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What’s in Your Saddle Bag? Why Being Prepared Outweighs Rule 29

This is the last time. Never again will I be so hasty and thoughtless. You repeat this to yourself on the side of the road while hopelessly searching for some hidden corner within that little satchel. You keep fingering around in there, hanging on to a sliver of hope that if you continue looking, somehow, miraculously, you’ll find what you need to fix the lousy situation you’re in.

But you don’t. You didn’t plan ahead and now you need to make the call. Yes, that call that no one wants to make. The one that’s made after you’ve stood there far too long, dumbly gazing at that saddlebag devoid of the life vest that was supposed to get you back on the road. You dial up your (insert title of loved one who will drive all those many miles to pick your sorry self up) with apprehension, thanking your lucky stars that at least you remembered to tuck that magic machine in your back pocket before rolling out the door.

The good news is that this situation is easily averted with a little planning. The contents within those small bags we affix under our saddles, Rule 29 be damned, as we’ve either experienced or heard from a trustworthy source, can really save us. And while no one can (or should) prepare for every type of mechanical mishap, there are definitely a few universal staples we will all benefit from having in our personal kits. Here’s a lean rundown of the minimum components every saddlebag ought to contain. And while you might not need the lecture, we can all use a refresher course from time to time.

Tube(s) & Inflation

One is really no good without the other, so remember to take at least one tube and a pump with you. A small CO2 cartridge-style pump and tube usually fit within the bag, but if you plan on packing additional cartridges and rubber protection, a jersey pocket works just fine for your air-inflator. *Style points awarded to those who forego the mini-pump in favor of the frame pump option.

Tire levers

Yes, we believe you’re tough enough to get your tires off without them, but levers hardly take up any room and make the job of changing out a tube that much easier. This is especially true when it’s 20 degrees out there and your hands aren’t exactly at their most nimble. Wrap two levers with a few passes of duct/athletic tape to ensure they stay together as a set, with the tape itself doubling as a useful tool in more than a few alternate emergencies.

Multi-tool (with chain breaker)

Park Tool I-Beam Mini W/ Chain Tool - IB-3A well-designed multi-tool stands in as the cyclist’s utility knife, covering the most common bolt sizes on your bike for minor roadside adjustments. Complete with several screwdrivers, a chain breaker, and other ride-saving bits, the multi-tool really is a foldable lifesaver that should always accompany you on your rides.

Patch kit

Remember that just because you have a tube or two, you’re never invincible out on the open road. Someone on a group ride will be forever grateful for your preparedness, and a three-flat-ride isn’t all that rare. Plus, knowing you’re ready for the worst means your adventurous spirit might take over, leading you down some new roads that would have otherwise been avoided.

Cash

While even the remotest of country stores will gladly take a swipe of your plastic money for that mid-ride cola these days, cash is able to physically save you in ways a credit card cannot. Take the tire boot, for example. A sidewall tire blowout is always dicey, but by shimming/reinforcing it with a folded bill, it often means the difference between rolling home and either making the call or hoofing it back to the ‘burbs. If your idea of a mid-ride snack leans more towards San Pellegrino than candy bars, I recommend keeping $20 on you.

Identification

Along with a stash of cash, it’s also a good idea to include an identification card in your bag. This card should list your name, emergency contact information, and any other pertinent information that will help others get you the necessary care in the event of an accident.

A final reminder is to always replace whatever you’ve used before heading out on your next ride. Leave a note in your helmet or taped to your frame if you think you’ll forget. This will ensure that you have that spare tube, patch, or emergency cash, which will then eliminate the need to make that embarrassing rescue call again. Ride on.