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A person’s hand using a tire iron to remove a tire from a bicycle rim

Key Items To Keep in Your Cycling Bag

There’s a lot that can go wrong on a ride. No matter how alert you are to road hazards and other issues, there are plenty of small things that can derail you on the bike, costing you time or ending your ride completely. 

The best thing you can do is to be sure you know which proverbial bumps in the road you might encounter — and come equipped with the tools you need to address most of them quickly. That way, even when something goes wrong, you’re ready to fix the problem and get back to pedaling. 

Longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie has been around the block a few times on a bike, and over the years he’s learned to ensure he has everything he needs for nearly every potential problem he’ll encounter on a ride. Here are the nine most common issues he comes across — and the tool he recommends having in your saddle bag for each one.

A Flat Tube

A flat tube is by far the most likely problem you’ll face when cycling. If you’ve been riding long enough, you’ve probably already dealt with at least one.

Flats aren’t just an individual problem, either. If you’re on a group ride, flats can multiply quickly, depleting the supplies of the entire group. Darryl was once on a ride with six other riders in which the group got nine flat tires at the same time. In moments like that, preparation is critical. 

What you need: The two most important tools for quick flat fixes are spare tubes and CO2 cartridges. We’ll touch on a few more items that can help, too, but these are essential. Always carry at least two tubes — more for rides over 50 miles — and four CO2 cartridges.  

Something Stuck in Your Tire

When you do get a flat, it’s critical to make sure you’ve taken care of the cause. If the perpetrator is still stuck in your tire when you inflate the new tube, you’ll soon be right back in the same position. 

Even if you find the cause, it can sometimes be difficult to remove it from your tire. That’s why you need to make sure you have the right tool on hand. 

What you need: A simple, small pair of tweezers will usually take care of the problem, and you never what other ways they might come in handy. Darryl once helped a fellow cyclist remove a bee stinger with his pair.

A Hole You Can’t Find 

In some ways, having a nail or another object clearly stuck in your tire is a blessing in disguise. After all, that makes it much easier to find the hole in your tube.

However, if you can’t find the object at first glance, that doesn’t mean you’re safe. It’s still critical to find the hole in your tube so you can align it with your tire and find even the smallest sharp object before putting a new tube in. 

What you need: Here, a hand pump is essential. You can use it to slightly inflate the removed tube and listen for air. Once you find the hole (and before you’ve fully removed the tube), you can line it up with your tire and make sure you’ve cleared out the cause. 

Loose Bolts

With all the (literal) bumps you encounter on the road, not to mention the weather changes, you’re bound to find some loose bolts on your bike now and then. They can happen anywhere, but Coach Darryl finds the water bottle cage to be the most common location. Wherever you find them, it’s important to have what you need to quickly tighten things up.

What you need: A multi-tool is like a Swiss Army Knife for cyclists. Complete with the most common types of hex-heads, Philips heads, flat heads and star heads, it has everything you need for quick bike adjustments. 

A Broken Tire Iron 

Tire irons are another important tool for fixing flats. So named because iron was once the material of choice for them, now they’re commonly known as tire levers, and they’re small, plastic and lightweight. But that also makes them easy to break. If you only have one, and it meets its demise on a ride, you may find it difficult to get your tire off for a tube change. 

What you need: Coach Darryl recommends always keeping four tire irons in your saddle bag. That way, you’ve got plenty of backups — and plenty to share if multiple riders go down with flats. 

A Broken Regulator 

A regulator is another important flat-fixing tool, and you can’t use your CO2 cartridges without one. As Darryl puts it, it’s “like having a car with no car key.”

Like tire irons, CO2 cartridges can break. Darryl once even had one explode on him while filling a tube. If that happens, you’re stuck with a hand pump — unless you have extras. 

What you need: Darryl always recommends carrying two regulators, just in case one of them blows out.

A Broken Chain 

Broken chains don’t happen often, but if one does catch you unprepared, your ride is over. Without a chain, you’re not going anywhere on your bike. We’ve talked elsewhere about the best practices for chain cleaning and maintenance, and that should help you prevent a broken chain. However, it’s still a good idea to be prepared.

What you need: Luckily, it’s easy to replace a broken chain link. A simple master link like this one provides a quick fix and will get you back on the road in no time.

No Way To Get Air Into Your Tire

If you’ve got plenty of CO2 and a backup hand pump, you won’t likely find yourself in this situation often. Still, every now and then, you may urgently need air for your tire, and the gas station could be your only option.

When that happens, the last thing you want to find is that your tire valve is incompatible with the gas station’s air pump. But, since bikes and cars usually use different valves, that’s what will happen if you’re not prepared.

What you need: To be sure you could pump up in a pinch, Darryl recommends keeping a Presta-to-Schrader valve adapter in your saddle bag. This handy tool will allow you to connect at any gas station so you can fill up quickly. 

You Just Can’t Find What You Need

The final issue concerns your saddle bag itself. Unfortunately, many of them aren’t designed with quick access in mind.

“One of the worst things about many saddle bags is that the little things end up at the back, so you end up having to take everything out in order to get to what you need,” explains Darryl. This slows down your repair job considerably. 

What you need: The fix is simple here. Make sure you have a saddle bag with a see-through, mesh divider so you can easily store your small tools separately to prevent them from mixing with everything else.

Always Be Prepared

No cyclist wants to have their ride interrupted or cut short by a minor issue. Yet, without the right tools on hand, that’s exactly what can happen. The farther you go, and the more often you ride on remote, rural roads, the more important it is to make sure you’re well stocked for trouble. 

Before your next ride, take stock of what’s in your saddle bag and make sure you’re ready to go.


You can find more cycling tips on our blog every week. Sign up for our newsletter so you never miss a new post. And, as always, you can look for more of Coach Darryl’s tips and insights at his website.

Photo by Rehook Bike on Pixels