What’s in your wallet, er, I mean seat bag? (For future generations of blog readers – that’s a [lame] play on a current popular commercial…oh, nevermind).
A good friend of mine, Erik from the blog/site Solargravity, recently took up biking again after a time away from it. The many changes in biking technology, training and equipment in during the few short years that comprise his biking break got me thinking about the crazy improvements and changes made in biking since the time I started riding as a kid.
And it also got me thinking about that seemingly age-old question (at least in the biking world) – what do you regularly carry on your bike for tools, parts, and utility items? I bet that it too has changed and evolved over the years.
As a kid I remember that my friends never carried anything but themselves, but I always had an old pencil bag strapped to my bike filled with tools and parts. Whenever anyone broke down or needed something fixed I was the one they came to. In those days I carried some kinda heavy tools, because that’s all I had. And a tube, and old style patch kids, and parts. And even a paper map of my area, sealed in cellophane wrap.
And it sure came in handy to have at least one person (me!) prepared.
But there are some who want their experience to be pristine, simple, and un-distracted and they believe that they can figure out how to fix their bike with just spit and twigs. Fine for them. For us realistic people, who know that a prepared person is going to be better off than an unprepared person; we probably carry a few tools, tire patch kits, emergency supplies, a cellphone, and other useful items, etc – everybody has an opinion and list of things that they carry, except for those who – well; don’t at all.
I think the list of things that people normally carry with them when they are biking is similar to the question of what people carry in their go-bags, or what they carry in their cars for emergencies, stuff like that. The answers are as myriad as there are people. Some seemingly carry everything and the kitchen sink, while others take the absolute bare minimum.
So do you pack for any emergency/need or do you just bring the essentials, or something in between?
This posting is about the tools and utility items that you might carry, or rather items that I carry in my seat bag; and that I sometimes carry in additional bags if needed.
You’ll find the question asked, re-asked, rehashed, debated, and argued over among people who bike regularly, in person as well as across the Internet.
So, what the heck – I’ll throw out my own list.
I think you’ll find that I am somewhere in the middle when it comes to what I carry on my bike.
First, the seat bag itself. The seat bag is sold by BV and is called, simply, the BV Bicycle Strap-On Seat Bag. Mine is the large edition, and is expandable. I tried and own a number of seat bags and I have to say that this is my favorite, when I switch to one of my other bikes I take the seat post, my Planet Bike Anatomic Relief seat, and bag as one unit and plop it in into the bike tube of my other bikes.
The bag is not too big, it doesn’t flop around under the seat (ever been behind someone who’s seat bags sways distractingly from side to side as they bike?), yet it’s not too small but the nicest thing about it is that with a simple adjustment it can be expanded for more space. Good for perhaps slightly longer trips or maybe even if I need to pick up something small and carry it.
BV sells a bunch of stuff, and you’ll find a lot of seat bags that are similar to this across the Internet, including clones and near clones and variations.
This bag seems to be made real well, and looks and attaches nicely. There are two straps that attach it to the seat rails and wrap around the bottom of the bag, with a snap clip that connects the straps underneath. To expand the bag you unsnap this and unzip the bottom portion of the bag, and it accordions down, giving it a fair amount of extra space. Then you just snap the straps back together underneath again and its all set to go, and very secure. Just do the opposite to contract it back to the regular size.
The other kind of seat bag attachment is a two-piece attachment system that allows you to quickly detach the bag if needed, but adds a fairly large plastic piece under your seat. Here’s the same bag in that format.
Along the sides are reflective strips, also on the outside are two loops as well as a loop in the back for a light or reflector or whatever. Inside the bag it is just open space except for a mesh pocket and a snap to attach your keys, both located on the dual-zippered flap part.
I also have a Fuel Belt Fuel Box, which is just a simple and small square bag that attaches to the top bar. Normally, this is supposed to be snugged up against the handlebar stem but I like it back up against the seat post instead.
Normally it’s meant to carry energy bars, gels, etc but I like the fuel bag because I can stick my phone in it and quickly access it, it’s right there. Versus the way I used to carry my phone which was in the seat bag – meaning that I had to get off the bike, hold the bike with one hand or put the kickstand down, and open the seat bag to get the phone out.
I sometimes wish that I didn’t think that I needed another small bag there on the top bar but its way too damn convenient to have it there. And I can also stuff a little change, both coin and paper, in it and maybe a Starbucks card, sometimes an extra granola bar; all for quick access.
Unfortunately, when I got my new phone – a Samsung Galaxy Alpha (excellent phone, even has a heart rate monitor on it), I found that it was too tight of a fit in the bag until I took out the piece of plastic that seemed to be there keep the form of the bag intact, and maybe it was there to make it a little more moisture-resistant. Not a big deal to remove at, and now my phone fits just fine in it, though it’s close. I carry a ziplock just in case I need it to be waterproof.
On to the items I carry in the seat bag…
The first thing that I believe is indispensable is a foldable bike tool kit which has bike-common Allen (hex) sizes, sockets, and screwdrivers, made by Diamondback – this tool is essential in my opinion. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the exact one that I have – which has the small plastic container for the tool and bits; but this link has a similar kit.
The compact bike tool is like a little Swiss Army knife of biking tools, folded up into one little cartridge. Mine came in a little plastic container that can contain the extra bits, and as you can see in the pic above the little plastic container is a little beat up, patched with duct tape and cracked, but it is the perfect size to contain everything. I also added a Presta to Schrader valve converter/adapter so that I could use any air pump or compressor to inflate my tires, which have Presta valves. This little converter is so small that it fits inside one of the socket bits.
I also carry a small, very light bike-specific wrench like this one – again, I couldn’t find the exact one that I have, which I acquired many years ago, but this one is similar. In fact this particular one I have carried on many bikes. I had a similar but much heavier one when I was young that I carried everywhere. These wrenches are good to carry in addition to the bike multi-tool in case you need to tighten both ends of something or need to get a little more torque, or pry at something that is bent or stuck.
The next thing I think is very important, especially in the Spring and here in Northern NY when there’s a ton of Winter road crap gathered along the edges of the roads – are tire patching tools and supplies. You also need to be able to know how to use them, which is just as important as carrying them.
I have found that ones like Sunlite self-adhesive patches are fine (sometimes called Skabs or Scabs), though they aren’t really made for permanent use and I’d recommend using the ones you glue or replace them with the ones that you glue on when you get back home. These are little self-adhesive patches that you peel off (just like non self-adhesive ones) and are contained in a small plastic container. It also includes some quick instructions, and a little scrubby sander to roughen the rubber of the tire for better adhesion.
Along with those I carry some non-adhesive patches and glue for them, the roughener from the scab pack can also be used with these and everything fits nicely inside the aforementioned pack’s plastic container.
And it’s good too, to have at least a pair of plastic tire changer levers, which make changing a tire much easier in general, quicker, and are gentler on your fingers as well as on the rim. Again, if you don’t know how to use them, or how to fix and change a tire/tube in the first place – practice if you can, and check out some YouTube videos.
To pump up the tires I have use C02 cartridges, and a small inflator nozzle that fits on them. Depending on which cartridges and inflator you buy make sure you have compatible cartridges – some are unthreaded, some are threaded, and some inflators will take both while others don’t.
Ideally you might want a better inflator nozzle system then what I am using, one that lets you regulate the pressure coming out of the inflator and going into your tire. C02 cartridges can discharge a good amount of immediate pressure and can be hard to regulate manually. Somes like this one or this one allow you to adjust the flow from high to low, unfortunately these models also add a little bulkiness to the whole device but likely it would be worth it for most people. That is something to watch out for if you’re new to C02 inflators. There are times when you only need to put a little bit of air into a tube, to perhaps check for holes or to get in a little bit of inflation so that the tube stays in the rim as you are putting the tire back on – and it can be easy to blow a tube with the C02 canisters and a manual nozzle because of the large amount of pressure that is going to shoot out. Inflating a tube inside a tire – not so much, but without the support of the tire a tube can blow in seconds from too much inflation.
In the picture above you can see that I have attached to the inflator nozzle (as an easy way to keep it handy) a Schrader to Presta adapter so that I can use the inflator to pump up standard Schrader valves. Good for when I put my seat bag on my backup bike, or on my mountain bike or if I need to fix a tire on my wife’s bike or someone else’s bike. This little part is kinda hard to come by, as the opposite adapters are pretty common.
Next is a bike chain tool/chain breaker, it’s small and light and one of the handle braces is detachable, allowing you to somewhat to fold the whole thing into a smaller space. The one in the link also can be used with an allen wrench for more leverage and it holds extra chain links. I used to have to use this often when mountain biking, but rarely need to anymore. I believe that since I do more road biking there is really less stress on the chain, and less things banging on it. I think perhaps chains are made better now too. With a little preventive maintenance and proper lubrication and cleaning a chain can last a long time. But if it does break this is nice to have, as you are pretty screwed without your chain.
I also electrical-taped its handle to the main part as well included a few replacement links and pins in the package – it’s best to keep a a KMC Missing Link (the correct one for your chain) as a space. The electrical tape can be carefully unwound and used in emergency situations to hold a piece together on your bike until you get home, sometimes to hold broken mounts on or other things together, or to make a tourniquet and other things. Hey, ya never know.
That’s it for actual tools and replacement parts.
Other useful and sometimes very important things (at least for me) that I carry:
A small bottle of alcohol-based hand cleaner, which is good if you’re taking a bathroom break and need to wash your hands afterwards, need to clean your hands after getting them dirty while repairing something on your bike or on other’s, cleaning sprocket tattoos off your legs, or maybe cleaning a wound (which is going to hurt like hell). It’s best if it’s alcohol-based for the most part.
Some small napkins/paper towels which can also be used to clean dirty hands, a runny nose, dirty bike parts, or a dirty bum. Along with these I carry one or two moist towelettes.
A business card as well as a card with my name, contact info, and emergency contact information just in case I get mowed down by a tractor-trailer or something and someone needs to contact my next-of-kin. A little side note here, around my neck I also wear dog tags with my emergency information on them – which is a good thing to have. I love the dog tags, not a big fan of carrying yet more stuff on my wrist (as I have a Garmin Forerunner on one wrist, a Fitbit on the other) but you can get dog tags, wrist ID’s, sneaker tags, or something like that to carry on your person just in case. Get them in many places.
I like the dog tags which can be bought here from Tag-Z – this guy does a great job, has great customer relations, and you get tag silencers and a nice chain with it, but most importantly these are actually embossed on a machine so that the lettering won’t wear out, unlike some of the laser-etched dog tags. I had some of those and the lettering started to get worn out. You also can’t go wrong with RoadID’s stuff – very high quality. And check out their app which allows loved ones to see where you are while out riding (or running), and alerts them if you stop for too long of a time (like you’re laying bleeding in a ditch, say). Sites like Runtastic also have free live tracking while you may have to pay for it on other tracking sites.
And I like to carry a couple bucks, usually a tenner or more. You never know when you need to buy a drink or power bar, or drink at Starbucks maybe.
I carry an extra tube(s) too – very important as sometimes you can’t patch a badly blown or ripped tube or just want to/need to get back out on the road as quickly as possible. And remember not to carry that tube with the rubber band around it – it will eventually eat into the tube, but also don’t forget to check that tube once in a while – heat and time will deteriorate it.
Lastly, I carry an emergency granola bar and maybe another extra if I am taking a long ride. Just remember – not all granola bars are created equal, look for healthy ones that are good for you and aren’t just glorified candy bars. Check out my post on the gRUNola All Natural No-Preservative Granola/Energy Bar. And for low energy emergencies a Honey Stinger Energy Gel.
For longer trips I have a Schwinn seat post mounted bike carrier rack for the back and multiple sized bags, depending on how long of a trip I am taking or if I need to carry something specific. I usually carry a Schwinn aluminum frame hand pump, more food, an extra water bottle, and perhaps maybe a few other things.
Sometimes I need to bring a bike lock, though I don’t really trust leaving my bike anywhere for long out of my eyesight. But that’s just me – that’s not always practical for others and I would certainly recommend bringing two locks for those situations. Consider both a U-Lock as well as either another U-Lock or a cable bike lock – cable bike locks are certainly very easy to break and cut so you don’t want to depend on just one of those if you can help it.
Along with my bike carrier rack and larger bags I sometimes carry extra strapping and webbing, especially if I am stopping somewhere to pick something up. Sometimes this can be practical for other reasons – one time I found a fairly expensive car radar detector, along with the power cord, just lying along the side of the road. I took a chance and carried it home and it worked just fine, despite a little road rash on the case. Bonus.
It’s certainly hard to gauge and accurately decide exactly what you will need given any situation or emergency you encounter, but it’s good to cover at least the basics.
So what works for me may not work for you; you may need more or you might want less and/or variations of what I carry. Feel free to drop a comment below and let us know what you carry when you bike.
(By the way – on an unrelated note; this is my first blog posting of which 98% was dictated hands-free using Google voice typing on my Google Nexus 7 tablet. Which fits my ideal way to write a blog – pace-and-dictate).
Update 11/2/2016 – I’ve replaced the Diamondback bike tools and bike chain/chain breaker tools with the Diamondback Traveler 11 Bicycle Mini Multi-Tool which has the same toolset plus the chain breaker/tool and the addition of the T-25 Torx and a few modifications of the drivers. The only thing it is missing is some of the sockets – of which do not fit anything on my modern bikes except bike carrier bolts I bought in a hardware store, a few do fit some nuts on the brakes and various pieces of my older bikes.