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I feel like there are almost as many bike multi-tools out there as there are bikers. In a single trip to REI, I found nine different bike tools each ranging from only four to over thirty individual tools! But how many of these tools do I actually need?

I feel like some of the tools included in these multi-tools aren't really ever going to be necessary in the middle of a ride, but are actually better suited for at-home repair.

So, what tools do you actually need to carry with you, that you might actually need while out riding, and what tools are you can safely leave at home?

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Simple answer: You need the tools that fit YOUR bike. In general you want an Allen wrench for every size screw on the bike (anything can come loose mid-ride), plus a basic spoke wrench, and a screwdriver that will fit the adjusting screws on your derailers. A knife blade can be useful, but can be carried separately. Pliers are occasionally useful, but not often enough to be worth it, IMO. (Of course, you also need tire changing tools.) –  Daniel R Hicks May 21 '13 at 16:21
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This will depend totally on how far you will be from civilization and/or a bike shop. If you're touring the Great Divide, you'll need everything necessary to make it home. If you're puttering around town you can get away with a few hex keys. I regularly carry different kits depending on where I'm going and how long I'll be away. –  WTHarper May 21 '13 at 16:37
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Worth saying that once you buy your tools, try doing some "at home" maintenance with just the tools you're going to carry. E.g. change a tube, take a chain apart. Nothing worse than being out on the road thinking you're equipped for the worst, then finding out you're not. I got stuffed just last month when, after getting a puncture, I found that the presta valve in the new tube was hardwired, therefore I could not fit the valve extensions I needed for the rims! D'oh! –  PeteH May 21 '13 at 17:29
    
30 tools? Does that include 30 distinct types of tools, or 30 tools once you add up the various sizes of allen keys and spoke wrenches? Also, along with what @PeteH said remember to put you tools back in your carry pack after trying them at home. I actually have 2 sets of tools for this reason. Too many times I've forgotten to put the tools back with my bike stuff after fixing something at home. –  Kibbee May 21 '13 at 17:30
    
@DanielRHicks Don't forget a chain breaker. –  Stephen Touset May 21 '13 at 17:47
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7 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Minimally, you want to be able to tighten all of the bolts on your bike (likely a few hex keys will do this) and an appropriate screwdriver for adjusting derailer & brake pulls. Separate from a multi-tool, a pair of tire levers are the other tool you should carry with you.

I would add a chain tool to the above list after being left in a state where I would have been much happier were I so equipped. For that reason, I bought a Crank Brothers Multi Tool 17 which features the requisite hex keys, screwdrivers, and a chain tool, in package that is smaller & lighter than most Leatherman tools. Some of the hex key sizes don't fit anything on my bike, but it's nice to have a set that can help most other riders.

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Also worth looking at is what type of bike/riding you are doing. For instance, I'm much more likely to need a chain tool on a MTB ride than on a road ride. –  Ken Hiatt May 21 '13 at 17:04
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2x on the chain tool. If you mountain bike much, this could save you from a long walk out of the woods. –  Wadelp May 21 '13 at 20:19
    
My chain tool saved a guy we came across the remaining 29km of a 30km walk...... This could have turned the remaining 2-3 hour ride into a night out in an alpine environment - given his other equipment and below 0 degree C temperatures ..... –  mattnz May 23 '13 at 1:02
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First, you need to familiarize yourself with your bike. If you're not familiar with your bike to begin with, you'll have a really hard time buying the right tools for it. Once you have an idea of which tools you'll actually need, then it will be quite clear which multi tool to buy.

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This is really good advice. If you don't know how to fix it without a manual, no multi-tool will help on the road. –  WTHarper May 21 '13 at 17:49
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However without the tools, no else will be able to help either... –  mattnz May 23 '13 at 1:03
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...unless they have the tools. –  Matt May 23 '13 at 6:04
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As others have indicated, it depends on both your bike and the type of riding you're doing.

If you're just tooling around town (get it, "tooling"?) with no particular destination or schedule, you can probably get away with not much more than a set of tire levers. A pump is handy too so that you don't have to walk your bike to a gas station if you get a flat.

If you're commuting, you may want a bit more. I carry the Park Tools MT-1 in my saddlebag along with a tube and a set of tire levers. It has enough to get me from A to B with the ability to solve minor problems inbetween, but it's not bulky and it's cheap enough that if somebody steals my saddle bag (which has happened to me three or four times) I'm not too distraught. My commuter is a single-speed so I also carry Surly's Jethro Tule for adjusting the rear wheel.

On longer rides, you'll want even more. Like Drew Stephens, I'm a fan of the Crank Brothers Multi-17. You can do almost anything you're likely to need to do with this thing, albeit somewhat awkwardly in a few cases, but that's just the nature of multi-tools.

The above advice probably applies to a short, weekend tour as well. However, if you're going to be straying too far from civilization or going longer than a night or two, you may want to consider carrying something beyond a multi-tool. There's really no substitute for a chain whip when you're stuck in the middle of nowhere. Same goes for crank and bottom bracket tools.

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And after you have unscrewed your BB in the middle of nowhere, where do you get a replacement from? –  Vorac May 23 '13 at 11:35
    
@Vorac, obviously nowhere. But I personally find the ticking of a loose bottom bracket maddening. If you're on a tour that tool can be the difference between a week's worth of calm and peaceful riding and pure madness. –  jimirings May 23 '13 at 11:53
    
How could it get loose? It is designed to tighten itself as you pedal. –  Vorac May 23 '13 at 11:57
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Frankly, I don't understand the mechanical forces that cause them to come loose. But they certainly do, usually after getting wet in my experience. I also forgot to mention that every small town has a post office and internet is easier and easier to find. A bottom bracket is never more than a day or two away. Bike shops often are. –  jimirings May 23 '13 at 17:00
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One for every removeable or adjustable part on your bike (including tyres). With the exception of those you will be unable to repair/fix on the trail, such has hubs and bottom brackets.

They need not all be combined with one tool though (sometimes individual tools can be lighter)

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+1 What is this madness with BB tools and chain whips? Somebody will probably soon advice to carry a bike stand on longer trips! –  Vorac May 23 '13 at 11:31
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For most modern bikes you will need a tool with at least 4, 5 and 6 hex wrenches and a phillips screwdriver. Make sure that the various bolts on your bike can be tightened by the tool you got. You will need a separate tire lever (usually two of them) to deal with flat tires.

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No, for the tires you only need one Quik Stick. –  Daniel R Hicks May 22 '13 at 11:31
    
@DanielRHicks You may be able to do it with one but two does make it significantly easier. That is the reason those levers are often sold in sets of two or three. –  haziz May 23 '13 at 14:01
    
I can do it twice as fast with one Quik Stick as you can with a handful of levers. –  Daniel R Hicks May 23 '13 at 16:02
    
@Daniel R Hicks, bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/15982/… –  Vorac May 30 '13 at 14:30
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When choosing a tool consider:

  • Is this tool applicable for my bike? (If your bike doesn't have a 13mm nut then a 13mm wrench is pointless.)
  • Do I know how to use the tool and do the repair? (A spoke wrench is pointless if you don't know how to change spokes and tune the wheel to some degree. Also, you might need some supplies for repairs. So without spokes the spoke wrench becomes useless.)
  • Does it make sense to do the repair on the road? (It might be easier to take it to a shop or home for repairs.)
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The only reason I could think of for having a couple tools you don't need is to help out other cyclists when they have an issue. It's amazing the number of people who will ride around without any tools at all, or will ride around without some tool they need because they forgot about that one bolt or screw that uses that specific tool. You could probably bike for years without needing a screw driver, because the only thing you'd use it for would be your derailleur adjustments (why haven't they switched to allen keys?), but it doesn't take much extra space to carry around a couple extra things. –  Kibbee May 22 '13 at 15:45
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This falls under Risk Management. I commute to work without any tools. If something happens, like a flat tire I deal with it some other way (walk, bus, call some body, hitch a ride, ...). For my commutes every tool failed the "Does it make sense to do the repair on the road?". This is a very personal process. Somebody else might decide to take the whole workshop with you. Neither of us is wrong. –  Claus May 22 '13 at 15:52
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What I carry:

  • 5 mm hex wrench - used for most bolts on most bikes I have seen (only common exception is the seatpost)
  • a phillips and a standard screwdriver - for adjusting both derailers and both brakes
  • spoke tool
  • patch kit
  • one spare tube, in case of a really bad puncture
  • a pump and a couple of tire levers, obviously
  • a piece of wire, some patches for myself and a tick remover

Of those only the first two are actually contained in a multitool. Consequently, my advice is not to carry such a bundle of unused and heavy pieces of steel. Get individual tool and carry only what you need.

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