The Essentials to Handle Flats, Sticky Situations, and Rough Roads

The basic carry for any adventure by bicycle should include a phone, your house keys, a drivers license or state issued ID, and optionally a cash or credit card) depending on the destination and distance). Now consider when out on the road, or on your MTB, the number one problem cyclists encounter is a flat tire.

In the simplest terms, the most important items to bring with you are your mobile phone, house and/or car keys and a driver’s license. You can carry all of this in a small plastic bag stuffed in one of your jersey pockets. Also consider carrying your insurance card, some cash and optionally a credit card.

The basic carry for any adventure by bicycle should include a phone, your house keys (you did lock the door, right!?), a driver’s license or state-issued ID and optionally, cash or a credit card, depending on the destination or distance.

Now consider when out on the road, or on your MTB, that the number one problem cyclists encounter is a flat tire. So, this next grouping are essentials needed to get you back onto the bike quickly. Depending on what types of roads or trails you ride, many cyclists opt for a tire sealant. If you run clinchers, you can add a sealant to both tubes, and if you run tubeless, add some to the inside of the tire. Sealant used in tubeless tires should last several months before drying out and needing to be added again. One area of concern for the tubeless is how corrosive the sealant is to the inside of the rim. Do a little research and contact the wheel manufacturer first before selecting a sealant for your tires. I have seen a certain sealant used with a certain wheel and after 6 months, the inside of the tubeless wheel was completely rusted.

Before you head to your local bike shop to buy a spare, you’ll need to know:

Presta or Schrader Valve – A schrader valve won’t fit in a wheel designed for a Presta valve. Schrader valves are much thicker than Presta and ubiquitous to automobiles.

Valve Stem Length – The length of the stem required will depend on the rim depth of the wheels you are riding.

Tube Size – It’s not a good experience when you pull out a 650C spare tube when you are riding 700C wheels. Match the tube size to your wheel size you’re riding. The width of the tube is dictated by the tire. If you are running 700x25C tires, you can use either 18-25mm, 19-25mm, 23-26mm, or 25-28mm.

Tube Material – Tubes come in many materials, choose one that will match your application. In general, standard butyl rubber works best for most applications. For racing on a smooth surface use a lightweight latex tube. Self-healing and thorn-proof tubes have their place, but are comparatively heavy. If you do get a flat roll the tube up and patch it at home. For the cost-conscious, when tubes have 3 patches and you get the 4th flat, time to throw out.

Tire Boot – What happens when you run over a piece of glass or metal and get a slice in your tire? You basically have 2 options, you can call for help or you can boot the tire. The best boot material I have found is plain ol’ duct tape. I take both a 4mm and on the other end, the angle of the 5mm. That way I can use either tool if needed. I secure them together using duct tap with at least 10 turns of tape. This gives me plenty to use if needed. When I need to boot a tire, I can rip off the exact amount of tape to form 2-3 layers on the inside of the tire.

Co2 Cartridges – I have seen two separate crashes where the cyclist had broken ribs due to a mini pump head, and 1 or 2 cartridges. Make sure you read the instructions as there are both threaded and non-threaded CO2 cartridges and you will need to use the correct one with the pump head. CO2 cartridges also come in different capacities, usually 12gm, 16g, and 25g. The smaller capacity cartridges are usually used for road bikes, while the 25g is used for mountain bikes. There are lots of options out there so pick one that best meets your needs.

Multi-tool with Chain – Look for something with a variety of hex keys, spoke wrenches and something to remove and install chain pins for your bike chain. Pedro’s offers the R x M Multitool, a $24 wonder that does it all, including a chain tool. No more fixing a chain by pounding links in with a rock! It comes in at 163g and is warranted for life.

Tire Levers – You will need at least two levers to remove most tires. Tire levers are typically found in many varieties; plastic, plastic with a steel core, aluminum alloy, and even carbon fiber. Avoid steel levers, they will mark aluminum and shred carbon wheels. Most plastic break easily, especially when trying to take off or put on a tight tire. Plastic levers with a steel core will also tend to break easily where the steel insert ends. The best tire lever I have ever used is from Pedro’s, and for the past 6 years these are the only levers I have used.

Safety First – Always wear eye protection (sport sunglasses included) when taking off or putting on a tire in the event the lever breaks and the broken plastic hits you in the eye.

PRO TIP: The valve stem hole (on the inside of the rim) on some wheels can be sharp enough to cut a tube. Take some sand paper or a small file and remove any burrs on the inside of the rim. This will ensure that your tubes won’t be cut where they insert into the valve stem hole. 

As previously mentioned, carrying gear in your jersey can cause further injury in a crash. A saddle bag is the best way to ensure you’ll always have what you need. I prefer Topeak bags as they have always been consistently the highest quality and last the longest. They have a full range of bags including my favorite, the Aero Wedge pack. Sizes are available in XS, S, M, and L with a MSRP just under $33.

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