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Five essential tools you need to take bicycle touring

Alia Parker's picture
Cycle Touring. Cycle Traveller

Unless you're going on a supported bike tour with a SAG wagon to come to your rescue, you should always carry a few essential tools to be able to fix common mechanical problems. Just as importantly, you need to know how to use them.

Fixing a bike – at least so it is ridable – is not as hard as it may seem. Many city councils and bike shops offer free bicycle maintenance courses that will teach you how to change a flat tyre and look after your chain and gears. There are also a million videos on YouTube and you can find some in our Fix It section.

There are many tools you can take with you on your bike trip, but most of the time it won't be necessary to take an entire workshop with you. The following five tools are all fairly small and reasonably light weight and will get you out of the majority of binds you may find yourself in.

Tyre Levers

A flat tyre is by far the most common problem you will encounter while cycle touring. There are ways you can minimise flats and you can read about that in Four things that help prevent flat bicycle tyres. But ultimately, anyone who puts in enough kilometres on the bike will get a flat eventually. You'll need tyre levers to get your tyre off to change your tube. Tyre levers normally come in sets of two or three and weigh next to nothing because they are made of plastic so as not to damage the tyre and tube (avoid using metal objects like screwdrivers unless you are absolutely desperate).

The five essential tools you need to take bicycle touring. Cycle TravellerMulti tool

I seem to use my multi tool for something every week – I truly would be lost without one. A good multi tool will allow you to pretty much pull your bike apart and put it back together again, which is pretty cool for something that will fit in the palm of your hand. At the very least, your multi tool should have a range of allen keys – especially a 5mm and 4mm – and a philips head screwdriver. You can read a review of the Topeak Alien II multi tool here, which pretty much has everything you can possibly put in a multi tool. You never know what may happen out on the road and preparing yourself by keeping a good multi tool on hand could mean the difference between fixing your bike yourself or waiting hours for someone to come and find you.

Spoke wrench

It's very common for the tension in bicycle spokes to change when a bicycle is ridden over long long distances. You'll know when this happens because the wheel will look like it wobbles slightly when you ride (assuming you haven't hit something and bent your wheel's rim). Sometimes this may cause the wheel to rub on your V-brakes or Cantilever brakes. It may also cause a spoke to break, which is then a catalyst for more broken spokes and ultimately, an unridable bike. Fixing a wobbly wheel is known as 'truing', that is, bringing it back into it's 'true' alignment. Getting this perfect is a bit of an art,  but fixing a wobbly wheel so that it's ridable isn't difficult and if you're out on a big bike adventure in remote areas, I recommend you learn the basics of how to do it. You can see how a spoke wrench and a bit of knowledge saved these three blokes from being stranded in Cape York in A ride to leave you spokeless. Spoke wrenches are small and don't weigh much. The come in different spoke sizes, so make sure to buy the right size for your bike.

Chain breaker

A broken chain is another common problem for cycle travellers. To take a chain off your bike or remove links and replace them with new ones, you'll need a chain breaker to push out the pins in the chain (make sure you're carrying spare links too!). Your chain may have quick links which allow you to take your chain off and put on an entire new one on without a chain breaker, but you'll still need the chain breaker to remove any excess links on a new chain. A chain breaker can also be used to loosen stiff links in a chain. Some multi tools have chain breakers on them, but it is often hard to get good leverage on them, especially if the chain is old. A slightly larger and easier to use chain breaker won't weight much.

Wrench

I always carry a small wrench to remove my pedals when boxing and unpacking bikes at airports or inter-city train stations, however, I always find I need it for other random fixes too. Often it's for adjusting accessories such as wracks or handlebar bags or fitting new screws if old ones have broken or fallen out (completely possible if the bike has been copping regular abuse on long corrugated rattly dirt roads). Often the wrench is just to hold the nut in place. You can either take a small adjustable wrench or buy individual lightweight sizes. Check which sizes your bike will need. Some multi-tools will have small wrenches on them.

Images clockwise from top: 1. Tyre levers. 2. Chain breaker. 3. Wrench. 4. Spoke wrench. 5. Multi tool.

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