Bike maintenance is an annoyance at best. Worse still, what happens if your bike develops a problem or breaks down when you’re in the middle of nowhere? What if you’re miles from the nearest city and several days or even weeks into your bikepacking trip?
With a little planning, you can avoid having to push your bike or calling for an emergency pick-up by carrying these 7 useful bike tools.
The most useful bike tools
These are the tools I’d carry with me when riding in remote areas and when I can’t rely on getting a train or finding somewhere to fix my bike if it breaks down.
- Tyre Levers
- Allen/Hex Keys
- Combination Spanners
- Spoke Tool
- Chain Tool
- Zip Ties & Gorilla Tape
- Quick-link Pliers
What to consider when packing your tools
Obviously, you don’t want to take more than necessary when going on a bike tour. However, it’s better to be safe than sorry; a problem is inevitable at some point. The more you ride, the more probability catches up with you, and you don’t want to be caught out.
Most considerations come down to weight and space.
Of the 7 items I suggest, there’s some flexibility depending on the type and age of your bike.
Newer bikes are convenient and usually have things like quick-release bolts and socket screws which make it much easier to make adjustments to your bike with minimal tools.
For example, a flat tyre on the rear of an older bike would mean having to use a combination spanner to get the wheel off. Newer bikes simplify things by using a quick-release bolt instead.
All the tools available also come in smaller sizes designed to be light and portable. The disadvantage of reducing the size though is that they are usually a bit more fiddly to use.
For those who want to travel super-light, you can buy multi-tools with most of what I’ve mentioned in one neat tool that tends to be smaller than buying each tool individually.
If you’re travelling in a group you can save weight by not doubling up on all the bike tools you need to bring.
The 7 essential tools to take on your bikepacking trip
These are the bike tools that I consider most important.
1. Tyre Levers
The most common problem you’re likely to encounter is the dreaded flat tyre. Whether you’re going to patch your punctures or swap in a new inner tube, you’re going to have to get the tyre off!
Tyre levers are cheap and modern ones are made of tough plastic, so they are light too.
This list isn’t in any particular order, but I’d say that tyre levers are the #1 essential you’ll want to take on a bikepacking trip. If you carry nothing else, take some tyre levers.
Tyre levers usually come in packs of 2 or 3.
2. Allen Keys/Hex Keys
Allen keys (or hex keys/wrenches in the US) are another very useful bike accessory to carry with you. Most bikes use socket screws for seat post adjustment, handlebar stems, disk brakes and bottle holders.
You can buy several types of Allen keys and when thinking about bike maintenance, you have to consider angles. Some places on your bike will only have small gaps so you may need an Allen key with a longer arm, but with a short right angle (L-shape) to access tight areas. Other bike parts would be fine with a long straight Allen key.
You’re likely to see Allen keys in the following forms:
- L-shaped individual keys
- Y-shaped/3-way keys
- Foldable set
In addition to these above, as mentioned before, you can buy a multi-tool which includes popular-sized Allen keys.
If you want to travel as light as possible, I recommend taking individual L-shaped keys that you know will fit your bike, a foldable set, or as part of a multi-tool.
3. Combination Spanners
I was out cycling with a friend recently and she had a puncture in her rear tyre. Unfortunately, she had an older bike with a nut rather than a quick-release bolt on her wheel. This meant that it was impossible to remove the wheel and we had to deal with the puncture without removing it — much more difficult and a lesson learned!
Either carry a combination spanner with you (15mm being a popular size for wheel nuts) or swap the bolt for a quick-release one.
The disadvantage of a quick-release bolt is that it makes the wheel easier to remove by everyone, including thieves!
4. Spoke Tool
In the (hopefully) unlikely event that you have a crash or hit a pothole and buckle your wheel, you may need to tighten the spokes to adjust the rim and true your wheel. While you may not be able to do a proper job while on your trip, at least making some adjustments will get you home.
The job of a spoke tool is to act like a tiny spanner to adjust the small nuts on the end of each spoke. Doing this will flex the rim and hopefully straighten (true) the wheel.
A spoke tool can come stand-alone or as part of a bike multi-tool.
5. Chain Tool/Chain Breaker
Sometimes your chain can end up bent or even broken! Your bikepacking trip is basically over if you don’t have a working chain.
If your chain is bent, it’s not going to run smoothly and will possibly keep skipping or jumping. A bent chain can even damage the rear derailleur or cassette. If it’s broken, you obviously won’t be able to ride at all.
If your chain has snapped completely, then you will need to re-attach it. This will involve removing one of the pins in the links so that you can remove the damaged one.
This is where a chain tool comes to the rescue. A chain tool is a screw-like device that will push a link pin out. You can then use the chain tool to re-insert a pin and join the links back together or use a chain quick link.
The same goes for a bent chain. You need to find the suspect link (or links) and remove it. You can then rejoin using either the chain tool or a quick link.
6. Zip Ties & Gorilla Tape
You never know what’s going to break on your bike and sometimes you just need to do a quick repair to temporarily fix the problem.
This is where zip ties or Gorilla Tape become your friends.
Zip ties are super useful for attaching things back to your bike or keeping things secure. I mostly use them for securing my USB cable when charging my phone.
Gorilla Tape is my favourite though. It’s so versatile. It can be used as rim tape inside your wheel, or some people even use it to fix punctures!
Gorilla tape is known to be super useful and you often see people telling stories of what they’ve used it for. Who knows, it may even hold a cracked frame together, although I’ve not tried this.
7. Quick-link Pliers
This bike tool is pretty easy to understand. As mentioned in #5 above, if you break your chain and need to rejoin it, you can use a quick link (or master link). However, sometimes quick links are pretty tough to get apart. Quick-link pliers make this job easy!
If you imagine a normal set of traditional pliers, quick-link pliers are the opposite. When you squeeze and apply force, they spread outwards instead of pushing together. This will help you easily remove your chain’s quick link.
Before I bought this tool I tried everything to remove the quick link on my bike. I literally spent 2 hours trying to get it off. None of the tricks on YouTube worked. With the quick link pliers, my chain was split in 5 seconds. They are cheap and worth every penny!
A word on bike multi-tools
As mentioned a few times in this article, if you want to travel super light, then you can get a special bike multi-tool with most of these things all in one. You obviously make a compromise with a multi-tool as it’s a bit more fiddly to use, however, all the tools are together and you don’t need to keep it in a box or case either.
The more tools in a multi-tool the less easy they are to use.
I’d recommend getting one with Allen keys, a spoke tool and tyre levers, then one with a chain tool and quick link pliers. You’ll be a lot happier when using them this way.
The 7 bike tools mentioned here are what I’d recommend as a minimum to take on a bikepacking trip.
I didn’t include inner tubes and puncture repair kits because it felt odd to classify these as tools. Take them if you feel it’s necessary. However, you can get away without them. As mentioned in #7, Gorilla Tape can fix a puncture!
Another quick consideration is some disposable gloves. When you’re fiddling with your bike your hands can often become greasy, so it’s nice to avoid this where possible.
Meet the author
Harry Snell is an outdoor enthusiast who runs the site OutdoorsObsession.com. His main hobbies include travel, cycle touring & hiking. When he’s not outdoors, he works as a nutritionist.
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