Ritchey Barkeepers are bar end plugs and tyre levers combined. As you'd expect from Ritchey, they're well engineered and highly functional, though arguably best suited to owners of pared-to-the-essentials bikes, who puncture infrequently...
Given this, my tubby red tourer's moustache bar might sound a strange host, but so-so bar end plugs, a puncture, and a complete cable upgrade made it the perfect test bed.
There's nothing particularly exotic about their composition – we're talking high quality moulded composites – but they are engineered for a precision fit in the bar, and are unexpectedly pleasant to use when tackling a flat. Talking of which...
Having deflated the tyre completely and whipped the wheel from the frame, I set to with the lever components. Thinking they might be a little impotent, the curved lips actually did an excellent job of infiltrating and scooping the 1.6-section tyre bead free from the rim.
Portly rubber like this is usually pretty straightforward to reinstate, although come the final 10cm and the Panaracer in question typically requires a bit of persuasion. This time, gripping one section to prevent it creeping away, then popping the remainder home using a single Barkeeper proved surprisingly simple.
Christmas and New Year is traditionally a time when I revamp and tinker with my fleet, and this year I swapped my quirky 90s road bike's 23mm rubber for 25mm. Both put up more of a struggle than the Panaracer, but the Barkeepers were up to the job. Even applying considerable force, the composites didn't turn whippy or feel as if they might break.
As bar end plugs they are similarly reliable, though they work best with adhesive-backed rather than pressure-fit tapes. Silicones, though naturally quite tenacious, tended to unravel when the Barkeeper was required for levering duty. This might be a non-issue for riders who puncture infrequently, but could be infuriating and potentially disastrous in a competitive context, if these were your only means of tyre removal.
Summing up, the Barkeepers are an ingenious use of otherwise dead space and do both their jobs very convincingly. That said, £15 seems pretty steep given nearly half that buys a pair of perfectly dependable plugs and levers.
Neatly executed combination of lever and end plugs but steep compared with standalone products
road.cc test report
Make and model: Ritchey Barkeepers
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Ritchey says: "Save the saddle bag for a snack and Swiss army knife! These patented, composite tire levers slide into the end of drop bars, staying hidden, yet fully functional."
My feelings are they're well engineered and ingenious combination of bar end and tyre lever but pricey compared with standalone items.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Composite construction 33g pair
Plays both roles competently.
No signs of fatigue to date.
Only likely to be an issue for bikes on the strictest of calorie controlled diets.
Length might be an issue for some. However, these are designed for roadside contingencies, not everyday/workshop duties.
Clever design but expensive compared with standalone alternatives.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
They've proven surprisingly effective at removing and refitting road and mountain bike tyres, and are equally dependable bar end plugs. The design works best with traditional, adhesive backed tapes – silicone and other pressure-wound types had a tendency to unravel once the keepers were extracted. Needing to rewind these following a roadside flat can prove frustrating, especially on a freezing cold afternoon.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Innovative concept and well executed.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Pricey compared with high-quality standalone composites.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Possibly but not at full rrp.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
It's an interesting concept and well executed, a good 7, but too pricey to warrant an 8.
About the tester
I usually ride: Rough Stuff Tourer Based around 4130 Univega mtb Frameset My best bike is: 1955 Holdsworth Road Path and several others including cross & traditional road
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking
Shaun Audane is a freelance writer/product tester with over twenty-eight years riding experience, the last twelve (120,000 miles) spent putting bikes and kit through their paces for a variety of publications. Previous generations of his family worked at manufacturing's sharp end, thus Shaun can weld, has a sound understanding of frame building practice and a preference for steel or titanium framesets.
Citing Richard Ballantine and an Au pair as his earliest cycling influences, he is presently writing a cycling book with particular focus upon women, families and disabled audiences (Having been a registered care manager and coached children at Herne Hill Velodrome in earlier careers)