Self-sufficiency out on the road/trail is of the essence. And these days carrying the tools and other handyman/woman essentials to tackle a wide variety of repairs doesn’t take up much space at all. Here are our recommendations of what to include in a judiciously stocked saddle bag (such as the pictured Nashbar Large Expandable Seat Bag).
A must have whenever you leave home on a ride. Nothing can ruin a ride quite like being unprepared for a flat tire. One tube is a must, but if you have the space in your saddle bag then two tubes are even better – particularly if you’re out on a lengthier outing along the road less traveled. As a bonus, having two tubes also makes it easier to play the good Samaritan role when one comes across a fellow cyclist in a spot of bother. One of my favorite rides took place while on a trip to San Francisco when I was able to venture into Marin County and the Mt. Tam vicinity. Along my stint in the Marin County I happened to come across a guy who flatted and realized (too late!) that his spare tube was flat, too, from a previous ride and hadn’t been swapped out or repaired. Having two tubes made it that much easier to save this guy’s day.
(2.) Tire levers
Having a new tube won’t do any good if you have no means to remove unseat the tire’s bead to facilitate a change. They’re lightweight, compact, and a ride necessity.
This is an area where there’s some flexibility regarding what exactly to take along. At the bare minimum, take a look at what your bike has in the way of bolts/screws and make sure you’ve got those bases covered. My most regularly ridden road bike uses 3mm/4mm/5mm/6mm/8mm Allen bolts plus Phillips screws so I make sure I possess the means to tighten any that may loosen or need adjustment. Don’t forget about Torx bolts, which are making their way into various components as well. A chain tool, too, is worth its weight in gold when it comes time to MacGyver back together a broken chain in order to pedal one’s way back home.
There’s plenty of well-crafted mini-tools/multi-tools that can meet your needs for range of tool selection, compact size, minimal weight, as well as ergonomic demands. Sometimes the combination of tool size/design combined with accessing various bolts/screws on a bike may make for a frustrating tool use experience. It might be hard to actually make adequate contact between tool and bolt/screw or apply enough force so it’s a good idea to make a dry run at reaching those harder to reach locations to ensure you can make the repair when it counts the most – away from the comfort of your own home, perhaps many, many miles away.
Master link/Chain pins
May you never have to use these, but in the event your chain gives up the ghost, these handy items will make it possible to reconstruct a broken chain and make it possible to pedal your way home.
While my modus operandi is to replace punctured tubes with fresh ones, sometimes you find yourself on one of those rides with more punctures than tubes. In that case, having a couple of patches makes a world of difference to make a roadside/trailside repair of a tube to render it rideable once again. They weigh basically nothing and take up really no space at all, so why not have a few on hand?
I prefer having some cash on hand (as opposed to a credit/debit card) because sometimes in remote gas stations/convenience stores you’ll find yourself facing a minimum transaction amount (which is typically more than I need to spend on sustenance). Plus you don’t have to worry about expiration dates and paper money serves double duty as a tire boot.
(6.) CO2 Inflator/C02 Cartridge(s)
Some form of inflation is a must, but you have options regarding the delivery mechanism. Since I’m a Luddite about many things cycling, I opt for an actual pump (frame pump on road bike, mini-pump in pocket for off-road endeavors) for tire inflation purposes. But for quick inflation in a very compact package, using a CO2 system is certainly a very popular option. Just remember to refresh your CO2 supply post-ride once the cartridges get used!