Practical Advice for Transportation Cycling

Sometimes, all that matters is getting from Point A to Point B as cheaply, safely and efficiently as possible. You don't need a fast bike, you don't need a pretty bike, and most of all you don't need an expensive bike, you just need one that works.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Monday is for Multitools!

One of my favorite things about bicycles is how easy they are to maintain with simple hand tools. While automobiles have increasingly become more computerized and reliant on hard-to-acquire equipment, most bike repairs require only a couple allen wrenches and a screwdriver.

With a little knowledge, you can usually fix most malfunctions right at the side of the road, as long as you have some basic know-how and the right wrench. While it's entirely possible to simply carry a handful of full-size tools with you on every ride, most cyclists opt for some sort of cycling-specific multitool.

Some of the multitools in my collection. From left to right: Topeak, Wrench Force, Crank Brothers and Park Tool.
Cycle-specific multitools range from the super-simple such as the Park Tool shown at right above, which is meant for singlespeed bikes and has tools to loosen axle bolts, change tires and open bottles, to kitchen-sink inclusiveness, such as the Topeak Alien on the left.

Allen wrenches, box wrenches, spoke wrenches bottle opener, screw driver, tire levers, chain tool and knife blade... I may have missed something.
At one point or another I've put every single tool on the Topeak Alien to use (especially the bottle opener),  and it's great if you tend to venture out on solo long distance rides, or if you're looking for a selection of tools for at-home tinkering, but it's overkill for most commuting. Also at around $40 retail, it's not something I would want to leave in a seat bag on a bike locked outdoors. The Crank Brothers tool shown third in line has a similar assortment of parts, less the tire levers and knife.

Most riders are perfectly fine with a smaller, less expensive tool, such as the Wrench Force tool I also have.

All the Allen wrench sizes you're likely to need, plus a philips and flatblade screwdriver. 
Most adjustments and minor repairs on a bicycle require either a 5 or 6mm Allen wrench, or a small flatblade screwdriver. With a tool like the one shown above (which can usually be found in the $10-20 range, sometimes even cheaper), you can adjust handlebars or seats, tighten cable anchor bolts and generally perform whatever little tweaks you need to get you and your bike home.

If you're anything like me, you'll probably accumulate a few of these tools over time, and if you own more than one bike, will likely have a tool kit for each. In my case, the inexpensive tools usually stay with the commuter bike, that's locked outdoors, while the more elaborate tools go with me on longer recreational treks.

Unless I'm leaving the bike locked up in a high-risk area, my multitools usually live in a saddlebag, often with a spare inner-tube, portable pump and other accessories.

The junk in my trunk. 
A portable tool, and a bit of know-how, can make the difference between a quick roadside repair and a long walk home.

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