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On-Road Repairs

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The Need for On-Road Repairs

A bicycle must make a tradeoff among reliability, versatility, light weight -- pick any two, or some compromise among the three. Outside urban areas dense with bicycle repair services, any bicyclist will have to perform some common on-road repairs, or ride with a companion who can perform them, or call for a ride now and then. Even the simplest, most rugged beach cruiser bicycle can't offer the trouble-free service you would expect of a lawnmower, car or refrigerator. Still, the mechanical simplicity of the bicycle and the resulting ease of common repairs, performed with lightweight tools, allow bicycling to be a practical travel mode.

Other articles on this site give detailed instruction on repair tasks. This article includes links to those articles, and describes the tools needed to perform common on-road repairs. There is also good information in books and online.

Simple On-Road Repairs

There are certain basic procedures which any bicyclist ought to know:

  • How to fix a flat tire. Flat tires are the most common mechanical problem which requires immediate attention. This site has an entire article about flats and flat repair.
  • How to remove and replace a wheel, covered in the article about fixing flat tires. This is important when transporting a bicycle, but also to replace an inner tube or a tire (though a punctured inner tube also can usually be patched without removing the wheel). Correct adjustment of quick-release assemblies on hubs is especially important for safety.
  • Chain adjustment on a non-derailer bicycle. This is part of the task of replacing a wheel, and is covered in Sheldon's article about fixed-gear bicycles, but also applies to bicycles with a single-speed freewheel or internal-gear hub.
  • Cable replacement and adjustment, for brakes and shifters. There's an article on this site about cables.
  • Basic wrench skills, to dissassemble, reassemble and tighten parts.

Spoke Divider

Spoke Divider

The On-Road Tool Kit

What tools should you carry with you, to get you home or to a bicycle shop.?

Stories abound of bicyclists who go on tour lugging 10 or 15 pounds of tools, ready to fix almost anything on their bicycles.

At the other extreme, a road racer carries no tools. The team mechanic follows in the team car, ready to supply a replacement wheel or entire bicycle as needed.

A reasonable toolkit for a more typical bicyclist weighs a pound or two and covers the most common on-road repair needs. The weight can be even less on a modern bicycle which uses exclusively Allen-wrench fittings. On-road tools fit into a small bag which straps to the underside of the saddle, or which can be carried in a pannier or touring bag.

A small tool kit allows a bicyclist to get rolling again almost every time something goes wrong. You might carry some tools which you don't need for your own bicycle, to lend a helping hand to other bicyclists who are stranded. That has been the start of many a beautful friendship!

Here's my preferred tool list:

  • Multi-tool -- the "Swiss Army knife" of bicycle tools, which includes several metric Allen wrenches, flat-blade and #2 Phillips (cross-head) screwdrivers and often a small socket wrench. The multi-tool provides a single, convenient handle for all of these tools.


  • Additional Allen wrenches which the bicycle uses and are not included in the multi-tool.
  • 8-9-10 mm socket Y wrench.


  • Torx wrench kit (like a multi-tool) if your bicycle uses any Torx-head bolts (Torx wrenches are like Allen wrenches but with a star-shaped cross section),

Spoke Divider

Spoke Divider

  • Tools and supplies to fix flat tires -- pump, tire levers, patch kit, tire boot. For more details see the article on flat tires on this site. In case you can't find the leak or the inner tube is unrepairable, you might carry a spare inner tube. Replacing the inner tube can be faster than patching, too.
  • 6-inch adjustable wrench if your bicycle uses nuts and bolts with hex heads -- and to straighten bent parts or lend a helping hand to another cyclist. See Sheldon's article on adjustable wrenches. The adjustable wrench also can remove and replace most pedals -- though many pedals also have an Allen wrench fitting on the inner end of the axle. Keep pedal threads well-greased, because a 6-inch adjustable wrench does not have as much leverage as a purpose-built pedal wrench.

    Adjustable wrench

  • Crank puller, unless your bicycle uses an Allen wrench to pull the cranks. The Allen wrench is usually 8 mm, and many multi-tools do not include that size. More details are in the article on cotterless cranks.

    Park universal crank puller
    Park universal crank puller

  • Crank bolt wrench and dustcap remover, also unless your bicycle uses an Allen wrench to pull the cranks. More details are in the same article.
  • For the chain: chain tool, replacement pivot pins if your bicycle has a Shimano chain; master link pliers if a SRAM chain; spare PowerLink, or PowerLock for a 10- or 11-speed SRAM chain. See Sheldon's article on chains, and chain tools on sale at Harris Cyclery.

    Park folding chain tool

    Park chain tool

    Park Master Link Pliers

    Powerlink pliers

  • A pair of lightweight cloth gloves or rubber gloves to keep your hands clean.

Spoke Divider

Spoke Divider

  • Spoke wrench to fit the spokes of your wheels.

    spoke wrench

  • Spare inner cables for brakes and shifters
  • Old toe strap to use as a "third hand" tool to hold caliper brakes shut
  • Cell phone to call for a ride in case everything else fails -- or with a smartphone, you can look up repair instructions online. Keep on your Favorites list!

Especially if you are traveling in rural areas, you do well to carry a few additional supplies:

  • A second spare inner tube
  • Spare folding tire, or wire-bead tire rolled up like a bandsaw blade. See video on how to roll up a wire-bead tire.
  • If your bicycle has a cassette, a Stein Mini-Cassette Lockring Tool (on-road cassette lockring tool). You need to remove the cassette to replace spokes on the right side of the rear wheel.

    Stein Mini Cassette Lockring tool
    Stein lockring tool

  • If your bicycle has a freewheel, you could carry a freewheel extractor, but then you will have to borrow the use of a vise or large adjustable wrench unless you are lucky enough to find the on-road tool which lets you use the handlebar stem. As I recall, this tool was made only to fit SunTour freewheel extractors.

    Freewheel extractor holder with freewheel extractor
    On-road free-wheel remover tool

  • A few spare spokes and spoke nipples.The spokes are traditionally taped to the frame, but Kevlar emergency spokes are available, which you can keep folded up in your tool kit and which install on the right side of a rear hub without removing sprockets. Harris Cyclery sells these as well as conventional spokes.
  • A few links of chain matching your bicycle's chain. If your bicycle has a 9-speed or higher Shimano chain, you will also need replacement chain pins and the tool to install one. If a SRAM or Wipperman chain, a spare master link. Best advice is to avoid more than an 8-speed systme iwth a Shimano chain.
  • Small bottle of oil
  • Spare batteries for battery-powered bicycle lights.

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More Complex, Even Astonishing On-Road Repairs

Necessity is the mother of invention. More articles in this series are in the works. Two are complete as of now:

On-Road Wheel Repairs -- to get you rolling again if your bicycle has suffered a proken spoke or bent wheel.

Emergency Frame Repairs -- If your bicycle has a steel frame and fork, an emergency repair is possible in a metalworking shop anywhere in the world, and sometimes even out on the road.

Spoke Divider

Spoke Divider

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