Monday 21 March 2011

A touring toolkit

Unless accompanied by a car carrying equipment, cycle tourists need to be self sufficient to some extent. You can't predict when breakdowns will occur. Obviously what tools you carry with you depends on how far you're going and what you think you'll need. Weight is always an issue.

Unless I'm just riding into town and back, I always carry tools with me. A few days ago I decided it was once again time to check that the contents of my tool-kit still made sense. A few items had been used up, like patches, and a few tools needed to change for my new bike.

Everyone travelling any distance will surely carry a pump and spare inner tubes. However, other things are also useful to have. Even on shorter rides, the walk home or to the nearest bike shop can take quite some time, but when riding longer distances and if you may be a longer distance from "civilization" then it's even more important to be well prepared.

At the moment, my toolkit contains the following:
  • Multi-tool. This is actually the only new thing in my tool-kit. A Beto multi-tool. It includes all the sizes of spanner, screw-driver and Allen key which I may need. Previously I had to carry more than one such tool to cover everything.
  • In the past I also carried a separate chain tool, however my new multi-tool includes one, so that saves a bit more weight.
  • The puncture repair kit is a Rema Tip-Top kit. I've used these for years as they have, in my opinion, the best quality patches. This one has been part of my kit for years, but is newly stocked with patches and glue.
  • When removing and refitting tyres, it is best to do so without using tyre levers as they can damage the tube further. However, if you have tight fitting tyres, or you find yourself doing the work with cold and wet fingers then a good set of tyre levers are well worth having. The Schwalbe tyre levers are well shaped, and wider than most, which minimises the risk of damage. I've had this set for years and they work well.
  • Well made wheels shouldn't go out of true in normal use. However, accidents happen and I like to be prepared. Spokey Spoke Keys are perhaps the lightest weight good quality spoke key. Mine has had a lot of use over the years, both building wheels at home as well as straightening them on tour. Usually in order to keep moving with a single broken spoke you merely need to slightly loosen off the two spokes either side of that which is broken so that the wheel straightens out. However, carrying a few spare spokes of the correct size means that replacements can be installed and the wheel can be made perfect again quite quickly.
  • A little duct tape wound onto a stick, some bendable wire, and a few zip-ties don't weigh much and don't cost much. However, they can be used for many repairs. In the past I've used tape to hold together broken lights, zip-ties to affix mudguards and wire to keep on a heavily loaded rack.
  • The white "paper" in my toolkit is actually cut out of a Tyvek junk mail envelope. It cost nothing and weighs almost nothing, but it is strong enough to make an excellent "boot" to put between inner tube and tyre in the event of a bad cut.
  • A pocket knife includes a few tools that the others don't have - such as scissors to cut the Tyvek, a sharp knife which can be used for a range of things, and a bottle opener which is rather a nice thing to have with you for a beer at the end of a long day.
Things not shown in the photo include the inner tubes (I carry two, and do any puncture repairs needed at the end of the day if possible), a spare folding tyre in case of damage to a tyre, chain links to join a broken chain, and a spare brake cable. Of course, I also carry a pump.

Different people have different ideas, of course, and some like to travel lighter than others. We've ideas for a touring toolkit in our webshop.


dr2chase said...

I did once snag a tire and tear it using the Schwalbe levers; they do have a bit of a sharp edge on them. This happened when working a particularly odious combination of rim and tire -- Sun Rhyno Lite and Nokian W106 -- and would probably not occur in any other situation.

I've given up worrying too much about weight, within reason. I lost many pounds after I (re)started biking seriously, and the multi-tools are sometimes too chunky to reach where they are needed, or lack adequate leverage. So I just carry tools.

Paul Martin said...

Great post, David! Thanks.

Mark W. said...

Hmmm.... I feel very Dutch now! I don't even recognize most of those tools. The only bicycle 'repairkit' I know and I think every Dutchman owns (and keeps at home) is this: 1950s style repair kit, 'for the ordinary bicycle: good for over 12 puncture repairs', I don't think I even had that many in the last 20 years. (And I never found out what the tiny rubber tube is for either)

Willeke said...

I have learned to use the levers, Simson metal ones in my case, to get the tyres off, hands to get them back on and apart from one time I have always done it that way. Much less risk on damage and with the right moves the tires do go back on.
I am currently riding on Swalbe Marathon plus tyres on 20" wheels and even when rather new I did get them back on. 26" or 28" common tyres I already managed as kid of 12 years old.

The thin rubber tube is for the valves old style, presto valves. They have a metal pin sticking out with a hole in it the let the air escape, the rubber tube goes over the pin and prevents the air from going out.

I do have a very distictive preverence for tubes, all except Vredenstein, on tyres I am less outspoken, but still no vredenstein. Repair sets of all brands work, but simson glue with the fast component seems to dry out fast too, I almost never can use the same tube of it twice.

The one thing I miss in your set that I do carry in mine is wet whipes, to clean off the worst chain grease after a repair on the road.

Anonymous said...

As Mark pointed out, most Dutch people, even those who go on 200 km rides, don't carry this kind of thing with them. Inner tubes are so reliable these days that you rarely get a puncture, and with in-hub gears and enclosed chain casings, punctures are generally the only thing that'll stop you dead. If you do get a puncture, it's just easier to phone a mate or a cab, or find a railway station.

How many motorists carry around the tools to repair their own car? And even though you generally carry a spare tire in your car, how many people would actually put it on by themselves? For most people, especially the non-technical ones, it's just easier to phone for help and let the professionals deal with it.

Frits B said...

Mark sounds very familiar. The only repair kits I remember are those Simson ones, and ours used to be hidden in the attic in one of the drawers of an old workbench. And I have seen it being used just once. As the latest post on Amsterdamize says, "bikes are shoes" and nobody carries a shoe repair kit. I've never had a puncture myself and only one on the 14 cars I have owned. But then I never ventured out into the wild ...

dr2chase said...

@Anon - "how many motorists carry their own tools?"

True, but the delightful thing about a bicycle, is that you can, and it still doesn't weigh that much or take up that much room.

Kevin Love said...

Ever since I got my Pashley Roadster Sovereign I stopped carrying tools. I don't even know where the pump is that came with the bike.

The Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres have never got a puncture. Never.

The most complex part of the bike is the 5-speed SA internal hub gears. Which appear to have been made with the attention to Quality Assurance for which British industry is world-renowned.

But I can't fix it anyway so when it failed I simply had it replaced with a Shimano IHG.

The number of people in Toronto who carry tools with them is very low. I would guess less than 5%.

The universal strategy for dealing with a breakdown appears to be this:

If pressed for time, lock the bike to one of the ubiquitous post-and-ring stands that the City has put up all over and continue on by public transit.

Otherwise, look down the street for one of Toronto's 87 bike shops. If you don't see one, take your bike onto the subway or bus and go to your favorite shop.

Cycling should be a hassle-free experience. Ordinary people wearing ordinary clothes going to work and other ordinary places and not worrying about things like tools or learning how to do their own repairs.

David Hembrow said...

I think some of you are missing the point. I wouldn't suggest anyone carry such a toolkit for a tootle into town. I don't do so myself, either.

However, the clue is in the title of the post: "touring". If you're potentially going to be hundreds if not thousands of kilometres away from home, don't know where the local bike shops are, and maybe won't even see many people at all for tens of kilometres at a time, then being a bit self-sufficient has a lot going for it.

I have always carried a toolkit on tour for this reason. I like to be self-sufficient and not have to rely on having a fully charged mobile phone battery so that I can give someone else directions to come and rescue me by car. Some like to do "credit card touring", carrying the minimum, or even being accompanied by someone to support them in the event of problems. That's fine for other people, but for me it's not at all what touring is about.

I also carry a good deal of what is shown here on my commute. There's only one village with a bike-shop in the middle of my 30 km commute, and a 15 km walk is a bit far.

Not everyone lives in the cycling paradise of Toronto, Kevin :-)

Personally, I don't think there is one thing that cycling "should" be. It's many things to many people, and indeed sometimes many different things even to the same people. I ride my bikes to go shopping, commuting, touring and racing. None of these things is any more what cycling "should" be than any other of them.

Yant said...

I think your list is much the same as mine for touring. All though I forgo the spokes (as I can't true a wheel to save my life) and add a spare chain. When touring in more remote area's with no mobile signal I pack an emergency thermal blanket and waterproof matches. Thankfully I've never had to use either.

Unknown said...

I always have a patch kit, mini pump and a multi-purpose screwdriver with me.
They fit quite compactly into my rear bag, so they don't take up any room and I tend to forget there even in there.

When I go on long distance tours to other cities, I tend to carry a bit more with me such as extra tubes, more wrenches etc.

My city for a year or so now offers bicycle patch kits in different spots throughout the city; places such as libraries, city buildings and parks.

I have also added a second tube to my rear tire, working as a liner. Thus far I've only had one flat which was caused by a bad tube (seem exploded)...of course I probably jinxed myself now.
Before the spare tube I'd average 10-15 flats per year.

Darren Alff said...

Yeah, touring is a very different thing than just scooting around town on your bike. I carry a rather large toolkit on my tours. But when I cycle around town I carry a pump, a tire-lever or two, and a spare tube. That's it.