What is in my travel toolkit?
To bring or not to bring, that is the question...
Theory of tool selection
Selecting which tools to take on a trip is always a topic of debate among cyclists. Ideally you would bring a spare bicycle and all tools needed to dissemble it completely. This is however very unpractical, mostly because of the added bulk and weight.
The next best thing is only to bring tools and parts for things that you know for sure will break. However, if you know something is going to break, it's wiser to replace it before setting out on a trip. The problem here is that one cannot reliably anticipate what will break.
Nevertheless, some failures are more common than others. For example tires get punctures and lights may not work for some reason. However, there is difference in severity. A bicycle cannot ride with a broken chain. Continuing with punctured tube is also not a good idea. Yet you can still keep going with one broken brake, as long as you take it easy.
Basically there are these three aspects that I consider when deciding whether to bring a tool/part:
- Ease of portability; Bulk & weight
- Risk; likelihood of needing a tool or part.
- Impact; how severe is a failure, a minor inconvenience or unable to cycle any further?
My travel tool kit
Unless you are using puncture proof foam (heavy and uncomfortable) tires you will always want to bring stuff to repair tires. As stated above, a bicycle needs two inflated tires, less than that is not going to be fun.
Although quality modern tires have much better puncture resistance than a few decades ago without adding too much weight and rolling resistance, a thorn, piece of glass or shrapnel can still shred a tire rolling over it in an instant. Tire failure of some kind is a medium risk and high impact type of failure.
The best bet is to bring a complete new tire. However, even a folding tire is still quite a bulky and heavy item to bring. Unless traveling in remote areas for extended periods of time this is usually overkill.
Usually an outer tire can be patched putting in a tire boot; which can be anything that is flat, flexible, does not stretch and has some tear resistance. Some people use a dollar bill or part of an old tire. Patches for tubes or duct tape can also work. With this you can patch up anything but the biggest tears, at least temporarily. A tire boot will reduce the impact of an high risk, high impact failure with a minor cost in portability.
Mpre likely is a punctured tube. The tire will be fine with a small hole, but the tube will lose pressure from even a tiny hole. Most punctures can be patched with vulcanizing patches and glue. However, if a puncture is near the valve, near another patch, or of there are numerous punctures. A failed patch can also screw you over. This type of failure is high risk and high impact. A replacement tube is more portable than a tire.
Besides the fact that sometimes it is not possible to patch a punctured tube vulcanizing glue tends to dry out three months after opening the tube. Bringing dried our glue and patches are useless, but I do not always remember to get a new tube in time. This is why I carry a spare tube with me.
Tubes are are flexible in size. I carry a Schwalbe number 19 with Presta valve. This size fits in both my 50 mm tires and my wife's 40 mm tires. I only carry one spare tube for the both of us. I used to carry two, but used one up and got more confident at patching tires since then. Next time I would pay a little a extra for a lighter tube.
The picture also shows some 600 grit sandpaper and a scraper to roughen the outside of a tube before applying the glue. There is also a Presta valve core there, just in case. Both these items don't add much bulk but are useful when you need them.
Park Tool Super Patch
In my kit are also some Park Tool Super Patches. These patches work like stickers and don't require any glue. They are small and light, so are very portable. Unlike vulcanizing patches they also work on other materials. I have used them to repair a waterproof bladder that had punctures by falling of my bicycle and scraping over the road. The downside is that they don't seem to be as reliable as vulcanizing patches. When I used them on a tube, it started to leak again after two weeks. This would still be enough time to get a replacement tube in most situations.
You cannot inflate a tire with your mouth, so you need a pump. CO2 cartridges are an alternative, but they one time use only and meant to get you home. On a multi day tour you better bring a pump. Any pump that fits your valve will work. Small, light, reliable and affordable is what I used too look for. After trying to pump up a big fat tire with a tiny pump several times I realized that there is more to it. A pump with a larger air chamber requires less strokes, this saves a lot of time and will not wear you out as much. A hose and footrest will make it easier to pump too. A manometer is not essential, you can do it by feeling, but knowing that you have the correct pressure can be reassuring.
In my kit I have a Bontrager Mini Charger pump. It's not the smallest or lightest pump, but it works very well, especially for bigger tires. It also looks pretty good for a pump. Pumping is fast and almost becomes fun.
Nuts and bolts
Most nuts on bicycles have a metric thread and hex socket. Handlebar, saddle, racks, mudguards, pedals, brakes, grips, bottle cages are all often held in place with hex bolts.
I carry a little zip lock bag with an assortment of spare M5 and M6 bolts of various lengths with washers and nuts.
Set of hex keys
After a tire repair kit a set of hex keys is the next essential item in any repair kit. A set of hex keys is very portable, and is essential wide array of repairs. Hex keys are usually L-shaped allow you to use both ends, with a long handle when you need to apply more torque, and a short handle when reaching for difficult places and when quickly turning the key.
My set of hex keys is about as basic as they come. The keys are held together in a holder which has size labels on it. The largest key has a bit on it which makes it even larger. This was part of a multi-tool that fell apart, just like the two J-shaped keys next to it.
Some nicer hex keys have ball ends which allows you to use them from different angles. I just have one extra long 3 mm hex key with a ball end to reach for some tight spots.
At home I have a full set with ball ends, but on the road I don't consider it a necessity. Higher end hex keys are sometimes color coded, which can be useful, but is not necessary in a travel kit. Hex keys with T-shaped handles are more comfortable to work with but are bulky and heavy and don't belong in a travel kit.
Set of torx keys
I also have a set of torx keys (in green holder) I only need one for dialing in the inner brake pad of Avid BB7 disc brakes. I could save some weight by leaving the rest home. Mine happen to be "security" torx keys which have a hole in the middle. I never needed it, but less material means lower weight!
One of my heaviest tools is the adjustable wrench. It's a small one with a 150 mm long handle, but it's solid (chrome vanadium) steel. I do use it a lot, the main use is to remove the axle nuts on my rear wheel. Because it has an internal gear hub there is no quick release. The wrench also works on the nuts holding the mudguards, luggage rack, rear light and can even work as a spoke key. I am interested in replacing it with a lighter alternative, but have not found one yet.
The hexagonal tool is a Tacx spoke key. It's heavier than a Spokey, and does not hold the nipple as well. But the great thing about it is that it has three different sized openings. The Spokey does not fit around my rear wheel's spokes which are slightly thicker. The Tacx is therefor more versatile and usable on the road.
Security skewer key
My wheels and saddle have a security key which prevents them from being quickly being removed. In case I do want to remove them I need the security key.
At home I have a wide assortment of lubricants. On the road I just bring some chain lube. The picture shows an unused sample package of Rand Momentum chain lube, on bigger trips I bring a small bottle of Squirt Lube which I find to work well in dry conditions.
I have never had a brake cable fail on the road. Usually they get stiff and rusty first. Even if one brake no longer works, you still have the other one. However, a bicycle without any brakes is not very ridable. Both cables breaking is very unlikely, but since a spare brake cable does not add much bulk I carry one one along. It's a pretty universal item that can be used on many different bicycles. Having a steel cable can also be useful for other purposes in situations where improvisation is required.
In my experience shifting cables are more prone to breaking since they are thinner and some shifters really bend them a lot. I should carry a spare shifting cable in addition to the brake cable.
Duct tape is often hailed as a very useful. I don't use it so much on the bicycle, but have used it to patch up tears in fabrics and shoes on cycling trips. It doesn't stick so well in freezing conditions though.
Not in the picture, but I usually have an assortment of cable ties (aka tie wraps) hidden away. Some parts of my bicycles have been held together with cable ties for years. They are excellent for keeping cables in place, they keep a handlebar bag from sagging and they kept a crate on a city bicycle mostly secure, most of the time.
Fleece cloth / dirty rag
Bicycle repair can be a dirty business. Something to wipe grease stains of your hands and bicycle is nice to have around. I have a fleece cloth that came with a cheap bicycle repair set. it doesn't weigh much, and even when not in use it is super useful in preventing from all the tools rattling around inside my saddle bag. It can also be used as a sheet to lay nuts, bolts and other tiny parts on.
Pictured are some Fosco folding pliers. This multi tool has a knife, saw, awl, can opener, file and screwdrivers hidden in the handles. I don't use it for the bicycle repairs very much, but during trips mostly for cutting food. The serrated knife is excellent for cutting bread.
The Fosco multi-tool is made out of relatively soft steel. The wire cutters gets dented very easily. The knife is sharp enough and is easy to sharpen. I had this tool for seven years and it still works. I also have a Leatherman Rebar multi-tool which is very similar in size and features, but with a much better finish. The wire cutter have replaceable blades which are made from a much harder steel and the folding tools have a locking mechanism, but it also cost about 4 times more than the Fosco... That's why the Fosco floats around in a bag and gets to go on more trips while the Leatherman only comes on special occasions.
You may have noticed there is no bicycle specific multi-tool in my kit. I do like the idea of a multi-tool, but never can find the right one. The problem is usually that they are bulky, don't have all the tools that I do need, but do have some that I don't need. I already have the tool myself, and they usually are not ergonomic and expensive.
Most tools have a wide array of hex keys, but even a regular set of hex keys is usually, lighter, cheaper and easier to work with. A separate chain tool and spoke key is can also be lighter and easier to work with. Many other tools are specific for a particular bicycle.
First aid kit
The first aid kit is not necessarily for the bicycle, but since the rider is also the engine, it is included here. There are plenty of things that can go wrong with the engine. The first aid kit includes mainly bandages for plugging leaks, tweezers for removing foreign objects, disinfecting pads for cleaning damaged areas and some ibuprofen painkillers which also act as a general anti-inflammatory drug.
I have a small chain tool that I brought on some trips. However, with an internal gear hub chain problems are not so likely as with a derailer drivetrain. I only bring it on long foreign trips. With an internal gear hub you can't get away with removing a link or two, so you do need some extra links (or a master link).
Spare brake pads
I used to carry a set of spare brake pads for along time, since I did not know how long they would last. It turns out that Avid BB7 metallic brake pads last a long, long time when you use them mainly on the road. I stopped carrying them around after checking the brake pads and seeing how slowly they wear.
Carrying the tools
The pump came with some pieces to mount it on two bottle cage bolts. I keep it a pannier where it stays clean and protected.
The small tools are kept in my saddle bag for easy access, it stays on the bicycle all the time. The larger items like the spare tube, brake cable, multi tool and medical kit are in a small bag on the bottom of a pannier. The bag is a cheap handlebar bag, not waterproof, but fits exactly on the bottom of a pannier. If more space is needed it can also be attached to the handlebar to make space in the pannier.