Despite our best intentions occasionally things go wrong and generally there's no-one else around to sort it out. Enter the tool-kit. With a little forethought you can carry tools and spares that will fix most problems short of major breakages. So here's a run down of things to take along with techniques and the occasional tip. As with most things in life, prevention is better than cure so a well maintained bike is less likely to suffer problems - "A stitch in time" and all that. They still happen though and accidents do occur - the only time I've needed to use any tools out on the trails in the last few years was to refit my shifter after a crash. Before we get to the tools and stuff there's a couple of ancillary items that are well worth taking.
Firstly a light of some kind. Obviously if you ride at night then you'll have a light on the bike but these are pretty vicious in terms of output, even at their lowest settings, and aren't designed for close up work. In the case of dynamo lights they are fixed to the bike and the standlight only lasts a couple of minutes anyway. So a small headtorch (with charged batteries!) will let you see what you are doing. Petzl Zipka, Alpkit Muon or Viper are all fine and pack up small, the Zipka with batteries weighs just 65g. An alternative (and something that you are likely to have with you anyway) may be your mobile phone - some have a "spotlight" option. Next, if it's cold (or winter) then one of those chemical handwarmers to keep your digits nice and flexible and capable of doing the work or even putting on the area of bike being worked on to avoid cold induced brittleness.
As ever with practical things it's worth practising in a comfortable environment - being out on the moors in driving rain as darkness is falling isn't the time to start reading the instruction manual: "Thank you for purchasing this product, we hope it gives you many years service ...". As above it's pretty rare things go wrong: I've only used a tyre plug in anger twice in seven years which is hardly enough to become proficient.
- get an old tyre and stab and slash it to see how plugs/anchovies work and how to sew a tyre back together;
- use the chain tool on old chains or the bit of chain you removed when fitting the new one.
Even then when using the tyre plug it's a different matter inserting it on a mounted tyre than on an old one just lying around, you've got to avoid puncturing both another part of the tyre and disturbing the rim tape.
Seemingly derigeuer these days, choose your favourite one. There's a few newer designs that aim to make use of empty space around your bike such as inside the crank spindle or the steerer column. But while convenient, multi-tools by their nature try to be all things to all riders, they're the Swiss Army knife of biking but do you really need all those bells and whistles?
Work out what your bike needs in the way of tools. There's a small range of hex/Allen keys that will do most of the bolts on a bike: 3, 4 & 5mm covers my Cotic Solaris' needs while my Singular Puffin fat bike needs 2, 4 & 5mm. Disc rotor bolts are usually Torx T25, some chainring bolts are Torx T20. Mech hanger bolts are usually 2mm hex.
I've got a set of Fixit Sticks that were on sale in a local bike shop. Only four "tools" (3, 4, 5mm hex and a Philips screwdriver) but the two halves slot together to make a T-shaped proper sized tool you can hold in your hand. Fixit also do a set of these with magnetic holders and replaceable bits. On a similar note a magnetic holder/wrench with the required standard hex bits is another alternative and can be lightweight and cheap to put together but does leave the problem of a chain tool.
You may need either a flat or Phillips screwdriver, in cold weather a regular screwdriver might be worth considering. One tool that is well worth taking is a set of pliers. For bike purposes the Leatherman Squirt covers most bases. Again, work out what you need and how a particular tool or feature will work in conjunction with your other kit.
You don't have to buy bike specific "kits" or tools, a look around most hardware stores will get you something that does the job if a little less elegantly.
In really cold weather it may be more worthwhile just taking full sized versions of whichever sizes of Allen Key your bike uses. The four needed for my fat bike weigh just 40g and I can get my whole hand around the handle/long side. Wrap in heat shrink (but not over the business ends) to avoid contact cold burns. Similarly a full sized Leatherman or Gerber tool rather than something like the Squirt will be easier to handle in the cold.
PumpYou need a pump designed for high volume as opposed to high pressure tyres. There's only a handful that are genuinely useful out on the trail: the Topeak Mountain Morph and the Lezyne HV mini-floor pump. Both have a "foot" as well as a T-handle for easier pumping and they both come with a hose so you aren't putting strain on the valve. The pump doesn't get used much so check that the seals haven't dried out prior to heading off on a trip and that it will pump the tyres up to the required pressure, again maintenance plays its part.
Inner tubeEven if you don't run tubeless (why not?) having a spare inner tube covers those situations where the tyre is damaged to the point where on its own it won't hold air. No need to go overboard, get the lightest tube you can find, something like the Surly ultra light. See a little later for mending tyres. There's also the Tubolito which are even smaller and lighter but various people have had problems with them. They aren't cheap either!
Tyre plugsWhen something punctures your tyre and it's too big for the sealant to work then somehow you've got to plug that hole, ooer missus! Enter the tyre plug, often known as anchovies or bacon strips. Basically a strip of material along with applicator that you use to push said material into hole. There's a few systems around, they all do the same thing, usually there's two tools - a rasp or file to roughen up the edges of the hole and the applicator. Some also have a small blade to cut the material once you've plugged the hole but any knife/blade will do. I've the Sahmurai Sword which replaces the end caps on your handlebars thus making use of a somewhat wasted space. https://cyclorise.com/collections/sahmurai-sword
The strips as supplied are a bit long so cut them in half, they only have to be long enough to pass through the tyre wall when bent in two.
TIP: fit one length of the material in the applicator before heading out so you are ready to go.
Assuming you are quick off the mark, put a finger over the hole to try and stop too much air from escaping, after all you are only going to have to pump the tyre up again in a minute or two. Grab the rasp and push it into the hole and roughen the edges. Now grab the applicator and push in until the strip is in the hole a reasonable amount then put a finger on the strip and gently pull the applicator back out. Trim off any excess if you feel the need. Pump up the tyre. If you want to make a really permanent job then when you get home clean and dry the area and apply some flexible superglue over the strip and let it set.
Back to inner tubes. One side effect of the tubeless system working is that you tend not to know when you've had an "incident" that with tubes would see you stopped at the side of the trail either repairing a puncture or replacing the tube. Sometimes it's obvious when the sealant sprays out but more often than not the sealant just does its job especially with larger volume tyres that run at lower pressure. An inner tube should be your last resort for when all else fails. If you are lucky then you'll find the thorns and nails by running your fingers (carefully!) around the inside of the tyre before fitting the tube. The problem is that often you'll get embedded sharps that don't fully push through the tyre carcase and only show themselves when that part of the tyre strikes an edge and the thorn or whatever pushes into the tube then retreats back into hiding. On one occasion I put in a tube after carefully checking the inside of the tyre. The tube would slowly deflate over a couple of hours. When I got home and checked there were six pin-prick punctures in it!
TIP: get some tissue paper or similar and wipe it around the inside of the tyre. Any thorns will snag the lightweight paper and will be easier to find. Leatherman/Gerber like tools usually have some form of pliers which are ideal for removing any thorns.
SparesAgain this is very bike and component specific.
Spare valve and valve cores: Over time tubeless sealant can clog up the valve so grab a few spare valve cores, and pack one or two. You'll need either a valve core tool or a pair of pliers (e.g. Leatherman Squirt) to remove/replace it. If your multi-tool has a chain tool then there's a suitably sized slot on that that will also work. I also take a spare valve especially if it's a remote trip or I'm heading somewhere where I'm not sure whether I'm going to get spares.
Chain: Quick links of appropriate size for your chain. Also keep that short length of chain you removed when originally fitting it, if you do break/wreck a chain then it's easy to repair. You don't need any special tools to remove the quicklink, an old piece of gear/brake cable or even zip-ties can be used to squeeze the two sides together - thread the cable through the links either side, cross the wires over and pull. Alternatively use some pliers. One other technique is to use your chainring: position the quicklink so that it sits on the chainring, now lift the chain at one side and pull it towards the quicklink by one link such that you form a triangle sticking up from the chainring with the quicklink forming one side. Now push down on the QL and it should come apart.
One "tool" that is worth having is a chain holder - basically a piece of wire about 10cm long with hooks at both ends. Some chain tools and some multi-tools come with one but they are easy enough to make out of an old spoke or wire coat hanger. They are used to hold the chain either side of where you might break it with the chain tool or when putting the chain back together so that there isn't any tension in the work area.
To fit the quicklink it's a case of applying enough force to pull the pins into the correct parts of the slots. Put the quicklink together and spin the cranks until it is in the upper part of the loop where it will be under tension. Now stamp firmly on the pedal and it should snap into place. Make sure that both sides have engaged!
Gear cable: Some people pack one but I've yet to break one, again with proper maintenance this shouldn't be necessary - I'd replace gear (and brake cables if you've mechanical brakes) prior to a big trip. Then again only 10g and takes up next to no space.
Spare brake pads: I'd pack a set but it does depend where you are heading. Make sure you pack the correct pads for the bike! My Puffin has Avid BB7 brakes but I've a Hope rotor which has a set of rivets holding the braking surface to the spider which foul on the arms of the Avid pads so those need to be cut down before I head out.
Mech Hanger: One of those items that's almost impossible to source should you break it, I've bent one when out riding but not broken it. You'll almost certainly need a 2mm hex key for the bolts holding this.
I'll divide the spares in to generic and bike specific packs with the latter living permanently on the relevant bike. The pack is marked up with the bike's make/model so I don't head out with the wrong set of spares but I've usually got bags permanently fixed to the bikes and the kit lives in there.
In the shot below are the contents of one such bike specific tin, it measures 90x32x32mm and is at top right of the shot, an ex-work colleague vaped and this is one of his empty vaping gunk tins suitably washed (several times). All the items beneath it plus the nitryl glove go in to it.
- Allen key with magnetic holder
- 2, 3 & 4mm hex bits (the Allen key "handle" is 5mm), T25 bit
- Loctite flexible super glue
- pack of tyre plugs
- a set of spare brake pads and spring with retaining bolt
- spare valve core
- various nuts and bolts
- cable end crimps
- chain powerlink (appropriate size for the chain)
- spare mech hanger (with bolts)
- chain holder.
The pump is a Topeak DA something or other. There's a few wraps of Gorilla Tape around the handle. To the left of this we have: tyre boot (old toothpaste tube); Leatherman Squirt tool; tyre lever, Topeak mini chain tool (40g).
Along the top: Sahmurai Sword tyre plug tools that fit into the bar ends. A bunch of zip ties. A Tubolito emergency inner tube.
All that lot comes to under 500g (the pump and inner tube account for 200g of that) which isn't a great deal. Volume wise it's not a lot if you exclude the pump, I've a Wildcat Cheetah "Jerry can" top tube bag and it all goes in there with room to spare.
For more remote trips items like the Unior lockring tool that lets you remove the cassette and the Fiberfix emergency spoke can be useful. In the latter case a few spokes taped to the seat stays or inside the seat post (held by foam to stop rattling) is also an option.
The above should show that there's no reason a comprehensive set of tools and spares need either cost the earth or take up masses of room. Working out just what you need can pay dividends.