I mentioned in my Pre-Ride Checklist post that one of the more important things I do is to do a quick check of the items I carry in my seat bag or hydration pack to be sure I have everything I need. I was never a Boy Scout, but Murphy's Law would dictate that the one time you forget to do this is when you'll be missing that crucial spare tube, CO2 cartridge, patch kit, or multi-tool - so this step can be considered to be "Murphy Insurance". O.k., that's a little cheesy...but it's true.
I have also advised many customers that it's no excuse to not carry this stuff because you don't know how to use it. Always carry what your bike needs whether you know how to use it or not - because if you have a problem and don't have what you need; it's possible that I might come along - but I may not be able to help if you don't have these items with you.
But how do you determine what to take with you anyhow? (And some of you might still be asking a different question: "I'm really supposed to take stuff along with me???")
Well, consider this a starting point or a loose guide. My kit inventory is not perfect for every situation and may not meet all of your needs - but I'm willing to bet that it meets about 90% of your needs. So here's my list from all my bikes; complete with photos and brand names, for your reading enjoyment (it'll be riveting reading I assure you). If you have found an item that works well for you or other suggestions - leave a comment - we'll let this post serve as a guide to help everyone have a better experience.
1) SEAT BAG/HYDRATION PACK - Obvious, I know; but I'm putting it on the list anyway since I have some preferences.
2) INNER TUBES - Possibly obvious as well; but no less important. I buy them 4-5 at a time because many bike shops give volume discounts when you buy more. Do it: you can never have too many spare tubes and this way I have multiples stacked on my work bench for that time when I forgot to re-stock my tube after a puncture during my post-ride checkover. I always carry one - two on longer rides.
Bonus tip: inner tubes cover a range of sizes which can be confusing. Check the width of your tire on the side wall and just buy the width of tube that covers that size. Example: if your road tires are 700x23 they are 23 mm wide so a 700x18-25 tube will work nicely. MTB: if your tires are 26x2.2 they are 2.2" wide and a 26x2.0-2.5 tube is perfect.
Cyclocross bike: 700 x 25-32mm with 32mm threaded presta valve. The regular box section rims here allow standard length valves. The only time I have a higher risk factor here is if I'm riding narrower road slicks for some pavement miles.I'll often just grab my road seat bag and strap it under the saddle for that ride.
Mountain bike: 26 x 2.0-2.5 mm with 32mm threaded presta valve. Box section rims again. This bike doesn't get road tires anymore; so no need to have another width of tube hanging around.
3) TIRE LEVERS - You can't fix a flat if you can't get the tire off the rim.
Road, Cyclocross, MTB: Soma Steel-Core tire levers. That's right - same great lever on all three bikes. I don't know how many of these I own; but after breaking a bunch of others over the years (Park TL-1 and 2, Pedros, QuikStik, Trek, et. al.) these looked like the answer and have served me well for several years now even on really tight tires.I think Park may have introduced a similar product - I'll have to them it soon.
4) INFLATION - A purposefully broad header. While CO2 cartridges have been my choice for many years now because of their quickness some rides and situations call for a good ol' fashioned pump. New technology brings some great advantages but there is nothing like the trusty standby. You'll notice a trend in how I address this need on a couple of my bikes...
Road: in my pack 100% of the time is the Genuine Innovations Airchuck Elite. This is your run of the mill CO2 inflator; accepting threaded CO2 cartridges, except it has "push to inflate" operation which allows a certain amount of on/off control over the flow of air into the tire. I like this inflator for its small size (remember; the pack on the road bike is small). 25-30% of the time when I'm riding a little longer I pack along the aforementioned 2nd Wind Road Carbon. This is a mini-pump and CO2 inflator in one unit in case I run out of CO2. I carry 2 full 16 gram threaded CO2 cartridges at all times and have carried as many as 4 depending on the ride. (The one long ride which I only carried 3; I needed 4 due to double-flatting and then cutting a tire. Bad day...)
Cyclocross: I believe this product is out of production now...but the Genuine Innovations 2nd Wind Road AL used to come in 2 lengths - mini and standard. I carry the standard length one in a bracket mounted under my down-tube bottle cage. I like the standard length one here because it pumps more air per stroke which works better for the higher air capacity of the wider cyclocross tires. This pack also gets 2 full CO2 cartridges at all times. Race day: unless you're just out for fun; if you flat you might as well pack it in unless you have a spare set of wheels in the pit. I strip the bike of EVERYTHING that doesn't contact my body or make it go forward.
Mountain bike: The battle tank of my inflation arsenal lives here: a 20+ year old Blackburn Mammoth Mountain mini pump. This pump has traveled along with every one of my mountain bikes. I do carry another Genuine Innovations Airchuck Elite in the pack for the quick jobs; but that mini pump has kept me from walking back to the trail head many times. Definitely carry a standard pump on your MTB if you're also using CO2.
The other advantage to the glueless patches is that the glue always drys out faster than you can use it in the vulcanizing kits. Rema has glue tubes available; but not every shop sells them. A store that caters to more cycle-tourists and commuters will be more likely to have it around.
6) MULTI-TOOL - This "swiss army knife for bikes" has a variety of different wrench sizes and screwdriver heads on it as well as occasionally having a variety of other tools like tire levers, a chain tool, and the ever-useful bottle opener. The important thing here is that your multi-tool ought to have the ability to tighten or adjust every bolt or screw on your bike. So if your bike has 6-bolt disc brakes you are likely to need a Torx T-25 bit at some point in time. Sram is also switching a lot of their bolt heads over from Hex (allen) to Torx (the 6-sided star shape). Commonly needed sizes are 6, 5, 4, 3 mm hex heads, and Phillips head screw drivers. Occasionally it is also nice to have an 8mm as this is still somewhat common for crank bolts and some pedals.
As with most of my kit; I tend to the minimalist side here. Having used a bunch of different ones, I really like the Park I-Beam and Bontrager Rollbar tools. They have the wrench sizes I need; fold down small to slide into a tight seat bag, and are somewhat repairable should something on the tool come loose.
Road and Cyclocross bike: Bontrager Rollbar
Mountain bike: Park I-Beam (because there is a Torx T-25 bit available)
7) ODDS AND ENDS - In all my packs in some form or another:
Presta Valve Adapter: This may seem like a weird one to some of you at first. I have always carried a presta valve adapter with me. This originated in the days that I didn't have a floor pump that would work with presta valves - only schrader valves. Why do I still carry it now that all my pumps work with presta valves? Well, sometimes the rubber grommet that secures the pump to the valve and keeps air from leaking while inflating the tire gets work out or damaged. If I have this adapter I can always use a different pump or the schrader attachment.
Emergency cash: The general store in Fly, Tennessee does not take debit or credit cards. Enough said.
But to say more: $5, 10, or 20 folded and stashed in your pack will buy food or drink when you're bonking, a spare tube or CO2 cartridge at the neighborhood shop to get you home, or first-aid when you've "augered-in" ("Tread - the Movie" reference for the old-school MTB crowd) and need to clean up your cuts and bruises. Can also help with gas money for the motorist who was nice enough to give you a lift home.
8) ALSO ALWAYS WITH ME - Mobile phone, debit card, identification, energy gel or bars, house key or car key.
Hopefully this is helpful and thought provoking. I'm sure I have readers out there with great ideas on other stuff to carry or preferences of their own - so leave a comment.
Then: take inventory of your own kit and then head down to the local bike shop to pick up what you're missing. It's money well spent!
Any suggestions? Anything you think I left out? (*cough* Chain Tool *cough*) Leave a comment and tell us why or what you think.