Two blocks from the Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn’s own Superfund site, is my favorite bike shop: 718 Cyclery. The shop is beloved by bike enthusiasts for its unpretentious approach to custom bike building, motley crew of dry-witted mechanics, and commitment to providing free, no-nonsense bike classes.
Two years ago, just as a steady stream of female customers began asking owner Joe Nocella for a class of their own, he met Meredith Klein. Aside from biking 80 to 200 New York City miles a week, Klein runs the after-school bike mechanics and riding program at International High School in Manhattan, a school for recent-immigrant teens, where she teaches mathematics. When Klein saw “Women’s Bike Maintenance Class TBA” written on the shop’s chalkboard, she volunteered to teach it. The last Wednesday of the month has been reserved for Klein’s popular women’s bike maintenance class ever since.
“There’s always someone out there who begins to bike longer and longer distances and realizes they need to learn to fix a flat,” Klein says.
I was one of those people, and after a single class with Klein, I realized I’d been living in a fool’s paradise of underinflated tires, gnarly neglected bike chains, and not a single tool to speak of. I needed a bike I could fix myself, along with a decent tool kit. Lucky for me, Klein loves to talk gear. Here are a few of her bike essentials.
Surly Steamroller ($800)
“My everyday city commuter lock-up bike is a Surly Steamroller, set up singlespeed,” Klein told me when I asked her for a city-friendly bike recommendation. “I like a singlespeed for regular riding because NYC doesn’t have a lot of hills and it makes me work a little harder over the bridge. It’s light and easy to maintain because there’s no derailleur or gears, and I can lock it up without worrying too much about it or haul it up a set of stairs.”
I tested the bike for two months, and Klein was right. The Steamroller is the lightest bike I’ve ever carried up my three-flight walk-up, and it handles the pitted streets of Brooklyn with surprising ease. While the bike looks like a stadium fixie, there’s nothing basic about its self-sufficient minimalism. If the bike needs a fix, it’s straightforward enough that I could do it. Surly makes its Steamrollers in one color for each year’s vintage. The mustard color I rode is 2017’s “Drink More Water Yellow”; for 2018, Surly offers “Ministry Gray.” Both colors are still available.
Vaya Recycled Bike Tube Purse ($90)
For carrying your tool kit and air pump, Klein recommends the women-owned, environmentally friendly, New York City–made Vaya Bags. Founder Tianna Meilinger, who holds a degree in environmental science, created a line of messenger bags, backpacks, and purses made from sail scraps, old banners, and recycled bike tubes. “We make them durable, sturdy, waterproof, and everything is handmade,” she says.
My favorite is Vaya’s Recycled Bike Tube Purse, made from used bike tubes that Meilinger collects from several of the area’s bike shops. She cuts them, washes them, and then makes the fabric, which has the look of textured leather. The purse is stylish enough to go beyond bike duty. It fit perfectly across my body with its adjustable strap and was compact yet roomy enough to carry my tool kit.
Reductivist Ringtool ($26)
Klein encourages everyone to take the time to research the perfect multitool for their bike, but for quick fixes on the road, she recommends the ingenious Ringtool by Reductivist. While you won’t get the torque that other multitools provide, the Ringtool, made from nickel-plated stainless steel, has five different-size Allen wrenches, a flathead screwdriver, a Phillips screwdriver, a bottle opener, and the T25 Torx screwdriver that fits most disc brakes. It’s designed to fit on your keychain, at just 2.5 inches in diameter and a nonbulky two ounces. I won’t go on another ride without it.
Lezyne Micro Floor Drive Pump ($65)
To keep her tires inflated, Klein loves her Lezyne Micro Floor Drive Pump. “The chamber holds a lot of air, and it acts like a little floor pump, which is really effective.” The ABS Flip-Thread Chuck accommodates both Presta and Schrader valves. Klein likes how much air power this pump packs for its size. “You can get to full pressure and it doesn’t take forever,” she says. The only catch: It’s a little too big for a jersey pocket, so Klein takes it with her when she has room to in a backpack, frame bag, or pannier.
Wald Quick-Release Front Basket ($30)
Klein suggested I get a basket from Wald. The company, based out of Maysville, Kentucky, has been making bike baskets for more than 100 years. I opted for its bestselling Quick-Release Front Basket, which is easy to install. It’s light, has a handle that also locks the basket on the mount, pops off easily for shopping, and at nine inches deep and over a foot wide, provides a lot of cargo space.
Rema Tip Top Touring Kit ($5)
The first rule of bike maintenance is always have a spare tire tube—and even then, always have a patch kit, says Klein. “What happens if you get a second flat?” Rema Tip Top Touring Kit comes in a turquoise case the size of a pack of gum and includes everything you need—patches, buffer, and cement—to make speedy repairs.
Simple Green Bike Cleaner ($10)
For deep degreasing, Klein uses Simple Green. The company’s biodegradable Bike Cleaner and Degreaser comes in both trigger spray and aerosol packaging. The noncorrosive foam clings to even hard-to-reach areas and won’t harm your bike’s painted surfaces.