I should have known better … I had a long walk home instead of a long ride, but it gave me time to think about tips on essential bike tools to carry when you head out on your bike. Starting with how not to set about your ride. Next a checklist and explanation for each item I (usually) pack for different types of ride.
a thorny Issue
The sun was shining & I was in a rush to get out on Saturday morning. My trusty Zefal tool bottle had been used by one of my boys and not returned to my bike. I haven’t had any issues for over a thousand miles, so I just went. No bike tools to carry, a little lighter than usual.
It was chilly in shorts but the autumn sun lifted my spirits as I headed out. I had planned a slightly modified version of this route around Alton Water and hoping to avoid too many walkers with an earlyish start. I’d got warm, stopped for a chat with a former work colleague who I’d bumped into (not literally) and was now on a section of bridle path I’d never ridden. I came out of some woods and noticed a twig on my tyre and reached down to brush it off. It didn’t budge, so I gave it a yank – it came away with a hiss. The 2cm long thorn attached to the twig was free, and so was the air in my tyre 🙁 Arrgh no tool kit!!!
With no way of fixing it I turned around and headed back the way I came as fast as I could. After about 5minutes I was on a sandy track and could feel every stone. The track descended gently making pedalling easy but the tyre flopped around on the rim making the steering alarmingly vague. I was worried I’d either lose the tyre from the rim, damage it irreparably or lose the front-end and have skinned legs AND a long walk. So I dismounted and pushed my bike.
Walking in the sunshine and quiet countryside was still a wonderful release from a week stuck at my computer. I decided to explore a few footpaths that were more direct than the bike route I’d taken. All was good until a section of waist high nettles crowded the path from both sides. The stings warmed my legs in a new way! I passed Saturday football matches, familiar and unfamiliar roads but all at a slower pace than usual on my way back to Ipswich Waterfront.
Dave at Elmy’s bike shop kindly lent me a track pump which gave me enough time to get home although the floppy front returned for the last few hundred metres. At home I dug out the tool canister and reassembled the contents.
Bike Tools to Carry on unsupported rides
If you ride unsupported you should definitely consider carrying all of these bike tools. Even if you can call in backup it’s best not to be too dependent else the help may be less forthcoming in the future.
Some of the items I recommend have an obvious purpose but some might seem a bit unusual so here goes for an explanation.
Tools for Everyday Riding aka Utility Cycling
- Multi tool – useful for tightening and adjusting fittings on your bike.
- Vinyl Gloves – especially when commuting or everyday riding. Will help you prod around without turning up at work or a friend’s house with oily hands.
- Rag for cleaning – a bit of old T-shirt is ideal
- Lock – Carry something serious like a D-lock if going into town or train station. Heavy, but peace of mind.
More tips on utility cycling here.
Tools for Day Rides
The picture at the top shows my reassembled toolkit with these items.
- Multi tool, ideally with chain splitter – chains can be bent or snap, especially thinner ones 9, 10, 11-speed upwards – it happened to me on a 9-speed. If you are out unsupported, removing a link or 2 and using your lowest gear will keep you pedalling. You’ll have a multitool anyway – one with a chain splitter is only a little heavier.
- Vinyl gloves – handy but TBH I generally just get mucky hands on the trail.
- Pump – make sure it fits your valves / the ones in all your group – I’ve had to lend a presta/schraeder pump to a pair of lads who didn’t notice they had different valves on their bikes!
- Light grips – really useful for a couple of reasons. The most common is to remove a firmly stuck tyre bead from the wheel. I’ve been stuck with a road tyre that I just could not shift by hand with a tyre lever. A quick pinch from grips and it was off. Really useful especially in cold weather when hands might not work as well as normal. If you’ve got a very strong grip then these will only be useful if you bend something properly in a crash (like a brake lever) or need to replace/significantly adjust a cable. I find the type grips pictured better than pliers as I can use them on nuts like an adjustable spanner.
- Tyre levers – don’t just go for the cheapest ones, take ones that you know work. I still carry a steel one along with Schwalbe’s blue plastic ones which are the best plastic ones I’ve used.
- Inner tube and puncture repair kit – one for speed, the other if bad luck strikes again. Get decent ones – cheap repair kits (and in my experience pre-glued patches) are not reliable. After a replacement or repair, check the tyre for embedded or loose thorns, grit or flint before refitting and repumping. I find a rag really useful for this -it saves shredding the tips of your fingers when checking the tyre.
- Rag for tool roll – I use a section of old jeans both to wrap the tools in and when fixing something to lay the bits out so I don’t lose them in the dirt or grass. Also useful for cleaning/ checking tyres.
- Cable ties – useful for securing things. Ideally, you’ll never lose a bolt through lack of maintenance or bend something so it breaks, but it does happen. Cable ties can even substitute for a lock – if you have your pen knife with you – at least to prevent your bike being wheeled away. Tie the spokes to a chain stay, or better a chain-stay to a railing.
- Penknife – useful for getting rid of briars from the path. They grow fast all over paths and can be too tough and sharp to push past. Do another rider a favour and cut it back, being sure to put the waste well away from the path. One path was so bad I even returned with secateurs.
- Spoke Spanner – if you have a big whack on a wheel, you might get a loose spoke, leaving the wheel weaker and more likely to buckle. Spoke spanners can be found on good multi-tools, other wise best to carry a separate one.
- Tyre boot – very rarely needed, but if you cut the sidewall of your tyre, this will get you home. Grams to carry, why not.
- Lock – invaluable if you want to stop at a shop or café. Nothing you can easily carry will protect from a battery powered angle grinder and a van, but a simple coil lock will give you and your insurers some peace of mind. Lock it to something solid.
Tools for Longer, Wilder or Wetter Rides
All of the day ride kit plus …
- Cables and pads – in case of damage or unexpected wear. On a particularly wet and gritty ride I reduced my pads to the metal backing – suddenly no brakes – very alarming! Only takes moments to replace and better that than walking downhill.
- Brushes, chain cleaner, chain lube – on a multi-day ride I take drive train cleaning seriously. A brush with a borrowed bucket will free much mud and grit from the chain and reduce unpleasant grinding and wear. If pushed, use a few cups of water. Lube to make it run smooth again.
- Spoken Spanner – definitely worth carrying if you don’t have one on your multi-tool.
- Spoke – I’ve never carried one, but some people do, probably more useful if you are a hard rider or carry lots of gear/weight. Probably best strapped/taped to the seat post or seat stay as they are long and you want to keep then straight