Tech Tip: What’s In My Bag?

From a very early age, I equated bicycles with freedom. With the aid of my two-wheeled companion, I was free to explore the seemingly endless collection of trails and dirt roads that were so plentiful in my youth. At the same time, that freedom instilled in me the importance of self-sufficiency. I learned firsthand that something as simple as a flat tire often meant a very long walk home. It didn’t take me long to figure out that carrying even the barest of necessities could eliminate those unplanned walks home.

As an adult, I’m surprised at how often I encounter stranded riders who are carrying no tools or spares. While they may have cell phones, their mechanical issues can usually be fixed in less time than it takes for them to be rescued by a friend or partner–if they had the necessary equipment. I’m not advocating that riders should be able to overhaul a cup-and-cone bottom bracket in the field, but carrying even a bare bones repair kit can mean the difference between riding and walking home.

After several years of fine tuning and experimentation, I’ve found that having two separate repair kits works best for me. I use a smaller kit for road and gravel riding, and have a second, larger setup for mountain and adventure-type riding. While each kit is a compromise of weight and size, I’ve never had to abandon a ride because I wasn’t carrying the necessary tools or spares. Having tools without knowing how to use them won’t do you much good, though. If you’re not sure how to fix a flat or adjust your bike’s brakes or derailleurs, see if your local bike shop offers maintenance classes or clinics.

Road / Gravel

Even though road and gravel makes up the majority of my riding, mechanical issues are few and far between. Problems are usually limited to the occasional puncture, or the need to make a minor adjustment. My road/gravel kit reflects those needs, and it gets tossed into whatever panniers or pack that I happen to be using at the time.

road_gravel_kit-min

  • Hold Fast canvas tool bag
  • 700×28-32 inner tube with Presta valve (brand varies)
  • Pedro’s tire levers
  • Blackburn Grid 13 multi-tool
  • Lezyne Pressure Drive pump
  • Bontrager tubeless tire sealant
  • Prestacycle mini ratchet with 8 mm and 10 mm sockets
  • Tubeless Presta valve and Presta adapter
  • CO2 cartridge and Lezyne Trigger Drive inflator

While the majority this kit’s contents are old favorites, the Blackburn multi-tool is a relatively new addition. Thanks to the Grid 13’s extensive set of features, it actually replaces several individual tools. The sturdy, all-in-one design is definitely more convenient, and reduces the likelihood of losing one of the smaller wrenches on the road or trail.

Thanks to tubeless tire technology, I experience very few punctures. Tubeless sealant tends to dry out quickly here in arid Colorado, so I do carry a small bottle of sealant in case a tire needs topping off. The inner tube is backup in the event of a slashed sidewall (or if a puncture is too large for sealant). Although not shown in the photo, I wrap my tubes in repurposed Tyvek shipping envelopes, which can be used as emergency tire boots.

MTB / Adventure

Looking at all this gear, you might get the impression that mountain biking or adventure riding is a lot harder on equipment than road or gravel riding. The truth is, most of what I carry in this kit is for fixing other people’s bikes on group rides (or helping stranded solo riders). Some folks might argue that being a rolling bike shop discourages other people from being self-reliant, but I don’t mind lending a helping hand when it’s needed.

mtb_gravel_kit-min

  • CamelBak tool wrap (included with their Skyline 10L hydration pack)
  • 27.5×2.25 inner tube with Presta valve (brand varies)
  • Pedro’s tire levers
  • Topeak Mini 9 multi-tool
  • Lezyne Alloy Drive pump
  • Bontrager tubeless tire sealant
  • Tubeless valve and valve core tool
  • CO2 cartridge and Silca EOLO III inflator
  • Wippermann Connex chain tool and quick link

Most of the above items are what you’d find in a mountain biker’s or adventure rider’s hydration pack. The 27.5″ tube can be used in 26″ or 29″ wheels in a pinch, and the Presta valve is also compatible with Schraeder-drilled rims. Wippermann’s Connex chain tool may not be the smallest or lightest, but it’s one of the most reliable and it comes with a reusable quick link. Why carry a multi-tool and Fix It Sticks? The multi-tool is fine for most adjustments or repairs, but sometimes you need a little extra leverage for components such as single-bolt seatposts or crankarms.

As I mentioned previously, I’ve fine tuned these repair kits to reflect my particular needs and conditions. Think of these lists as suggestions or starting points, but don’t hesitate to add–or remove–items that will make your bike more reliable–and ultimately–more enjoyable.

10 thoughts on “Tech Tip: What’s In My Bag?

  1. Interesting. Why would you need a CO2 inflator and a pump? Why a ratchet/socket wrench tool? I thought that hex nuts on bicycles are a thing of the past. Why a multitool with all those hex keys? You probably only need 2-3 of them – you may not even have all those screw types on your bicycle (such as Torx 25 or 30 or the 1.5mm allen).

    On my road/gravel bike I replaced some screws to limit their types to only 3 sizes: 4 and 5mm allen and a flat screwdriver head. Now I don’t need more than 3 tools (except the pedals that use a 6mm hex).

    1. Those are excellent questions.

      Seating a stubborn tubeless tire sometimes requires the use of CO2 cartridge/inflator.

      The 8 and 10 mm sockets are for rack and fender fittings. My Vaya’s Zipp stem and disc rotor bolts both take a T25 Torx key, and my Speedplay cleats are adjusted via a 2mm hex key. The advantage of the Grid 13 is that all of the tools are permanently attached, which means I won’t lose one of the smaller pieces on the side of the road or trail.

  2. I’m not sure which Lezyne pump to buy for a gravel bike. They have a confusing array broken loosely in to high pressure ones for skinny tires and high volume ones for MTB. Gravel tires sit in the middle. Seems like you like the Pressure Drive model. Would that work for as low as 28mm tires at 80 psi up to 42mm tires at 40 psi?

    1. The Pressure Drive is a good compromise of volume and pressure. I’ve used it on narrower tires and it worked much better than the high-volume Alloy Drive that I carry in the MTB kit.

  3. I notice you don’t have a chain breaker/tool for your gravel set up. Can you explain why? I have basically the same setup but always worry about not having a chain tool with me — although I have never needed it in the past two years of riding road and gravel. (I do carry one with my on my MTB and have only used it once on a friend’s bike)

    1. I’ve only experienced one chain failure in the wild, and it was on my MTB. Even though I was carrying a chain tool, there was so much additional damage that fixing the chain wouldn’t have made a difference.

      If, however, I was planning on doing a longer, more remote mixed-surface ride, I might toss a chain tool in the kit.

      Don’t try this at home:
      oops

      1. Wow – that photo looks like a mess!

        Thanks for the reply about the chain tool. Makes sense.

  4. Tools: I now carry a tool with long reach hex keys. Had a bar end shifter come loose on a remote adventure and every tool among our group came up !#@$… short. FWIW: Carrying a chain tool & quick links (9&10) has saved my bacon more than twice now.

  5. Saturday, I was looking at a mini multi tool that’s been in my saddle bag for years without getting used. I considered taking it out, but left it in. A half hour later, I came across a rider with a flat tire, and used it to pull a 1/4″ piece of wire out of her tread. It wasn’t sticking out enough to use my fingers.

  6. I bring spare brake pads because I’ve ingested sticks that ruined the pads twice. I probably could take out the fiberfix spoke and spare brake and shift cables, but they are stuffed up in my handlebars and a pain to remove. Leatherman Style PS comes with me for the pliers and tweezers. Then there are the spare bolts: rotor, cleat and bottle/rack/fender. I also carry a dynaplug as pennance for my paper thin Barlow Pass tires.

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