Toolkit for your cycling holiday

Cycling Article Index

A Cyclists toolkit

Or what always goes with me on a cycling holiday.


As with so much in cycletouring, when choosing a toolkit to take on tour we are faced with the diametrically opposite requirements of 'tools to fix everything' and 'as small and light as possible'. The temptation is to look at your home toolbox and just throw everything in just-in-case – but that's not the best idea;-)

The secret is to know your bike intimately and have enough knowledge to both anticipate problems and fix them when they arise. As with everything 'bike' it's a compromise but I hope that by passing on my experience the following will help people planning to cycletour.Alien cycle multitool

Know your bike...

Most quality cycles use exclusively Allen (or 'hex') bolts for all cable attachments, adjustments and mountings like racks, derailleurs etc. However sometimes the manufacturer will have skimped and you'll find a normal bolt holding cables on derailleurs or brakes and the like. Hunt these suckers down and replace them with Allen bolts – otherwise you're going to have to carry spanners as well as Allen keys...

Which brings us to the Multi-tool;-) If you've checked the bolts your multi-tool must have all the necessary Allen keys, chain breaker (see article on this essential tool) and spoke keys that fit your spokes well enough to turn them. Sounds obvious but I have two expensive multi-tools that when asked to serve as spoke keys turned out to be as much use as a chocolate teapot. You don't want to find out that your spoke key is useless when you're miles from anywhere with a buckled rim too bad to ride, in the rain (it always rains when you break down) and with darkness threatening in an hours time... Test it first... With a good multi-tool, a puncture repair kit and a certain knowledge of your bike you will have 90% of roadside repairs covered.

Spares and tools.

Breakdowns that you can fix with your trusty multitool depend frequently on simple spares. Again you need to know your bike. The most common failures are tyres and punctures. You must carry a spare innertube. It's no good having the best patch-kit in the world if the innertube has a big split or the hole is right at the valve where getting a patch to stick is unlikely. Next off you need cables. Both gears and brakes use cables and unfortunately they are different and as front and rear cables are different lengths you need 4 cables cut to length to be fully covered. Why cut to length? Because in my experience nothing but proper cable cutters will cut a cable cleanly enough to feed it through the cable outer, and four cables weigh less that a pair of cable cutters. The compromise is to take one rear brake cable (make sure it has the correct 'nipple' end) and gear cable and rely on threading them through and if too long, chewing the end off with a pair of pliers or neatly rolling into a coil with a strip of gaffer-tape to hold it. In extremis a gear cable will double as a temporary brake cable, but the small nipple and thinner cable isn't designed to take the strain of hard braking.

These are essentials – it's also a good idea to carry three (at least) spare spokes of the correct length along with spare nipples. If you are on 26” - 36 spoke wheels you are extremely unlikely to need these, and even if one does break the wheel will survive with a tweek of the remaining spokes, but those still touring on 700c or bigger wheels (especially if on 32 or less spokes) may well have breakages (see here as to why). Having the correct length spokes will help if you resort to a bike shop. If you want to change the spokes yourself you'll probably find that the failed spokes are under the freehub sprockets and you'll need to remove these before you can fix the wheel. The only tool that's worth carrying to do this is a Hypercracker or one of the more recent copies. These are rare but worth hunting down and learning how to use – search for 'hypercracker' and all will be revealed.

If you don't have a hypercracker then you'll need a freehub remover and a chain-whip in order to remove the cassette and thence change the spokes – you'll also need to carry or borrow a large spanner. If you can't do that then spare spokes aren't really worth the effort. Personally I wouldn't be without a Hypercracker and spokes but it's a specialist choice. The alternative is to learn to true a wheel that has lost a spoke – however, useful though this is, it doesn't solve the problem as on >700c wheels one broken spoke is generally rapidly followed by another, and another etc...

So that just about wraps it up for the basic tool-kit – a decent multi-tool, spare innertube, puncture kit and two cables. But my toolkit contains some 'special' items.

Those 'special' items...

These are things that I always carry and they get used pretty often;-)

1 – Gaffer/power/duct tape. Thick, very sticky and fibre re-enforced tape. Uses are many. I've fixed racks, tyres, supported split innertubes (tape over a patch to help support it), repaired tents, panniers and waterproofs. You don't need to carry a full roll – what I do is take a small section of tent pole repair pole (an aluminium tube 8 cms long) and wrap tape around this so that I have maybe 30 cm of tape. That's sufficient for most purposes. The tent pole repair section is not just for fixing tent poles, but can also be used to re-enforce racks and the like in conjunction with the tape.

2 – Superglue. The list of uses is similar to the tape;-) I've also used it to glue dental caps back on and to close cuts (you need to know what you are doing).

3 – Cable ties. Again multi-purpose bodge fixing! They are amazingly strong and can replace broken pannier hooks – you'll soon learn to spot places where you can use them!

4 – Small pot of oil. Just an eyedropper bottle full will get your chain or cable lubed in extremis.

5 – small rectangle of old bike tyre. Just cut out a 6cm long section of tyre (with no tread) cutting from bead to bead so that just the bead is missing. You can use this to line a split tyre – amazing how long it'll last...

6 - Engineer's gloves. These are soooo good. Get thin ones so you can feel small items but they will protect your hands from oil and worse. Make horrible messy breakdowns a 'clean' experience.

7 - a couple of spare rack/bottlecage bolts. You lose one every tour;-)

So – a survival kit for your cycling holiday. Obviously if you are going on an expedition across Africa your kit of tools and spares will have to be rather more extensive, but the above is just fine for most 'civilized' tours...

A Small Favour

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