Packing a Bicycling Emergency Backpack

One time I was riding on the Katy Trail, and was well over eight miles outside of town. I had no cell phone on me, and it wouldn’t matter anyways, as the area I was in had no reception. Things were going fine until I heard the dread hissing coming from my rear tire. The inner tube was punctured, and within a minute the tire was completely flat. The sun was going down, and I was far from home. It would be dark before I got home if I walked, so I decided to ride back to town on a completely flat tire… on gravel. It wasn’t a fun experience, for me or my 1981 Free Spirit Pinnacle. The rim was okay, but the tire was destroyed.

However, this could’ve been prevented. How, you may ask? I could’ve done what most prepared bicyclists do… prevent the worst from happening, but prepare for the worst case scenarios and plan.

Before going on a long trip, or a trip where you’re going to be far from cell service or a point of obtaining help easily, or returning home or to your vehicle, it is often a wise idea to check your bike. Very similar to truck drivers and people who drive their cars on cross-country excursions, do a “pre-trip check” on your bike. Here is what to check:

  • Are the tires properly inflated?
  • Are the gears working properly?
  • Are the brakes working properly?
  • Are the reflectors in good, working condition?
  • Do the tires show any signs of wear or potential issues? (i.e. holes, leaks, cracks, etc.)
  • Is the seat properly secured?

By checking your bike over, you will find that you can prevent many simple issues that can evolve into giant issues that will leave you stranded, typically at the farthest point from home or obtaining assistance. For example, a leaky or worn down tire or bad gear system can turn into a huge issue on the trail, causing you a headache. It can also turn dangerous, especially during hot days, or during rainy days.

It is also a good idea to plan and prepare for the worst, even if it doesn’t seem imminent. Create your own emergency backpack, which can save you in case of problems on remote sections of a trail or in the woods. Here’s what to pack in your backpack:

  • First Aid Kit (band-aids, gauze, tape, rubbing alcohol, etc.)
  • Spare inner tube (for tube-type and tubeless tires)
  • Inner tube patch kit
  • Basic tools for removing wheels and other parts of your bike
  • Granola Bar and/or other food

It is a good idea to take inventory of your backpack before leaving. The first aid kit should also be maintained and full. Learn how to patch an inner tube, and remove the wheel from your bike, as well as un-mount and remount a bike tire.

Also carry a frame pump or a CO2 cartridge. Frame pumps are cheap, but tricky to use, often come without pressure gauges. However, they fit right onto your frame with a bolt-on bracket to hold the pump. CO2 cartridges inflate tires quickly, but are difficult to use for people using them for the first time, and it is crucial to get the right size at the store. CO2 cartridges inflate the tire using Carbon Dioxide, which won’t last as long inside the tire. Within a day or two, the Carbon Dioxide will leak out of the tube, leaving you with a flat tire. Carbon Dioxide Canisters are made, and typically utilized, to inflate the tire enough to limp to a gas station, home, or another place where the tire can be inflated with proper air.

Always try to bring a water bottle filled with water on any trip, especially longer trips.