N Plus One

I figure it’s about time to make my inaugural mark on Bike Commuters. I’ve been a busy, busy guy lately without a lot of time to sit down and write much of anything. I use my bike to get to work every day, where my job involves information security and other IT geekery.

Redundancy is a major part of information technology. “N Plus One” means that you should always have one more of something than what you need, so long as it’s practical. In terms of bicycling, you don’t have to carry a spare everything with you, but it might be wise to keep a few spare parts on hand at home or in the office drawer.

You wouldn’t embark on a cross-country road trip in your car without a spare tire, would you? And how much help would the spare tire be if you didn’t know how to change the tire, or didn’t have the tools and a jack to get the old wheel off and the new one on?  For those of us who rely on our bikes to get us around town, carrying stuff to fix common failures is a good idea. Usually, that means a patch kit, some way to inflate the tires, and some tools. My essentials all tuck nicely into the wedge pack under my seat, and I include a spare inner tube as well. It’s lightweight and packs small. Knowing how to use these tools and supplies is equally important, though.

I got to thinking about redundancy on Friday night. While I was camping at a nearby lake, the bulb in my trusty Mini-Mag bit the dust. Mag Instruments packs a spare bulb in the tail cap of their flashlights, so it was no big deal at all. That’s the kind of redundancy I like!

N Plus One

N Plus One: a spare bulb included!

While a Mini-Mag is not very good to see the road with when compared to my 15W halogen, any light that can mount to a bicycle is better than nothing at all if you find yourself riding in the dark. Most stick-style flashlights can be rigged up easily with a rubber band. Carrying a whole spare bicycle light around is perhaps a little bit ridiculous. Using a flashlight in a pinch isn’t quite as strange, assuming you have a flashlight with you all the time.

You do carry a flashlight all the time, right?  What else do you “carry just in case?”


  1. Elizabeth

    Welcome Noah! No flashlight… but I did find myself digging through my bag last night for my headlight that I’d tossed in there… and in the process found all sorts of “extras”, including a simple vinyl rain jacket that came in handy for the commute home last night in Chicago. Glad I had it – just in case. 😉

  2. Cyclin Missy

    I carry some standard stuff in my wedge bag – spare tube, tire levers, multi-tool – and a hand pump attached to my frame. But one of the most important extra things for me to carry on my bike, personally, is a granola bar! When I need to eat…I NEED to eat!

  3. Ken Hurd

    There are five things I keep on me at all times (when commuting):

    – Multitool (w/chain tool)
    – Tire levers
    – Pump
    – Tube
    – Folding knife
    – Advil

    There’s more I’d like to have with me generally and on longer rides I’ll bring more, but this is the bare bones kit I carry.

  4. Ken Hurd

    And by five things, I of course mean six 😉

  5. Ghost Rider

    That’s not the traditional bike-centric use of “n+1”, but I like it — redundancy is good…

    I’ve got a mini flashlight stashed away in my bag…and backup batteries for it and for my bike lights. I’ve got so much other stuff languishing in the bottom of that bag that I’m prepared for nearly any eventuality!

  6. Ghost Rider

    Oh, and +1 to the granola bar…there’s one in my bag and one in my work desk.

  7. Noah (Post author)

    Ah yes. Number of bikes in my stable, plus one. That’s how many bikes I need 😛

    My wedge-pack is actually pretty big, and I carry more than I probably need to, but I have a 29 mile round trip…

    Genuine Innovations CO2
    4 (yes, really) spare cartridges
    6 Park Tool glueless Patches
    Tire Levers
    Two small glowsticks (you never know when you’ll ride by a rave, right?)
    Sinus meds (allergies)
    Park MTB3 Multi-tool which has tire levers, allens, screwdrivers, chain tool, pedal wrench, bottle opener, a knife and box-end metric wrenches
    And a pair of Zogics CitraWipes.
    A bit of cash
    Presta-to-Schrader adapter

    I have 4 or 5 convenience stores along my commute route, so I don’t have to carry noms “just in case”, but I do carry something to snack on when I go on longer recreation rides.

  8. Clancy

    I use a P7 flashlight for my main light and carry spare battery. I usually have a patch kit , pump and tire levers for around town. Longer distance full tool kit 2 tubes.

    On our recent bike camping trip(Weiser River Trail), we discussed the need for what extra parts as we were talking to a a couple on a continental trip. Then we found out after a broken spoke and almost frayed derailer cable. Next trip a few more spare parts.

  9. Rantwick

    Hey there, good post. I’m a commuting IT guy too! Here’s what I usually carry:

    1 red, 1 white strap on light (kind of like knogs)
    small adjustable wrench
    allan keys
    patch kit
    tire levers
    1 tube
    2 CO2 carttridges
    My Favourite – baggie of zip ties.

  10. Ghost Rider

    “I’m a commuting IT guy too!”

    Aren’t we all? That’s a running joke around here…I think it was Noah who explained why this is so often the case, but I don’t remember his exact line of reasoning.

  11. Tinker

    I have two, no three, flashlights in my bag (1 that takes 2 CR123 batteries, another that uses 3 AAA size (both white LEDS) and another that is also 3 AAA powered but has red, green, and blue LEDS as well as white. (Got rid of my Maglites waiting for them to come up with an LED conversion.)

    A couple of Lezyne Alloy patch kits, that I keep refreshed from the standard lezyne kits, a set of short steel levers for my tires, these are a “short” design for a motorcycle. 2 glucose meters, two bottles of test strips, two lancing devices, and several hundred lancets to fit, my blood pressure tester, and a Smith & Wesson Trailboss, in 44 magnum (BIG revolver).

    I am NOT a commuting IT guy, mostly because I retired a couple of years ago. I ride mostly for fun now.

  12. Quinn

    I guess IM the minimalist of the group…

    1 tube (Use Tuffy Liners)
    a hand pump
    1 CO2 and screw-on inflator head
    full patch kit
    med. size multi tool
    sm. bottle of vitamins
    1 pedros tire lever

  13. Quinn

    and a small wate bottle, all in my Chrome bag, the only thing on my bike is my Cat Eye EL-410 headlight

  14. Noah

    Jack: my reasoning was that members of the blogosphere (both writers and readers) are technically inclined and are likely to be “knowledge workers” – not always IT, but I’d be willing to bet most of us are desk-job folks with computer access.

    Tinker: I’d love to carry. I work in MO and live in KS, both of which allow CCW but at least the state of MO allows businesses to ban regardless of license status, and in downtown Kansas City “NO FIREARMS” signs are posted pretty much everywhere. That means I’d have to leave my piece on my bike (yeah, right) or not carry.

  15. Ghost Rider

    Don’t forget tire boots — sections of Tyvek Fedex envelopes weigh nothing and really come in handy for emergency tire repairs…

    I’m in the same boat regarding CCW — while Florida has very lenient carry laws (it’s kinda like the Old West down here), I work in a government building where firearms are strictly forbidden. I ain’t leaving a handgun in the bushes outside while I work!

  16. Noah

    Funny, my next post is going to be about impromptu tire booting (with a link to your post on long-term repair booting of minor cuts).

  17. Guy

    I carry a patch kit, tire levers, a spare tube, and multi-tool. I use a backpack to carry it along with my lunch. One of these days I’ll have to get a seat bag. I did use a min maglight as the bike’s front light and then got a free blinky. I kept the maglight with me for a little while but kinda fell on the way side and needed it for more at home projects.

  18. Guy

    I should add that my commutes are mainly in the day anyway. Only time that it is really dark is during the winter months.

  19. Elizabeth

    I wonder why my bike bag weighs so much… then I dig into its depths and realize that carrying all the +1 stuff adds up.

  20. Hot Damn

    I have found that since switching to 700×35 wheels with speedy kevlar tires, I don’t get surprise flats anymore. I’ve stopped even carrying a tube, pump and tire levers.

    As long as I stay fully inflated, my tubes outlast my tires (literally- I have had my front tube for years, and gone through two sets of tires). Kevlar tires seems to be sensitive to the weather and after about a year and a half or so of daily riding and being left outside they get cracks and need to be replaced. But they give me plenty of warning before their stability is really compromised. I ride over broken glass, potholes, construction gravel, you name it! So… I carry kevlar tires, conveniently stored on my wheels.

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