What tools should I take cycle touring? It’s a common pre tour quandary. Taking a tool for every possible mechanical failure just isn’t practical but simply slinging a multi-tool and pump in your pannier is asking for trouble!
There’s more exciting things to consider during your pre-tour preparation than bicycle repair and maintenance but it’s worth giving this subject some consideration. The right tool kit will be compact, light and most importantly will give you peace of mind that you’re equipped to keep your bike in good mechanical order and ready for a roadside patch-up.
What are the most common bicycle touring breakdowns?
A day cyclist’s tool kit will mainly be geared towards changing an inner tube following a puncture. Punctures are the most likely breakdown for both road cyclist and touring cyclist alike. As well as spare inner tubes and maybe a puncture repair kit, the day cyclist should carry a basic multi tool to cover all bases, tightening, adjusting etc. Otherwise, a spare chain link and link removal tool completes a day riders kit.
Touring bicycles are hardier by design and with good reason. The average tourer will be rode in all weather, day after day. Front and rear racks loaded with luggage add extra strain to every component but these bikes are designed to carry real loads continuously and they do so very well. With all this use and stress, things will occasionally break and need repairing. Knowing the likelihood of possible breakdowns will help you prepare for the repair and prioritise your tool choices.
Easily the no.1 cause to get your tools out! Obviously the best course of action is prevention, buy the best tyre you can afford. Should you get a puncture and you’re not using quick release wheel skewers you’ll need the correct tool for removing the wheel. I use security skewers and keep the tool on a carabiner in my handlebar bag. If you use standard wheel nuts and carry a multi tool, check to see if it has the correct size socket or spanner head. If not, you’ll need to carry a single spanner or small adjustable spanner to suit.
Once your wheel’s off you’ll need a set of 3 tyre levers. I prefer the plastic type, they weigh very little and clip together for compact storage. I recommend that you carry at least two new inner tubes. You’ll need to decide at the time whether to repair or replace the tube. It’s often quicker to swap tubes and preferred if you’re on the side of a busy road. If the puncture is repairable and you have the time to patch your inner tube, do so, you’ll then still have your full complement of new tubes in reserve and you may need them. I once punctured three inner tubes within forty miles. Remember to check what valves are needed for your wheels, buy the correct replacement tubes and carry a pump that corresponds.
tip – save a used inner tube, cut out and dispose of the valve, you can use it to patch worn tyre tread or side wall to get you to the next bike shop to replace the tyre.
Snapped spokes are the next most common breakdown. It may be a hard drop from a kerb or a concealed pothole that finishes a spoke off but spokes generally just wear out. As a wheel turns the tension on each spoke changes. Spokes in a correctly balanced wheel will wear at the same rate so if one breaks this usually means that soon there will be more to follow. Wheels for touring bicycles generally have more spokes for strength to cope with the additional luggage weight.
The most awkward spoke to replace is one on the rear wheels drive side and these are the most likely to snap. Should one or two spokes break whilst riding and you’re not confident in repairing them at the roadside, you can zip-tie (cable tie) them to the next complete spoke so you can ride on to the next bike shop or camp spot. The wheel may have a bit of wobble and rim brakes may have to be slackened off but at least you can travel on.
To repair a broken spoke on the rear drive side (worst case scenario) you’ll need the tools (as above) to remove the wheel. In addition you’ll need a chain whip to hold the cassette and the correct cassette removal tool with wrench.
This job is further complicated if you have disc brakes. You may need a 12 point star shaped driver to remove the disc (possibly found on your multi-tool). Some shimano discs have a splined fitting system with a locking ring, similar to a cassette lockring, some need a specific lockring tool which you’ll need to carry.
After threading your replacement spoke through the hub flange, copy the lacing pattern of the existing spokes. You’ll then need a flat head screwdriver to tighten the nipple once you’ve passed the new spoke through the nipple and rim. Tighten the spoke with a spoke key and true the wheel as best you can. If you use rim tape rather than a stretchable band, it will likely need replacing.
As you can see for this job alone there’s a lot of specific tools that will need carrying for your entire tour. Unless my tour is taking me miles away from civilisation I prefer to take a risk and not carry the majority of tools needed for this job. Instead I make sure that my wheels are in the best shape they can be before I set off and …
… carry FibreFix flexible replacement spokes. This replacement spoke is a flexible cord that loops through the empty spoke hole in your hub and is then tensioned to bring your wheel back into true. This is a massive time saver that saves you stripping your wheel to bits and carrying a load of heavy tools that only have one job. The FibreFix spoke allows you to ride on and find the next workshop that has the tools to carry out this work for you.
Remember to carry replacement spokes for your wheels though, they weigh next to nothing and may save you a wait if the bike shop hasn’t got your spoke in stock. My Surly Long Haul trucker has a spare spoke holder on the frame, if your bike hasn’t you can fit three spokes in a drinking straw, tape the ends and stash it in a frame tube, straight handlebar or cable tie it directly onto the bike frame somewhere. I also carry a spoke key, again it’s a small tool that weighs next to nothing and is an essential item to have even if it’s not you that will be using it.
Broken Derailleur and Brake Cables
You may want to carry two cable kits with you. You’ll need one for brakes and one for your derailleur. Buy both long enough to reach rear derailleur and brake. Remember that brake and gear cable housings are different and should be used only for their intended use. The tools you’ll need for this job is a 5mm allen key and a cable cutter. If you’re carrying a multi-tool a cable cutter and allen key set may be found on your multi-tool along with pliers. To finish this job off you’ll need to crimp cable ends on using the pliers. All of these tools are already in your itinerary so the only decision to be made is whether you plan to change cables yourself or leave this job to the next bicycle shop on route. If your rear brake cable snaps you can ride on with just your front brake. If you loose use of your rear derailleur would it be the end of the world? As with most of these decisions it depends where you’re touring and if there’s a bike shop on route.
Repairing a Broken Chain
For this job you will need a spare chain pin, single chain link or a small length of chain (all need to correspond with your chain). You’ll need either a dedicated chain tool or a multi-tool that has one. If you repair using a chain link pin, you’ll need to use your side/wire cutters to remove the excess length.
I’d also recommend carrying a set of latex gloves, you can remove these after the repair which will save transferring oily muck over your bike and kit. You only need to carry one or two sets as you can re-stock on the road from petrol stations and garages.
Tightening, adjusting and maintaining
Derailleurs and brakes will occasionally need tweaking, seat posts tightening and you may need to strip your bike to pack it for transporting. These tasks generally only need allen keys and a screwdriver which you’ll have on a multi-tool if you choose to carry one.
Maintaining your bike regularly whilst on tour is the best prevention for roadside repair. It is also a good way to spot excessive wear, familiarise yourself with your bikes components and generally be in-tune with your bicycle.
If I have time and the weather’s on my side I’ll give my bike the ‘once-over’ at the end of each days riding. I carry a toothbrush which I use to brush the loose muck from my chain. I also have a few lint-free rags, I use one for the dirtiest jobs like removing excess oil from my chain, another for wiping road muck from derailleurs and other components and a clean rag for a final wipe down. Keep these in separate sandwich bags. I’ve only ever carried one oil and that’s chain lube, general grease can be begged and borrowed along the way. Select the right lube for the time of year, lighter for summertime / dry tours and the thicker stuff through wet months.
‘Get out of jail’ items
Gaffer tape will bandage a variety of different repair needs. Rather than cart around a whole roll, cut off a bit of broom stick and wrap a few metres of tape around it.
Zip ties / cable ties can be used to secure your load or hold a splint in place to strengthen a broken rack arm. A whole host of uses.
Jubilee / hose clips are great for attaching addition bottle/fuel cages and general kit to your bike frame. I’ve even heard of a rider temporarily repairing a snapped frame to get them back to civilisation where it could be welded.
Multi-tool or not?
I’ve mixed feelings about trying to condense some of these tools in to the all encompassing multi-tool. I’ve used multi tools that have made the most straightforward of jobs cumbersome and others that have been a joy to use but haven’t included all the tightening and adjusting tools that I need. Topeaks Alien 2 looks good, it consists of 26 tools but cleverly splits in two so should be much easier to handle.
I prefer to select the tools that I like to use and store them in a tool roll. There are good basic tool kits available but these usually are a tad generic, you’ll still need to take additional tools that suit your set up.
Touring Tool and Spare Parts List
- 2 x inner tubes
- Inner tube patch repair kit
- Locking wheel skewer key
- Small adjustable spanner
- 3 linking tyre levers (plastic)
- Fibrefix temporary spoke replacement
- 3 x replacement spokes for your wheels
- Spoke Key
- Small length of chain
- Chain breaker tool
- Pliers with side cutting jaws
- Interchangeable stubby screwdriver with pozi & flathead bits
- 1.5/2/2.5/3/4/5/6 mm hex / allen keys
- Rear derailleur and rear brake cables
- latex gloves
- lint-free rags & bags to store them
- few metres of gaffer tape on a stick
- medium sized cable ties
- two jubilee clips that are big enough to comfortably fit around my frame diameter
- chain lube