Friday, September 24, 2010

A Classic Tool Kit for Roadside Repair

I have assembled a tool kit that I carry with me in a saddle or handlebar bag every time I ride a significant distance from home. It's in a small nylon zip-up case that I remember buying in an art supply store. The zipper is holding up fine even though the case is stuffed to the brim with tools.

The case is about 8" by 4", and about 3lbs. Here is what it looks like:

The tools inside are in individual pouches, most frequently used ones on top and rarely used stuff (like tire irons and patch kit--crossing my fingers here) on the very bottom.

I usually know which tool I want and can get to it, but sometimes I begin by laying out the individual pouches on the ground. I haven't had many situations where I actually had to do complicated bike repair in the middle of nowhere, but every time I work on one of our bikes in the home shop I first think about whether the job can be done with just the tools in my tool kit. Sure, the big at-home tool kit has larger and more comfortable tools (like a larger set of allen wrenches), specialized tools (headset wrenches and bottom bracket & cassette tools, diagonal wire cutters and so on), but the basic stuff can be completed anywhere. If anything, it is often the bike stand I most wish for, but you can't put a stand into any tool kit. Here is the stuff lying on the ground:

If I extract every little tool from its case and open it up, it looks like a hardware store exploded all over the cement tiles. It's a lot of stuff to carry with you on bike trips, but most of it is there for a reason. Here it is in all of its glory:

So, in no particular order:

(1) a set of 5 Craftsman wrenches: 6/8, 7/9, 10/11, 12/14, and 13/15mm. It covers the range from 6mm (small nuts in fender-mount lights) to 15mm (axle lug nuts). The set is held together by a spring-steel clip. It's very secure and does not rattle.

(2) a set of small Craftsman mini-wrenches: 4, 4.5, 5, 5.5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11mm and a Brooks Saddle Tension Tool (specialized thin 13mm). Why do I carry an extra set of these mini-wrenches? Well, modern bikes often use an allen bolt and a metric nut, but classic bikes need two wrenches, often the same size, i.e. 2 10mm or a 9 and 10mm to tighten a brake cable straddle, some rack attachment points and many other small jobs that just cannot be done if all you have is a single metric wrench. Some people prefer to carry an adjustable wrench for this, and I have one, just not in this tool kit. A good-quality adjustable is an excellent tool if used carefully. Sometimes it is too bulky to fit into tight spaces around the bike frame. The Brooks tool is often the only thing that can properly adjust a saddle and it's relatively small and light.

(3) an allen multi-tool: slot, philips, 2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8mm allen, T25 (common for disc brakes), and a chain tool. Can't go without a chain tool, and this is a good one that has served me well. Always test a chain tool on an old chain before it's part of your tool kit, some are crap and break before the chain does.

(4) tri-flow oil bottle, Brooks Proofide tin, 2 "Quick Stik" tire irons (you only need 1, the 2nd is a backup--this is by far my favourite tire iron solution for classic roadsters as well as vintage and modern road bikes), the contents of 2 REMA (Sheldon's favourite) patch kits shoved into one box and a super spoke wrench ring. More about this spoke tool: many modern spoke keys don't include large spoke gauges. This thing made by Hozan in Japan has gauges 10, 12, 13, 14 and 15. It's the only spoke wrench big enough for the crazy motorcycle-style spokes Pashley (and I think vintage Gazelle) use on their bikes.

(5) a Leatherman Wave multi-tool with a complete set of bits that resides in its own pouch. Why do I need a heavy multi-tool with me? Well, last Spring on the Cape (miles away from home) I bought a Greenfield kick stand that needed to be shortened. The saw went through the aluminum like butter. Do you have a saw in your tool kit? I am sure you have a can/bottle opener, but what about an eyeglass repair screwdriver? There were other cases where the multi-tool saved the day and kept me safe and independent. The pliers are fairly strong, have a built-in wire cutter/stripper. In fact, I've installed Honjo fenders (including made the proper holes) with only the tools pictured here. At home, the bike stand, dremel, drill and bolt cutters allow the job to happen much quicker, but who knows when you'll need to do an emergency fender installation (or do something else weird, like repair the leather straps or canvas of your saddle bag--I suppose on a long tour a heavy duty sewing kit, leather tools/awl wouldn't hurt). Anyway, the Leatherman bit driver is a very neat way of taking every imaginable bit with you in a very small package. Here is a close-up:

There are quite a few bits in the Leatherman kit. Here is a quick rundown: a bunch of hex/allen/torx bits in every imaginable size. These bits are flat, so they have to be used carefully. I use the bike multi-tool first, and at home I prefer to use the full size allen wrenches. But it will do the job on the road. The bit kit also has every size of slotted and philips bits, common square and pozi bits and a replacement small slotted/philips eyeglass bit. The bit kit weighs practically nothing and occupies very little space.

If a bike ride takes you far away from cities and stores, I would recommend packing several inner tubes in addition to the patch kit, also several flashlights and a lantern with batteries, replacement spokes, gaffer's and electrical tape, and a well thought-out medical kit. I'll write about my medi-kit in another post.

Add a cell phone + money, the best tools for getting someone to come and rescue you.


Charlotte said...

I never would have thought to bring Proofride on a ride! Have you found it useful?

somervillain said...

that's a good roadside toolkit for long rides!

it's certainly more basic hand tools than i keep with me on my rides, but more can't really hurt, unless weight is a concern... and what's an extra couple of pounds, anyway?

in addition to the multi-tool and patch kit, i do keep in my kit a small bottle of 100% denatured alcohol (perk of running a laboratory), some small rags the size of a handkerchief, a waterproof saddle cover, a spare tube, a mini pump, an assortment of M5 bolts (idea from cycler), about a dozen zip ties, and a role of electrical tape.

MDI said...

Charlotte--a few months ago, in the middle of a ride I thought that my Flyer saddle has gotten a bit too soft, with too much sag. That was the first (and so far only) time I tightened the leather on it about 2000 miles in. The Brooks tool came in handy and so did the Proofide can, which I suppose I could've waited to apply, but why waste time at home? Besides, my pants did a good job polishing in the Proofide. :)

I don't know, I suppose it's a bit of an overkill, but it is the smaller of the two tins Brooks sells and there is a round tin-shaped space for it in the bag...

MDI said...

somervillain: why denatured? Don't you have USP ethanol on tap, you know, for the science?..

I remember from orgo lab at H the solvent taps, ethanol had a friendly sign bolted right above the tap "Hi, I'm denatured :)"

somervillain said...

MDI, we don't have ethanol "on tap" (i've never seen that! i can just picture it... served with nuts to scientists in lab coats). we purchase denatured alcohol because of the additives... to make it "unpalatable".

when biking, i use the alcohol as a degreaser... comes in handy if you have to muck around with the chain.

Velouria said...

MDI said...
"...I don't know, I suppose it's a bit of an overkill"

Your toolkit, overkill? Noooooo! : )
Will you write about your 1st aid kit next?

somervillain - How often do you clean your chain?

somervillain said...

velouria, i clean my chains once or twice a year, depending on use. but, that's not what the alcohol is for... i keep a small bottle in my tool kit to clean my hands and any other bike parts that may get smeared with chain grime if i have to, say, fix a rear flat, or if the chain jumps the freewheel and has to be manually reset onto the freewheel.

Velouria said...

Ah, okay. I asked because I am alarmed at how dirty my chain and cassette on the Rivendell have gotten already, and wondering when is a good time to clean them. Some seem to think almost never, whereas other that this ought to be done after every ride.

somervillain said...

well, i think you are putting a lot more miles on your riv than i put on any of my bikes (probably more than all my bikes combined!), so if i were riding as much as you, i'd probably clean the chain/cassette once per season, and more often in winter if ridden as much. of course, bikes with full chaincases are the exception... i never have to clean those!

i won't even get into the chain cleaning debate... the opinions on frequency run the gamut, as you've pointed out, and everyone staunchly stands by their system.

MDI said...

Uh, let's see... the correct time to clean the chain is never. :)

When it gets dirty enough, the stuff just falls off naturally.

Just add more oil to dilute the dirt/sand/shavings. Chain/cassette cleaning is for nannies.

somervillain said...

hey, if your method works for you... stick with it!

(didn't you say elsewhere that you were experiencing weird chain problems with your derailleur? just sayin...)

MDI said...

Well, jockey wheels are considered wear items, being plastic and all. But, yeah, I can totally see how cleaning it would re-grow some of the lost material. :)

somervillain said...

makes you wonder why all that material got lost in the first place... :-)

MDI said...

Probably due to the fact that the previous owner and myself both ride our bikes? :)

somervillain said...

with gritty chains, no less :-)

Charlotte said...

For clean hands we just carry some latex (or nitrile) gloves from lab. When done with the dirty job they're great for wrapping inside out around, say, a dirty flatted tube when it's going into my bag with my (mostly) clean other things.

somervillain said...

charlotte, that's so intuitive, and yet i hadn't thought of that! i routinely wear nitrile gloves in the workshop, but never thought to pack some in a bag for cycling. [makes note to add gloves to tool kit]

JPTwins said...

wow, can i jump in on this private conversation?

I also want to add everything somervillian adds. the small hex bolts are useful for fenders, racks, and most importantly other peoples fenders and racks!

love the idea of the latex gloves!

I guess i sort of understand the idea that you want this to be your full kit, but when you're going for a 40-50 mile ride, (i.e. not to the cape for a month), do you really need all the craftsman wrenches? couldn't you get a single adjustable wrench and save 2 pounds? (Again, I'm not a weight weenie at all, but i still cringe at the weight of my single super multi-tool)

And the Brooks saddle tightener: Sheldon's recommendation is to just leave it alone, so I really question why that's part of the on-the-road kit, rather than the bottom-of-the-drawer-i-won't-need-this-for-another-2-years kit. :)

lastly, i wipe my chain every few weeks and clean my chain twice a year or so (or whenever i install new gear). I am amazed how horridly black and greasy it gets.

thanks for the run down MDI:
Geoff in Jamaica Plain

BTW, when's the next meet up?

MDI said...

I am not sure that I would save 2 lbs just by replacing one of the wrench sets with an adjustable, especially the mini-wrenches--they hardly weigh anything at all in their pouch.

Sheldon's advice was to discourage people from mucking with their saddles the day they got them from the store, however, adjusting the tension is part of using the saddle properly. I am sure he has adjusted his when they were too tight or too loose (and depending on the cyclist and the milage, that can happen every year or never).

The purpose of this kit is to be compact and complete. If I started removing single items like the Brooks spanner, I would hardly benefit from a few grams saved. If I left a lot of the stuff at home, the tool kit would no longer be as useful. The gloves & spare nuts are a great idea, of course. I used to carry gloves with me, but I can't even manage to keep my hands clean when using gloves at home. My hands always get filthy when I work on bikes--oh well.

This kit is what I arrived at after some time and experimentation. If you are doing great with less tools or a lighter kit, I think that's wonderful.

JPTwins said...

I guess I can see the value of being complete. And with the variety of bikes you guys have, you definitely need more than I do. Seeing as I mostly ride with one of my bikes and have the tools tailored for that, it ends up being smaller.

and for what it's worth, my hands always get filthy and i think that's part of the badge of honor! ha!

MDI said...

Speaking of being complete, I forgot to mention that I added a "missing link," a chain link for fixing a broken chain in an emergent situation. It's a tiny part that costs less than $2 and weighs less than shoelaces. :)

Herzog said...

What about a Presta-Schraeder valve adapter? It's *extremely* useful when helping others with flats.

somervillain said...

MDI, a missing link is a good idea as well, provided that it is compatible with your chain. i should add that to my arsenal. i've been known to lose them after removing a chain!

herzog, thank you, yes! i forgot to mention that. i keep one tucked inside the little patch kit box. even though my pump has a dual head, it's handy in case the pump fails and you need to use a garage pump, or when helping others.

MDI said...

Oh yeah!

My pump is a dual-head also (Master Blaster...), but I'll definitely add a little Presta/Schraeder adapter to my patch kit. Thanks, Herzog.

I wonder how much random stuff I can fit into a Rema patch kit. :)

M. Pewthers said...

A Jedi craves not these things.

Kate said...

Anonymous said...

A 3 lbs tool kit? And I thought my 1.8 lbs tool kit (including the saddle bag and 1 spare tube) was heavy. My tent weighs less than 3 lbs!

Of course it's great to be prepared for any possible repair that might occur, but is it practical? As a long distance tourer I'm already hauling a lot of (but mostly essential) weight. Therefore I assembled my tool kit with regards to the one bike I'm using on the tour.

When I'm not touring, my set it even smaller. After all, how likely is it, that I need to install a new fender on the road? I, too, like to be independent and able to deal with any possible problem that could come up. But in reality, the problems that come up are mostly common (a loose screw, a flat tire). My take of a practical tool set is that it is supposed to help me fix the most common problems, and otherwise enable me to get either home or to the next cycle shop. Otherwise it should be a light as possible since I often have to carry it on my back while e.g. shopping, if I don't want to leave it on the bike and risk losing it to thieves.

I can't see myself adding a tin of Proofide to my tool kit. That is one item that even at home I only use once a year, if at all.

Steve said...

Nonsense. For a three-speed on even long rides, all you need is:
-six-inch adjustable wrench
-spare tube
-tire irons
-short 1/4 inch flat blade screwdriver
All else should be left in your tool kit for home maintenance. Taking Proofide on a ride is ridiculous: this should be used at most twice a year.

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