Adventures in Cycling V: Bike Tools

For this week’s post on cycling, I’m going to cover the basic tools for taking care of your bike. This won’t fix any major problem, but will help for the simplest of maintenance and repairs. I’ve included a number of links to R.E.I. for examples, but if this is your first time seriously cycling, please stop in at your local bike shop or ask a more experienced friend for how to use all these things. It may seem silly, but when I got my road bike I had NO IDEA how to unlock the valves and reinflate my tires.

First off, a bike pump, preferably with a pressure gauge. Your bike should have written in the owner’s manual, the tire or on the rim, what the optimal pressure is for your bike. Unlike cars, it won’t destroy your bike to ride on a flat, but it’s hard and not a lot of fun. I got an upright pump to help me get the downward pressure to properly inflate my tires (110 psi), which cost me less than $50.

Next, a bottle of chain lubricant. When I’m cycling a lot (75+ miles/week) I add a drop of lube to every link in my chain once a week. Otherwise, I do it about once a month. A bottle of this will cost at most $10 and last you for a long time.

Beyond maintenance, every once in a while you’ll probably get a flat. If so, you’ll need a spare inner tube. Once again, check the dimensions needed, which should be on your tire or wheel, or listed in your owner’s manual. A spare tube usually costs in the $10 to $12 range.

If you find yourself getting a lot of flats, like I do, consider investing in a set of tire liners. I was getting at least 1 flat a week, and while I really enjoyed practicing changing my inner tubes on the side of a busy road and becoming an expert tire patch-er, these things were worth the $20 for the piece of mind and increased safety. Since I bought them over 6 months ago, I haven’t changed a single flat.

When it comes to tools, there’s a lot of options in a lot of price ranges. For the utmost basics, pick up a set of tire levers, like these, which should cost under $5. When that flat tire happens (and it will!) use these to get the tire off so you can replace the inner tube.

If I get a flat while out riding, I don’t have my big pump to re-inflate my tire by the side of the road and I find those hand-held bike mounted pumps to be frustratingly slow. Instead I have a CO2 cartridge with a reusable attachment, like this, so I can fill my tires in just a minute or two. Once the cartridge is used, I throw it in the recycling and grab another.

After you’ve replaced your inner tube, the thrifty cyclist carries it home and patches it rather than just throwing it away. I keep two of these kits around, also less than $5 apiece, one at home and one with my bike just in case. I’ll reuse tubes until they develop an untraceable slow leak, they bust a previous patch or I hit 3 or 4 patches on the same tube.

The last few tools I listed are ones a smart cyclist carries around with them for all rides. In order to keep it all together, plus have space for my ID, keys and cell phone, I use a saddle bag (or what I refer to as my bike’s fanny pack), which attaches to the back of seat and can be found for less than $20.

I’m working on some videos to demonstrate how to do these things (and so you can judge my Minnie Mouse voice), but in the mean time, once again, please check in with your local cycle store, your favorite friend who rides a lot, or even YouTube.

And coming up next week in Adventures in Cycling: how to ride in the cold, for those of you in colder climates or who are chicken like me.


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