The Ultimate Fix-Anything Cycle Touring Toolkit: Contents, Explanations & Links

This article is part of a series about the cycle touring equipment provided by the Janapar Grant, which is now open for applications. The deadline for submissions is April 15th – don’t miss it! Info on eligibility and how to apply can be found here.

What tools, spares, consumables and accessories would the ultimate cycle touring toolkit contain?

Is it even possible to construct such a list?

And if it is, precisely which example of each item has earned the strongest reputation on tour?

These are questions that Lawrence Brand of Porterlight Bicycles recently set out to answer. Lawrence has kindly offered to assemble and donate his resulting ‘survival kit’ to the Janapar Grant, ensuring our winning applicant has everything they need to deal with mechanical issues and roadside repairs.

A quick word from Lawrence on how he got involved in bike mechanics through his own cycle tours:

“Aged 19, armed with a second hand bike and a road atlas of Europe, I set off from my home town in Wiltshire, and didn’t stop pedalling until I arrived in Stockholm, Sweden a few weeks later. This trip drove home not only a deep understanding of how small and connected the world really is, but also of just how high I could set my goals, and equally just how hard I needed to work to achieve them. Years later, it was that same sense of possibility that empowered me to set up my own bicycle manufacturing company.”

To build the ultimate cycle touring survival kit, Lawrence started with the tools and spares lists that he and I had honed over our touring careers. He then crowdsourced a broad range of veterans’ opinions on the /bicycletouring Reddit (almost 100 contributions at the time of writing), and looked for patterns.

What emerged was a surprising consensus on exactly what tools and spares are indispensable on a long cycle tour, what can be safely left at home, and what clever tricks tourers have come up with to save weight, bulk and expense while maximising versatility and usefulness.

This article will detail the contents of that ‘ultimate’ cycle touring toolkit, including links to recommended suppliers for each item.

Unless you’ve got some very specialised requirements because of an unusual bicycle configuration (e.g. a Rohloff, hydraulic brakes, or a very old bicycle), you’ll be able to assemble this toolkit yourself, chuck it in the bottom of a pannier, set off on your tour, and hope you never need to use it!

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How To Choose Tools & Spares For A Cycle Tour

Let’s take a step back for a second. You might say that the function of a puncture repair kit is to mend a puncture. But it would be more accurate to say that it is the person using the puncture repair kit who mends the puncture, and the kit itself is simply the tool that allows you to carry out that job.

The point is that a tool is of no use whatsoever without an understanding of what it’s for and how to use it.

So when it comes to considering tools and spares, it makes sense to begin by looking at scenarios in which you might need to carry out your own repairs, and cross-referencing with what kind of problems it’s realistic to carry the tools for. The resulting kit will likely vary depending on the circumstances of your trip, and also on your existing skills and approach to getting things fixed and maintained, but there is lots of common ground we can easily identify.

Common scenarios involving the use of your toolkit include:

  • Daily maintenance
  • Tweaks and adjustments to improve fit or functionality
  • Puncture repair
  • Brake shoe replacement
  • Drivetrain maintenance
  • Pedal removal/installation

Less common but increasingly likely scenarios on really long tours include:

  • Tyre repairs (e.g. after a sidewall split or blowout)
  • Bearing servicing or replacement (hubs, bottom bracket, headset, pedals)
  • Gear/brake cable replacement
  • Drivetrain component replacement
  • Wheel repair, rebuilding & truing
  • Wearing part removal (e.g. bottom bracket, freehub body, chain, cassette, chainrings)
  • Any one of an endless list of unexpected & unpredictable things you simply won’t be able to prepare for!

(Vastly more detail on the tools demanded by each of these scenarios can be found in my comprehensive eBook guide to equipment for bike trips, Essential Gear For Adventure Cycle Touring. That includes the endless list of other unexpected and unpredictable things!)

Assuming the aim is to be self-sufficient on a long-haul trip (and acknowledging that this isn’t the only way to approach maintenance), you should bringing the tools for:

  • which of these problems you’d be able to fix yourself, and
  • which of these problems you’d have no choice but to fix yourself, given
  • how far you’ve got to ride between one decent bike shop and another.

Obviously if your frame snaps at the rear drive-side dropout, you won’t be unpacking your portable welding kit to fix it. You’ll be hitching a ride to the next town, and hoping the local welder has worked with the thin steel of bicycle frame tubing before.

The ‘ultimate’ toolkit, then, aims to strike a middle ground for most cycle tourists’ needs, and their willingness to get their hands dirty. We’re not trying to fill all four panniers with tools and spares – we’re trying to pack the minimum amount of kit for the maximum range of uses.

Shall we take a look inside?

The Complete Contents Of The Ultimate Fix-Anything Cycle Touring Toolkit

Based on this extensive research, what follows is the flat list of tools and spares we’d recommend packing for a long-haul cycle tour, assuming you’re riding a traditional and relatively modern touring bike, and you have a basic grasp of (or willingness to learn) routine maintenance and repair techniques.

Essential Tools For Cycle Touring

  • Emergency teabag. Rule one of fixing mechanical problems: calm down and get a brew going.Recommendation: PG Tips 1-cup pyramid bag

tea

  • Puncture repair kit. These are pretty generic, but avoid the cheapest. It should contain:
    • Rubber patches (range of sizes, including an uncut piece of rubber which can double for a tyre boot),
    • Vulcanising solotion (i.e. glue),
    • Sandpaper.

    Recommendation: Weldtite (CRC*, Evans*)

weldtite-puncture-repair-kit

  • Instant stick patches. Useful when you’re in a hurry or you’re out of traditional patches, but only if you get a brand that actually works.Recommendation: Park Tool GP-2 (CRC*, Wiggle*, Evans*)

park-tool-gp-2

  • Strong tyre levers. Throw away the ones that came with your puncture repair kit, they’re made of cheese; get some durable ones that will last – many popular touring tyres are tough to mount and dismount, especially the wired varieties.Recommendation: Park Tool TL1C (Wiggle*) or Schwalbe (Amazon*, Spa)

park-tool-tl1c

  • Multi-tool. This is a single compact lightweight tool that performs many functions. They’re available with a range of functions; a multi-tool for touring should include the following tools:
    • Allen (hex) keys – the range should fit every bolt head on your bike, usually 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8mm.
    • Chain breaker – one that allows both breaking and re-coupling the chain
    • Screwdrivers – both Phillips (crosshead) and flat blades,
    • Spoke keys – most tools include all four size options; use a Sharpie to identify the one that fits your spokes
    • Wrenches/spanners – 8, 9 and 10mm heads are most useful. Again, make sure that you pack extras for any weird-sized bolts on your bike.
    • Emergency pedal wrench – 15mm is standard. Avoid the need by getting pedals with a 6mm hex bolt fitting on the inside end of the axle.
    • Torx keys – if appropriate to your bike. Often seen in conjunction with hydraulic and disc brakes.

    Recommendation: Park Premium Rescue Tool (Evans*) or Topeak Alien II (CRC*, Wiggle*, Evans*)

multitools

  • Mini pump. This is a critical tool, so don’t be a cheapskate; get one that will stand the test of time. Cheap and cheerful ones are prone to breaking and should only be packed as emergency backup. If you’re not comfortable estimating tyre pressure by hand, make sure you get one with a gauge. Don’t mount it to your frame unless you want it to disappear while you’re getting your groceries.Recommended: Topeak Morph (without gauge; CRC*, Wiggle*, Evans*) or Road Morph G (with gauge; CRC*, Wiggle*, Evans*)

pumps

  • Cassette remover. You’ll need to remove the rear sprocket cassette to replace spokes, service the hub, or replace the freehub body. Avoid the weight and complexity of traditional tools (wrench/cassette remover/chain whip) and pack the clever lightweight ‘Next Best Thing 2’.Recommended: NBT2 (Spa).

cassette-tool-options

Essential Spares For Cycle Touring

  • Range of stainless steel nuts, bolts, and washers – in M5 and M6 sizes; spray with WD40 and keep in a film canister with a sachet of silica gel to prevent corrosion,
  • Spare inner tube – make sure the size and valve type matches the ones already installed,
  • Spokes – two rear wheel drive-side, plus one rear wheel non-drive-side and one front wheel. Get these from your wheelbuilder,
  • Replacement chain ‘quick link’ – e.g. SRAM Powerlink; make sure it matches your chain (i.e. 8-, 9- or 10-speed),
  • Spare chain link,
  • Brake inner cable (rear),
  • Gear inner cable (rear) (unless you’re Rohloff-ing),
  • Replacement brake shoes or shoe inserts for your specific brakes,
  • A few cable end caps (CRC*) taped to a bit of card.

Additional Tools & Spares For Ultra-Long Tours (6 months plus)

  • Pair of cone spanners – make sure you get the correct sizes for both front and rear hubs,
  • Bottom bracket removal tool – because that bike shop in Bishkek that lent you a spanner might not have the right one,
  • Crank extractor/puller – if you have a 3-piece crankset; again, make sure you get the correct type for your crankset,
  • Extra long 10mm Allen key – for removing Shimano freehub bodies if applicable to your bike; use your seatpost as a handle extension if you need extra torque,
  • Complete set of spare bearings for both hubs, pedals and headset,
  • Spare chain – already shortened to correct length,
  • Small pot of all-purpose synthetic bike grease – e.g. Weldtite/TF2 (CRC*), decanted e.g. into a film canister or pill bottle.

Useful Accessories & Consumables

  • Small bottle of chain lube – pack wet or dry lube as appropriate to your destination, e.g. Finish Line wet (CRC*) or dry (Wiggle*),
  • Plastic cable ties (zip ties) – a range of sizes and lots of them,
  • Gorilla Tape (Amazon*) – to hold the fabric of the universe together; take several metres wrapped around your spare lighter, chain lube bottle, film canister, etc,
  • PTFE tape (Amazon*) – again, a short length wrapped around something, for sealing threads that are prone to working loose over time, e.g. racks and bottle cage mounts,
  • A pair of resilient work gloves (Amazon*) for greasy work and to double up as emergency riding gloves – not latex gloves, which disintegrate over time and/or may cause allergic reactions,
  • Stainless steel hose clamps – in two sizes, for unexpected repairs; carry by attaching to your rack tubing (small) and seatpost (large) (which also serves to mark your preferred seatpost insertion point).

Note: many of these items are available from your local hardware store; probably cheaper than online too.

Bonus Survival Items

  • Mini sewing kit – for when you suffer clothing failure in embarassing locations,
  • Extra-long USB extension lead – for that hostel moment when the power socket is nowhere near your bed,
  • Mini lighter – for when you lose or soak the others,
  • Lipbalm – for example Vaseline, which when smeared on cotton wool doubles up as a really good firelighter,
  • Small USB powerbank – for when your phone’s dead and you really need to send that SMS to your mum,
  • Tweezers,
  • Foil emergency blanket,
  • Emergency motivational letter to self (plus digital version if you have a smartphone)!

And there we have it – a template for your ultimate fix-anything cycle touring toolkit. All you need now is a handmade retro tool roll to store all the bits in and you’re ready to go…

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Added Bonus: How To Get Over Your Fear Of Bicycle Maintenance & Repairs

Bicycles are extraordinarily simple machines. That is part of their beauty, and you’ve little to lose by mucking in and seeing what happens. The worst case scenario is wheeling or driving it to the local bike shop because you can’t figure out how to put something back together. And it’s better to do that before you set off than when you’re already on tour.

If you’re lacking in confidence doing your own repairs and maintenance, the best thing you can do is enlist a bike-savvy friend to help you through the basics.

You might also sign up for a bike maintenance class at a local bike shop, helpfully befriending the staff in the process. You’ll probably be surprised at how many bicycle repair and maintenance courses are being run in your local area. Many of these are free to attend, being used as promotional events for local bike shops.

Some local authorities provide free cycle training, including basic maintenance. But by far the best thing you can do for peace of mind on a really long ride is to take your bike apart and put it back together before you leave, with the help of a friend or by following the abundance of guidance available on the internet.

In the process, you’ll find out what tools you need and how to use them, as well as what you’re comfortable with tackling yourself in terms of maintenance and repairs.

There are many good books on the subject of bicycle repairs and maintenance, and of course there is no end of information online. To save you some dredging, though, the most comprehensive and long-standing starting points for mechanical knowledge are the websites of Park Tool and the late Sheldon Brown.

Anything else you’d pack in your cycle touring toolkit that hasn’t been mentioned here? Let us know in the comments!

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Buying bikes and equipment for your next tour?

Reading Essential Gear for Adventure Cycle Touring will help you avoid ending up with the wrong thing, and put more cash aside for your trip.

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GearForCycleTouring.com

13 Responses to “The Ultimate Fix-Anything Cycle Touring Toolkit: Contents, Explanations & Links”

  1. Shaun

    Great list though I’d go for REMA TipTop patches every time and a Hexus II over the smaller multitools which are near useless IME. Good to see it’s not just me that carries jubilee/hose clips.

    I would add the blade from a junior hacksaw and pliers capable of cutting through gear/brake cable. A Gerber with a plier usually does this for me though in a spot, a screwdriver hit firmly with a rock will punch through cables.

    Spoke tools on most multitools are utter rubbish. The classic Rixen & Kaul “Spokey” weighs nothing and is a joy to use by comparison.

    An old toothbrush and fairy liquid is pretty good for getting built up road crud off your drive train.

    Taking your bike apart and putting it back together using JUST the tools you want to take on tour is enlightening. It’s then that you’ll realise things like that multitool that has a 10mm spanner can’t be used anywhere because it’s a weird shape and no amount of manoeuvring will get it round a brake adjuster.

    You also get to apply grease in places bike manufacturers always neglect because they assemble quickly and cleanly whereas touring you want bolts not to seize and grease to last longer than a 3 month service interval.

    My other trick is to replace as many bolts with similar sized bolts and use longer bolts in bottle cages which can be used elsewhere on the bike if they snap. You can live without a bottle cage but not a snapped rack bolt.

    Reply
  2. Shayl

    I think you’re being unfair on Bishkek, they had good tools and parts when I was there in September. I had my 9 speed a shimano cassette changed. Also I’ve heard the ‘next best thing 2’ can damage the frame. Otherwise a pretty comprehensive list.

    Reply
  3. Antisthenes

    Zipties and other plastics should be in black, not white, to last much longer under UV exposure. I also despise multi-tools for their awkwardness or poor build quality. I take the one-piece Park Tool MT-1, plus a cheap-small pliers/knife/screwdriver tool, in my regular kit.

    Other than that, brilliant list.

    Reply
  4. Stephane

    Read with considerable interest. A few comments/suggestions

    1. Like others above, I do not like multi-tools. You either carry bits that you don’t need and/or are unable to reach a fastener. I am partial to Wera’s mini zyklop, a minuscule yet extremely strong ratchet (http://www-us.wera.de/bit-ratsche0.html).

    2. I would suggest a thin jaw adjustable wrench. It can deal with hubs (mine requires a single 17mm + hex key). (http://www.amazon.com/Engineer-TWM-07-Adjustable-Monkey-Wrench/dp/B002MJJ9EK)

    3. I have no direct experience with “clever cassette removal tools”. I would be hesitant to use them as they often come with warnings that you better not “gorilla tighten” your cassette and/or that they may damage your dropouts. I ended up purchasing an ultralight, fullsize, bottom bracket/lockring tool (http://www.wolftoothcomponents.com/collections/tools/products/lock-ring-bottom-bracket-wrench).

    4. In addition to spare spokes of the right size, we also carry fiberFix kevlar spoke replacement kits (http://www.amazon.com/FiberFix-Emergency-Spoke-Replacement-Kit/dp/B001GSMQZC). The piece of string can be used as a makeshift chain whip (attach one end to your spare chain and the other around the tire).

    5. While I understand the fascination surrounding duct tape, I hate the sticky residue that is left on whatever has been gorilla(ed). I carry a few meters of 2mm paracord.

    Reply
  5. DAVID Bull

    If your packing a sewing kit, pack heavy duty thread as well. I’ve stitched up a couple of split sidewalls combined with a length of old inner tube and rode the tyres til the tread wore out.
    Topeak alien ii. Great little tool in my bag along with pliers and cutters and pedros milk levers, best MBUK free gift ever.

    Reply
  6. Dave J Bott

    I drill a 2mm hole in the wheel hubs, steering head, bottom bracket & pedals, through which I lubricate with a syringe of grease/oil/ spray grease. I hang my racers by the front wheel and pool oil at the cable end till it runs out of the other end and make plasterscene cups to run oil into the other cables.
    I have not had a component fail or wear out since I started doing this 20 years ago, yet it only takes a few minutes to service a bike. Consequently I leave the larger tools at home.

    Reply
  7. World First Travel Insurance Blog » Blog Archive The World First Wander: The best travel blogs in the World

    […] If all this walking is not your cup of tea then maybe you’ll prefer two wheels. And that’s what our next blog is about… sort of. It’s all about staying on two wheels while on a two wheeled touring holiday. After all, disasters like running out of tea can and do happen…  If you are thinking of a cycling holiday or tour this year then you will want a repair kit with all the right tools and the next post, an in depth post from Tom Allen, has it all. The Ultimate Fix-anything Cycle touring toolkit. […]

    Reply
  8. Joe

    Very informative and comprehensive article, as usual! Thanks!

    I will add:
    -Don’t get a big tube of patch glue thinking you’ll be served for longer. Usually, once opened it evaporates very quickly, so if you are lucky with punctures or use good quality puncture-protected tyres, the glue might be gone by next time you need it. Although wasteful in terms of packaging, better to carry 2-3 small tubes of glue than 1 big one
    -Many bikes come with allen bolts size 3, which are totally useless and very easy to round up. Change them before the trip to something bigger, at least size 4 and even better 5. Good tip from Shaun about bringing spare bolts and long ones.
    -Depending on the remoteness of the route, I like to bring a folding spare tyre. 500 grams of peace of mind.

    Reply
  9. Mike Grenville

    My suggestion is to take a pack of FORMcard that can be moulded into any shape simply by dropping it in a cup of hot water.
    http://formcard.co/

    Reply
  10. Kelly

    Great article! I’ve forwarded it on to my partner in crime, as there are a lot of good tips in there, and I won’t remember all of them when we’re actually on the road!

    When we cycled across to China we definitely relied on duct tape – it is actually what held my panniers and rank together towards the end.

    Reply
  11. Tim Snaith

    Really good list.
    I’d only really quibble with the Park instant patches. Tried them out on the road (in Turkey) a few weeks ago, and they were hopeless. Three stops later (having replaced the first, and then tried patching the second patch, I gave up on them and fixed the flat with a conventional patch. Might be because the tube was dusty after months on the road, but I wouldn’t rely on them. Much quicker in the long run to just swap the tube for your spare, and then fix the puncture once with a ‘proper’ patch when time allows…
    Spare bolts are a must, too, as noted above – M6 bolts can fix Ortlieb pannniers (the new rear ones have a problem with screws falling out), as well as racks etc.
    And also agree regarding the paracord – works on broken panniers and tent ‘ropes’, too, and can be slung over a branch and looped under the seat to act as a ‘workstand’.
    And the fiber-fix (or similar) spokes. Why carry three different sizes of spare conventional spokes?

    Reply
  12. Ge

    Hello Tom, we are about to cycle to Australia from Spain with new 2017 VSF TX 400 Shimano Deore XT- 30 Speed. Do you know every how many km more or less we would need to change the chain? I’m asking as we are not sure if we should carry a spare one or not at all time. Thank you! 🙂

    Reply
  13. JD

    The pre-glued patches need to be well protected from the damp, otherwise the paperbacking gets wet and they are impossible to peel !

    Reply

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