What's In Your Bag?
No, I don't mean road pops... I mean things like tools!! As a lot of you know I carry a fairly complete set of tools with me when i ride, but I'm a really firm believer that everyone should have at least enough with them to at least fix a flat.
It's kind of a guiding principle for me... Thou shalt be able to take care of thy mechanical problems! So yeah, I travel with a bit more in my bag than is strictly necessary, but I also hate seeing rides get broken up over something silly that could have been fixed if you had some tools. Not to mention there's nothing fun about having to drag your bike home 10km in the middle of the night by yourself!!
This is my bag:
And this is what I keep in it:
I really don't feel comfortable leaving the house without a few simple things. Really I think anyone who's riding should have these with them as you can take care of nearly any bike problem you might come across with just a few simple tools.
- Crescent Wrench
A smaller crescent wrench can handle most "in the field" jobs you might need to tackle, like undoing wheel nuts, tightening up handlebars, adjusting your seat (although don't do that on the ride!!) and most other tasks. Always be careful when using a crescent wrench - they will easily slip and ruin whatever nut or bolt you are trying to tighten or loosen. It is important to readjust the crescent wrench EVERY time you place it on a bolt. That's right - I mean "turn, remove, place on bolt, readjust wrench, repeat" as it will loosen itself up and probably slip by about the 3rd time you put it on a bolt otherwise.
- Patch Kit
This one is pretty self explanatory. Patch kits are dirt cheap and small - you should always have one in a corner of your bag. Be sure to read the instructions - the tube needs to be CLEAN, you need to abrade it with the provided sandpaper or scraper, and it's IMPERATIVE that you let the rubber cement dry completely before applying the patch. By far the biggest mistake people make is trying to put the patch on while the rubber cement is still wet. Don't think of it as glue, think of it as a chemical reaction. Its job is to react with the rubber and make it soft so the patch will stick. The reaction only happens when air is present, so if you apply the patch too soon the cement will never react properly and the patch will never stick.
A good quality pump is essential. A lot of leaks start off slow, so if you have a pump you have a good chance of making it home, off a busy street or even just to somewhere with enough light to be able to see what you're doing. Don't cheap out here - expect to pay at least $40 for a reliable pump. Mine is a 2-stroke, it pumps in both directions. That makes a big difference to how long it takes to inflate a tire with such a small pump. Mine also has a gauge built in which I find super useful. It's really easy to convince yourself to stop pumping once you start getting tired, but the gauge will let you know if you're really done or not. Believe it or not you're much more likely to get flat tires if they aren't properly inflated than if they're full! You also won't believe the difference it makes to how easily the bike rolls. Most fat tire bikes are happiest around 40+ PSI but check the sidewalls of your tires if you're not sure.
Some sort of multitool is super useful. There's a myriad of different fasteners on bikes such as fender stays, coaster brake levers, brake levers, bells, drink holders, mirrors and more. You'll find a variety of different screwdrivers are needed since there isn't really a standard across all bikes. I like my Leatherman since it has a knife, scissors and a good set of needle nose pliers which have come in handy countless times. There's also lots of more bike-specific ones such as the two black ones I have in the top of the picture. Many come with things like allen keys, chain tools, tire levers and even small box end wrenches. This is another place not to skimp - spend the money on something good quality, avoid the dollar store tools when it comes to things like this. By the time you buy and break a few you'll have spent more money than you would have on the good one in the first place! Most brand name tools will come with some sort of warranty too.
The Boy Scout
Be Be Be Prepared! If you're riding a bunch then there's a few more things I think are worthwhile to have along with you.
- Proper Allen Keys
While multitools certainly help, I think a set of proper allen keys is a good way to go, at least if you've got a bike that needs them! Most vintage cruisers won't have a single allen head bolt on them anywhere, but more modern bikes definitely will. Stem bolts are notorious for needing a good tighten after a lot of riding as they tend to get a lot of force put on them. If your bike is made with less expensive parts then these seem to come loose even more often. Stem bolts need to be TIGHT!! This is also one that often needs some attention if you have a crash - any time your handlebars get knocked around good things will need a tighten. Other things that use allen bolts on a lot of newer bikes include seat post bolts, cranks and brake handles. If you have a bike with a Shimano Nexus 3-speed you almost certainly need allen keys to change a flat (although you can often use a 10mm wrench on the outside of the bellcrank assembly instead). Oh, and coaster brake bolts!! Most newer bikes use an allen head bolt for the coaster brake.
- 15mm Wrench (or whatever is right for your bike)
Like I mentioned above a crescent wrench is good in a pinch, but if you have the option the correct sized wrench is faster and much less likely to round anything off. Box-end wrenches (like the one shown) are fantastic since it's almost impossible to strip a nut with them. Mine is a 14mm / 15mm combo wrench so it's good for a few different jobs. Most vintage bikes aren't metric so you might want to take a look before buying - for instance many Bendix-equipped bikes have 11/16" rear axle nuts and 1/2" fronts! Many newer bikes will have 15mm wheel nuts and 14mm nuts on the seat clamp.
- Small Zip Ties
Great for reattaching things like chainguards, fenders or whatever else. 2 zip ties through a fender stay after you've lost the bolt can often work well enough that you don't really need to worry about replacing them. The small ones are also useful for attaching cables, lights, Canada flags or whatever else you might need to do. They're only so strong though so really they're most appropriate for lightweight jobs.
- Electrical Tape
Like the zip ties above electrical tape can save your butt when things come loose. You can wrap it around your handlebars to get a slippery grip to stay put or to give a little more clamping surface for a wandering light, seal up a rip in your seat till you get home, it can help you make a boot if you get a sidewall blowout and most importantly it is also a good tool for attaching Canada flags!
The Travelling Bike Mechanic
Sometimes I wonder if I'm going a bit overboard, but like I said I hate when someone breaks down and the whole ride gets stuck because of it. Some of these items I just carry because I find them useful or I've got a particular bike that needs them.
- Other Wrenches
These are firmly in the "not strictly necessary but nice to have" category. I carry a 9mm/10mm combo box end wrench which is the right size for most coaster brake nuts plus a lot of other smaller fasteners on the average bike. You certainly can do without but it's one of those "well if I have it I might as well use it" tools. I also carry a 1/2" wrench as it's a very common size on vintage bikes. It's the right size for most vintage stem bolts, seat post bolts, kickstand bolts and a lot of other things. I'd honestly like to have a couple other wrenches in my bag but the 1/2" is probably the most important if you're riding vintage.
- Small Ratchet
Again really not necessary, but does wonders on seat clamp bolts. Yes, you certainly can tighten or loosen your seat post clamp with a crescent wrench but this is waaaay less annoying. This guy is nice and small so fits in my bag easily. I probably could stand to toss another couple sockets in my bag - I usually keep a 14mm on it. The handle is too short to be used for anything high-torque like wheel nuts but you really don't need anything but a box end on those anyhow. Mostly just good for things that you don't have a lot of room to get a wrench on, like the aforementioned seat post clamp.
- Spare Parts
In this bag are a few items that have broken before causing us to get stuck on a ride. I've got spare wheel nuts, a couple axle washers, a spare coaster brake bolt, a spare coaster brake strap, a spare sprocket circlip and probably some other bits and pieces. I would love to have a couple links of chain and a chain tool too - used to have them in my bag but don't currently.
- Bottle Opener
This one comes with a disclaimer: NEVER BRING GLASS BOTTLES ON A RIDE!! Besides the clinking and the weight, guess what the most common cause of flat tires is? Broken glass! Don't be the cause. Anyhow, I have one, it comes in handy when people show up not only with glass bottles but without a way to open them. I mean come on... Also useful at parties...
The Other Stuff
I also have a couple other items in here...
- Space Blanket
This takes up almost no space and could seriously save your life if you needed it. I didn't go out and buy one, I found it sitting around my house and figured my bag was as good a place as any. But hey, say you slip down off the edge of a trail in the dark and are lying there freezing and unable to get help, you'd sure be glad you had this with you! It weighs basically nothing so why not?
- Diphenhydramine HCL (Benadryl)
Do you suffer from nighttime runny nose and sneezing? No? Well actually that's not what this is for... I'm one of those "lucky" people who have Anaphalactic allergic reactions to certain foods. While it's generally never a problem for me I feel a hell of a lot more comfortable knowing I can generally kill a reaction before it goes too far by chewing on one of these. They're only effective if taken before the reaction progresses so it's good to have them with me rather than having to run around trying to find a pharmacy or calling 911.
So there you have it! What's in YOUR bag?