The top things this bike mechanic brings with him out on trails, (besides his bike!)
While going through my Camelbak the other day, I decided to take some pictures and write a quick post about what I carry in this bag and why. For the most part, this is the bare minimum of what I take riding with me out on the mountain bike trails around where I live, though a lot of the time there is even more stuff in my pack than is shown here. What is shown here, however, is probably a good guide for people to start with, and is what I feel to be good advice for people wondering what they should be carrying with them out on their own trails if they want to be able to deal with most problems that may arise during a typical mountain bike ride.
Here is the break down of my basic mountain bike trail riding kit:
I rarely ever go for a ride where I am more than a thirty minute walk from home without my Camelbak. Maybe it is that fact that I have worked as a bike mechanic for so many years that I feel the need to carry so many tools with me, but I am not really comfortable just riding with a tube and CO2 cartridge like so many other riders I see out there. It is completely unacceptable for me to be forced to walk home from a ride for a problem that was completely repairable out on the trail with only the right tools for the job. The pack is obviously a bit heavier than what many weight weenie types are willing to pack around with them, but I think the extra carrying capacity is worth it.
For most rides of an hour or less, I don’t even bother to bring water these days, I just chug back a large glass or two at home before heading out, and chug back another one when I get back. I call this “Camel-ing up.” Water is the heaviest thing most of us carry while riding, so I try my best not to carry more than I will drink, and on a short ride, even if I were to bring it, I usually end up not even touching it. On longer rides, however, water becomes necessary, and in most cases I will simply put a water bottle into my pack, and leave the bladder at home. I find that water bottles are easier to clean and quicker to get ready. The only time I choose the bladder is when I need to carry a large amount of water, or am doing a ride where I don’t want to take the time to stop and grab the bottle out of my pack.
We have a saying around here: “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes and it’ll change!” Of course over the years I’ve heard that saying said almost everywhere, and for good reason. Weather can change rapidly and unexpectedly, especially when in the mountains. It is good to carry whatever it is that you need to stay warm and dry, as nothing ruins a ride quite like hypothermia. It is a rare day indeed that I actually trust the weather to remain warm and dry throughout the day, and so I always carry a wind breaker in my pack. It packs up really small, and weighs next to nothing, but can save your ass if things get blustery at any point while out on a ride. If there seems to be a chance of rain, I would replace it with a good 2 ply waterproof-breathable rain jacket. A little heavier, but could mean survival if a real storm blows in. To be honest, I sometimes bring the rain jacket even if I’m 99% sure its not going to rain. I’m a little superstitious and think that if I bring the jacket, I won’t need it, but if I leave it at home it will probably rain on me! Weird, I know.
This is something that sits at the bottom of my pack and never seems to get used, which is a good thing considering what it is. Accidents happen, so its a good idea to bring some tools and patches for you body too and not just your bike. I don’t pack a very extensive first-aid kit, but there are some basics I have in there. A small pair of scissors, some bandage tape, non-stick gauze pads, steri-strips, and antiseptic wipes, along with a small assortment of band-aids which come in handy for small cuts and blisters. I could probably do better than this, but it should help me get cleaned up if I do get gnashed up out on the trail. Like the rain jacket thing above, I feel it would be bad luck to leave home without the first-aid kit packed. Surely the day I leave it at home will be the day I need it!
I think everybody knows that they should bring a tire pump with them mountain biking. Flat tires are by far the most common cause of unintended ride interruption. There are a variety of pumps available, they all work to put air in your tire so which one you choose is up to you. Some people need a pump that takes up very little space and weight, some models you can even fit in a saddle bag or jersey pocket. The problem with these is that if you do have a flat, they can really take a long time to fill your tire completely. I would really recommend one of those small pumps only if you carry CO2 with you and need just to top up the pressure after mostly inflating with a cartridge. If you don’t carry CO2 with you, then opt for something that pumps more volume. My favourite style of pump, (the one in my pack is an Axiom Enforce Air,) is the type that has an external flexible hose, along with a base and flip out foot bracket. These pumps basically behave like mini floor pumps, doing away with the need to awkwardly pump while trying to hold the valve steady. My pump will fill up a tire from flat to full in just a couple of minutes without really having to break a sweat. The downside is it is a bit bulkier that other types of pump. But when the sun is going down and you’ve still got some distance to cover, how much does a few extra grams really count?
I don’t carry a shock pump 100% of the time, but most of the time I like to have it in there. The beauty of air springs is that they are infinitely adjustable, which is great, but also means that there are infinite-minus-1 imperfect settings! It’s nice to be able to fine tune things out on the trail and try different settings to see which is best for you. Once you know what you like however, you only need to check it every couple weeks or so. It’s one of the first things I take out of my pack if I need to go light, but otherwise it’s in there, just in case.
Nothing special here, just a good old butyl inner tube. Sometimes I carry one, other times two. I always carry 26″ presta valves since that is what most bikes use anyway, and many rims weren’t drilled for schraeder tubes, so you are more easily able to help out your riding buddies or any one else you pass having trouble on the trail. Even if you ride a 650B or 29er, consider carrying a 26″ tube for the reason above as well as the fact that they are considerably lighter and smaller than 29er tubes, and can still stretch and inflate to fill a 29er tire no problem.
Tire levers are rarely needed to remove your average bicycle tire, but when you do need them, they are a godsend! Nothing is more annoying than all the crumby, weak plastic tire levers companies sell these days, and the metal tire levers are a little harsh on the rim. I break tons of tire levers around the shop, and to be honest, the only ones I have found that are any good at all are these Pedro’s ones. They’re made of plastic, yet are wide, stiff, and actually quite strong. It’s still possible to break them, but it really takes some work!
Its nice to have a spare tube handy, as it makes for the quickest and easiest flat fix, but unless I’m pressed for time, I almost always take the extra five minutes to fix my tube with a proper patch, (vulcanizing rubber glue, none of that peel and stick crap.) The main reason being that I don’t want to throw away a good tube, if it can be fixed. It always feels good to know that you have a spare tube in your bag to save you in a pinch so you might wish to hold on to it. It’s possible to have multiple punctures on one ride, and carrying a half a dozen tubes is not going to go over well with the limited space available in your riding pack. When someone in your group gets a flat, to keep things fast and efficient, patch the old tube while your friend is pumping up their tire, and keep that for another spare in rotation.
On another note, don’t think that because you have a patch kit you will always get away without a spare tube. Large pinch flats and punctures on the underside of the tube are very difficult to patch, and sometimes prove impossible, so it is always wise to carry both the patch kit and at least one spare tube. I also have a rubber tire boot in my patch kit to fix any tear in a tire’s sidewall.
Derailleur hangers break very easily, basically because they are designed to! They are made of soft and relatively cheap alloy that will hopefully bend or break before your relatively more expensive derailleur. For this reason I wouldn’t forget to keep one of these in your pack, or attached to your bike, (you can zip tie it under the saddle, for example.) They are almost always specific to the brand and model of the bike you are riding, so get one of these and bring it with you wherever your bike goes. There is no guaranty that you will be able to find a shop that has the hanger you need in stock, especially if they are not a dealer for the brand you ride. Take one with you on every ride, and bring at least two if you’re leaving town on a road trip.
This tool is really small, but it has a pair of needle nose pliers, a knife, a file, and some screwdriver bits. Basically I’m only carrying this for the potential usefulness of the pliers, as I usually carry a folding knife better than anything found in a multi-tool, and the screwdrivers heads can also be found on my folding bike tool. The fold out bottle opener has its post ride uses as well!
Sometimes you just need to cut stuff, so it never hurts to have a real good sharp knife with you when you’re exploring the backcountry. Not to mention, If you find yourself caught in some sort of unfortunate survival situation, it will probably be the most useful tool of any in your pack. You won’t be able to hunt your dinner using an Allen key set, I’ll tell you that much!
A good set of Hex wrenches and a chain breaker are a must-have if you want to be able to fix a bike on the trail. Having all these combined in one compact little multi-tool is usually the way to go. I used to carry a chain tool and set of nice park wrenches separately in my pack, but in an effort to cut the weight and jingling from my bag I’ve replaced them with a compact folding bike tool, in this case the Topeak Hexus 16. When looking for a bike trail tool make sure you find one with a nice chain tool that actually works, as this, I find, is the weakest link in most bike multi-tools. It’s also nice to have one with an 8mm hex, in case you need to tighten a crank or a pedal mid-ride. Though the chain tools and wrenches are not as high quality as their shop counterparts, for the amount you use them out on the trail, a good multi-tool will last for several years at least, and will save a good amount of weight and space in your pack. If I’m going for a ride and I know that I will need to do some bike set-up and adjustment, I will usually put a set of the park blue ones in my pocket for quality and ease of use, saving the lightweight multi-tool’s life force for emergencies only.
The fastest way to get your drive train working again after having a link break in your chain is to use a quick link. You can get some from pretty much every chain manufacturer except for Shimano. The best ones for most uses are probably SRAM’s Powerlinks. Keep in mind that although the 8 and 9 speed SRAM Powerlinks are compatible with both Shimano and SRAM chains, the 10 speed ones will not work with the new shimano HG-X 10 speed chains. They are pretty much impossible to get on, and if you ever do, you will have a grossly stiff link. If you have a 10 speed Shimano chain, KMC makes quick links that do work, see if your local bike shop has them. Another thing for Shimano chains, it is a good idea to carry some chain pins, especially if you have the 10 speed stuff. It is not possible to break and re-attach the chain using the old pin, (which you usually will get away with when dealing with 8 and 9 speed stuff.) They will create a super weak link which will break in short time, but in a pinch it might last long enough to at least get you home. One more thing: Shimano 10 speed chains are directional so make sure the outer plates with the writing on them are facing out, or you will run into problems.
Zip ties can come in real handy sometimes and I’m sure you can dream up at least a dozen uses for them in the time it takes to read the rest of this post.
For when your business leaves the office and goes out in the field! Keep it in a water tight Ziploc bag to keep it dry at all times. TP also works as easy to light tinder if you ever need to start a fire out in the woods and everything else around you is wet.
A very important piece of survival equipment and you should have them in any first aid or survival kit at all times. I keep them in the Ziploc with my stash of TP and duct tape.
Is there anything Duct Tape can’t do? Of course not, that question was meant to be redundant! I like to keep about 5 meters of the stuff in my Camelbak. This stuff could save your ride or your life. You can sometimes buy tiny rolls designed for travel kits, but if you can’t find that, what works really well is to wrap some around the outside of a plastic pen or a pencil or something.
Sometimes mechanical problems or other things will slow you down so much that you are riding or walking home in the dark. If you have a good LED headlamp in you bag though, you can at least find your way out safely. I always carry it with me, and it has come in handy quite a few times. It’s especially important when out on a night ride as a back up in case your fancy helmet or bar mounted light burns out. My favourite lamp for this purpose is the Black Diamond Spot, which puts out a whopping 90 lumens in a very lightweight and small package, runs off three AAA batteries, burns for hundreds of hours and costs only around $40.
20 – Folding Saw
My folding saw wasn’t in the pictures above, because I don’t know where it is right now, unfortunately, and if I don’t find it soon i will have to buy a new one, which is fine because I’m pretty sure the other one had about an inch broken off at the tip and was getting dull. The saw is by far the most used tool in my pack. Maintaining what we ride, too me, is an essential part of the experience of being a mountain biker and is the best way to give back to your riding community.
A folding saw can also be used to cut branches for firewood, or build a splint or a stretcher if the unspeakable happens.
Be Prepared for Anything
This list is by no means a comprehensive list of what you aught to carry with you while out on a mountain bike ride. For me, it is the minimum I carry for my average ride. Your needs may be different. On long all-day epic rides, for example, I might toss in a spare shift cable or a small bottle of chain lube. Every ride is different, so prepare yourself and your bike accordingly.
The difference between a good and bad ride will so many times come down to being properly prepared for adversity out on the trail. Most of the time everything goes well, but sometimes it doesn’t. We make mistakes, and mountain bikes fail. Being able to cope well with adversity comes down to knowledge. It is important to have all the goods necessary to deal with the common dramas that unfold out on the trail. This means carrying enough food, water and clothing to get your body through the ride, as well as the tools, parts and know-how to keep the bike working.
The best advice I can give you is to try working on your own bike as often as possible at home and familiarize yourself with proper bike maintenance and repair. The more comfortable you are with the mechanics of the bike, the less down time you and your riding buddies will experience out on the trail.
I wish you happy and broken bike free riding!