Spares for All Lengths of Ride
Bikepacking and covering long distances at pace means minimizing the kit you carry and embracing the efficiency mindset, but one area where riders agonise the most over what to leave behind is the tools and spares they carry. Miss something essential and your ride might come to a sudden end but carry too much and your bags will be heavy and there might not be enough space for other essentials. We spoke to three experienced long-distance cyclists about the spares they carry for different lengths of ride to find out how many tools and spares you really need for short rides versus longer rides.
Tools and spares are a contingency plan, rather than something you actually need for every ride. You can ride for months without opening your toolkit but it’s one of the most important things on your bike and something you should never leave home without. How much you take is an indication of your faith in your gear and how likely it is that something will fail and you can quickly decrease the amount of spares you need to carry by making sure you’re using equipment that is up to the task.
Lightweight tyres with minimal puncture protection might be fast but will be prone to punctures and mean you’re more likely to need spare inner tubes. A more robust tyre, set up tubeless, could comfortably see you through thousands of kilometres without needing more than occasionally adding a bit of air. Similarly, wheels with low spoke counts are lighter, but more likely to go out of true if you break a spoke. If your wheel has 32 spokes, you’re much less likely to need to replace one if it breaks mid-ride.
Checking things like brake pad wear before you ride will give you a good feeling for whether you need to take a spare set with you (or replace them before you go). This is particularly important if you’re heading somewhere remote, where you might only be able to get the most basic spares. Certain items, like a derailleur hanger, will always be nearly impossible to find on the road and are small and light enough that they’re worth carrying on any long ride for ease of mind.
It’s also worth considering whether your tools can perform multiple functions – cycling-specific multitools are particularly good for this. That said, if your bike only has two sizes of bolt, you would be better off carrying two hex keys than an entire multitool. If you own more than one bike, check carefully that the tools you use for one also work for the other, as there’s nothing worse than realising you only have hex keys when you need a Torx in the middle of nowhere.
We spoke to three of our ambassadors about the different tools and spares they take for different lengths of ride to get a better feeling for what a fully functioning, but minimalist toolkit looks like. Each has a similar, but subtly different approach.
For Jenny Tough, serious mechanicals usually mean a walk home or a call for a lift, so her toolkit is at the minimalist end of the scale:
“On a short ride, I just carry my little saddle tool bag with a tubeless repair kit and small multitool. Worse than that, I’ll walk. On a longer day ride, I’ll usually take a half-frame bag with a pump, tube, multitool, tubeless repair kit, chain link and tool, chain wipes, spare cable (it’s in the bag already, I’ll probably call for a lift if I actually need it!) and maybe a battery and charging cable for my phone. On an extended tour/race, the only addition to the above would be chain lube, two tubes instead of one, and on the SRMR I wrongly carried a spare tyre the whole way around.”
Markus Stitz is a bit more conservative. A fan of riding single speed bikes, he generally needs fewer tools, but likes the reassurance of being able to repair more challenging problems like broken spokes without needing to visit a bike shop:
“For a short ride, I’ll carry a pump, spare tube, wheel nut spanner and tyre lever and inner tube patches. For a long ride, like the Silk Road Mountain Race, I’ll carry a mini track pump, two spare tubes, patches and tyre levers, a multitool with a chain breaker and knife, a Torx 15 key (for adjusting cable disc brakes), two sets of spare brake pads, spare spokes, spare sealant, spare bolts, a spare brake cable, toothpaste wrapper (to use as a tyre boot), and some electrical tape.”
Naresh Kumar is a rider that doesn’t leave anything to chance and carries an extensive selection of spares and tools on even short rides. Given much of his riding is remote and far from potential help, this approach means he will never be caught out:
“On a short ride, I’ll take my cell phone, cash and a credit card for major problems. My repair kit consists of spare tubes, a hand pump, tire levers, a patch kit, a tire boot, a multitool, magic link, duct tape, zip ties, and a first aid kit.
For a longer ride, I’ll take all of the above plus a needle and strong thread, spare brake pads, chain oil, chamois cream, a whistle and survival blanket, spare batteries, velo straps, spare maps, a power bank and a mini solar panel.”
All three are accomplished long-distance cyclists, so clearly there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Everyone will have their own view of what’s worth attempting to fix at the side of the road versus hitching a ride to a town for a repair. Everyone’s definition of a ride ending mechanical will also be different – for some, riding hundreds of miles with barely shifting gears, or even just one working gear will not be a problem, whereas for others it will mean the end of their ride. The only way to find out where you fit on the scale is through practice. Learn to repair your bike, get a feel for which repair jobs you feel confident doing and adjust your tools and spares accordingly.
If you want to learn more about the types of repair you can do at the side of the road and the tools and spares needed to do so, read our guide: Self-Support: How to Repair Your Bike on Tour.