Bicycle Tools: What Is Really Needed on the Road?

Bicycle Tools

  • A multi-tool is a good way to cover a wide range of possibilities.
  • Tire levers and a pump are essential for changing a flat tire.
  • Bigger, less-used tools don’t need to be carried on rides.

Considering the hundreds of pieces — and tiny little parts — that fit together precisely to create a bicycle, it’s somewhat amazing the two-wheeled machine is such a reliable mode of transportation.

With proper maintenance, a quality bicycle can provide years of trouble-free operation. But sometimes, even in the best conditions, parts will need to be repaired in the middle of the ride.

When things go wrong, it’s likely either a catastrophic failure – like a part simply breaking – or something that needs to be retightened or adjusted. For the part that failed, there’s often very little that can be done. If you can get home safely without damaging something else (including you!), go for it.

For everything else, there are a few bike tools that can make the difference between a great ride and hitching a ride. The first, most versatile one is known as a multi-tool. It’s a compact, foldable version of many of the tools found on your home workbench.

A good multi-tool will have numerous sizes of Allen wrenches (2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6 millimeters) and a pair of screwdriver heads (flat and Phillips). More elaborate multi-tools have Torx screw heads, small spoke wrenches, a chain-repair tool and even a bottle opener. There’s a good chance you’ll never actually need some of those when you’re out on the road, but having them available is never a bad thing.

If you can’t find a multi-tool with all of those options, carrying Allen wrenches in a few select sizes shouldn’t take up too much space. Also, a small spoke wrench should easily fit in an under-seat bag.

A pair of tire levers (called tire irons in some places) also belong on the bike tools must-have list. The small plastic sticks have a hook on one end to grab the bead of the tire and pull it over the rim. Without them, changing a tire in the middle of a ride is almost impossible.

And though getting the tire off the rim is only step one, being able to inflate it is a very important second step. A small hand pump or CO2 inflator is vital to continuing a ride. Of course, it goes without saying that a spare tube should be included in the packing list as well.

Many cyclists carry a few 2- or 3-foot sections of duct tape, wrapped around a wooden tongue depressor. In a pinch, duct tape can hold together all sorts of parts. And if you truly get desperate, duct tape might be able to save the day.

Bike Tools that don’t need to make the trip each time you roll down the driveway include traditional wrenches (like cone wrenches for headsets and hubs), large-diameter Allen wrenches and full-sized chain-breaking tools. The odds of using them on a ride are small, so there’s no need to take up space and add weight to your bike.

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