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How to Be Prepared for On-The-Road Emergencies

It’s inevitable: sooner or later every cyclist experiences a mechanical breakdown of one kind or another. From a simple flat tire or loose cleat, to more catastrophic failures, such as a broken chain or spoke, mechanical mishaps can bring an otherwise enjoyable ride to a screeching halt if you’re not prepared to deal with them.

 In addition to the things that can potentially go wrong with your bike, minor medical emergencies are also a possibility on every ride. Although cycling is unquestionably a safe and healthy sport, a myriad of maladies, including strains, sprains, scrapes and scratches are relatively common occurrences while riding. But whether they’re physical or mechanical in nature, on-the-road emergencies don’t have to spell the end of your ride - as long as you plan ahead.

Emergency Essentials for Every Ride

While there’s no way to guarantee that you’ll end every ride successfully, having the right items handy when you encounter an emergency will significantly improve your chances of getting back on the road or trail and making it home under your own power. Here’s a list of essential emergency items that should accompany you on every ride.

  • Multi-Tool - A multi-tool is a must for any cyclist who wants to be prepared for most common mechanical emergencies while carrying the fewest tools necessary. The Swiss Army knife of emergency bike repairs, these handy, compact tools are available in a wide variety of configurations that generally feature an assortment of hex keys and flat and Philips head screwdrivers. Some more sophisticated versions even include open-end wrenches and sockets. At a minimum, make sure your tool includes 4mm, 5mm and 6mm hex keys (the most common sizes required for bike repairs). If you use clipless pedals, either be sure that your multi-tool also includes a hex key that fits your cleat bolts, or carry a standalone tool that does.

  • Spare tube - Fold it compactly and stash it in a seat bag or jersey pocket

  • Patch kit - Because even spare tubes get flats from time to time. Inspect the glue at the start of every riding season to ensure that it hasn’t dried up

  • Tire levers – Nothing beats them for getting tight-fitting tires off the rim. Never, EVER  attempt to remove a stubborn tire with a screwdriver

  • Pump or CO2 inflation system – CO2 systems are lightweight, compact and ideal for getting you back on the road quickly after a flat. For extra security on long rides, take along one or two spare CO2 cartridges and/or a back-up frame pump

  • Moist towelette – Helps remove grease from hands, cleans road/trail rash and other minor wounds

  • Small packet of antibiotic ointment or first aid cream – Apply to scrapes and cuts after cleansing to help prevent infection

  • Band-Aids, Gauze Pad, Tape - You don’t have to assemble a complete cycling first aid kit, but it’s always a good idea to carry the basic things you’ll need to care for cuts and more serious scrapes while you’re out on the road or trail. If you’re a mountain biker, consider beefing up the first aid component of your emergency kit with additional wound dressings, and even an elastic bandage, if you have room to spare in your hydration pack.

Storing Your Emergency Kit

A small seat bag or hydration pack will easily accommodate your emergency tools and first aid items, keeping them close at hand for when you need to press them into service. Stashing the whole shebang in a resealable plastic bag will keep all of your emergency medical supplies in one place, isolate them from contact with your greasy tools and also help protect them from the elements.

Share the Load on the Road (or Trail)

When riding with others it’s not necessary for each cyclist to carry a full complement of the recommended emergency items. As long as the group has the basics covered, you’re good to go.


Road Cycling