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EC Notebook #37: Carrying the Right Tools Can Keep You on the Road

by Chris Daigle, ECI #331

As, a professional bike mechanic (and ECI), I have often been asked, “What tools should I bring on a bike ride?” Before I answer that question, I need to find out a few things about the rider’s habits and abilities.

1) How well do you maintain your bike? Are you a dedicated and skilled mechanic, or someone who regularly brings your bike to a pro mechanic with the instructions to maintain it perfectly? If you are meticulous about maintenance, you probably only need to bring along flat fixing materials and the money for the phone just in case. If, on the other hand, your bike is not highly maintained, expect to need roadside repairs, and bring tools along for such repairs.

2) What kind of riding do you do? If you never ride farther from home than you are willing to walk, you may not want to carry any tools. But if you are going on long mountain bike rides or doing self-contained loaded touring, you will need enough tools to do repairs like replacing broken spokes, and possibly spare parts such as shift and brake cables, and spare screws for the rack, water bottle cage, etc.

3) What do you know how to repair? Don’t bother bringing tools along that you don’t know how to use. It is a good idea to have your professional mechanic or another skilled bike maintainer teach you simple repairs. and then buy the tools needed to do those jobs. Many bike shops have regularly scheduled classes on maintenance and repair.

Some sensible tools and supplies to bring along on your ride include:

  • Tool set. A number of manufacturers make a range of multipurpose tools that fit in a seat bag and can do almost any roadside or trailside repair. These tools can include a folding set of allen wrenches, chain tools, patch kits, tire levers, and spoke wrenches. Some have a place for a frame pump to clip on or can be bolted to the bottle boss on your frame. Some tool sets have more than 30 tools; while they aren’t as complete as a home tool set, they can handle emergency repairs. Expect to pay $l0-$50, depending on how complex they are.
  • Tire lever set, if not included in your multipurpose tool.
  • Complete tube patch kit. The best kits come with a boot to repair big cuts on your tire. Instant patches are designed to peel and stick without the tube of glue. With these, and with glue itself there is the risk they will have dried out; be sure yours are fresh and will be ready to work when needed.
  • Spare tube (two is never too many!)
  • Tire pump set up for your bike’s valves (presta or schrader). Some cyclists use CO2 cyclinders for inflation, but note their drawback: if you have more flats than containers, you are stranded!
  • For loaded touring and mountain biking, you may want to add tools to adjust brakes, headsets, and hubs, and tools to remove the cogset for spoke replacement.
  • Handwipes to clean off the grease.
  • Small first aid items are also good to pack with your tools: at least one band aid, prepackaged antiseptic, and a red cross triangular bandage. Identification and medical warnings of allergies, etc. are also advisable.
  • Phone money and bus fare, in case you encounter a repair that you cannot accomplish.

Remember that tools don’t fix things; people fix things. The better prepared you are, the quicker you’ll be back on the road.

This column incorporates some of the advice compiled by Don Roy, ECI #232, in EC Notebook #9, March/April 1994.

Reprinted here by permission of Bicycle USA Magazine. Bicycle USA is a member benefit of the League of American Bicyclists. For further information on the League go to