Build a Bike Patch & Flat Kit
If you own a bike, you need a patch kit. It’s really that simple. Sure, maybe you’ll get lucky and get a flat close to a local shop, or the buses will be running on time for once, or your boss won’t care that you’re two hours late. But even if you have all that going for you, getting stranded across town is a rookie mistake that’ll cost you time, money, and precious sanity.
You can put together a great kit in less time than it takes to read this guide. And putting together your own has huge advantages over buying one that’s pre-assembled—you get to hand pick the best gear for the job, ensure that you have everything you need for your specific bike, and save money by avoiding extra or ineffective products.
We spoke to a broad spectrum of different cyclists—a pro racer, a bike messenger turned mechanic, and a touring cyclist who has logged thousands of miles throughout Europe—to find out what items they find indispensable. We sorted through more product than we knew existed: 40 levers, almost 30 different kinds of patches, 120 different hand pumps, and 57 seat bags before we narrowed our choices for testing. And then we changed and patched tires over 50 times, using a varying combination of four different bikes, five different wheels, six different tires, and almost 10 different sizes of tubes.
If you commute by bike, we’ve put together recommendations for levers, patches, portable tire pumps, seat bags and wrenches to include in your kit. Simple as they may seem, these tools have some of the best word-of-mouth support in the industry and, after 96 hours of combined testing, we agree they’re some of the best you can buy.
Table of contents
- Who is this for?
- What you need for your kit
- How to fix a flat
- How to apply patches
- Our lever picks
- Our patch pick
- Our hand pump picks
- Our seat bag pick
- Also great: a 15-mm wrench
- Long-term test notes
- How we picked and tested
- The competition
- Why put together your own kit?
- Wrapping it up
Who is this for?
For this guide, we focused on gear that would be specifically useful to a commuter. If you don’t have a flat kit, put one together now, no matter how infrequently you ride your bicycle. Flats are inevitable, and if you currently pay a bike shop $15 to change a punctured tube, this kit pays for itself in about 4 visits and will last for years to come.
If you already have your gear, but it’s difficult to use in a way that makes you avoid doing tire changes on your own—like if your pump valve leaks or your tire levers are impossible—it’s worth upgrading.
If you already have some peel and stick patches, toss ‘em. Get our pick instead. In testing, three of the four peel and stick patches I tested didn’t hold, even at extremely low tire pressures. Two released within minutes of inflating the tube. Those are bad odds of getting home.
What you need for your kit
Depending on what kind of bike you have, the best tools for fixing a flat can vary. For example, some hand pumps are designed for mountain bikes, and others are for road bikes. They don’t cross over well.
The things you’ll need (and click to jump to the respective sections):
- A set of levers
- Some tire patches
- A portable pump
- A seat bag to store all these things
- A 15-mm wrench (if your wheels aren’t quick-release)
In addition to the tools we cover in this guide, put a new tire tube in your kit. The best method for changing a flat roadside is to swap out the tube and save the task of patching for later. As far as what tube to get, you do need to choose the right size for your bike. If you’re not sure what size your tires are, it’s written on the sidewall of your tire. This inner tube buying guide has some photos of where to look. Neither brand nor type, however, are very relevant, as a lot of tubes get manufactured in the same place. Whatever your local shop has behind the counter for under $10 will work fine for commuting purposes. The main reason to spend more would be to save weight.
How to fix a flat
If you already know how to change a tube and patch it, feel free to skip to the next section. Though changing out a busted tube seems like a daunting task for those who are unfamiliar with the process, it’s actually quite simple. It might take a few tries to get the hang of it, but once you do, just like riding a bike, it’s a skill you’ll keep for the rest of your life. There are a number of great tutorials on the web, but we’ll break down the basics for you here in order to explain how all these tools come into play.
Step 1: Remove your wheel. It’s particularly important to learn how to take the wheel off, especially the back wheel. If you’ve never done it before, it can be tricky. (If you have a track bike, the rear wheel is especially peculiar.)
Step 2: Remove the tire from the rim. Once your wheel is off, you use the tire levers to remove the tire from the rim. To do this, make sure all the air is out of the tube, then stick the flat side of the lever between the tire of the rim, and pry up. Try to get only the part of the tire stuck in the rim (called the bead) and avoid catching the tube. Otherwise you could cause what’s called a pinch flat and end up making things worse.
Step 3: Remove the damaged tube and any puncturing items. Once you get the initial part of the bead off, it’s just a matter of working your way through the circumference with one or both levers until the entire bead comes off the rim. At this point, the tire is “unseated” and you have access to the tube inside. Remove the damaged tube and stick it in your bag so you can repair it once you get home.
Do a quick inspection of your tire for debris. If you ran over a thorn, for example, and it’s still stuck in your tire, it has to be removed so you don’t puncture the brand new tube you’re about to put in.
Step 4: Insert the new tube. Self explanatory. Stick the new tube in there where the old one was. It’s helpful to inflate it just a bit before doing so—just a few pumps so that it somewhat keeps its shape, but not so much that it starts to balloon.
Step 5: Put the tire back on using your levers. Start at the valve stem. The tire gets tighter and harder to put back on the closer you get to the end, but if you start at the valve stem the most difficult section will be behind you. It should make getting that last 25% or so of the wheel back on easier. If at any point you feel or see the tube getting pinched between the tire and rim (or by your levers) stop and reevaluate your approach. Otherwise you’ll wind up with two busted tubes.
Step 6: Inflate the new tube. Once the tire is fully back on, use your hand pump to inflate the tube. It might take a few minutes; they’re not as efficient or easy to use as floor pumps. And that’s it. Put your wheel back on your bike and you’re ready to hit the road.
Great tutorials on changing a tire are hard to find, because many skip important steps that aren’t intuitive and many are done by experts that make the process look extremely easy. So before you get a flat, practice at least once on your own bike. Here’s a pretty great guide on how to change a road tire. And this mountain bike tutorial is helpful because it covers the crucial step of looking for debris in your tire after you get a flat.
How to apply patches
The reason you’re carrying the patches in your kit is for when something goes wrong: your spare tube has a leaky valve; you accidentally break the tube when you’re reinstalling it; your tube has been in your repair kit so long, something rubbed a hole in it. There are a lot of things that can ruin a tube; patches are your insurance policy when they do.
Patching a tube isn’t hard, but there’s some art to it. First, find the hole in the tube. You can submerge it in a tub of water and look to see where the air bubbles come out—it’ll be obvious. If I can find it, I like to mark the hole in the tube the minute I take it off the wheel, and I carry a small piece of chalk in my repair kit for this purpose.
Once you’ve found the hole, select a patch that is big enough to cover it. Take the sandpaper that came with the patch kit and sand the area of the inner tube where the patch will go. Don’t be shy! Sand a lot, and sand well beyond the edges of where the patch will go. This is vital to getting it to stick.
Apply a nice layer of glue, even it out with your finger, again in an area much wider than the patch. Let the glue dry completely. This sounds counterintuitive, but the patch won’t stick properly unless the glue is fully dry. Time it if you have to, five minutes at least. Then peel the backing off the patch and press it firmly onto the glue. Now press from the center out to remove any air that might be trapped under there. Finally, remove the top plastic coating.
Our lever picks
Every expert I spoke to recommended Pedro’s tire levers by name. Pedro’s levers have a different shape than other models we tested, and that’s the key to their success. The wide body of the tool prevents breakage, but more importantly, the broad, flat surface area of the tip helps it stay locked under your tire, so it won’t easily slip. The Crank Bros. Speedier lever is the same shape, but you only get one tool, and it’s not as portable, widely available, or affordable. Most importantly, it didn’t work as smoothly on high-pressure tires as the Pedro’s did. Pedro’s levers are small enough to carry, sold widely in bike shops, and even come with a lifetime guarantee. If one breaks, Pedro’s will replace it. Pretty amazing for a $5 product.
One by one, I progressed through my bikes, from low-pressure mountain bike tires to more difficult high-pressure road and track tires. The Pedro’s only slipped once throughout testing, though that was admittedly my fault (on my second round of mountain bike tire changes, because I was distracted and not paying attention). So they’re not foolproof. But they’re close.
Bike Radar gives them 5 out of 5 stars and claims they’re the “best out there.” Aaron Gulley, writing for Outside, states, “I can’t count the number of times I’ve snapped cheap plastic sticks, shredded my hand in the process, stomped around cursing in pain for 10 minutes, and then, insult to injury, been tool-less and unable to get my tire off anyway. That will never happen with Pedro’s.” And there’s lots of street love, too, in any number of Mtbr forums.
They perform without much compromise. You only get two in a set, as opposed to three. It’s possible one could break. And it’s always possible one could slip out from under a tire bead. But that’s the reality of the task at hand.
If you want a slightly cushier tire-change experience, the Crank Bros. Speedier lever has a wide handle you can grip with your whole hand and a reinstall feature that makes putting your tire back on a flawless process. Like the Pedro’s, the tip is the right size and shape to prevent slipping and stay in place. The handle is substantial without being too bulky to be portable. Even in situations where I didn’t need it, I liked having it, because it made me feel like a pro.
However, unlike the Pedro’s levers, which worked on every tire, I struggled using the Speedier on skinnier road and track tires. If you push the lever forward, the spot where you push forward with your thumb is textured, and it hurts to press against it if you’re fighting a tight tire or rim. If your tire-change style involves pulling the lever towards you, the position the tool forces your hand into makes getting leverage in that direction difficult.
I hoped the big handle would protect from banging up my knuckles, but again, the position in which you hold it doesn’t do much to prevent this. I managed to shred my hand up just fine. Since there’s only one, if you break the tip, you’ve rendered yourself toolless. And though it doesn’t have a fancy added feature, you can reinstall a tire with a Pedro’s, too, simply by flipping the lever over.
Our patch pick
After splitting very tiny hairs over 36 hours of testing, our official endorsement goes to the Rema Tip Top TT-02 patches, which do everything the competition does, but better. All of these patches have beveled edges; the beveling on the Rema is thinner and finer than what you’ll find elsewhere. All of the patches flex with the tube; the Rema flexes better. The edge of the patch is also ruffled, which makes the task of peeling up the patch from the glue more difficult because there’s more edge surface area to bond—that’s a good thing. You can save a couple of bucks by going with a generic brand, but I wouldn’t. There’s nothing more annoying than a failed patch at an inopportune moment.
During a visit to a local REI, whose in-house brand is the Novaras I tested, I asked an employee to walk into their bike shop and bring me whatever patches the mechanic had on the table. He brought me a box of Remas. Cari recommends Rema Tip Top Touring patches specifically, because “the challenge is often making sure the edges stick down on the glue, and these edges… stick a lot better.” Road.cc has a glowing review as well, saying “…you’ll go a long way before you find better quality tools for the job than these. A classic, and for good reason: [it”s] probably the most effective puncture kit there is.”
To test, I patched a hole in four identical tubes using each of our four kits. Each patch was applied with painstaking attention to detail. I made a sizable hole in each tube. I sanded the area around the hole using the sandpaper provided by each kit, in a wide area that reached well beyond the outer edge of where the patch would go.
Generous, even amounts of vulcanizing fluid were applied, again in an area well beyond the edges of each patch. I waited a full five minutes for the fluid to dry. I removed the foil backing on each patch and attached firmly, pressing out any air bubbles between the patch and the tube. Finally, I removed the protective plastic.
The peel and stick patch got special treatment. The area around the patch needs to be clean to stick, so I wiped away all the filing debris and used canned air to get the area as spotless as possible. A much more likely scenario is that you’re on the side of a dirty road road changing a dirty tube with dirty hands (with no canned air in sight). So I prepared one final tube, where I sanded as directed and then slapped that thing on there, dirt, powder, debris and all. I then pumped up each tube to 120 and let the tire sit overnight. In the morning I checked to see that the tire was still inflated.
All of them made it except one—our poor peel and stick didn’t even make it through the inflation stage. It blew at 90 psi. It wasn’t the dirty patch—it was the clean one. So I went a step down to my hybrid bike, which only requires tire PSI between 60-90. I patched and inflated a new tube to 65 psi. It stayed firm and I set it aside, yet 20 minutes later from across the room I could hear the slow hiss of the tire deflating. I patched and inflated a mountain bike tube to 40psi. It held. I put it back in the lineup, though I found this to be more than enough evidence that peel and stick patches are not a good option.
Next, to see if there were any perceivable difference in glue formulas, I applied one of each patch to the same tube, without sanding the area first. This means that each patch has less surface area to grip to, and if there was a weak bonding fluid in the bunch it might have a harder time sticking to the tube.
All of the patches suffered, but the Rema fared the best of all the options. Bits of the ruffled edges pulled up, but the patch stayed in place. More notably the Park Tool patch was so insecure on the tube I couldn’t get the plastic off at all. The entire thing would have come off if I kept pulling. If in the past you’ve had problems getting patches to stick, being careful to sand an area larger than the patch on your tube might help.
I reapplied another Park Tool patch to see if the negative results repeated themselves. The second patch held better, though it still didn’t have the staying power of the Rema.
Our hand pump picks
The Lezyne Pressure Drive is easy to use, effective, versatile, and designed so well that opening it up and putting it to work is borderline fun. I often get the feeling that the aesthetic appeal of Lezyne products gets baked into the price tag. Not so with the Pressure Drive—every single bit of that $36 comes back to you in the form of long-lasting functional design. The Pressure Drive just also happens to look great.
While other models struggled to inflate higher pressure tires, the Pressure Drive was able to inflate all styles of tire, making it all the more impressive. This is surprising since portable pumps typically lack that kind of versatility. The integrated hose, which stows inside the pump when not in use, also helps it stand out.
It has two ends, one for presta valves and one for Schrader, and both are clearly marked. You don’t have to unscrew any parts or toggle any tiny pieces to change them. The hose itself doesn’t clamp on like a traditional pump. It screws on instead, which guarantees zero leakage and zero time spent second-guessing whether you flipped a latch the right way. (Testers in our floor pump guide also loved this feature.) It’s durable, too, since it’s made from aluminum with no plastic parts. But should something go wrong, it has a two-year warranty and is designed to be repairable. It also comes with a bike mount.
It also has something Lezyne calls ABS (Air Bleed System), a button you can press to release pressure in the hose, making it easier to remove and helping prevent the core on presta valves from coming off. This isn’t a very common scenario, and the tube isn’t that difficult to remove to begin with, but it’s a thoughtful tweak designed to address a potential snag in the process.
This particular pump doesn’t have a gauge, but should you want one, you can upgrade the product with the Lezyne Pen Gauge, an in-line device that you don’t have to screw in, carry separately, or adapt to the product or your bike. (The Pressure Drive comes in two sizes, small and medium. We tested the medium. The Pen Gauge only fits into the medium pump.) Alternatively, their Gauge Drive comes with this feature standard. Nothing else I tested so flawlessly incorporated this upgrade option for those that would like to have it.
It won a five-star review in Bicycling, which states, “The reversible presta/Schrader hose is genius.” Bike Radar also gives it five out of five, calling it “the best performing mini pump we’ve ever tested.” Outdoor Gear Lab ranked it their #1 winner in testing and also awarded it the Editor’s Choice Award in their bike frame pump review, saying “you will not be disappointed with its reliable, efficient performance, durability, and good looks.” It sits in Cycling Weekly’s round of of the seven best mini pumps.
A side-by-side comparison of how effectively different pumps inflate different tires, by number of pumps.
I used each pump to inflate three different tires, each with different pressure ratings. Pumps advertize the max pressure ratings they can achieve on the packaging, but even if a pump is rated for 100 psi, whether or not in reality that’s possible is a different story. The closer you get to full pressure, the more difficult it becomes to force air into a tiny space, and inflating a tire to 100 psi with a hand pump is really hard.
It should be mentioned that hand pumps really aren’t designed to perform with this kind of crossover, so it’s pretty incredible the three models in the middle did so well. This is also why the Alloy Drive, which could only inflate a mountain bike tire, is still a good pump. It did exactly what it’s supposed to do and did it well.
Inflating the road bike tire to 90 psi was extremely difficult in our tests. There are pumps that are better at addressing the specific needs of roads cyclists with high psi tires, but they are specialized (no Schrader valve option), tiny (so you’ll be pumping forever), and often costly.
And even those will still struggle to fill the tube—cramming lots of air into a tube, with minimal leverage, is hard work. For commuters, there’s nothing that makes that job easier than the Pressure Drive.
The Topeak Road Morph inflated everything I threw at it with ease, and you can see from the graph that it was the most efficient performer. The Road Morph sets up like a mini floor pump. It has a flip foot that helps stabilize it, a T-handle, and a built in gauge. I inflated my road tire in about 60 strokes. In real world time, that’s about a minute. I found it all-around simple to use and very effective. If you’re looking for a pump for touring or camping, both Ramona and Cari recommended this as their favorite option for those activities.
If all of the extra stuff sounds appealing to you, this is the best model out there. It’s not our top choice because if all you’re doing is commuting, the cushy features it offers seem to be preferences rather than necessities. Toggling between presta and Schrader is confusing, and I didn’t like having to bend all the way over to use the pump. Despite the inclusion of a flip-out foot, you still have to use your other hand to stabilize the Topeak on the ground. It’s also much larger in order to make room for the foot pedal and other features.
If you exclusively commute on a mountain bike with big fat tires, it’s worth getting a pump specific to that bike. The drawback is that the Alloy Drive can’t cross over like the Pressure Drive—you won’t be able to inflate anything over 40 psi—but if that’s all you want to do, the Alloy will push a lot more air in your tires faster than our top pick.
It has all of the features of the Lezyne Pressure Drive, including the rubber hose, dual screw-on valve head, and aluminum construction. It just has a very specific purpose, which is to fill low pressure tires, and it will not be able to inflate a hybrid or road bike tire.
Our seat bag pick
The BV seat bag is the absolute best option for your money. Sure, it’s not widely known or a very bike-specific brand, but it is constructed identically to models that cost twice as much and is the right size without being too small to fit anything or too large to be cumbersome.
This seat bag has a light loop on back, reflective material on the outside, and the medium size features an extendable gill at the bottom should you want more room. Additionally, it doesn’t have Velcro straps like the Serfas Speedbag, and I can confirm this is a more important feature than it might seem initially. After weeks of stuffing jackets and sweaters and gym clothes inside my bike bag where I keep my tool kit, I haven’t ruined any expensive clothing. Yet I have destroyed a couple pairs of bike shorts with the velcro on my lunch bag.
The Avenir seat bag likewise doesn’t have velcro straps, yet is still more expensive than our pick, in spite of being a nearly identical object. Topeak bags had a different design, but they don’t have any features the BV doesn’t and cost twice as much.
The first thing I did with our test subjects is take them for a spin, and I spent a full day commuting with each. I payed attention to how well they fit under my saddle, if the attachment stayed secure, if anything grabbed my clothes, and if it was reasonably easy to take on and off the bike.
The velcro-less strap on the BV didn’t protrude, didn’t snag, as was as simple to use as any other option I had on deck. All bags passed with flying colors, including a very popular Topeak model that doesn’t attach with a fabric strap, but rather a quick release system that required mounting a special attachment below the seat.
Quick release attachments are really nice for people who are going to be taking on and off their bag all day, but they have a few nitpicky issues. First, plastic bike accessories, over time, always have the potential to break. Second, they don’t fit as many saddles. Unlike fabric attachments which can adapt to seat rails of different widths, the quick release mount is a fixed width. Brooks saddles, for example, are too wide for these mounts. And third, they’re expensive, on the $25 and up side.
The design of the BV is virtually identical in shape and materials to two other bags I tested, the Serfas Speedbag and the Avenir seat bag, which makes sense. It’s a particularly good shape. It doesn’t taper much at the end, which can restrict how much stuff you can cram in towards the back. The wide front mouth makes digging tools out simple, and the medium sizes of all these bags have an additional compartment you can open for more space.
Which size is right for you? It depends. Seat bags aren’t supposed to carry… stuff. They can’t hold windbreakers or bike locks or animals. They are meant for emergency tools, and that’s pretty much it. In spite of their diminutive size, there are a lot of people who really, really want their seat bag to accommodate their keys, phone, and wallet too.
The bare essentials for a commuter are a tube, a patch kit, and your levers (typically your pump will mount onto your bike or go in a backpack). We didn’t test multitools for this guide, but space for that should be considered as well.
And this is how those four tiny objects fit into 50ish cubic inches, or a typical small bag. The tube is of medium size, for a 26″ hybrid. You could take your patch stuff out of the box if you want, but the room you gain won’t fit much else. If all you want to carry is a repair kit, then small is for you.
The BV above fits all of the essentials, plus house keys, my iPhone (inside a battery pack case), and a credit card-sized aluminum travel wallet. It is definitely stuffed, but it works. If one day you need a tiny bit more room—a map, sunglasses, snacks—unzip the bottom zipper to expand it by a couple of inches and you’re good to go.
Seat bags block taillights. This is avoidable in only one scenario: if you’re using an ultra tiny wedge, the kind that only has enough room to carry a small road tube and some levers. It can probably tuck high enough into your seat that it won’t interfere with the light or the mount. A bag that small only works for people with skinny tubes. The good news is that most larger seat bags, including our pick, have a loop on the outside that you can clip your blinker to.
Seat bags also typically do not fit hand pumps. You can definitely get a tiny pump into a larger bag, but the tradeoff is that you’ve got a lot of bag (which costs more, and takes up a lot of space) and a little pump (so when your tire goes flat you’ll be pumping for an eternity) for the sake of something that might not add as much convenience as you think.
On a typical work day, I don’t attach my seat bag to my bike, because then I have to take it right back off if I lock my bike outside. Instead, I carry both my seat bag and pump in my commuter bag. They live there permanently, forgotten about, and I never take them out unless I have to fix a tire. That’s what makes choosing the smallest seat bag for your needs so valuable. If you want to go for a long ride, attach your seat bag and pump to your bike frame and you’re off. The Pressure Drive comes with a mount specifically for this purpose.
Also great: a 15-mm wrench
Many bikes, including older models and track bikes, have bolts attaching the wheels to the frame instead of quick release levers. If your wheels are bolted on, in most cases you’ll need a 15-mm wrench to remove it, so toss that in your kit as well. The Surly Jethro Tule is made especially for taking along with you. If the included beer opener is a shade too hipster for your taste, this tool is the right size, too.
Long-term test notes
The system as a whole and its portability have proven effective. The BV seat bag sits unobtrusively in my bike bag, and over time I’ve noticed the advantage of a velcro-less bag. No snagged sweaters or (expensive) wool socks. I’ve also noticed that a no-installation seatbag is also a win for most people. I have given a few quick-release models to friends (which require a few minutes of install time) but usually find them sitting around the house months later, still not on the bike.
When transitioning the kit from my commuter bike to my road bike for longer weekend rides, I have to swap out the type of tire in the kit, but otherwise gearing up on a different bike is as seamless as it can be without building a separate patch kit.
How we picked and tested
There are a ton of details here that may or may not be useful to you, depending on how familiar you are with all this kit. If you want to know how we narrowed down the field, and how we tested each item, read on. Otherwise, feel free to skip to the next section.
Having the right tools for this job is the difference between a frustrating annoyance and a tolerable mini-adventure, so with the goal of making your roadside repair the latter, I began research. I first looked at Amazon’s top rated products and their user reviews. Then I consulted the usual editorial suspects, including Bicycling Magazine, Gear Junkie, Bike Radar, Outside, and the occasional bit by Lennard Zinn via VeloNews. I also found some worthwhile discussions at Bike Forums.
But even all of the internet was still just a tiny smattering of advice, so I talked with a broad spectrum of real-world experts, including Ramona Marks, a former mechanic at Bicycle Kitchen in LA, who has logged thousands of miles touring the world on her bike since 2010. I spoke to resident mechanic Cari Z at Bay Area Bikes in Oakland, CA, a former messenger who had more sneaky tricks for changing tires, carrying tools, and preventing flats than I could write down. And I spoke with Alison Tetrick, pro cyclist for team Twenty16, a pro female athlete rep for USA Cycling and board member of the Women’s Cycling Association. She routinely gets flats two or three times in a day of riding. And she’s out every day.
Once I had a list of solid recommendations from both editorial sources and expert interviews, I called in or bought all of them and put them to good use, changing about 50 tubes on a variety of wheel sizes over the course of a week.
Your tire lever needs to do two things: not break, and not slip out from under the tire bead, which is the edge of the tire that sits inside the wheel. If it slips, you can end up repeatedly scraping your knuckles on the spokes of the wheel, which is annoying (and painful).
To thin the field, first we eliminated metal levers. They’re durable, but according to Ramona, “Metal tire levers are trouble. It’s possible to rip your tube even with the plastic ones if you’re not careful, so metal is out of the question, and you don’t want to put pressure against the wheel rim with a metal lever.”
If you do, you’re just asking for a bent rim, which means buying a new wheel. We also eliminated metal-core levers, metal levers with a plastic outside coating. I didn’t find any models where the metal extended into the tip of the lever, which is the part that is going to break, negating the durability feature.
I eliminated anything and everything that looked potentially cheap, bendable, or breakable. I eliminated long, large single levers that would be more comfortable sitting on your at-home tool bench instead of inside your seat bag. I looked specifically for levers that had spoke hooks, because if you have a rim/tire combination that is particularly tight, it can be difficult to change a tube without them. However, I did test two levers that don’t have this feature, because you don’t always need them.
A tool like this should cost about $5 for a set. If you pay less than that, the plastic is cheap and bendy, and they’ll have those tiny, narrow tips that make tire changing a nightmare. Tools that cost more than that are usually larger and heftier, and better suited for changing tires at home.
I ended up with four promising products, and to test, I used each one to change a tire on four different styles of bike – mountain, hybrid, road, and track.
A good patch will stick to your tube just enough to keep air from leaking out. A great patch will act like a second skin and actually strengthen the tube where it’s applied, flexing and stretching with the tire.
As far as what should come with the patch kit, Ramona states, “Patch kits should have three things in them: a few patches of different sizes (but really, I always use up the big ones because why risk a small patch), a tube of vulcanizer, and a small piece of sandpaper. Most importantly, the vulcanizer will dry out, so I check it from time to time. Nothing worse than sitting down to patch a tube and realizing your vulcanizer is dried up and useless.”
The little plastic case is also useful because you’ll want to tuck this in your seat bag and it keeps everything in one place.
I eliminated products that had limited availability in the US and that came with giant tubes of glue. The whole kit should cost just a few dollars; I eliminated anything over $5 because expensive kits often included unnecessary features that drove up costs like metal boxes, scrapers, and kits that came with levers or other repair tools.
That left two well-reviewed and recommended options: Rema’s Tip-Top Touring and Park Tool’s Vulcanizing Patch Kit. As a last minute impulse, I tossed in Novara’s patch kit because it looks identical to the Park Tool kit but costs less (it’s REI’s in-house bike brand).
There’s another type of patch out there, the peel and stick kind, but they’re not as reliable. Cari explains that, “Vulcanization is the chemical bonding process that takes place between patches that require glue… it forms a bond so that it doesn’t just peel off” whereas stick-ons are basically just stickers. One brand, the Park Tool GP-2, had some genuinely enthusiastic endorsements that were hard to ignore, so I brought it in. If peel and sticks did work, it would be hard to argue with that level of convenience.
I ran two tests on our patches. First, I patched an identical tube with each, inflated them all to a very high psi of 120, and let them sit overnight to see if they held. In my second test, I applied one of each patch to identical tubes, only I skipped the crucial step of sanding the surface of the tube first. The goal was to see if one fluid bonded more tightly than another.
Bicycle hand pumps are specifically for flat repair in the field and are poor substitutes for floor pumps (which we have a full guide for here).
There are so many different models because the situations in which they’re used can be highly specific. Broadly speaking, the type of pump you’ll have the most success with is one designed for your bike, and they fall into two categories: pumps that inflate tires with very low psi ratings (40-60), but that push a lot of air so that you’re not sitting trailside all day, and pumps that push very small amounts of air, but can inflate tires to pressures upwards of 100 psi.
One of the ways they differ from floor models is that not all of them can accommodate both presta and Schrader valves; a good hand pump should do both. You shouldn’t have to buy a new pump if you buy a new bike, get your bike stolen, or feel obliged to help a fellow stranded cyclist. And toggling between a presta and Schrader attachment shouldn’t require an advanced degree.
A decent pump also has to be able to inflate your tire, which sounds obvious, but with a hand pump, you don’t have the advantage of using the ground for leverage. Because of this, there comes a point, no matter what pump you have, when inflation gets extremely difficult. That’s normal. What shouldn’t happen is reaching a point where it’s physically impossible to fill a tire that still requires more air.
Unlike floor pumps, most hand pumps do not have gauges. To get readings during testing, I built a special rig to record pressure from presta valves. But the experts I spoke to seem divided on the usefulness of gauges. Half thought they were unnecessary, added bulk, and drove up cost. Why do you need a gauge if you know 100 pumps inflates your tire? But the other half liked having them, since the “thumb test” (pressing on the tire with your fingers to see if it’s inflated) is notoriously inaccurate—I noticed during testing that to the touch, tires felt fully inflated around 30 psi. Whether or not a gauge is important seems to be a personal decision, and we considered this when we chose our models for testing.
Having rubber tubing that connects your pump to the tire is vital, though you wouldn’t know it because there are still so many hand pumps that don’t offer this feature. A rubber tube will prevent you from inadvertently breaking the valve off.
What’s not important? A lot of specialized design features. Our own Eric Hansen debunks two-stage designs in his standing floor pump guide: “They are often touted, the idea being that a high-volume piston pushes a lot of air into the tube quickly in the beginning, and then a low-volume piston tops off the tube easily. ‘But you pump eight times or you pump 10 times—what does it matter?’ asks Daimeon Shanks, a mechanic for the Garmin-Sharp pro tour team, whose name you might recognize from the Tour de France.”
Carbon isn’t important either. Riders who buy carbon accessories are concerned with weight, because carbon is lighter than aluminum or steel, but weight concerns are largely irrelevant for most commuters. Sure, you don’t want to lug around a lead weight, but none of the currently available portable pumps will add noticeable heaviness to your setup.
To quote an article from Velo News, “Remember that professional athletes operate in an entirely different environment than the rest of us. They are all very close to each other in terms of fitness, and they are also all very close to being the absolute best a human being can be. In short, you’re much better off upgrading your legs and dropping body fat through proper training and diet.”
We also skipped CO2 cartridge inflators and hybrid pumps (which combine manual and CO2 inflation methods) for similar reasons. These are a specific tool for a specific situation, and appeal to racers on training rides, weekend warriors covering large distances, road support mechanics, and frankly, anyone who doesn’t want to be bothered using a pump, which runs the whole spectrum of riders.
But they’re simply not the best tool for a once-in-a-while repair on a regular commute. Without practice (even with it) you can accidentally discharge the air, and then you’re stranded. And while the pumps themselves are reusable, the cartridges they rely on for inflation are disposable, which means more trash, plus a trip to the shop every time you run out. To top it off, they’re not a permanent fix. Carbon dioxide leaks out of your tube very quickly, and you will have to pump up again with a real pump in a few hours.
A good hand pump will cost $30-$50, which is mostly dependent upon whether or not you want it to have a gauge. If you spend less than $30, the pump will have plastic parts which wear out and start to leak quicker than their metal counterparts, and it won’t have tubing that goes from the pump to the valve. Sacrifice these two features and you’ll be pulling your hair out in no time. Pumps that are more than $50 are made out of carbon or are simply overpriced.
Sorting through that list of criteria left two brands that stood out from everyone: Lezyne and Topeak. I lined up for testing several models from both, including Lezyne’s Sport Drive HP, Alloy Drive, and Pressure Drive. From Topeak, I chose the Race Rocket MTB and the Road Morph. And to make sure I wasn’t inadvertently passing up a good thing, I tested Amazon’s number one best seller in the category, the Geared2U PumpMeUp. This also afforded me the ability to verify that an extendable, rubber tube that connected to the valve was an essential feature, as the Geared2U does not have one.
To test, I pumped up three different tires with three different pressure ratings (40, 60, and 90), then compared how many pumps it took for each to get there and what kind of difficulties were found along the way.
A seat bag is extra storage on your bike, meant to strap to your seatpost and tuck underneath your seat. You can put anything you want in it, but most of the time its primary function is to store your tire repair kit and road tools.
A great seat bag should be able to fit snugly under your saddle, without getting in the way of your legs or the rear wheel. One of the main things to double check is that your seatbag doesn’t grab or snag your clothes, which is tough, since a large percentage of the options out there attach with velcro. It should be able to stand up in a bit of wet weather, and it shouldn’t fall off, come loose, or open when you’re riding.
So we eliminated large saddle bags meant for touring, and I didn’t concern myself too much with tracking down a fully waterproof bag, because they cost more and not everyone needs it. If you’re not sure you need it, you probably don’t. We still considered options that attached with Velcro, but eliminated immediately anything that looked snaggy, since there are so many alternative options to choose from.
A bag like this shouldn’t cost more than $20, because this is a pretty simple object. And across the board, a whole lot of these seat bags are the same. By “the same,” I mean almost identical.
On the left above is our top pick, the BV, and on the right the Serfas Speedbag, another option much loved by Amazon users. They’re both made from the same pattern and same materials, down to the mesh and key fob in the interior. The BV is $12, however, and the Serfas is $24.
In testing, we wanted to address a source of mass confusion: what size should it be? I read review after review stating that the bag is much smaller than the purchaser originally thought, so we laid out or top choices, from Topeak, Lezyne, Serfas, Avenir and BV, and figured out exactly what fits in what.
Park Tool’s TL-1 Levers were Pedro’s stiffest competition, from a ubiquity standpoint. But unlike Pedro’s, bike shop employees had plenty of tales of broken Park Tools, and in testing they slipped over and over on every tire.
People that use Quick Sticks love them. It did a great job of staying wedged between the tire and the wheel and removed most tires with the ease that proponents swear by. But it struggled with the road tires. The tip isn’t as broad or chisel-like as the Crank Bros. Speedier Lever and is harder to work in tight situations. If you want one, the Speedier is still your best bet.
The differences between the Novara Patch Kit and the Park Tool Vulcanizing kit are infinitesimal. They’re both made in Taiwan. The patches are exactly the same. The sandpaper, identical. They both made effective repairs, but neither were as good as the Rema.
The Novara box is bigger, making it a tighter fit into a small seat bag. The Park Tool has crummy directions. You could make the argument that Novara is a better deal, with seven patches for just $3… but is it really? If you plan to patch a lot of tubes at once, then yes. But like Ramona mentioned, once you open that tube the glue is on its way to drying out. If you patch one tube a year, chances are the next time you come back it’ll be useless and you’ll have to buy another kit. Extra patches are good, but maybe not be the deal they seem like at first.
There are a lot of mechanics who keep a jar of plain old rubber cement on their workbench to patch their tubes, specifically to avoid the dry-out issue. And by all reports, it seems to work fine. But while very similar, the rubber cement you use as a household contact adhesive isn’t quite the same as what comes in the tube. If you peruse the Safety Data Sheets for both Rema’s brand of cold vulcanizing fluid and for Elmer’s rubber cement, you can see they list different composition elements. So they’re not identical products.
Lezyne Sport Drive HP performed fine. It’s a lower cost Lezyne model and it will inflate all your tires. That lower cost comes at the expense of efficiency (you can see it took longer than the Pressure Drive) and some of the parts are plastic. I feel the Pressure Drive’s ease of use quickly justified spending an extra $16.
The Topeak Race Rocket MTB is a new product that mimics the rubber tube design of the Lezyne models. According to their site, Mountain Bike magazine in Germany awarded this pump the winning slot in a head-to-head test. But I couldn’t find what other products they compared it to. (In a screenshot of one of the articles, there is a close up of a screw-on valve, but it’s Lezyne’s valve—and I can’t find the word “Lezyne” mentioned on the page anywhere.) I’m suspicious of the results because I simply didn’t have that kind of luck with it. I was able to inflate my mountain bike tire to 27 psi with 110 pumps, but it wouldn’t go any higher. I tried it three times with the same result. Wondering if the problem was me, I switched to the Alloy Drive, Lezyne’s equivalent low pressure/high volume model. I had no problem getting the tire to pressure in 155 pumps, identical to the most efficient pump we tested, the Road Morph.
The Topeak Race Rocket has the same design as the Race Rocket MTB. This is the model that you would use to inflate hybrid or road tires. I did not test it, opting instead to test the MTB design (which didn’t work out well). While checking out the seat bag of a shop employee, this was the pump he carried, and he said it worked and he liked using it. While I believe he likes it as much as he says he does, it’s not as good as our top pick. For the same price, it doesn’t have a gauge option, it doesn’t have the ABS feature, and it’s very small. That’s why it fit so well in his seat bag, but the smaller the pump, the more difficult it’s going to be to inflate a tire. Besides, the Lezyne isn’t “big,” it’s just not as diminutive as this pump.
I called in the Topeak Pocket Rocket but didn’t end up testing it because it didn’t offer as nice an experience as other pumps. Changing the valve head on this from presta to Schrader is confusing, it doesn’t have an extendable tube, and my other options quickly proved their superiority.
At about $20, the Geared2U PumpMeUp! was our underdog. I chose it because it’s Amazon’s top selling product in this category, and has a 4.5-star rating over 171 reviews. I also wanted to compare the experience of pumping with and without an extendable tube, but without a doubt, not having the tube causes problems. You have to hold the pump head with your opposite hand while pumping to prevent ripping away the valve, and it’s awkward. As I inflated the hybrid tire, the latch that secures the connection between valve and pump began slipping. Air started leaking from the attachment at around 50 psi. Every time I tried to reseat it, it would resume leaking, undoing the hard work I had just spend getting to that point. (The screw-on attachment on the Lezyne prevents this from happening.) It inflated the mountain bike tire just fine, but it took me 590 pumps to do it, which is about twice as many pumps as our top pick.
Seat bag competition
The Serfas Speedbag has the same design as the BV, but $12 more expensive. It also attaches with Velcro, which isn’t ideal.
The Avenir Bigmouth Seat Bag also has the same design as the BV but is $3 more expensive.
Topeak’s Aero Wedge is a slightly different shape and size than the others, and it worked great. But for $8 more than the BV it had nothing additional or better to offer other than a brand name, and in this case that didn’t feel like quite enough justification to spend more.
The Topeak Aero Wedge w/ Quick Release fit my seat, and the device worked as advertised. But since the ability to take the bag on and off like that is more of a personal preference, and it’s costly, a more basic model seemed like the best option for most people. It should also be mentioned that even though these quick releases make it very easy to take a wedge on and off, it’s not that difficult a job to begin with—the clips on the other bag are as simple as they come.
I used the Lezyne Micro Caddy to see if a size below small would be an option for commuters, but it’s not big enough to fit larger tubes, the sleeves inside of it for levers can’t fit the wide Pedro’s, and it couldn’t fit my multitool (I have a pretty big one). Small is good, but this is just too small.
I love the design of the Lezyne Road Caddy, which opens like a clamshell to reveal your repair kit and then folds away into the perfect shape to store in a bag or backpack. But again, this is designed specifically for road bikes and can’t fit a larger tube, restricting its practicality.
Why put together your own kit?
There are a few pre-assembled repair kits out there, but there is no advantage to purchasing one of these. The real value of picking up any type of kit that’s already been assembled is that it saves you the headache of gathering the supplies together yourself. But in the case of bike repair, you’re always stuck tracking down a missing piece.
Pre-assembled repair kits don’t include hand pumps, so you’ll have to pick that up yourself. Many of them don’t include patches, or they do include patches of terrible quality, so you’ll be buying those on your own as well. Do you need to include a wrench? That’s another consideration. And none of them include a tire tube. That’s four products you still have to gather, so the purpose has already been defeated.
When you begin layering on the additional or missing products, cost starts ballooning. In addition, there will always be a weak link, productwise. The levers are always cheap, ineffective ones. The patches might be the stick-on type that don’t work. You don’t get to choose the size seat bag it comes with (so who knows if your tire tube will fit).
So there it is. A pre-packaged kit doesn’t have much to offer. It won’t save you time, save you money, or save you hassle. You may as well put together your own kit with the best items in it, which is what this guide is here for.
Wrapping it up
If you ride a bike, you’ll eventually get a flat tire. Avoid stranding yourself across town by carrying a few simple tools, including tire levers, patches and a hand pump. They’re inexpensive, will save you from spending a lot of cash for a shop to repair your tubes, and give you peace of mind when you’re out riding, which is invaluable.
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Originally published: November 13, 2014