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What to Carry While Riding

By Marty Caivano, Field Programs Coordinator

Being self-sufficient has long been part of the ethos of mountain biking. In the early days of cobbling together Schwinn cruisers for trail duty, riders had to be able to fix anything that came apart along the way. Even as the sport has progressed to our time of electronic shifting and carbon wheels, it remains part of the rider’s skill set to manage basic repairs.

Nothing adds to your trail confidence like self-sufficiency, such as knowing you can take care of your bike. And maybe even your friends’ bikes. As your riding skills progress and you grow stronger and more technically able to tackle longer, more challenging rides, why wouldn’t you also advance your repair skills, in order to support yourself on those bigger rides?

Of course, you’ll need to have some basic tools and supplies with you when things go wrong. And finding advanced repair skills clinics is helpful, too. Check out your local REI or local bike shop, and if the shop doesn’t offer anything beyond how to change a flat tire, suggest it. You’re probably not the only one wishing to know how to repair a broken chain.

And beware of thinking nothing will ever happen to you. In the last year, I’ve replaced a busted derailleur hangar and a slashed front tire for the same coworker, one who is by no means a reckless rider.

Here’s what you’ll want to have in your pack or seatbag:

Short, after-work style ride:

Although you can still crash or have a significant mechanical incident on a short ride, many people are willing to walk out in exchange for having a lighter pack or saddlebag. This is a personal decision based on your personality, the difficulty of your local trails, and how crowded they are with people who might be willing to help you. You’ll find that other mountain bikers are often very willing to lend a hand. But since I don’t like walking when I could be riding, I carry some extras on short rides. You’ll eventually figure out for yourself how much to bring along.

Non-negotiable, must-have, don’t-even-think-of-leaving-the-house-without-them items:

  • Tube(s): Correct size for your wheels is best, but you can make do with another close size if necessary. I just recently trail-side patched a slashed 29’er tire with a 27.5” tube and an empty Gu packet. Pro tip: carry your tube in an old sock. This protects the tube from abrasion in your pack or seatbag.
  • Tire levers: Carry two, since you may need them both, or you may break one on a stubborn tire. I prefer the Pedros levers, since they are strong and easy to use.
  • Inflation device: Hand pump or CO2 cartridges. If you only carry cartridges, be sure you are confident in their use, since you don’t want to flub it; then you’re out of air and still have a flat tire. They’re not hard to use, but each style has a specific method. If you just carry a pump, make sure you know how to use that, too. Seriously. On that same ride where I repaired the slashed tire, two of us had pumps from the same maker, and we couldn’t get either one to work. Thankfully, rider #3 had a CO2 cartridge.
  • Small multi-tool: Even if you don’t end up needing it, you could save someone else’s ride by having it. You also might need it for something totally unexpected, like tightening a loosened cleat bolt on your bike shoe. Make sure your little tool has a star-shaped wrench or two—also known as Torx—because you’ll need that for brake rotor bolts and some newer shifter and brake clamps. (Just in case there’s confusion, Torx wrenches and torque wrenches aren’t the same thing. Throw that around in your next nerdy bike conversation.)

Half-day, weekend-style rides:

For these, you’ll want to add in a few more things to help you avoid a long walk. Hiking can be fun, but not when you’re wearing stiff-soled shoes and holding hands with a 27-pound bicycle.

Often, when I give repair clinics and show folks what I carry, some folks glaze over a bit. “I don’t know how to use that stuff, so why make my pack heavier?” And I can understand that, for sure.

Unfortunately, though, if you don’t carry these items, you’re forcing other people to provide for you when you break down. So remember—even if you’re unsure about how to use some of these items—carry them anyway so that other people can help you without depleting their own supplies.

I also get those folks who say, “I never flat/break anything/crash.” Alas, these folks have just angered the gods. Their luck will soon turn.

Additional items:

  • Chain link or pin: Both SRAM and Shimano chains can be fixed using the SRAM Powerlock link, even though both companies deny this (as lawyers surely tell them to). You can get your Shimano chain properly repaired with its special pin when your ride is over.
  • Chain tool: You’ll likely have to remove a link from your broken chain to make the repair link work and, to do that, you’ll need a chain tool. They often come as part of larger multi-tools.
  • Tire boot: If you rip a gash in your tire, you won’t get very far since the tube will just bulge out the hole. You’ll need something flat that won’t rip, like a dollar bill or energy bar wrapper, which you can use to line the inside of the tire. Some folks carry something dedicated to the task, such as a piece of Tyvex envelope.
  • Zip ties: Carry a few in a variety of sizes. A lot of problems can be temporarily fixed or at least made manageable with a zip tie.
  • Tape: Ditto. Wrap some duct tape or electrical tape around your pump handle so it’s handy.
  • Pump: It’s best not to rely only on CO2 cartridges for long rides. It’s always a good idea to carry a pump, not only for your own use, but to lend to others.
  • Derailleur hanger: This is the little piece of aluminum that your derailleur hangs on, which is then bolted to your bike frame. They’re designed to bend, which protects your frame from damage when you crash. If yours ends up significantly bent or broken, you’ll need to replace it, which is not hard to do. The main thing to know is that each bike manufacturer uses a different hanger, so buy the one made specifically for your bike. If you end up using it, buy another so that you always have a spare with you.
  • Cleat bolts: I actually carry a little plastic bag full of various bolts, but if there’s one you’re guaranteed to wish you had, it would be a cleat bolt. Also, when you install new cleats in your shoes, grease the bolts. This helps them stay tight, but also makes them easier to remove when you change cleats the next time.
  • Pro tip: When you embark on a larger repair job on the trail, search for a low tree branch that you can use as a repair stand. Just hang the bike by the saddle and, voila, you can remove the wheels, work without crouching, and hopefully avoid losing small parts in the underbrush.

Huge backcountry epic rides:

Where these rides are concerned, you want to assume that you won’t see another soul, because it’s quite possible that will be true. And walking is not an option, unless you’ve truly broken your frame or destroyed a wheel. You’ll definitely want to make sure your bike is in solid working order before embarking on a big adventure.

To be ready for anything, you’ll want to add to the previous lists:

  • Tiny bottle of chain lube: Those sixteen creek crossings have washed your chain clean, and the squeaking is going to drive you absolutely crazy if you don’t do something about it. Plus, the dry chain is increasing the wear on your drivetrain.
  • Shock pump: Why spoil the many hours remaining in your ride if you discover that your suspension air pressure doesn’t match the terrain? Just carry a shock pump, and you’ll be able to fine-tune your settings - or someone else’s. You’ll be an instant hero.
  • Extra bolts: I always carry a couple of extra brake rotor bolts and chainring bolts. You never know when one of those is going to escape, endangering your backcountry experience.
  • Extra tubes: Even if you have a fresh tubeless setup going, anything can happen. Or, like on that ride where I repaired the slashed tire, my friend's tire sealant was BONE DRY. Sure, the tires were set up tubeless, but they were worthless against rocky terrain. (So, you might want to think about the age of the sealant in your tires before departing on that epic MTB road trip...)
  • Patch kit: This is especially important if you’re running tubes on rocky terrain. The number of times you’ll flat is always “the number of tubes you carry, plus one.” Once you’ve used a patch kit for the first time, be sure to keep an eye on the glue. It can dry up over a long season, rendering the kit useless the next time you flat.
  • Wet wipes: You’ll need these for cleaning the grease off your hands, as well as possibly some other uses. You know what I’m saying...

Don’t despair if this list sounds a bit overwhelming. An easy way to manage it is like this:

  • Prepare a seatbag of the basics for your short rides.
  • Prepare your pack with both the basics and the additional items for your weekend rides. (I make it super easy by just carrying this all the time.)
  • Throw the extras in there when you embark on the big mack-daddy rides.
  • Replace any supplies you’ve used before your next ride.
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