Short Break Touring: What Tools Do I Need?
If you’re planning a few days away on the bike, having a few bits and pieces to get you out of trouble if you do encounter any technical problems en-route will help make sure that a mid-ride mechanical will mean only a bit of a delay whilst you sort things out, rather than it being game over for your trip. If you’ve checked your bike over beforehand and made sure it’s all looking hunkydory, chances are you probably won’t experience any unexpected mechanical-related stops, but things may still crop up which mean that your bike does need some attention partway through your trip. In this blog we give some pointers on how to go about putting together a toolkit and spares for a short break away.
First things first: the pre-trip check
So what should you bring along to ensure that you can fix your bike if anything does go wrong? As with so many other things, the answer is, well, it depends - it depends on which repairs you’re willing to carry out at the road/trailside, and whether you'd rather carry less and assume a problem is 99% not going to happen rather than be more cautious and have all the kit you would need for most potential eventualities.
A good starting point for getting ready for a trip away with the bike is to give the bike a bit of a pre-ride check, preferably a few weeks before you plan to head off so that if there are any bits that need attention before you head out on your adventure you can get them sorted out well in time. Check for worn parts and, if necessary, replace them - ideally you want to have plenty of wear left in your tyres, brake pads, brake and gear cables and chain and other drivetrain components so that these consumable parts are less likely to give up the ghost during the trip itself.
Also, if you're thinking of tweaking anything to do with the riding position or trying out a new bag or other kit which fits to the bike, it's worth doing this a few days in advance and then giving the bike a bit of a ride with the new position/kit, to make sure everything is secure and works how you expect it to.
Whilst checking your bike for any worn components, you can also take the opportunity to get to know what tools you need for the various nuts and bolts on the bike - basically you can look at how all the different parts of the bike are attached and adjusted and check you have the right size hex key, screwdriver, spanner, torx bit driver or other tool for them. Some of the less obvious bolts to check include the bolt to attach drop bar brake levers/shifters to the handlebars (the bolt will probably be hidden under the lever hood or behind the lever somewhere and a multitool hex key might not be long enough to reach it) and, if you have mudguards, the nuts that attach mudguard stays to the mudguard blade (very few multitools include spanners/socket wrenches so you may need a separate spanner for this).
Tools and spares to tackle potential mid ride mechanicals
Once you’ve been over your bike and checked for and addressed anything that could be a problem while you’re away (such as a worn tyre or chain), the next step is putting together a toolkit with tools and spares to match the parts on your bike and the possible problems you might encounter in a few days’ riding (well, the ones you would be willing to tackle yourself anyway). Going through the different parts on the bike, we go through all the most likely things that might happen on a short cycle break and what you will need to deal with them.
Tools and Spares for Tyres
Even if you have the most puncture proof tyres, there is still a chance that something will get through them, meaning you’ll need to fix a flat whilst on your ride. A set of tyre levers, a pump and a spare inner tube are essential for dealing with any pesky punctures you get on your trip. If you don’t have quick release wheels you’ll also need a spanner for undoing the axle nuts. Some multitools (such as The Nutter Multitool made by American brand Full Windsor) incorporate a 15mm spanner for this purpose. A roll of spare rim tape can also be useful, as failed rim tape is sometimes the cause of a puncture - rim tape is something you could check as part of your pre-ride check, especially if you're changing the tyres anyway. Some riders may also want to bring a spare folding tyre with them, just in case you get any serious tyre damage midway through the ride - although equally lots of riders will risk not taking one (most tyre damage can be bodge-repaired with duct tape or similar).
You’ll also want a puncture repair kit just in case you get more punctures than you have spare tubes. Some riders carry both pre-glued patches (which are quicker and easier to use than non-glued patches) and a traditional puncture repair outfit (for those frustrating occasions when the pre-glued patches just won’t seem to stick to your inner tube). Also make sure that your pump has a gauge if you want more reassurance that you’re getting sufficient pressure in your tyre for it not to be susceptible to puncturing again (an alternative is a separate digital pressure gauge - there are some really lights ones out there now which are easy to take along with you).
Tools and Spares for Wheels
In terms of wheel repair, you might want to take along a spoke key/wrench which is the right size for the spoke nipples used on your wheel. A spoke key will enable you to re-tension spokes if your wheel does go out of true, for example if you hit a particularly nasty pothole (although it is quite easy to make things worse by adjusting spoke tension if you’re not quite sure what you’re doing).
If any spokes snap during your trip, as well as a spoke wrench and a replacement spoke you would potentially need additional tools for removing components such as the rear cassette or disc rotor (if applicable) from the wheel in order to get the broken spoken out of the wheel hub and to fit the new spoke through the hole in the wheel hub. This could require carrying a cassette lockring removal tool, disc rotor lockring removal tool (if the rotor is attached to the hub with a lockring rather than T25 torx bolts), chain whip tool and large spanner - quite a hefty stock of tools, and even then actually using them at the road or trail side isn't exactly going to be easy.
Instead, most riders choose not to take along these extra tools, because if a spoke does snap, you can usually improvise until you can reach a place to get help - loosening the brake for example to prevent it catching on the wheel with every rotation. And if the wheel gets really badly bent (so bad that it catches on the actual bike frame say - this does happen if it's been properly pringled), then it is probably beyond repair anyway.
Tools and Spares for Brakes
If you’ve checked your bike over beforehand and replaced any parts which are beginning to wear, it’s unlikely you’ll need to replace your brake pads during a short break away. It is possible that a cable could snap during your trip though (it's often hard to spot cable wear if it is occurring inside the lever unit or inside the cable outer, so it is easy to overlook potential issues of this sort whilst undertaking a pre-ride check). If one of your brake cables does snap during your trip you would need a spare cable inner and, ideally, something to cut off the excess cable once it is fitted.
When buying a spare cable you'll need to make sure you get the right type for your bars, as straight and drop handlebar brake levers use different cable types. In terms of cutting the cable, some Leatherman style multitools have cable cutters on them which may work okay to cut a bicycle brake or gear cable so if you're planning on carrying one of these with you that could be a good option, otherwise you may want to take along some dedicated cable cutters. Or else you could loop the excess cable and attach to the bike in such a way that the brake still works fine but there is less risk of the cable getting caught in any moving parts (particularly the wheels).
Other potential brake-related problems can probably be sorted out with a multi tool or allen key set. As long as you make sure that your toolkit has the right size hex keys and screwdrivers you might need for adjusting your brake pads, adjusting the cable and balancing the brake (cantilever brakes and V-brakes will probably have a tensioning screw or bolt on the brake arms) and fixing the brake to the bike frame itself, you should be all good to go.
If you have hydraulic disc brakes and your brake fails, a repair is likely to be beyond what you can realistically do whilst out and about - I’m sure even a professional mechanic who’s bled disc brakes countless times would not want to bring a bleed kit with them and carry out a disc brake bleed at the side of the road or trail - I know I wouldnt!
Tools and Spares for Gears
Many of the tools and spares for potential gear-related issues are likely to be similar to those for brake related issues. Tools for cable replacement will be very similar, although obviously you’ll need to use a gear cable rather than a brake cable for replacing a snapped gear cable. Again, it’s worth checking what hex keys or screwdrivers you would need for gear-related jobs such as tweaking the limit screws on your derailleurs and adjusting cable tension and for the bolts which attach the derailleurs to the bike frame - for example if you're front derailleur gets knocked you may need to realign it with this bolt.
The other main gear-related tools and spares you’ll probably want to take along relate to the chain. If your chain breaks, you’ll need to be able to fix it and for this you will need a chain tool. Lots of multi tools (such as The Breaker from Full Windsor) come with a chain breaker tool, or you could bring along a compact workshop quality chain tool for the job.
As well as a chain tool, it's useful to carry along a quick link - fitting a quick link is generally an easier job than reconnecting the chain using an existing link and, as long as there isn't a chunk of the chain which has been damaged you can keep the chain the same length by replacing the broken link with a quick link, which is better for gear shifting.
Other bits and bobs
A good multitool should have the bits you need for most other potential problems (bolts which need tightening, slight adjustments to saddle height, loose rack or bottle cage boss bolts, etc.) but it’s also worth bringing along some random bits and pieces which may turn out to be indispensable for fixing any problems which can't be sorted with the other tools you have available - cable ties, superglue and duct tape can all be incredibly useful for a whole range of problems that you can't even imagine until they happen to you. Spare nuts, bolts and washers can also be handy, so that if any fixtures work themselves loose during your trip and ping off, you have the means of replacing them, and a pair of disposable workshop gloves to keep your hands clean will also be a welcome addition to any toolkit.
If you get really stuck
Although it's highly unlikely that during your trip something will happen to your bike that is so bad that you can't continue riding it, it's worth having a Plan B in mind before setting off for if this does happen. This could involve working out beforehand if there are any bike shops in the vicinity of different sections of your route that you could head for on foot if necessary, taking down some numbers for local taxis or ensuring you have an 'off-grid' means of keeping your phone charged so you can make any emergency phone calls.
SUMMARY LIST OF TOOLS & SPARES
We hope you find this guide useful for planning what tools and spares to take along with you on any upcoming adventures. Our final words would be (as any self-respecting scout knows), be prepared! And for good measure, here is a final summary list of all the things we would take with us in a tool kit for a short trip away - happy travelling!
Leatherman with cable cutters or separate cable cutters
Common allen/hex key sizes (2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8mm - exclude any not used on your bike if desired)
Screwdrivers (cross head and flat head)
Spanners, if needed
Torx wrenches, if needed
Disposable workshop gloves
Spare tube (x2? 3?)
Puncture repair kit
Spare rim tape
Spare spoke (if you can easily work out which size you need)
Spare brake cable
Spare gear cable
Chain quick link
Common nuts, bolts and washers e.g. M5 x 12mm, M5 x 16mm, M6 x 16mm, M5 and M6 nylock bolts
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