As I sat in the dust on the side of the road scowling in frustration, I acknowledged that I had attained a high level of competence in removing, repairing and replacing my rear tire. Iíd done so four times on that one day of my tour along the British Columbia coast. Iíd also developed a significant appreciation for my bike tools.
Happily, Iíve been lucky and have never had to complete any other emergency repairs on the road. My chain has stayed in one continuous loop, my spokes have maintained their place in my rims, and my brake and shifter cables have held strong. I know, however, that itís only a matter of time before something gives and my luck changes. As a result, I carry what I consider to be a few essential tools and spare parts: tire levers, spare tube(s), tube patch kit, tire pump, multi-function mini-tool, chain lubricant, and knife multi-tool. I want to spend a few words on explaining what each is for and why I carry it.
Tire Levers, Spare Tubes, Tube Patch Kit, Tire Pump
The most common mechanical problem any rider is likely to encounter is a flat tire. Causes can vary from riding over glass (the cause of the multiple flats I mentioned earlier) to improperly installed tubes. Iím not going to explain to you here how to change a tire (that topicís worthy of its own article); just the tools you need to accomplish the job. First, you need a way to get the tire off of the rim (after, of course, youíve taken the wheel off the bike). This is where the tire levers come into play. These flat, rectangular plastic pieces with a hook on one end are designed to slide between the tire and the rim so that you can break the bead and remove the tire from the rim. Any bike repair manual can show you how to use them, as can your local bike shop. Itís definitely worth taking the time to figure them out before you need them on the road.
Once the tire is off the rim and you have removed tube from the tire, you need to either repair or replace the tube. Iím in the habit of carrying both a spare new tube and a patch kit. I can easily use the patch kit to fix a small puncture in the tube, but if the leak is due to a large hole or split in the tube, Iím more likely just to put in a new tube. Iíll also use the new tube if Iím in a hurry or have already repaired the old tube multiple times. Be sure the spare tubes you carry are the right size, and if you have different sized tires, carry tubes for each size. Patch kits are available at any store that sells bike stuff, from generic box stores to specialty bike shops. Many of these kits contain glue that can dry out once itís been opened, so be sure to check it frequently to ensure itís still usable.
The last tool you need for fixing a flat tire is a tire pump. You can buy easy-to-use floor pumps that are perfect for pumping up your tires at home, but theyíre too bulky for carrying on your bike for emergencies. You need a small hand pump that either fits in your bike bag or attaches to your frame. There are many styles of high volume and/or high pressure pumps for both Schrader and Presta valves. If you can, try out different pumps to see which you prefer. I find that some are easier to use than others. Also, be sure to get one that fits the type of valves you have on your tires.
As its name implies, the bicycle multi-function mini-tool has several tools in one handy item. Included are the most common hex wrench sizes for adjusting your seat, tightening handlebars, and so on. It also has a spoke wrench for aiding in replacing broken spokes, and a chain tool for fixing broken chains. Depending on the model you purchase, it may also have standard and Phillips screwdriver tips and a Torx wrench. The only thing it doesnít have is the mechanic!
I confess, cleaning and lubricating my chain is one task I donít do nearly often enough. I do, however, carry lubricant so that I can apply it whenever it occurs to me. Lubricant comes in wet and dry varieties depending on whether you tend to ride in muddy or dusty conditions. Read the bottles carefully and ask for professional advice if youíre not sure what to get.
Okay, so this tool isnít really a bike tool, but itís a good all-around tool thatís handy to have. The one I carry is a Sog brand; other common brands are Leatherman and Gerber. It just seems logical to me to carry one handy tool that includes knife blades, wrench, file, screwdrivers and so on. I havenít used it often, but itís nice to have.
By no means is this a complete list of all bike tools a person could carry, but these are the ones that will get you through most roadside emergency repairs. Theyíll fit neatly in an under-saddle bag where theyíll be out of the way until you need them. Itís not enough to just carry the tools, however. Take the time before you need them to learn what theyíre for and how to use them.
Be prepared and ride safe!