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.
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 wrench to fit the spokes of your wheels.
- 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 sheldonbrown.com 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
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
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.
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.