What should I put in my bicycle saddle bag?

Bike saddle bag – what should I put in it?

Filling up your bicycle saddle bag like seen on the Peace Dreamer Diamond frame bike above is a great idea for leisure to commuter riders.  This is especially important for all the folks who are interested in riding their Dutch bike to work but are wary of the obstacles that could stand in the way and can make you late to that one meeting in the calendar year that YOU CAN’T MISS.

What if I get a flat?

What if a roadway is blocked and I get lost?

What if I don’t have time to eat before I leave?

What if I get stuck at work late and have to ride home in the dark?

All realistic questions. Nothing your bike saddle bag can't handle. If you’ve found yourself pondering over these hypothetical situation, then you’re on the right track. The worst thing you could do is leave that front door without questioning the possibilities that come with closing it behind you. Once you’re out in the elements, you’re on your own and that’s a powerful thing! So own that responsibility so you can make the best of a bad situation when one arises.

If there’s one thing I can guarantee you (not to be a fear monger), it’s that something will go wrong one day. You will swing a leg over the top tube, hunker down on the saddle and peddle away without a doubt in your mind. It might be a beautiful day, it’s the perfect temperature, the city decided to paint a bike lane that takes you all the way to work, all of the forest animals begin following you and it erupts into a song and dance number to your favorite Disney song; things are going well. Then BAM! You’ve hit a pot hole and then you notice they’re doing construction on that one road you always take, your rim is a little wobbly and your bottle cage has come loose and is rattling. All of these things have suddenly seemed to ruin your commute and you’re just as stressed as the businesswoman taking her kids to school before work because they missed the bus and is now stuck in rush hour traffic. But wait! You’ve suddenly remembered that you just read an article all about how to pack that bike saddle bag hanging from your seat. Sure you can rock a bike with basket setup, but a saddle bag would be more likely to ALWAYS stay on your bike for when you need it most. Your bike saddle bag almost goes unnoticed and yet it conveniently carries all of your bare necessities for just such an occasion. Let’s take a look.

Like a dying uncle once said to a great super hero, “With great power, comes a well prepared saddle bag,” or something to that effect.

dutch bike saddle bag

We like these saddle bags from Gyes.

Ah yes, your spare tube! After hitting that pot hole you noticed your rear tire is a little bouncier than before. You may be on to something, let’s investigate. You pop off that rear wheel and… give it a good long blank stare. What did that article say again? Let’s go back to the saddle bag. Aha! Two tire levers. Right, let’s get on with it then. You pry open one side of the tire and take the tube out. Crap, there’s a leak. What next? Well here’s where you may be finding yourself in one of two situations. You’re going to patch the hole or replace the tube. My advice is to replace the tube. Patches are cheap, but they’re cheap for a reason. They usually don’t work very well. They are temporary solutions and should only be used if you have no other options. If you have a hole in your tube and you have a spare tube, use it. It’s quicker and easier to replace a tube anyway, than to bother with the patching process. So, since you’ve got that spare tube you go ahead and decide to use it. You set it in your tire and now all you need is a pump. There are a couple of options the bicycle commuters has for this exact situation. You can carry with you a hand pump or a CO2 cartridge. Here are some pros and cons for each.

blackburn-airstik-sl-pump.jpg

This Airstik by Blackburn is only 157mm long when closed.

 

Hand Pumps

Pump it like Arnold

Pros:

1. Many designs allow the pump to be attached to your frame so you don’t have to stuff one in a bike saddle bag or sling it over your shoulder like a continental soldier. In addition, some pump designs can even be mounted between the bottle cage and frame, saving your paint from being rubbed away over time.

2. Some pump designs have gauges on them, ensuring confidence that your tires are pumped to the correct pressure.

3. Hand pumps use the air around you, which is free and plentiful.

Cons:

1. Hand pumps can be cumbersome, bulky or heavy. Fitting them to your frame can be awkward and not at all too “aero.” They can also make your sleek, hip ride look nerdy and chunky.

2. If you have a road bike, pumping that sucker up to 110 psi with one arm can be a lot of work! Prepare yourself for a mid-ride workout.

3. If your pump doesn’t have a hose, constant jarring of the tube vale stem from the pumping motion can damage your tube and sometimes lead to creating a hole or breaking the valve completely.

4. Securing them to your frame can sometimes cause damage to the paint over time.

“To pump, or not to pump.”- Hamlet

crank-brothers-co2-inflator-and-2-cartridges.jpg

CO2 Cartridges (not to pump)

Pros:

1. They are compact. At a fraction of the size of any pump, you can easily pack these into a bike saddle bag and still leave room for your other essentials. No cosmetic wear, no chunky awkwardness added to your frame and no damage to the look of your sick whip.

2. They are lightweight. At 16-20 grams per cartridge, it’s the fly on the elephant. It really won’t make a difference on your climbs, descents or carrying it up the stairs.

3. C02 Cartridges are much quicker than pumping. Stuffed at high pressure with carbon dioxide, these little guys can fill your tube in seconds.

4. CO2 cartridges and inflators are cheap, initially. If you don’t mind being on the bottled air payment plan you can save yourself some money upfront.

5. Packing your tires with low-density CO2 can actually provide slight lift to your bicycle, making it more lightweight, faster and more efficient

(Okay so maybe that last one was a lie but like they say, “ignorance is bliss,”)

Cons:

1. One and done. You get one shot with your CO2 cartridge, so don’t muck it up! Or else, you’re out of air and you’ve got to use another cartridge or hail a cab with a bike rack. Good luck with that.

2. They can be expensive. If you’re often riding through puncture-prone terrain, you may find yourself spending more money on canned air than you care to.

3. These things have no gauge, so without one you sort of have to just give your tire a good firm squeeze and decide for yourself whether you’ve got enough air to finish the ride. It doesn’t all end here though. Small gauges are available for purchase if this is a concerning issue. They are also compact at a size little smaller than your spare tube.

4. The cooling effect. When the CO2 is released is extremely cold. This can cause freezing of the valve stem and part of the rim around valve hole. A frozen valve can easily break or tear so be cautious after you’ve used your cartridge not to bend the valve stem. You should also be careful during the execution of the inflation not to get your fingertips in the way of the freezing gas.

Okay, so after soaking all of that in, questioning yourself and the complexities of life you find yourself asking, “What does it all mean!?” Breathe. Take a little nap. Eat a cupcake. Not because it will help you with your decision but just because they’re delicious and you know you want one. You’ll burn it off on the second half of your ride anyways. Luckily, you read this article and knew to always pack an emergency snack in case you need an energy boost to get you through a tough ride. Then, when reality sets in and you remembered you had decided to go with the lighter, more compact and cheaper option of inflating a tire you proceed on to the final step, putting that wheel back on your bike.

So that’s over with, but that pesky bottle cage is all loose and rattling and driving you mad! Here’s where you whip out your handy dandy multi-tool. There are many variations of this tool, some with more bells and whistles than others. Personally, I stick with one that has just the essentials for on-the-fly repairs. After all, that’s what the bike saddle bag is for; just the necessities.

That being said, here are some things you may want to bring with you on your daily commute. Depending on your mechanic skills, you may decide to bring tools such as a spoke wrench, to fix that wobble in your wheel or a rag and some spare lube for keeping up with your chain maintenance. In addition to chain maintenance, some multi-tools have an attached chain tool for that fateful day when your chain snaps. In that case, you’ll wish you were also carrying with you a spare chain link and pin that will work with your bike. You may bring a small map of your area, for that moment when you discover they are doing construction on that road you need to use and you get turned around without cell phone service. You might even pack a rear blinky light for when you stay late at work and need to ride home in the dark.

Lastly, but not leastly (that’s right, leastly), it’s a good idea to store some spare cash in your bike saddle bag. There may be a time where you need some cash on-the-go and you don’t want to be caught empty-handed. In addition, a dollar bill can double as a tire patch. You simply fold the bill several times and insert it between the tube and the damaged part of the tire. It keeps the tube from protruding through the tire and will last surprisingly long. I once patched a friend’s tire with a dollar bill and it lasted him a good 1000 miles on a cycling trip.

But let’s get back to the last bit of your sticky situation. Luckily for you, you’ve now done your research and bought a small multi-tool with allen keys with the sizes that match your bike’s, a screwdriver to mess with those pesky limit screws on your derailleur and maybe a tire lever or chain tool for more dire situations. You give that bottle cage bolt a few turns and, voila! Problem solved. You can now resume your ride to work and make it in time for that meeting. When you get there, though, it turns out that meeting was pushed back to tomorrow. Your boss was also biking to work but couldn’t make it in time because she also got a flat tire but, having never read this blog, didn’t think to bring the bare necessities.

With practice, this process can be fairly quick. I highly recommend actually experimenting with using the items in your bike saddle bag at home before you’re stuck out in the elements trying to figure out how to use your chain breaker. The tool is only as good as the mechanic using it. Otherwise, you’ve bought yourself a 20 dollar paperweight that you lug around in a bag on your bike. If you’ve never used your hand pump, give it a go and decide if that’s what you want to be doing mid-ride on the side of the road or if you’d rather the CO2 cartridge. If you’ve never used the CO2 cartridge, give that a go as well. You’ll wish you did when you go to use it for the first time and you accidentally release all of the air without properly aligning the nozzle or you over pump your tube and pop it.

There are many things to fill that bike saddle bag with. You have to decide for yourself what you want/need to bring. So if you’re a fan of lists, I’ll send you off with this last little number.

Here’s what We recommend in your bike saddle bag:

Pack a tube
Have a pump/CO2 with you
Pack at least 2 tire levers.
A tube patch or 2
Have a multi-tool
Some spare cash/ dolla dolla bills y’all
Spare chain link (if you have a chain tool and know how to use it)
A spare ration of any medications you take regularly
A blinky light (if you have room)
Maybe a mini-map/written alternate directions
Practice using your tools before you have to
Decide what is appropriate for your commute and your mechanical skills
What are you waiting for? Quit reading and go get prepped for your next ride!

Peace Bicycles

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