Without further ado, here are the ten essential items you should bring on any lengthy bike tour.
1. Flat kit: spare tube, puncture repair kit and hand pump
Yes, I am aware those are actually three items but they are all equally important and should be treated as a whole, meaning you shouldn’t leave home without one or the other. Think on how you’d feel just after skillfully and successfully patching up your tube and realizing you don’t have any method of filling it with air. I don’t even want to contemplate that option, so please, please don’t forget to take all three.
Be advised, before buying spare tubes, you’d better know what you are shopping for.
If you are not sure how to determine which type of valve your bike has or even what tube size you need, the most obvious solution would be to inspect your bike. Failing that, you can ask your mechanic when you are going for the mandatory pre-ride servicing.
If you decide to take a closer look by yourself (as you should), on the side of the tire you will notice a bunch of esoteric numbers that basically give you the tube size in inches or centimeters and the recommended pressure in bar or psi.
Just in case you are not sure what you’re looking at, taking my bike as an example you’d read: 29 x 1.10 (inches) followed by 700 x 28c (cm). These are the numbers you are interested in, and you will find these inscribed on all tube boxes or labels.
When you are doing your inspection it will be important to also note what type of valve your bike has. There are two basic types of valves being used, Presta and Schrader, with Presta generally being used on road bikes and Schrader on MTBs, but don’t take this as a golden rule! My road bike and the MTB both have Presta, so don’t let that generalization fool you.
So how do you differentiate between them?
Presta are slim and lighter compared to the thicker, more robust Schrader. Perhaps the best way to identify a Presta is the lock nut at the end, which the other valve type does not have.
- Since everything takes space in your already crammed bags, I’d recommend going with only one tube and a repair kit.
- If you have a flat, try to repair it using the puncture repair kit and use the spare tube only if for some reason you can’t repair the hole or tear.
- Once you have used the spare tire, I’d strongly advise to look for the first bike store and get yourself a new spare.
When it comes to putting some pressure in those tires on the road, you can go with either a manual pump or a CO2 tire inflator. The very first thing you have to check is that the inflating device you are planning to take with you has the same valve head as your tires.
If you go with the hand pump, I’d recommend one with a pressure gauge. You can find models that come with a support which allows it to be attached to the bike frame. A decent pump of this type should set you back around 20$. Don’t forget to try it out before setting out and making sure it fits your tire valves and that it functions properly .
A CO2 tire inflator and some spare gas cylinders will cost even less than 20$.
So which should you pick?
Each of these has its advantages and drawbacks.
With a hand pump you can have as much air for your tires as your arms will allow it, forever. The drawbacks are quite predictable: you will have to put a lot of physical effort into it and it will take a while. And even if time was not an issue (and since you are on a pleasure trip it shouldn’t be), you would probably find it hard to properly fill a road bike tire. Mountain bikes tubes, requiring less pressure, should prove a more manageable challenge.
With CO2 you have an easier job ahead of you. You simply attach the inflator head to the valve and should get a fully inflated tire in about one minute. Bear in mind that some of the inflators out there don’t allow regulating the flow of gas from the cylinder, so you should try to get one that does, even if it’s a bit more expensive.
The drawback with CO2 is the fact that the gas cylinder is a consumable. They are not very expensive but you will need to carry 3-4 around and what happens if you have a really bad day and you run out of cylinders?
- If you decide to go for the CO2 inflator, the best bet would be to take a pump as well, use the CO2 as the need arises and keep the pump as a last resort.
- Put in as much air as your tire indicates – the recommended pressure is written on the side of the tire, after the size; for example mine shows 6.0 – 8.0 bar (or) 85-115 psi.
- Pressure gauges would usually display at least one of these scales, if not both.
Puncture repair kit
These should be the easiest to pick as you want a kit that contains all of these: assortment of patches in different sizes, glue, tire levers and a bit of sand paper. A compact well stocked kit will set you back less than 5$ so it will be one of the cheapest and smallest indispensable items you will have to take along.
Make sure to watch a tutorial on how to remove and repair a tire, should you need to do this operation on the road. The operations involved aren’t very complex but they do require a bit of time and practice.
Lastly but not least, I always try to bring a small pack of wet wipes and some surgical gloves. That way you will make sure you’re hands and not covered up to the elbow in chain grease, as it’s quite difficult to remove.
- It wouldn’t hurt to practice taking out a tube and putting it back once or twice, just to get the hang of it.
- If you get new tires before the tour, that would be a great occasion to try out your hand. That way you won’t have to learn how to do it on the ride, as a flat is the most common fault your bike could develop.
- Watch this great video to learn how to change a tube and tire.
2. Allen keys
The screws called Allen screws, hex screws (from hexagonal) or simply cap screws see ubiquitous usage on bikes. Whenever you have to tighten a screw on your saddle or whatever, it will probably be one of these. Just to give you an idea of how wide-spread these are, consider that Allen wrenches are by far one of the most used tools in a bike repair shop.
That being said, one of the most important tools you can take with you is an Allen key set which is designed to deal with these hex screws. These are made specially for bikes and from a distance can look like a pocket knife, being of similar size and shape. They come with a variety of standard sizes, to ensure you always have the right size for the job on hand.
You could also pick individual keys or even the triplet (you will know it when you see it), but while these might take slightly less space, you might miss the one size that you need.
Tip: go with a fold up Allen keys set designed for bikes, as they provide the highest variety of sizes in the most compact package.
When it comes to the bike chain, you have 2 possible solutions for carrying repairs in the field. You can either go with a couple of quick repair links or bring along a spare chain and its repair tool.
Quick repair chain links
The quick repair chain links can be a bit pricey and you’d need to make sure you have at least 2 with you. As with the CO2 cylinders, they are here to make the mechanical fiddling a little less obnoxious, and should be used for quick repairs.
If you have to use one of them, replace it as soon as you can. You don’t want to be caught without a spare.
Chain and chain repair tool
Also known as a chain breaker, the repair tool is a small gadget resembling perhaps a medieval torture device. Or you know, a vice. If you have a bit of extra space in your bags, I’d recommend to take one and a spare chain, instead of the quick links, especially if you are embarking on a longer tour.
The last tour I did with my friend, his chain broke 5 or 6 times. This most likely had to do with the insane amount of gear that he packed, combined with the fact that he’s not the shortest lad out there. Point is, quick repair links would have gone out way before we finished our tour.
Repairing a chain with the breaker tool is a bit of a different beast than using the quick links. You’d need to learn how to use the repair tool, so, as usual, watching a youtube video can always help.
On the plus side, once you use the spare chain you will be left with loads of extra links (which you will save), meaning that you can repair it many times should you have to. In order to avoid having this problem, the best would be to pack light, since not even an expensive chain can save you if you carry too much.
Tip: pick quick repair links if you are planning to tour close to civilization and a spare chain and breaker tool if you are looking at straying from the beaten path.