Essentials to Carry With You on Every Bike Ride
Unsure what to bring along on your rides? Cycling Expert Jared Fontaine covers all the essential items to have when cycling so you're never caught unprepared.
All too often, when I’m two blocks from my house, I forget one of my bike-riding essentials and end up click-clacking, walking on my cleats, all the way back home.
In this article, we will discuss what your essentials should be on every bike ride you take, and how to carry them so that you won’t be walking home or riding in misery.
1. Patch Kit and Two Tubes
Why do flats happen to good people? It is a bright, sunshiny day, you are riding along and nothing could be better, then all of a sudden you hear a hiss. With that, your nice day has turned into a miserable one. Even if you have tools to fix your flat, you can still feel your happiness escaping your body as your tire loses PSI (pounds per square inch). Even the toughest, double Kevlar, tubeless tires get flats. So you’ll need a patch kit like the Park Tool or Giant Control kit.
If you have time to sit on the side of the road, I recommend having a patch kit, tire levers, and a CO2 cartridge as your bare minimum supplies. Patch kits and CO2 cartridges are lightweight and can fit inside the rear pocket of your cycling jersey. I use these on spell events like a Strava Personal Record or a race where every second counts. This is also normally in the summertime, so there is less debris on the roads to cause flats.
There are two problems with patch kits and CO2 cartridges. One, CO2 cans have a one-time use. I have flatted, fixed the flat (so I thought), and then found out that the tire immediately deflated after my can was empty. If you are in this situation and that is your last CO2 can, you will have to walk home. Two, patches can’t fix all flats. If the hole is big enough or a piece of glass slices the tire, you are out of luck.
Pro Tip: If you do use a CO2 can, let the air out when you get back home because CO2 will leak through the rubber and you will get an unnecessary flat on the next ride.
Normally I ride with a mini pump, two spare tubes, tire levers, and a patch kit. With a good-quality mini pump, you can fill a tire with fewer strokes. We also have a starter kit that has a C02 inflator, multi-tool, tire levels, and a saddlebag to hold everything safely under your saddle. Also, there are very lightweight pumps on the market to decrease the weight penalty that can fit inside your saddle bag or jersey pocket. I always carry at least two tubes because if I run over a sharp object in the road and it punctures both tires, I will be able to fix them.
Moreover, you don’t want to be on the side of the road in the wintertime, patching a tire as the sun starts to set and the mercury starts to drop. It can be very difficult to find the hole or holes in the tube, especially with freezing numb fingers. It is much easier to take the old tube out, run your fingers inside the tire to feel for anything sharp still stuck in the tire, throw another tube inside, and head home instead of patching the tube on the side of the road. You can always patch the old tube inside the warmth of your own home!
I keep a patch kit with me because if I get three flats, hopefully, I can fix one of the punctured tubes. Even with tubeless tires, I keep a tube with me just in case I need it. Although it is very difficult to puncture a tubeless tire, it is still possible if something slashes the tire. This happened to a friend of mine and he had tons of sealant all over himself afterward.
Back in the day, it was “pro” to carry all of your flat kit in your back pocket. Saddlebags, or the bags under your saddle, were not cool and seen as ugly and not aerodynamic. Times have changed and now they are back in fashion. These are great for long rides because they free up space in your jersey, especially in the winter when you have a wind vest, warmers, food, money, ID, wallet, phone, and other things mashed into your three tiny jersey pockets.
Although flats are one of the most common problems you will encounter on the road, it is not the only one. This is why having a cycling-specific multi-tool is a MUST. You may have to adjust the brakes, especially disc brakes, and you will need Allen keys. Also, your headset or bar can become loose after a crash or large bump in the road and a multi-tool is useful to have in these situations.
I recommend using a cycling-specific tool because if you break a spoke, you will need to tighten the other spokes around it to get the wheel somewhat true. If the wheel is too out of true, you won’t be able to ride home.
Pro Tip: Generally, if you break more than two spokes on a wheel, it is time to replace it.
3. Front and Rear Lights
I used to ride without lights because I would take short rides and I did not want the extra weight on the bike. I changed my mind on a trip to the French Alps when I cycled up two mountains and I had to descend the last mountain to get home. I had flatted and gotten lost, so my timetable was off and I had to descend the mountain at night with no lights. When I got to the base of the mountain, it was pitch black, which is extremely dangerous. Fortunately for me, a French couple took me in and gave me a place to stay for the night. You never know what is going to happen, so now I just leave my lights fully charged on my bike in case I lose track of time and there are no friendly locals to take me in.
For a front light, I use at least a 350-lumen light for the road and 1000 or more lumens for mountain biking. With a 350-lumen front light, you can see the road well enough to ride at night, just like a car. These lights also have flashing and higher and lower modes to save battery. Moreover, they are USB rechargeable.
The rear light should be at least 50 lumens and have multiple flashing modes. The human eye sees movement before anything else. I like to keep the rear light on flash to save battery. I also never use the strobe setting because I don’t want to blind drivers or fellow riders.
4. Two Water Bottles
I always ride with two water bottles. When you are cycling, you lose a lot of sweat, especially in the heat. I like large bottles because they can hold more liquid. Generally, you want to drink one bottle an hour. Sometimes, I set a timer to remind myself to drink. I like one bottle to be a mixture of electrolytes and water and another one with just water. I use thermal bottles in the summer and winter because they keep drinks cold in the summer and keep drinks from freezing in the winter.
You should always have a spare bar or snack with you. Hitting the wall, or bonking, is one of the worst feelings in cycling. It is caused when your blood sugar levels go down and it can be very dangerous because you are weak, can’t think, and are sometimes dizzy. You should be eating something with sugar and carbs to prevent it. I generally take an oatmeal bar with me because the oats release slow-burning carbs to keep my energy levels full.
I usually keep a bar in my left-hand side pocket because I am right-handed, so I can hold onto the bars while eating. If I am climbing, I add energy gels to my pockets. These are great to have if you can’t chew while climbing but you still want to get sugar to your muscles. Also, if I am riding for four hours or more, I take more bars and gels than I need. Sometimes you will need more energy than you thought you needed!
No matter how long the ride, I ALWAYS use a helmet. Trust me, bouncing your head off the pavement is not fun. Even a 10-mile-an-hour crash can cause serious damage to your brain. I only use helmets with MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System), SPIN, or similar technology that reduces the rotational impact in the event of a crash. These technologies work to reduce rotational impact by allowing the liner to move 10 to 15 millimeters and having a synthetic membrane inside the helmet to absorb impact.
7. Phone and Cycling Computer
You should always ride with a smartphone for directions and to call the broom wagon (your partner) to come pick you up. If you are 30 miles away from home and you crash or something happens to your bike that you can’t fix like cracking your frame or five flats, having a way to call someone is best. Moreover, a cell phone can be good for directions if your cycling computer does not have GPS.
Pro Tip: I always use a cycling computer like a Garmin to save my cell phone for emergencies.
Some people use their cell phones to record cycling data such as distance, speed, and directions. I never use the phone for this for three reasons detailed below:
1. Battery Life
When you are recording data for five or more hours with a screen that is constantly on, it will drain your battery. I want to keep my phone charged just in case I have a flat or another issue. If something happens, a quick two-hour ride can turn into a much longer one. Once I went out with a group for a four-hour ride and it took six hours because someone crashed and we had to wait to ensure he was okay. If I had used my phone, the battery might have lasted long enough for me to call 911.
Instead, I use a GPS computer. They are designed to last longer; most cycling computers can last with the screen on for 25 hours or more. The Garmin Edge 1030 has turn-by-turn GPS, Strava, and much more.
2. Phone Safety
I always keep my phone in a plastic bag in the middle-back pocket or zipper middle pocket of my jersey. Objects in that middle pocket are less likely to bounce out, so I put my phone in a plastic bag there because cycling jerseys are designed to pull sweat away from your body and the phone will get wet otherwise.
If I crash, my phone is less likely to be destroyed. I have crashed many times on the bike and the last thing I want is my only emergency contact info to be destroyed on impact. Once, I was descending a steep hill and a bright red pickup truck was going too slow. I slammed into the back of the truck and ended up in the middle of the road, sitting on the yellow double line. Since my handlebars went into the truck’s tail light, if I had my phone on the handlebar it might have been destroyed and I would not have been able to call for help. This is even more important for mountain bikers since they crash more often.
Also, people will steal your thousand-dollar phone off your bars. It is easy for someone to steal your expensive cell phone if you leave it on the bars. When I first started riding in the D.C. area, I left my cheap cycling computer on my handlebars because I had to use the bathroom inside of a coffee shop. When I came back, someone stole my 10-dollar cycling computer. If that had been my phone, I would have had a lot of problems since I would have no way to communicate.
The amount of data that you get from a dedicated cycling computer is much better than an app, especially for people who are training. I use my cycling computer for certain power meter workouts, and I have multiple screens to do certain workouts. Most dedicated cycling computers have customizable screens so you can see certain metrics.
Generally, I do hill repeats so I have a screen that shows power, gradient, lap time, and watts per kilo so I can pace my workout correctly, making it easier to train. For example, I may have a workout of five 10-minute hill repeats of four watts per kilo. It is much easier to accomplish this with the lap feature on a dedicated cycling computer. When I upload the workout to TrainingPeaks or Strava, I can review my progress and weaknesses to improve.
Moreover, cycling computers are lighter and more aerodynamic. Some cycling computers are designed to stay out of the wind and save watts.
Yes, money makes the world go around and you will need it on a bike ride. I usually keep a few bills in the same plastic bag as my phone. Nothing is weirder than going to a coffee stop and handing the attendant a soggy, wet five-dollar bill. I also put my credit card and ID inside the bag, unless the jersey I’m wearing has a small zipper pocket, in which case I would put my keys and other valuables inside the pocket.
Now you are prepared for whatever happens on the road, bike trail, or mountain bike trail. No matter if you have a flat, broken spoke or a sugar crash, now you’ll be prepared to have a fun bike ride!