Whether you’re a weekend rider or a commuter, having a well-stocked bike maintenance kit at home can help you avoid lengthy trips to your local bike shop – and teach you all you need to know about basic bike repair, so long as you have stocked up on the right tools.
If you’ve just recently gotten into cycling, you’ve probably quickly realized that bikes can be finicky creatures that normally work brilliantly, but sometimes need a repair. It’s easier than you think, as long as you have the patience to watch a few video video guides and tinker until you get it right.
Everything from a simple flat tyre change to brake and gear adjustments can be done at home, and carrying a stripped down version of your kit on your bike as you ride keeps you covered on the go as well.
The following tips will guide you through choosing tools to build up an affordable repair kit that will last you as long as you need it. You’ll still need to stop by a shop for more in-depth work as you rack up the miles, but tweaks you can do at home are sure to save you time and headaches.
Your at-home maintenance kit should include both basic tools and plenty of spare parts so you can replace broken or worn out parts on your bike. Outdoor spaces are ideal for working on your bike, as things can get messy and you’ll need all the space you can get.
If you have to work indoors, clear a large space so that you have enough room to move around your bike. While some repairs can be done by simply placing your bike upside down and leaning its handlebars against the floor, a work stand makes things much easier. Securing your bike in a stand suspends it above the ground, allowing you to approach it from any direction without worrying about knocking it over. Park Tool’s PCS-9.3 Home Mechanic Repair Stand is geared towards cyclists looking to start working on their own bikes; this no-frills folding stand makes it convenient to reach your bike from any angle and can be packed up and stored until the next time you need it.
A bike- specific multi-tool is absolutely necessary if you want to be able to repair your own bike. Usually including a full set of hex wrenches, spoke wrenches, screwdrivers, and a chain tool, your multi-tool will help you make the slightest adjustments and work on larger projects like replacing parts. Most multi-tools are designed to be ultra-portable, meaning one will easily fit in your seat post bag or even a jersey pocket. When choosing a tool, don’t go for one that only includes wrenches, though it’ll likely be cheaper and more compact. You’ll want extra additions like a spoke wrench to replace a broken spoke or a chain breaker tool to be able to easily remove and reattach an unruly chain.
Your multi-tool will most likely include a variety of allen keys in the most popular sizes; it’s worth examining your bike’s attachments to familiarize yourself with what size key you’ll need to access a specific part of your bike. Most mounts, clamps, headsets and brake systems will require an allen key to loosen, making these hexagon-shaped wrenches the basis of any mechanic’s kit.
The M-19 Multi Tool by Crankbrothers ($35.99) offers all of the above and more when it comes to a full range of repair options. Sleek and designed with a sturdy grip in mind, the M-19 includes a hex wrench set covering sizes 2-8, three screwdrivers, four spoke wrenches, a chain tool that works with 8-12 speed bikes, and more. This makes the M-19 slightly heavier than many multi-tools on the market, but still a highly portable option that folds into a compact shape.
It’s worth noting that while a multi-tool is one of the first tools you should invest in, you’ll eventually want to get a full-size, separate wrenches, screwdrivers and chain tools and use the multi-tool as a backup or portable option. Full size tools are usually easier to maneuver at different angles, depending on the project at hand.
Tire levers are another set of basic best tools that makes changing your own flat tire possible. A tire lever makes it easy to first lift the tire, then slide it off the entirety of the rim. Park Tool’s TL-1.2 tire lever set ($4.95) is a durable must-have designed to take off both standard and tubeless tires.
Spare inner tubes are a no-brainer for your tool kit; unless you’re planning to patch a puncture, you’ll need spare tubes to be able to keep riding after a flat. A patch kit is useful to have on you in case you forgot your tubes or are riding long distance and can’t stock up on extra supplies. Quite self-explanatory, patches allow you to temporarily seal a hole in your inner tube until you can properly change it. Check out Topeak’s Rescue Box ($25.49) for a handy and affordable option to slip in your back pocket.
Lubricant is a maintenance staple for keeping your chain, pedal attachments, pulleys and cables well-oiled and silent. As a general rule of thumb, you should lube your chain every 200 miles or so, and after riding in wet weather. Depending on how frequently you bike, this could mean a couple of times a month so well worth having a selection in your bike tool kit for home maintenance. Finish Line’s selection of lubricants, degreasers and other crucial cleaning agents has all you need to keep your bike spotless at home.
Learning how to lubricate your chain based on your regular riding conditions is the first step (start by figuring out if you need to use wet or dry lube, for example). This will help you avoid shifting problems, rust, and the dreaded screech of a neglected chain. Stock up on rags and gloves in advance, as you’ll likely go through plenty of both when dealing with grease. A set of cleaning brushes of different sizes will help you access hidden parts of your bike that collect the most dust and debris.
Once you’re comfortable with the maintenance involved in taking your bike apart and putting it back together, you’ll be able to soak, scrub and degrease parts individually for a full cleaning.
Brake pads are a solid part of any repair kit, but you won’t need them immediately. Assuming you have rim brakes as opposed to disc brakes, your brake pads will wear out over time, especially if you ride often. These are a crucial item to take along on a long distance tour where bike shops may not be very accessible. For example, having spare shifter cables at home is also a good idea, as cables can snap unexpectedly.
Your On-the Go kit should be a barebones version of your at-home setup, meant to help solve only the most common and immediate issues you might face on a ride.
Pack your essentials in a frame, handlebar or seat post bike bag and you’ll be set to embark on a cruise to work or a 100- mile day ride. Don’t forget your patch kit, multi-tool, tire levers and, of course, your portable pump. Consider one of Presta and Schrader-friendly hand pumps like the LEZYNE Pocket Drive Bicycle Hand Pump, High Pressure 160 PSI, Presta & Scharader Compatible, Bike Pump (Black) ($54.99), designed for road cyclists who are constantly on the move.
Though it’ll get you on the right track, learning how to change a flat tire is just skimming the surface of repairing your bike yourself. Truing your wheels or replacing a headset are complex tasks that you might want handled by a professional, but other adjustments can be done at home with enough practice. While a cutting edge, contemporary bike may be more complicated than a vintage road bike, if your setup is fairly standard, you can move on from flats. Next, try removing a chain, adjusting your derailleur and replacing your brake pads if you have rim brakes.
You might want to build your kit as you discover what you’re capable of and what bike problems you face most frequently. However, if you want to have all the tools you need for basic adjustments at your disposal in one compact package, consider a ready-made repair product like Lumintrail’s introductory 42-piece tool kit. Coming in at $74.99, this set saves you the trouble of picking all the right tools; you’ll have everything you need and more at your fingertips, all tucked into a highly portable protective case.
By now, you’ve probably realized that having just a few bike- specific tools can solve a host of common bike problems in less than an hour. Once you get the hang of how different parts interact with one another, your bike’s mechanism will make sense as a whole. Even if your ride is working perfectly, practicing adjustments or flat changes in your free time will get that muscle memory going when you run into trouble. You can learn most basic adjustments from online video tutorials; many urban shops may also host classes and repair workshops led by a professional mechanic. Starting a maintenance kit can be both an investment and a gateway to a new hobby; there’s nothing like saving money and picking up new skills while you’re at it.