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It’s time to turn out our pockets, saddle bags, and top tube pouches and reveal the spares we carry on our rides. In this installment of CT Recommends, our team shares what we bring with us on road, gravel, and mountain bike rides just in case things don’t go according to plan.
One might think that such a straightforward topic would generate a bunch of straightforward answers, especially given we’re only talking about supplies for single-day rides here. But aside from common items like mobile phones, house/car keys, and emergency card or credit cards, the internal conversation between mini-pumps versus CO2, different methods of puncture repair, and varying opinions on extras covered a surprising amount of ground.
What we carry on road rides
Our lead tech nerd, James Huang, has a well-considered kit (pictured up top) to suit the local roads surrounding Boulder, Colorado. And as he often rides alone and on new bikes, he’s well prepared.
“I usually carry an ultralight spare tube (packed extremely tightly to save space and wrapped in a plastic bag for protection), a valve extender with a bit of PTFE tape wrapped around it and a plastic valve core tool, some glueless patches, a single tyre lever, a PRO micro-pump, a bit of cash, and an Ass Savers fender (not pictured) that I roll up around the pump,” he says. “I stuff all of that into one of those old Silca tool rolls that were made by Yanco. It’s a very compact kit that can easily handle three flats, and the tool roll snugs up tightly underneath the saddle with a single strap.”
Tool-wise, James will typically have two.
“Tucked into the steerer tube of my personal bike is a Specialized Top Cap Chain Tool so I’m never without it (it also holds a spare master link),” he explains. “A set of Fix-It Sticks is tucked away inside the tool roll, too.”
Content production editor Iain Treloar and CyclingTips editor-in-chief Caley Fretz both use Arundel saddle bags, picking the Uno and Dual, respectively. Iain’s setup is minimalist with a single tube, a CO2 canister and head, and a Lezyne self-adhesive patch kit. Caley stashes two tubes in that larger bag, plus a small multi-tool, a patch kit, and $10 in cash. And instead of the CO2 canister, he opts for a mini-pump mounted to the frame.
My setup is most similar to that of Iain’s and is equally minimal. I really dislike the seatpost loop on most saddle bags and can’t stand rattling, so I stopped using traditional saddle packs long ago. Instead, I’ve since used SpeedSleev’s compression wrap, a Specialized Bandit Wrap (which only works with Specialized saddles, but I have them on all my bikes), or more recently, SpurCycle’s saddle bag, which is more of a hybrid between a tool roll and a conventional bag.
In it, I carry a Specialized Tube Spool, which bundles a CO2 canister, inflator head, tyre lever, and a tube. The spool keeps everything wrapped tight, and there’s zero risk of the protected valve puncturing the tube. I typically swap the provided Specialized tube out for something lighter and with a long valve, so I’m prepared no matter what rim depth I’m riding that day.
If I’m testing something that may need to be adjusted, then I’ll slip a bit-based multitool into my jersey pocket (lately, that’s been the SpurCycle Tool). And if the bike I’m on is tubeless, I’ll slip an additional CO2 canister and Dynaplug Air plug kit in my jersey as well, with an elastic band holding everything together.
Managing editor Matt de Neef’s setup is similar to Caley’s, all housed inside a PRO saddle bag. However, Matt chooses to carry his Topeak Rocket mini-pump in his jersey pocket, alongside his ID, public transport pass (Myki), cash, phone, headphones, energy bars (usually Winners), and keys.
For Andy van Bergen – aka Mr. Everesting – shorter road rides see him carry a single tube, a self-adhesive patch kit, and a single tyre lever squeezed into the smallest saddle bag he can find. His jersey pockets then host a Topeak Micro Rocket pump among other life essentials.
Editor-at-large Neal Rogers keeps a small saddle bag with a tube and tyre levers on each bike. Everything else goes into the middle pocket of his jersey, housed within an Eagle Creek waterproof camping pouch. “It’s kinda nerdy, but also so damn handy,” he says.
In addition to a small tube of sunscreen, lip balm, chain lube, and spares, Neal unusually carries a tape measure, something he admittedly hasn’t used on his own bike for years, but often hands off to riding buddies.
Overseeing the Emporium is Mitch Wells, whose Speedsleev kit holds a CO2 canister, an inflator head, a Schwalbe tyre lever, a tube protected within a plastic bag, and half of a well-used Topeak Alien multi-tool.
The rest of Mitch’s kit is held inside a Rapha Leather Essentials case that he slips into a jersey pocket. Inside the case is a Lezyne Smart Patch Kit (which includes glueless patches as well as a tyre boot), a valve core, an expired photo ID, and other essential items. He adds a second tube and a Lezyne Pressure Drive mini-pump to his jersey pockets for longer rides.
European roving reporter Dave Everett uses a small Castelli saddle bag filled with a single tube, a Topeak multi-tool with chain breaker included, one chain master link, a €5 bill, Pedro’s tyre levers, and a set of glueless patches. “I won’t go anywhere without a frame pump,” Dave says, “either my trusty Zefal HPX or a Topeak one.”
Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom takes a different approach to the rest of the team.
“I carry everything in my jersey pockets, so the only thing I put on the bike is a couple of bidons,” he explains. “I abandoned saddle bags many years ago after my spare tubes kept getting damaged from being stored for long periods. My tyre levers or the valve stem would rub a hole somewhere in the tube, but it would go unnoticed until I needed the tube.
“I’ve also found that because I’m often switching between different bikes, it’s much easier to carry what I need rather than switch it from bike to bike.”
In Matt’s pockets are a phone, wallet, Lezyne Alloy Drive HV mini pump, spare tube, Dynaplug Micro-Pro kit, two tyre levers, and a 20-year old Park multi-tool. “I keep a tyre boot in my wallet,” he says. “I carry all the same gear for any ride, short or long; I just vary the tube to match the tyres on the bike I’m using.”
What we carry for gravel
Compared to the road, our gravel rides are typically a little longer, a little more remote, and things tend to go wrong more often.
For Iain Treloar, gravel sees him swap to an Arundel Dual saddle bag with room for a larger tube. A regular patch kit with glue sits alongside the tube, as does a CO2 canister and inflator.
The original #groader, our editor-in-chief Caley Fretz, carries a screw-top spares bottle in a 3rd bottle cage. It houses two inner tubes, a small multi-tool, a Dynaplug Micro-plug kit (since he’s usually running tubeless on gravel), and a pump attached to the frame. If the bike he’s riding doesn’t have space for the spares bottle, everything gets moved to a handlebar bag or placed in his bum bag.
Andy van Bergen carries a tube, Park Tool tyre lever, self-adhesive patch kit, CO2 canister and head, Specialized SWAT multi-tool, a chain master link, and a tiny bit of lube, all wrapped up in a Speedsleev. Andy also carries a Lezyne HV pump instead of a CO2. “After being caught out in the middle of nowhere after a CO2 failure, I always bring a pump,” he says. “If I’m really remote, then I have a basic first aid kit.”
When it comes to riding his local French gravel roads, Dave Everett picks a cheap Bike Ribbon saddle pack. “It’s not as classy as the Castelli but it’s superb in function,” he says. His multitool is the PB Swiss Bike Tool, and his tyre levers, which double as chain masterlink pliers, are from Clever Standard.
Meanwhile, James, Matt Wikstrom, and I don’t seem to change our road kits too much for gravel (and it’s worth noting that James’s road kit is already unusually robust as it is). Typically, we’ll just swap the tube for the right size. Personally, I use a Backcountry Research strap on my gravel bike (again, holding a Specialized Tube Spool). The tube isn’t protected from the outside, but it’s secure and rattle-free.
What we carry when mountain biking
Mountain bikes are impressively reliable these days, especially with how dependable a well-kept tubeless setup is. However, things still go wrong.
For Caley, rides under two hours see him fill his “fanny pack” (bum bag) with an extra water bottle, a tube, Dynaplugs, a mini pump, and a multi-tool. “I only carry multi-tools with a chain breaker,” he says, “because not having one seems like a really stupid reason to walk really long distances.”
For rides over three hours, Caley switches to a hydration pack and adds a small bottle of tyre sealant, a derailleur hanger, a chain quick link, a shift cable, and a multi-tool that includes more tools and a knife. “Also permanently strapped to the down tube of my mountain bike is a tube, CO2, and CO2 head,” Caley adds. “That way, if I’m super dumb and walk out the door with nothing, I’ll probably still be fine.”
James’ MTB setup recently went through an overhaul. “I bought myself a 100cc EDC pump from OneUp Components,” he explains. “Inside is a high-volume pump, a mini-tool, a chain tool, a tyre lever, chain masterlink, a CO2 cartridge and inflator head, and even a spare chainring bolt. It’s a touch heavy, but extremely convenient and easy to transfer from bike to bike. On the bike itself, I use a Backcountry Research strap to attach one of those newfangled small and light Tubolito tubes and a Dynaplug Micro-plug kit.
“I can carry a large water bottle on my bike, so for shorter rides, this lets me ride without a pack at all. For rides of about two hours, I’ll add a hip pack with a jacket and hat, a hand chainsaw (lots of deadfall up in the high country and I’m always in trail maintenance mode), and some food.
“For all-day stuff, I’ll take a proper hydration pack with extra liquids, another couple of layers, maybe an additional tube (or a real patch kit), some tyre sealant, zip-ties, electrical and/or duct tape, and some very basic first-aid stuff. All of this may sound a bit excessive, but I feel that it’s always better to be prepared than to have to walk home.”
Personally, I struggle to shake my minimalist ways regardless of what bike I ride. Most of my MTB rides these days are under two hours, and so I simply carry a lightweight 29er tube, CO2 canister, CO2 head, tyre lever (missing in photo), and a Dynaplug Racer plug kit, all wrapped into a Specialized Bandito that’s bolted directly beneath the saddle.
My trail bike has bolt-up thru-axles and so a 6mm hex key is kept within the spare tube. For mid-length rides, I’ll chuck a small bit-based multi-tool into a pocket. And for longer rides, the one-bidon limit on my trail bike means the hydration pack gets some action and I’ll typically add a pump (a Topeak MT Pocket Rocket Carbon, wrapped with duct tape for random repairs) and zip-ties into the mix.
Does your kit vary based on the bike you’re riding? What spares do you carry and why? Any items you love? Any you don’t? Let us know in the comments below.