock: If everything goes pear shaped and you need to clock on in time, lock your bike to something solid, hail a taxi and be on your way. BYO mechanic later. A U lock will be the most secure.
There is a preference amongst road cyclists for carrying as little weight as possible - so keeping your spares compact and minimal can be achieved with effective storage. Having the right tools for the job means you can get an emergency fix done quickly and efficiently leaving you with less of gap to chase back to the bunch!
How to carry
Jersey pockets were made for this reason - most road cycling jerseys will have two or three pockets on the back of the jersey with enough room to stash a tube and some spares. For those who want to avoid the packed-mule look, go for a saddle bag or a tool bottle that fits into one of your bidon cages.
Lightweight tubes: On top of usually taking up less space, a lightweight tube will be just that, lighter weight - with many brands offering options to reduce weight by up to 100g. This is usually achieved by reducing wall thickness and will reduce rotational weight once fitted to your wheels.
Consider a mini-pump/C02 adaptor combination: This pump acts as an adaptor for your C02 cartridges, but is also a mini-pump to provide some good old regular air. It will help your cause to use the mini-pump to put some initial air in the tire or topping it up if the C02 fails. The best part is, it is light and compact meaning you have less to carry.
Multi Tool with a spoke key: This feature on your trusty multi-tool comes in handy if your wheels take a hit on the road or a spoke comes loose and need to be lightly trued to get you home.
Snack: You might have been pushing through an ominous hunger signal and suddenly a hiss from the tires forces you to stop for up to half an hour while your first tube fails, a tire lever snaps...it is already a frustrating experience so adding being ‘hangry’ into the mix and you feel like the world is against you. Get a muesli bar into you (let's not be desperate enough for gels during a training ride) and feel yourself come back to life and then tackle the fix.
There is little that can outdo the feeling of freedom and elation that comes with being out in the bush finding your rhythm on single track - that is until your rhythm is interrupted by a flat or mechanical. Being caught out ill-prepared can mean having navigate your way out of what feels like the deep wilderness. Short of being equipped with a military survival kit, a few handy additions will ensure the flow and fun goes on.
How to carry
Hydration packs are the obvious answer, a backpack with the capacity to carry water in a ‘bladder’, zippered pockets, and clips around the hip and across the chest to keep the bag from swinging. There is no shortage of options, but choosing one that has a bit of room to keep your spares will serve well. The other option is tool bottles - the same as you can carry on a road bike. The only disadvantage being the removal of one water bidon, or mountain bikes that have a rear shock sometimes don’t have the space for an extra bidon mount. Finally, saddle bags are a all round pick - as long as they are attached securely and have space for everything required.
A bit of bush-mechanics is always inevitable but the right spares selection for off-road riding should always have a place on your ride!
Spare chain link: Chains can snap, and can be a challenge to nurse a mountain bike back home over tricky trails. Today, most mountain bikes will be 10 or 11 speed, (with the exception of SRAM Eagle which is 12 speed) taking a spare link and choose a multitool with a chainbreaker on it as a back-up.
Tubeless plugs: Plug what? If you have ever experienced a puncture straight into the tire, then these little rubber plugs are inserted into the hole of the tire and plug the leak with a sticky rubber 'worm', sealing the tire and letting you roll on. They are faster, stronger and more likely to seal than a glueless patch or just sealant itself. Such an example are Dyna-plugs.
First Aid Supplies: With the thrills, come the spills. With compromised medical access out in the bush, a basic first aid kit will give you a better a chance if the worst does occur. Cleaning dirt out of wound early will reduce the risk of infection later, as will having the capacity to restrict bleeding or animal bites with a basic bandage. It’s easy enough to pack down a small vial of saline solution, a bandage and triangular bandage and a few wound patches. Any chemist will have something to suit, thank your future self later!