What's in my bag?

by Dan Pugatch

Over the past three years of commuting by bicycle, I have come to learn the hard way what to carry on a daily basis, and what to leave at home. I decided to share my pearls of wisdom with everyone the must haves, the should haves, and the wet weather survival kit. No matter what, the following are must haves every time you get on that trusty old steed of yours, that iron horse: your bicycle.

Tire Levers, pump or CO2 cartridges, and patch kit— Unless you have years of bicycle mechanic experience its hard to just tear that tire off the rim with your bare hands, but trust me once you do you feel like the Incredible Hulk. Most mortals will need at least two levers to take a tire off. Once you get the tube out you can inflate it with a pump or CO2 cartridges, find or hear the hole(s) and patch with a patch kit, which usually includes sandpaper, glue, and a sticker patch. The sandpaper makes the rubber tube porous, while the glue seals the tube by vulcanizing the rubber (melting it) and the patch covers this wear spot to prevent abrasion from ripping it open again.

Extra Tubes—I personally stink at patching tubes and just carry two spare tubes instead. You should always carry one if not two since Murphy’s Law is often correct and double flats happen. If you have bolt on wheels make sure you have the appropriate size wrench (usually 15mm) or special key tool for locking skewers. To add all of this to your tool kit would cost about $20-$50 based on what pump you use. Dollar Bill—When your tire has a hole in it and the tube is peeking through, that linen-like dollar bill will work as a tire patch and last months.

Allen keys—Also known as hex head wrenches, are good for adjusting handlebars, seat post, and tightening anything that goes loose.

An old dirty rag—It’s your best friend when changing flats, use it to grab the chain when removing and reinstalling a rear wheel and avoid getting dirty hands en route to that job interview or hot date.

A plastic bag—Great for keeping your seat dry when it rains, especially if you have a porous model. Just take off the wet bag before riding off into the sunset.

Lights!!!—Even if you don’t plan on riding at night, bring lights just in case. They are designed to help others see you, not for you to see the road. A front light and rear reflector is actually the law in Massachusetts and if you’re hit by a car at night without any lights or reflectors a driver can successfully blame most any accident on you. They also help your visibility in the rain.

A rack and bungee cords—Summer is coming, and that means backpacks equal sweaty backs, invest in a rear rack and bungee cords, which can carry more weight and make your ride more comfortable. Now you can take home those leftovers instead of feeling bad leaving them behind.

Fenders—Essential. They keep you dry and keep your bicycle in better shape. The best full coverage fenders usually stay on all the time reduce the amount of water and salt damage to your frame and bearing systems, reducing the amount of money you spend on your tune-ups and keeping the paint job pretty. But a less expensive clip on fender will also keep that skunk stripe off your backside.

Ziplock baggies—A ziplock bag will be your best friend. I’ve had a few iPhones die on me in a downpour when I was working as a Bicycle Courier. Even raincoats can allow your cell phone to get wet in a pocket.

Rain Coat—Your raincoat should be breathable with armpit zippers. It also should have long enough arms to cover you when you lean forward and grab your brake levers. Also make sure the back is long enough so your waist is covered when you bike. I’ve gotten in the habit of hunkering over hunchback-style whenever I try clothes on in a store.

Rain pants—These come in different varieties from skintight cycling tights to baggy pants that go over your jeans. Find the ones that work for you. I just picked up a pair that turn into shorts!

Gaiters—Shoe covers and or gaiters can also keep your feet from getting soggy. Gaiters cover most of your shoe but not all of it, and cover your legs all the way up to the knees. I bought mine for 60 percent at a camping store just after snowshoeing season ended. In the winter I use them with waterproof hiking boots, and in the summer with shoe covers that go over my sneakers. If you catch sales, you can get all the rain gear you need for about $100, otherwise the good stuff can set you back three times that.

All of the above, excepting the rain gear perhaps, can fit pretty easily in the bottom of a backpack and is forgotten about until you really need it. For the minimalists, just the essentials (tire levers, allen keys, tube, CO2 cartridge and Ziplock baggy) can fit in an under the seat bag. Having this stuff on hand can really help anyone channel the inner Boy Scout. When it rains cats and dogs, gets dark, or a tire slowly wheezes out its last breath of life, you will be prepared.