My Six Must-Have Items for Biking Season
I know, ski season isn’t dead yet! But it certainly is fading and it’s time for this piano rocker to change his choice of personal speed enhancement. I’m obviously ruling out rocket boots and motorcycles, opting instead for my favorite terrestrial conveyance on this planet: the mountain bike.
We’re about to host a little bike tune-up party at my place in the next week or two and I wanted to share my list of absolute necessities (other than a bike and a helmet, of course) that I just don’t want to travel without. Yeah, this is a list of affiliate links, but I’m not kidding when I say that every single one of these items goes with me when I’m pedaling. If you don’t want to throw a little support my way, just save this page and take it to your local bike store as a shopping list.
Bike tires are tough, but inner tubes are not. They have a tendency to develop weaknesses by just sitting in the garage over the winter, so you never know when you might develop a flat. You could be miles away from any bike shops, taxis, or phone service (depending on how hardcore your biking gets). Also, you really don’t want the embarrassment of having to truck your bike home because of a tiny pinhole.
I used to think bike patch kits were like raft or air-mattress patch kits- a tube of goop and some rubber circles that would take over an hour to cure. NOPE. A solid patch kit is nothing more than a tiny square of sandpaper and some stickers. The repair doesn’t need to outlast the bike, it just needs to last the rest of the day. Let’s be honest… if you get a repairable flat while out riding, you’re just going to replace that tube ASAP anyway. And speaking of which…
Seriously, this is as indispensable as your helmet. Would you drive without a spare tire? I wouldn’t either. That’s like traveling to the next star system without a reserve charge for the BMF drive (assuming you pilot the same spacecraft I do). I just wish that, as far as tires go, my van’s spare tire could fold up like one of these. See the picture? See how small they are? Trust me, there’s room in your pack to bring one along, I’ve needed a spare more than a few times.
But wait… didn’t you just buy a patch kit? Hopefully yes… but if the tire is damaged by a tear or a blowout, no sticker will fix that. Also, you really can’t repair damage around the valve stem. The patch kit is a lifesaver, but it’s only the first line of defense.
This, however, is a finicky item: NOT ALL TUBES ARE THE SAME. Your rim size is probably 26″, but are you sure? How wide are your tires? Do you need a Schrader valve (like your car tires) or one of those annoying Presta valves? Make sure you go to your bike and read what’s printed on the tires before buying a spare tube. Take a look at the valve stem too, the two standards look totally different so it shouldn’t be hard to match the picture to what’s on your bike.
If you’ve just fixed a flat, obviously you’ll need something to put air back in that tire. Pumps are cheap, tiny, and can be mounted right onto the frame so you don’t have to carry them in your pack. Actually, if you don’t have a suspension seat, you can even buy pumps that double as your seat post, though those aren’t nearly as common.
One important thing to look for, once again, is the type of valve your tires use. The Schrader vs. Presta merit debate is pretty pointless (besides, everyone knows they only put Presta valves on mountain bikes to make them look more expensive). What I’d recommend when buying a pump is just get one with a built-in adapter that’ll let you do both. After all, bailing out a stranger who forgot his pump is a good way to make friends.
There isn’t much you can’t adjust on a mountain bike if you have a 5mm Hex Wrench, Flathead Screwdriver, and Phillips Screwdriver. The tool I use actually has a chain repair tool and spoke tools as well, though thankfully I haven’t needed them yet. True, your average Leatherman or other pliers-based multi-tool goes a long way too, but just the hex wrenches alone will save your bacon when something comes apart in the middle of the woods.
The tire lever is basically just a durable plastic wedge that helps pry the tire off your bike and force it back into the rim again. But wait, couldn’t you just use a screwdriver or a plastic knife? Yeah… if your rims and tires are easy to work with. On my main ride, Frankenstein, I can almost change tires without any tools at all. On my electric bike, The Myxercycle, it takes an act of Congress (or a couple of tire levers) just to get the tire unseated. Also, not knowing how to change a tire or tube by yourself is as idiotic as driving a car without knowing how to change a tire. You… DO know how to change a car tire, right?
They come in many flavors, but the key thing you want to look for is a tab or hook designed to brace the lever against one of the spokes. This lets you keep one part of the tire in place while a second tire lever works the rest of the tire back into the rim.
Got a backpack for biking season? Stop right there, you’re covered. I, however, prefer a dedicated little pouch for my bike-specific must-haves. Everything but my pump lives in this little wedge that rides under my ass and never leaves the bike. It’s the only way I can be sure I won’t forget something important. How big a bag you need really depends on your preference, but if you’re trying to stay super-light, the little wedge pack is a perfect fit.
If you’re planning to carry groceries or a tackle box or something more substantial, you’ll need something a little more involved, but you’ll have to do your own shopping there, I’m just here to cover the absolute necessities. There’s only one last item I’d call a strongly-recommended option…
I’ll leave the size, contents, and packaging for this one up to your discretion. While not an absolute biking necessity, it’s come in handy at least twice. Pavement scrapes, tree branches, poison ivy, bee stings, and the obvious cuts and bruises are pretty typical. Last season we ended up patching some guy went headfirst into the pavement (with a helmet, thank God) and got a pretty deep head wound over his eyebrow from his sunglasses. You never know what kind of emergency you’ll encounter, so I just bring my hiking kit with me in my backpack. It’s not that heavy and there’s always room on my back for some peace of mind.
I’m sure there are hardcore bikers out there who bring spare chains, brake pads, and the like. The city bikers will obviously need a headlight and tail light if they’re riding at night, but this is an off-road list. I don’t want to give people the impression that they need a pile of stuff just to go for a spin, but I honestly wouldn’t go more than a block from my house without everything I listed here. Did I miss anything essential?