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I have very little living/working space of my own and so, in order to keep my personal bike in working order, I need to be able to transport "bike mechanic stuff" (e.g. tools, screws, cables, inner tubes, etc.) in an efficient, safe way to places where I can work on my bike and have access to bigger things I can't own (e.g. repair/truing stands). Additionally, I need to be able to have these assorted things well-organized and easy to move without a lot of packing/unpacking: I've had stuff stolen from me while using communal workspaces which were busy because I either had stuff spread out so far that it wasn't quite within my "personal bubble" of control or I had to leave my space looking for something and, when I came back, something important was missing. Finally, even without the threat of theft, I nearly always lose at least one washer/screw/annoyingly-small thing when working on my bike.

Since I assume I'm not the only person in the world who has this sort of situation, are there any sort of guidelines on ways to quickly and efficiently store/transport bike repair/maintenance gear on one's person (e.g. in a backpack)?-- I haven't got a car, so I need to be able to easily carry it myself.


I write "stolen" rather than "accidentally taken from me" after I shouted: "Hey, did anyone take a thingamabob from this location a few minutes ago?" and no one answered: Even if you accidentally took something, if you don't fess up, you're no better than someone who took it deliberately without intending on returning it.

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    Short notes: Mark your tools with paint. Keep them close and don't loan them. If someone has a need, make them bring the thing over to you. I intend setting up a bike trailer for similar purposes. I use a 3 drawer toolbox and a couple of 20L buckets for tools, but don't carry many larger spares. Muffin trays and magnets are great for small parts. – Criggie Apr 24 '16 at 1:27
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    How much stuff do you need to do want to do with your kit? The requirements for a race mechanic vs someone who needs to just replace tires and tubes will be a bit different. – Batman Apr 24 '16 at 21:19
  • @Batman: I thought I had specified an upper bound for size as well as the intended use? Should I reformulate the question? – errantlinguist Apr 25 '16 at 7:33
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    @errantlinguist Not necessary. What he is asking is for more detail about how in depth your mechanical needs go. I assume from your description that you need essentially a race mechanic's kit. However, the same thing means different things to different people. – zenbike Apr 26 '16 at 0:16
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    Yeah. It would be good if you made a list of tasks you need to do. For example, do you need to have tools to replace a BB? Build a wheel? etc. – Batman Apr 29 '16 at 3:25
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I'd be very tempted to make a tool roll. You'll need access to a sewing machine that can handle 2-3 layers of canvas, but even most home machines will do that if you're careful (and buy a canvas needle!)

You see them mostly today with sets of ring spanners, made of cheap plastic. But in the older days people would generally make them out of canvas, often double layer with oilskin/oiled cotton on the inner layer (before chrome plating meant most tools don't rust very easily).

enter image description here

The extra material at the top of this pic lets you fold the "flap" down to stop tools falling out when it's packed up.

A reasonable sized roll will also let you lay out parts if you need somewhere less dirty than the floor. And it can be roughly rolled up with tools and parts loose inside it if you want to carry it a short distance, or just to make it less inviting to thieves.

Make the first one any old how, because there's a bit of a learning curve in what works for you.


As a secondary thing, I carve my name into tools with an engraver. Those are fairly widely available these days, or most key cutting places will have one. My decent/valuable tools I keep with me at all times, or just don't take to places where I'm worried about losing them.

I also still lose tools at events like this, almost always by lending them to someone who doesn't return them (often innocently, by giving a tool to someone else and saying "it's Mσᶎ's, give it to him when you're finished with it"... and after a few people have passed the tool on it's impossible to trace). I'm in a financial position where I can afford to hit bargain bins for cheap tools, because the ones that go missing are usually adjustable spanners, 15mm or 10mm ring spanners, and 5/6mm allen keys. All of which turn up in bargain bins for under $5. So every 4-10 trips to community events I spend $50 on new cheap tools. Often tools I wouldn't personally use if I had a choice :)

enter image description here

I'm thinking of buying 10 or more of the "S shaped" double ended 5mm/6mm allen keys because I expect I could get usable ones for about $2 each, and I'm willing to spend that to not have to worry about losing them. I expect that I could probably sell them rather than lending them at that price.

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    If you need Allen keys, just remember these four letters: "IKEA": Deal with that company long enough and you'll have a lifetime supply of Allen keys entirely for free. Sometimes you don't even need to buy anything from them.. – errantlinguist May 3 '16 at 20:08
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    I knew someone who painted their tools in an unusual colour. When someone was passed on a tool of them it was immediately clear where it came from. It is more likely that an anonymous item gets carried away than one that is clearly recogniseable as another person's. – gschenk Dec 23 '16 at 21:18
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    @SuspendedUser bike club/bike co-op stuff quite deliberately doesn't work like that. It's worth noting that I don't often lose tools, just often enough to be annoying. And because we are open to the public (again, by design/necessity), we get randoms come in, fix their bike, then disappear. That's kinda the point of the exercise. But those people could easily swipe a useful tool or two if they wanted to. – Móż Dec 23 '16 at 21:21
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    @gschenk the paint (and to a lesser extent engraving) only really works if the person brings the tool back and tries to claim that it's theirs. "but it's painted orange and blue". Engraving has the benefit that it's harder to remove and more people can read "Dave Smith" than know that Green/purple/black means "Dave Smith". – Móż Dec 23 '16 at 21:23
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    @moz, no that is not how it works. It is not meant as a proof, it is a psychological effect. Most people will not steal, ie take something from someone they know as a person. The passing on lend tools is much more likely. When they realise: "There's someone who's tools are all bright orange; I've got an orange tool here; that must be theirs." they are much more likely to remember returning it. This does not always work with the engraving as long as they don't know Dave Smith, and notice the engraving. – gschenk Dec 23 '16 at 21:32
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+200

I can't imagine a backpack being a good place for tools in the long run. The lack of structure would drive me bonkers- it'd be so easy to keep losing those little bits in all the cloth folds and seams. If you wanted to go this route, I'd look into bags aimed at photographers since they come with lots of little, structured pockets. This is probably the most expensive route too since it's a "specialty" product.

enter image description here

I have a little, red toolbox with sliding drawers. Each drawer has a felt liner so things don't get scratched or make loud noises. If I needed to carry it around everywhere, I'd take a pair of scissors and cut two, small slits in the liner for each tool. I'd then feed a loop of velcro through the slit so each tool could be fastened down. This would keep everything where you left it and it'd keep some of the more precision machined tools from getting dinged up. I'd forego carrying around things like hammers and screw drivers since everyone has them and they weigh a lot more than bike-specific tools.

Since you need small and light, I recommend a plastic fishing tackle box available at all the big box stores. Often the plastic dividers can be moved around to fit whatever you need.

enter image description here

Then you could walk to the craft aisle, pick out a roll of felt and a box of velcro tie downs, glue it all in place and be ready to roll!

I have a small front rack that'd fit that tackle box pictured, and you could easily fit it on a decent sized rear rack. If you leave your 22oz hammer at home, this setup would be within the weight range of very affordably priced bike racks.

My secret weapon in not losing small things like washers is a bag of a million baggies:

baggies

I put all the loose ends in them, then with a big sharpie I put an easy label on it so I know where the washer went. It's also nice because it makes really tiny, flimsy bits (like ferrules or washers or bearings) easy to move around and it cuts down on grease and grime contamination.

Finally,every tool I own has a thin stripe of safety orange duck tape on it. It makes it easy to identify as my own when I'm in shared work spaces. When I was doing more construction, we'd use a paint marker and write our names on our tools and then put clear tape or some epoxy over it to make it permanent. I try to make my things so visibly mine people feel unsafe stealing it.

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    I wish I could upvote this 100x just for the baggies comment. – errantlinguist May 3 '16 at 20:08
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    Present for you! Enjoy! – Criggie Dec 30 '16 at 5:34
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There are a number of options, and this partly depends on how thorough a kit you need to carry with you. (i.e everything for every job, or a typical mechanic's pit kit)

The best traveling tool kit I've found is made by B&W International.

enter image description here

Their Bike Buddy case is sold either with or without tools included, and is a carry-on friendly, rolling hard case, with a pretty decent pit kit included in the "with tools" version.

They also have a number of sizes of empty tool cases including a backpack version.

Edit: I happened to see their empty tool case from the kit above at Fry's this weekend:

Tools are made by Park Tool and Gedore, and there is more than enough space left in e case to add spare consumables like zip ties, misc. nuts & bolts, cable kits, etc...

I've used this kit as a race mechanic professionally.

If you want the ultimate kit, I'd swap out a fair number of the included tools with the lightweight versions made by Abbey Tool Works. Not needed for the everyday mechanic, but a great option for those needing to minimize their carry on weight.

Park Tool also offers a Professional Travel and Event Kit which might be a good option.

enter image description here

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    Much more professional than my answer! Very cool tool boxes. – BEVR1337 Apr 23 '16 at 19:18
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    That looks like very good stuff, but £900 is more than the cost of my bike and all my tools put together; I can't find the prices for the empty cases, but I'm scared to imagine them! – errantlinguist Apr 23 '16 at 19:33
  • There are several case sizes. Prices range from $140 to $300, depending on size. There are definitely cheaper options, but none better that I've found. :) – zenbike Apr 25 '16 at 3:45
  • I have seen (online) similar cases, sold in department stores, for about 40EUR. Of course the quality would be bad, but how often do we remove the cogs or BB or replace the break cable housing? – Vorac Apr 25 '16 at 13:55
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For the fiddly stuff (screws, cable ends) one of those could work. They are not very durable, but are extremely inexpensive (I got an identical box for under 1EUR). Look in the electronics (soldering equipment, wires, inexpensive speakers, PCB audio amplifiers) kind of stores.

enter image description here

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To further what Zenbike touched on, park tool makes a harness that turns several of their tool boxes into back packs. They work with the BX-1/2 and their travel and event kits.

Tool rolls could be easilt attached with some creativity and a couple carbiners as well.

As far as losing things, do you own a magnetic work tray? I find them extremely handy, i use them working on my car as well.

enter image description here

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In my work rehabbing bikes I like to use most of my own tools. I have a tool roll similar to what Moz suggests, only a bit fancier. (I found it on a motorcycle tool site.) I carry that and some larger tools and parts in a tool caddy similar to this:

enter image description here

If I needed to carry more tools or wanted them a bit more secure I'd probably graduate to a caddy like this:

enter image description here

I'll add that the best approach here is probably to not try for the "perfect" setup from the start, but rather to let it "evolve" as you come to understand your needs better. In my case I had the tool roll first, having gotten it to carry my basic kit along on bike tours (in my trucked luggage). When I started with the rehab work it was natural to bring it to the shop, and I added a few tools I found I needed. Then I got the caddy when I needed to carry some lubes, parts, and larger tools.

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Get or make a series of tool rolls, as shown in Mσᶎ's answer, enough for your tools, and (one) more that holds your spare parts.
When working in the same place often or for a longer period you can make holes or loops in/on the corners and have hooks on the wall of the work space. Even in your small workspace at home you could put up one or more of the rolls to have what you can use near at hand and out of the way.
If you do not have access to a good heavy duty sewing machine, consider getting a speedy stitcher sewing awl. (Link to picture)
Canvas you can get from awning making companies or from awings taken down because of being damaged or discoloured.
Keep your rolls together in a case. A rolling suitcase would work if you have to walk fair distances, a tool kit case may work for you. It may be best if the case is lockable.

Mark all your tools as yours, a bit of coloured tape or a dash of paint will already show others that the tools are yours and not 'general use' or their own. Keep track of your things while working as much as you can. The earlier you start looking for a tool, the more likely it shows up when it is at someone elses workspace.

A square of canvas as a work ground, like a picnic blanket for your things, will work wherever you need to work. It will be collecting the tiny parts when they fall on a dirty floor or worse when working outside and on a grassy patch. It can also work to cover your tools and parts when having to walk away from your work.

In the Netherlands we use a sawn mitten like teddy cloth item to wash ourselves, which is cheap and readily available. They are great to hold items from being scratched. And they will also hold things like cables contained in a smallish space without damaging the cables.

Ziplock bags, in different sizes, are also a great resource.

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