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Commuting 101: What do you carry with you?

by Richard Masoner

I realize many commuters don’t carry a flat kit or tools, but some of us do. That’s my saddle bag in this photo.


My saddle bag

At a minimum I always carry:

  • Wrench (if I’m riding fixed or singlespeed)
  • Pump or CO2 inflator
  • Patch kit
  • Tire levers

I usually also carry

  • Tube
  • Multitool

Do you carry tools on your commute? Have you ever been stuck on the road because you didn’t have the right gear? Or does your commute take you along a busy bus route that you can use for backup?

Bonus question: What’s with that yellow spoke card? Some random dude noticed it today in the parking lot at Ace Hardware and told me, “That’s brilliant! I love it!”

 
Burley nomad 229

38 Responses to “Commuting 101: What do you carry with you?”

  1. Mike in Florida says:

    I can’t imagine anyone who uses a bicycle as transportation not carrying tools. I carry much of what Fritz carries—pump, tube, multi-tool, pressure gauge. I also carry a pair of latex gloves(only because my bikes have natural color cork bar tape). Then there’s rain gear, but that’s another issue.

  2. Steve says:

    I miss the Caltrain. Are the train conductors/ ticket agents better about bikes than they were 6 years ago? I remember one ticket guy that was so stressed about how many bikes were on board, and if they were in order. I now live in Tucson and have no need for a train. I’m not sure Tucson even has a passenger train.

  3. danomite says:

    I carry all of the above plus I stuff a few dollars in bills and coins my patch kit aswell. This can cover an emergency food purchase, a phone call or a ride on transit when inevitably I only have plastic on me.

    In the bag on my singlespeed I carry a few links of chain.

  4. Noah says:

    Yellow Card: Park or PARC? :P

    BTW, PARC for the win.

    Anyhow, Minimum sits in the Serfas under-seat bag:

    Spare tube
    Park glueless patches (useless on high pressure road tubes, I may try the black/orange spot vulcanized patches next)
    Park Tool MTB-3 multi-tool
    Genuine Innovations Ultraflate
    3 CO2 carts.

    In the panniers, I keep a first aid kit, another tube, more CO2, some more allen wrenches and a spoke.

  5. Joe says:

    I have a patch kit, pump, a few basic tools, and a cell phone. If I get a breakdown type of problem, I can usually call one of my buddies who is driving to or from work and have them pick me up with their truck. A celll phone is a GREAT TOOL.

  6. Lisa says:

    I am in Tucson, too and there is no passenger train (save for Amtrak). The bus here has racks on it if you happen to be on a line (our mass transit system, which is the bus, is not satisfactory for a city this big), but I get nervous if I don’t have tools on my commute to work. I had 2 flats within a day recently (goathead and thorn season) and was thankful for the 2 tubes I carry, and the bike shop right next to work! Commuting may be the only thing that gets me to buy a cell phone, though I’m still holding out…

  7. Steve says:

    I have a pretty big pannier so I can carry a lot which includes all of the above with the exception of a CO2 inflater. I use to carry one but I found I didn’t get the pressure I needed and I had to top off the tire with a regular pump. So I pitched it. I also carry a rain top, neoprene booties (not sure why frankly), a tire pressure gauge, and a presta valve adapter in case I want to inflate my tire at a gas station.

    I also have a bike map and a whole bunch of other crap at the bottom of my bag. My pannier is getting to be like my wife’s purse only bigger and with more junk.

  8. doug says:

    i carry an extra tube, tire patches, tire iron, small pump, chain breaker, screwdriver, and allen wrench set. i also carry my locks, work shirt, water bottle, lights, raingear (when the threat of rain exists), and extra warm clothes on cold days.

    the last time i was at a local bike shop (not one of the ones i usually go to) the owner kept on trying to get me to try glueless patches. when i said i had had difficulty using them in the past, he made me feel stupid because i didn’t put it on right, apparently. he asked an employee, “hey, have you ever had a failure with a glueless patch?” the employee answered, “only once, but i was like six or something.” what? i bought one, because, hey, they do look easier than gluing on patches while in a hurry. then the first time i use one it doesn’t hold. i check it out, see that the air forced itself out of under the patch. i take it off and put on a glue patch and of course, it holds. am i an idiot, or are these glueless patches the waste of time i suspect they are?

  9. Joe says:

    Thanks for the info Doug…I was thinking of trying them; now, no way (the glueless).

    cheers.

  10. Vanessa says:

    I have seen your bike on CalTrain! That’s a memorable spoke card.

    I don’t carry tools even though I feel like something bad is going to happen every time I go out, so maybe this post will be my inspiration. No matter what route I take, there’s always a back up bus route nearby.

  11. Fritz says:

    Throw something at me the next time you see me, Vanessa, and I’ll post your photo here at CBB! :-)

    When glueless first came out I heard they didn’t work so well, but lately most cyclists are saying they work fine. I avoided them at first but I’ve been using glueless for the past year or two now without problems. The only thing I can think of on Doug’s tube is maybe the tube wasn’t clean at first? The glueless kits still come with a little piece of sandpaper.

    I vacillate between big bags and little bags because I tend to keep too much extra junk, too. At least with smaller bags I’m forced to clean it out periodically ;-)

  12. Alberto says:

    I pretty much carry the standard things plus that – 10 Euro note that comes in handy when you stray form the commute to train a little longer and you find yourself out of water. That’s the only item I’ve used from the pack last year so I guess I’ve been pretty lucky!

  13. My commute to work isn’t very far so I often go sans tools if I ride my singlespeed. I usually leave early enough that even if I had an issue with my bike I could either walk home and drive or walk the rest of the way to my office. Plus, I got slime tubes on my single speed so flats aren’t usually an issue. On longer rides I pack pretty much the same stuff you have in the kit in the picture

  14. gazer says:

    Usually just a multi-tool and tire irons in my backpack.

    No pump or spare tubes, as I find them too bulky. I also don’t like to transfer frame pumps and the like if I have to quickly switch bikes in the morning (which usually happens upon discovery of a slow leak…)

    Correspondingly, I have bailout plans should things go awry:
    – Caltrain! (I have a “regular” destination tag flapping under my seat).
    – Cell phone… the folder goes right into the trunk.
    Having a commuting route that is generally only a few blocks from the commuter train makes things a bit easier.

    Why do I carry tire irons w/o a pump or spare tube? Good question. Mostly so that I can fix a flat at work if needed. A pump can be found pretty easily around the Stanford campus.

  15. danomite says:

    Oh yeah, I wrap some duct tape around either my mini pump, or a 1/2″ piece around my patch-kit too.

    Re: glueless patches. I love them. To get them to work you have to be diligent though. Sand the tube, resist the urge to rub your finger over the rough area (it’ll just deposit oil from your fingers), and touch as little of the sticky side as possible. You only get one chance to get it in the right spot, don’t bother trying to re-stick it if you miss or if it sticks to itself. Once its on the tube, really push it on with your thumbs/fingers – as hard as you can. I have had them last for years with no problems.

  16. RocBike.com says:

    Links Of The Day: 7 July 2007…

    Starting today (Day #1 of the 2007 Tour de France), I’ll be offering Links Of The Day — a quick look at interesting cycling articles on the Web, with a focus on cycle commuting. Enjoy!

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  17. doug says:

    hmmm. i thought i had rubbed the tube enough with the sandpaper, though it is entirely possible i did not do a good enough job. i was in a hurry, as a fifteen minute break is not conducive to careful bicycle maintenance. i still think the spare tube/glue patch combo is the best solution for commuting.

  18. Mark says:

    I carry all the standard stuff: tube, patch kit, tire irons, pump and multi-tool. In addition I also schlep around a lock, a second tube, LED lights, and a vest or coat in my paniers. I switched to carrying a lock full time a few years ago, I frequentlymake stops to/from work now that I couldn’t have made before. In the winter months I run much beefier lights, but find it’s handy to have a set of LED lights around for the unexpected late nights. The spare clothing changes with the season, but I’ve been caught out in way too many fast moving storms to ride without some backup. Especially in the winter, once you add clothes and food to the panniers, my bikes can end up pretty heavy.

    I use glueless patches and have good luck with them. I only use the Park patches, have had problems with other brands. I had two problems with the glue patches that these solved for me. With glue patches, I always seemed to use on patch and then when it came time for another, the tube of glue was dry. My other problem was the minimal number of patches that came with a kit. One of my commute routes is along a bike path and I hand out lots of patches over the course os a year.

  19. JiMCi says:

    I carry pretty much the same in my saddle bag. I don’t recall ever needing it for my own use but, since I always stop when I see a cyclist that seems to have a problem, this “emergency kit” often came handy to fix their flat tires!

  20. Rob L says:

    The one thing I carried when I still lived free and pedal’d hard in Mountain View was spare set (3) of AAA Batteries that worked in both my front and rear lights. i haven’t made the change from glue patches to glue.

    Oh and a few zipties and a roll of electrical tape.

  21. Warren T says:

    Am I the only one who is clueless as to what the spoke card is all about?

  22. RL says:

    I carry almost everything shown in the picture. I do Slime my tires to prevent any flats. I also carry a regular pump, c02 cartridges cause more waste.

  23. sygyzy says:

    Wow, how do you fit all of that into your saddle bag? Three CO2 canisters? Unbelievable.

  24. Fritz says:

    How the contents are arranged makes a difference. When I took the photo I indeed had all of those items inside the saddle bag.

    I guess I never answered the spoke card question: On Caltrain (SF Bay Area commuter rail), we’re supposed to affix destination tags to our bikes so others know how to arrange their bikes when they get on. The bikes get piled on and bike arrangement is important for more efficient de-training.

  25. Easy Rider says:

    I don’t carry any of that stuff, even if travelling a long way from home. My bike has modern Aramid tyres and I keep them inflated to the number on the side-wall by using a track-pump. If they get a puncture then that is my fault for wearing them too thin and I put new tyres on – maybe a new one on the front with the front-tyre going on the back.
    I know that I should carry tools to reassemble the bike after an incident but I don’t bother as I don’t crash. My bike works perfectly, gets maintained and has no reason to go wrong on the road. I don’t have a fleet of bikes, just a couple of machines that fit properly and are predictable in ride and in reliability.
    Since I don’t wear a helmet or carry a lock for the commute journey I just have to put on my hi-viz jacket and ride. I make better time without being dragged down by spares and also demonstrate the ‘care-free car-free’ style.
    Tools are only useful if you know how to use them. If you know how to use them then you should not have to use them – unless looking out for others and their not-so-well-setup machines. When going further afield or riding with others I do carry tools – if I get myself organised properly. I have an ‘early’ Alien tool by Topeak that has everything on it including tyre levers. This and an adjustable wrench has most things on most bikes covered. I also carry a spare tube or two so I can fix anyone’s puncture. I have never touched those CO2 canisters as they speak of eco-crime. Instead I carry a cheap plastic mini-pump that is light and easy to use. This can get enough air in the tyres until my bike gets to the track-pump.
    If carrying tools I usually get so far down the road and then remember that I have left the key behind for the security skewers. Typically I press on, knowing that all my puncture repair kit is useless – I will not be able to get the wheels off as the special key is still in my desk at home. So far I have yet to be caught out, so I am thinking of carrying just the key, not the caboodle, and calling a cab should the bike break-down.

    Recommendation to others?

    If you can remove your tyres without tyre levers then you know enough about what you are doing, probably have a fine working machine and don’t need to carry tools. (Or else you have exceptionally slack, ill-fitting tyres.) If needing to travel with tyres that are not puncture-proofed with high-density aramid then by all means carry pump, tube and patches.

    If you cannot remove your tyres without tyre levers then you have a lot to learn. Leave the tools at home, they will only weigh you down and someone else will have to use them for you. Carry a mobile phone and hop into a taxi if you get stuck. To avoid having to do that, get aramid-reinforced tyres and a track-pump with gauge.

  26. Dan says:

    Hmmm, I’m not sure I would be able to remove my tyres without levers…

    I carry a spare tube, 2 plastic tyre levers, puncture repair kit and $50 in my saddle bag thingy. I also have a mini-pump attached to the bike, and generally have a cellphone on me (it fits in the saddle bag thingy too, if I’ve not got a backpack). I’ve occaisionally needed to replace the tube by the side of the road, but never needed to do more maintenance than that, so don’t bother with a multi-tool. The other thing I have noticed is that if I have a problem, lots of other friendly cyclists stop and check if I need help. I also return the ‘favour’ if I see someone else with a flat of whatever.

  27. Warren T says:

    I’ve only noticed a couple people mention cash, and they are carrying bills. I decided a month ago to start carrying a few quarters with me so I could be able to stop and buy lemonade from any kid I see who takes the time to set up a lemonade stand. (Most likely the majority of kids in lemonade stands were, um, encouraged to do so by their parents…)

    I always feel bad if I can’t stop and buy a cup.

  28. Noah says:

    I have a reflective ankle strap that has a “secret” pocket inside. I don’t wear it because no one could see it from behind with my huge panniers in the way, but I keep it with me for riding without the panniers, and I keep $1.75 or $2 with me. That’s enough to hop on any bus if the goin’ gets tough. Although I’d probably just call my wife to come rescue me.

  29. Alexis says:

    Easy Rider, I think it’s quite arrogant of you to say that if you can’t remove your tires without levers, you don’t know what you’re doing. I’ve got small hands and simply don’t have the mechanical strength required to remove my tires by hand, but I’m perfectly capable of fixing flats on my own if I have the levers.

    We are all different. Your way is not the only ‘right’ way.

  30. Joe says:

    Alexis I agree, Easy rider, I don’t think you realize how condescending and arrogant you sound.

    “Tools are only useful if you know how to use them. If you know how to use them then you should not have to use them”

    Ummm….ok. I know how to use a tire pump, but by your logic I should not have to use it because I can somehow keep my bike in superior shape and predict when I might get a flat and avoid that….whatever dude.

    Consider humility on your next post.

  31. Erin says:

    I just stumbled across this post (and the site in general–I’ve found them both informative!), and noticed that nobody mentioned a towel. I usually don’t bring one with me, but the last time I crashed I was on my way to the beach and had one. It was so useful cleaning up blood and chain grease that as soon as I started riding again, I tied a face towel to my frame and now don’t leave home without it.

  32. Rob L says:

    Erin –

    Well, Ford always said “Know where your Towel is”. Not a half bad idea, I do usually carry some rags in my pack.

  33. Hugh says:

    I just carry an old, well thumbed Playboy to read ,while I wait for a cab (or my wife) to pick me up if I get a flat!

  34. chunkymonkeybiker says:

    I don’t carry anything except: phone, mp3, wallet, lights. If I get stuck, I can always ride the bus in and change a flat at work.

  35. CaptCanuck says:

    Aramid….I think I heard they make the black boxes on airplanes out of that stuff. :-)

  36. AngelWolf says:

    I carry a first aid kit, a spare tube, a co2 inflator, an alien multi-tool, a frame pump, a couple spare chain links, and a power bar. I also keep a “Fix a Flat” tube in the box on my trailer along with an assortment of bungee cords and tarps. Our public transit here only runs 8-6 M-F, and only goes to certain places, so bus service is spotty, and it has undersized bike racks, not good for my longer tourning commute bike.

    I carry so many flat fixing things because the street sweepers here in Medford, Oregon only sweep the street, pushing all the debris in to the bike lanes, and they only run part time, too. Flats are a way of life.

  37. clunkerider says:

    I have a back rack-pack for my lunch, sun-glasses, perscription glasses, a multi-tool, allen keys and that’s it. I have two drink holders on my ride, one for coffee thermose and one for water. I ride five miles each way. My bike is an old clunker mountain bike with really good commuter tires. No flats in ten years of commuting, so I don’t bother with extra tubes or pumps. I used to ride road bikes but got tired of bent rims on the rough roads and flats. Yes my mountain bike is slower but I find it less trouble.

  38. Cellphoneguy says:

    I carry just one thing:

    A cell phone.

    If anything goes wrong with my bike that causes me not to be able to ride it, I call someone to come pick me up so I can fix my bike at home. This is almost always faster than fixing it myself. Just make sure you don’t ride somewhere that doesn’t get cell service…

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