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!
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
- 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),
- 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*)
- 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)
- 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.
- 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*)
- 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).
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,
- 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…
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!