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, August 25, 2014

What Has It Got In Its Pocketssss Part 1: Non-Bike Specific Multitools

I was recently talking with somebody about multitools for bicycling (if my previous post on multitools didn't clue you in, I've got a habit of accumulating the things), and the idea of carrying a Leatherman or similar tool for cycling came up.

After a bit of thought, I had to say that I didn't think a pliers-based multitool, while great in many situations, was all that useful for a cyclist, for a few reasons.

First off, weight. Not in the sense of "making your bike heavy and slowing you down." For the commuting cyclist I've said before that's a non-issue, but the fact that most Leatherman type tools are fairly heavy and bulky and don't ride in your front pants pocket too comfortably, especially when you're pedaling a bicycle. Of course, many folks who carry one keep it in a bag or belt pouch, which would negate that.

Cost is another issue. A well-made mutitool of this type generally costs anywhere from $50 to $100, which makes them a bit of a stretch for those on a budget, and means I personally would be a bit uncomfortable leaving it in a seat bag while I locked my bike outside.

Finally, pliers aren't actually all that useful for roadside bicycle repairs. You may occasionally find them useful enough to MacGyver something together every now and then, but for most of the nuts and bolts on a bike, you mostly just risk rounding them out and stripping them if they're at all tight, and you'd be hard pressed to securely tighten the nuts of a bolt-on rear wheel with multitool pliers. You'd do better carrying a small adjustable wrench, or even a few single crescent wrenches in the sizes you need.

However, while I haven't found pliers and bulky pocket tools all that useful, I do find myself reaching for a non-bike specific tool all the time, whether at work or on commutes, to make minor tweaks and adjustments. Specificaly, this:
No, not the can opener (I can't actually remember the last time I used the can opener on that thing), but the little flat screwdriver at the end. It turns out that the small screwdriver on most Swiss Army knives is perfect for adjusting derailleur limit screws and brake centering screws. When I tune up a bike, I always take it for a test ride afterwards, just to make sure it's working right, and often I have to make a few fine adjustments. Brake and derailleur cable adjustments can be made by barrel adjuster, but those two things in particular require a small screwdriver, so it's easier to pop out this than to have a screwdriver poking a hole in my pocket.

The rest of the tools come in handy too (this is the Pioneer model, for you fellow tool geeks out there), and a basic Swiss-Army knife is relatively inexpensive, durable and far less bulky in your pocket than a Leatherman tool (unless you get one of the big deluxe models that are four inches thick and contain a miniaturized hardware store).

On most modern bicycles, a Swiss Army knife combined with a 4,5,6 mm Allen wrench set will actually cover almost all your roadside repairs for commuting. Add a pump, spare tube and tire levers and you're good to go. No need to buy fancy, expensive multitools at all (no need, I say, but I still love buying fancy multitools for their own sake).

Speaking of fancy multitools, I'll be reviewing the Reductivist Ringtool for part two of "What Has It Got In Its Pocketssss" later this week. Yes, I'm on a weird Tolkein kick with my titles. No, there's no particular reason, but if anyone wants to treat it as a hint and buy me a Rivendell for my birthday, feel free! 

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