A Proper (e?)Bike Tool Kit

You need to carry tools as a matter of routine. Especially if you ride daily for transportation or commuting. But what do you really *need*?

This is the companion post to “(e)Bike Flat Prevention“. In that post, I talked about how best to prevent the inevitable: Flat tires. Well, since they are inevitable you had better be able to fix one when your luck runs out. Part of that process is having the right tools for typical roadside jobs.

As I mentioned in the initial post on this subject, I ride pretty much every day by choice. Day in, day out. If it is raining I’m riding. Same for when the sun is blazing. I’ve been doing it for many years and over time I have experienced quite a lot in terms of pratfalls, mishaps, bad decisions and just plain rotten luck. One of the benefits of experience has led me to make specific choices with regard to the tools I bring along with me on the road. I see some folks bringing along the kitchen sink, including bandages, spare electrical wire and diagnostic equipment… All kinds of crap. I’ve been there myself, but if something hasn’t been used in my kit in awhile, it gets left at home eventually. The reverse goes for something that totally saved my butt. Its got a spot in the kit for life.

So… what does the kit look like? I’ll use the BIG one on my Surly Big Fat Dummy. It is larger than some of my kits, but not by much. I’ll go over the whys and wherefores of every item and you can decide if whatever it is I am including is something you want to leave off.

Lets See All The Stuff

Whats Missing?

Before I go into all the details, lets talk about what you cannot see.

The Electric Pump

I wrote up a post not too long ago on an emergency electric bike pump that uses the ebike’s battery so it can remain lightweight. That pump is on the It Saved My Ass list so its always included. As you can see in the linked article, I keep it in a cloth pouch and generally it sits at the bottom of one of my panniers.

The Spare Tube

I carry one of these whether I am running tubeless or not. Its the last line of defense between me and trying to carry the bike home. The spare tube on my Surly is located in the ‘basement’ deck at the back, in a ziploc bag. Where it will hopefully remain forever.

One item I am not discussing in this post is seen front-left in the basement: a weatherproof, adjustable battery charger as discussed in this article devoted to showing you how to make one

The Bag Holding All This Crap

Its a straightforward, cheap canvas MOLLE pouch purchased from Amazon. You can see it in the basement in the pic above, held down by a velcro strap and taking up most of the center section.

Yes it is a pretty big bag, but its also a big bike and fits perfectly in the basement rack.

The Chair

Yes thats right. A freaking chair. This is my newest addition and it got included after I had to stand one too many times in a sun-baked parking lot waiting for curbside pickup. A simple folding 3-corner stool, it can be used either as a seat at the (skateboard) table, or anywhere around the bike while I work. Much better than squatting on the ground or kneeling.

The chair tucks in under the side of the deck using the net I’m already using to hold stuff down on top.

This is a luxury that, realistically, is only possible with a larger longtail bike, or at the least one with a rack you can lash a chair to.

A luxury made possible by an 8-ft long cargo bike with a 40″ deck out back.

  1. Tubeless Tire Repair Kit (from Lezyne)
    I use FlatOut as a tubeless sealant and it should seal holes up to 1/2″ (I already have seen it do its job up to about 1/4″). But stuff happens, and a tire plug kit like this (same idea as the ones sold for car tires) is what you use to seal up a tear in your tire that your sealant doesn’t want to plug, or you just feel better about repairing – these plugs are a permanent fix. A tire plug is not going to make up for torn tire casing cords. In all but extreme cases you can use one of these and forget about the damage the hole made to your tire.
  2. Tube Patch Kit (home assembled)
    I make these up myself. You can buy them cheap, but with all the riding I do, it makes more sense for me to buy a pack of 100 patches and stuff about a dozen of them, a snip of flexible sandpaper and an XL tube of cold vulcanizing sauce into an empty prescription bottle. That bottle has an adult-proof cap and a hard shell superior to the plastic boxes the full kits come with.
    Note that generally you would use this kit only if you are running tubes. I keep it along just in case I meet a fellow rider who has flatted on the road, or the off chance I can make use of it myself

  3. The Ridiculous Tire Lever (from a set of 3)
    This is a tool reserved only for when I am desperate. It is in fact meant for a motorcycle and it is a solid piece of steel. A tool like this can easily damage a bicycle rim or tear open an inner tube so while its included in the kit, its there as a last resort only.
  4. Sturdy, Safer Tire Levers
    I have tried many different tire levers. The Park TL-6.2 steel core tire levers I use these days seem to be the sweet spot between sturdiness and usability, and have never bent or broken on me. Before I switched to these I ran Pedro’s tire levers, which are cheap and smooth enough they pretty much never pinch a tube. But on really stout tire/rim combinations, they like to break, so its always smart to carry more of them than you need, and expect to keep buying them to replace broken ones.

    Before I used those levers, I used the Portland Design Works 3Wrencho. I had three and bent two of them. Also the plastic on the lever side likes to tear away (something the Park levers don’t do).

    Since we are ticking off the also-rans, these Schwalbe levers were pretty good, and don’t take up much space. But they are definitely breakable and the edges on the lever can tear into a tube.

  5. 6″ Needlenose Pliers
    These are your basic, garden variety small-ish needlenose pliers. I have them listed as going in the tool bag, but these are actually in another secure location where I can grab them fast. Why? Because when your tire is hissing air, you may or may not be able to remove the foreign object with your fingers. It could be a sharp bit of steel or jagged glass. Pliers will always be a better choice than bare fingers for grabbing that. Since you have to remove larger foreign objects so the tire sealant can do its job… keep pliers handy. You can jump off the bike, pull out a nail, jump back on again and keep riding like nothing happened.
  6. Long T25 Wrench
    Most folks will have no use for this. But, I use Magura brakes. Magura has decided NOT to honor the M6 hex bolt standard used by the entire rest of the industry, and instead uses a Torx T25 for all their fittings. So I have to keep one with me. I keep the green plastic store card on it so its easier to find in the bag.
  7. Pocket Knife
    Bit of string. Handkerchief. Some hard candy. Pocket knife. Gun. Stuff a guy needs on general principles. Tossed onto the pile. No purchase link because of course you already have several.
  8. Chain Pliers
    Nowadays, chains use master links and don’t need chainbreakers (usually). Sure you can use a bit of your shoe string to separate a master link, and there are other tricks to reassemble one… but the right tool for the job weighs almost nothing and takes very little space. The pliers in the picture above are made by Park Tool. But these cheapo chain pliers work just as well at half the cost. I have a few of both. Make sure you buy a pair that can both separate and assemble (some just do one or the other).
  9. Battery Charger Adjustor (#0 phillips screwdriver)
    Since I carry along a portable, adjustable, weatherproof charger on this bike, A little screwdriver is needed to adjust the pots that govern target voltage and current (amps). Even though the one in my kit is inexpensive, an electrician’s insulated screwdriver like this is overkill. You can find something much smaller, like an eyeglass repair kit screwdriver.
  10. Metric Hex Wrenches
    Even though, on a bicycle, you only need about four sizes, I carry the whole set. For this XL bicycle with an XL toolkit, I am using the extra long ball-end wrenches. But for most of my bikes I use the short length wrench set. This is easily the heaviest tool in the kit, but its also the most useful. I like the USA-made Bondhus wrenches because they are a) cheap and b) made of strong tool steel. They will not round off.
  11. Chainbreaker (aka “chain rivet removal tool”)
    With master links now being in common use, a chainbreaker (and the black art of its use) is no longer essential on the side of the road. However, this tool can be the only one capable of fixing chain issues that decide if you are riding or walking. This mini version by Park is a bit more expensive than others, but it is very small – just large enough to use effectively. And it has something a lot of chainbreakers don’t: a second ‘shelf’ that the chosen few know how to use to unfreeze a link.

  12. Sized, Spare Chain (with fresh, reusable master links in the bag)
    This is the third and largest of the chain-related tools in this kit. A whole freaking chain! With the number of links needed to serve as a proper emergency substitute. In the case of this 11-speed Surly longtail bike, that means I have to use two chains sectioned together to hold roughly 210 links. If I am using the factory-stock 11-speed drivetrain, that means for normal daily riding I run two 11-speed ebike chains. Not cheap at almost $100 for the pair (thats the COVID shortage price. You should bargain-hunt when you don’t need them. I paid about $28 each for mine).

    Why bring a chain? Because we are using a mid drive for power-assist. Mid drives can eat chains. So just as you carry a spare tube and a patch kit… the smart mid drive rider brings along a spare chain. Goes with the territory.

    Since this is an emergency just-get-me-home chain, I use two KMC X11 chains, which only cost about half of the ‘e’ chain.
  13. 4″ and 6″ Adjustable Wrenches
    You’ll want to look at whether or not you need an adjustable wrench at all on your bike. In my case I do have some hex bolts with nuts. Realistically I can get away with just the 4″ wrench and as such I will probably get rid of the 6″ even though it is not especially large.
  14. Brake Blocks
    These are a good practice to use when pulling off a wheel if you have hydraulic brakes. Depressing the lever when the wheel is off the bike extends the pistons way further than they were meant to go, and that can cause the caliper to leak fluid… onto the pads. Thats a disaster that can even mean replacing the brake caliper. You can also use a popsicle stick, a bit of twig off of a nearby tree or a key from your keychain. But the Magura brakes I buy come with these brake blocks for free so I carry a pair along.

    The fact that these stupid things cost almost $10 each to actually buy is ridiculous. I have a stack of them from owning about 6 sets of brakes so that means I could sell them all on Fleabay for over $200?
  15. Fat Tire Hand Pump
    Now that I have the emergency portable electric pump, this one is a backup. But lordy… trying to use a hand pump to re-inflate a flat fat tire is a nightmare! But this unique Lezyne Micro Drive XL portable pump is a modern miracle. It will turn 400-500 pumps into … well, 200. Thats still awful until you sit down roadside and try and pump up a fat tire with 500 strokes of a normal portable pump. Then… only 200 is freaking great.

    Note you can also use 20g or 25g co2 cartridges – you’ll still need more than one cartridge of either of these expensive XL sizes. I have both. But since I have gone to using the portable electric pump, I have taken the single-use co2 inflators and cartridge piles out of service.
  16. Padding
    All of this junk in the bag does two things: a) it does not fill up the bag and b) it rattles around as I roll over things. So I stuff in some padding to help keep things from rattling. this yellow closed cell padding is extra left over from when I lined my Great Big Bags. It serves a second use: A knee pad for when I am down on the ground. Another excellent candidate for this sort of padding is a sized slice of Thermarest Classic padding.
  17. A Nice Soft Towel
    I roll up my adjustable and hex wrenches, plus the Ridiculous tire lever in the towel. Between the padding and the towel, there’s no rattling in the bag when the bike is going over bumps. Plus, a towel will always come in handy somewhere.

A Word On Tool Use

I try NOT to use tools that are half sized for easy packability, or otherwise downsized somehow (particularly multi-tools). When I work on my bike at home in my garage, I try and always use the tools in this bag. The idea is, if I am used to them – and they are as close to full size as is reasonably possible – then I am not handicapped when sitting on the side of the road, trying to do a job with tools that are half-assed.

Epilogue

So… thats it. All of the tools I carry on the bike. And yes thats plenty. But bear in mind this is a big bike and I am counting things in like pumps and chairs and such that take up a fair bit of space, and ordinarily aren’t looked at when it comes to tool kit inventory. I have plenty of bikes where all of the tools fit into a pouch behind the seat, and a frame pump is attached to a water bottle mount. What you see here is the most complete, more better version that, if you have the capacity, should solve all of your typical problems.

oh, and don’t forget to bring along your phone and at least a debit card 🙂

Author: m@Robertson

I'm responsible for the day-to-day operations at my place of business: Leland-West Insurance Brokers, Inc. We do classic and exotic car insurance all across these United States. I'm also an avid auto enthusiast, a born again cyclist (i.e. an ebiker) and participate in medium and long range CMP and NRA sanctioned rifle competitions.

4 thoughts on “A Proper (e?)Bike Tool Kit”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s