On Bicycles and Tools

noun: tool; plural noun: tools
1. a device or implement, especially one held in the hand, used to carry out a particular function.

I like tools. They help me earn a living, to keep my life in order, give me some independence, and aid creative output. And I like tools just for the design, the form and function. Some are quite beautiful and clever. I know how to use tools, so having them is an extension of my knowledge and ability. I’m smarter with tools at hand, so more is better— maybe.

Tools need secure dry storage space, organization and maintenance. Failing to follow though on those obligations has consequences in not being able to find them when needed, damage from the environment and not functioning properly, and they can be expensive. As Henry David Thoreau noted many years ago, we can be owned by our possessions.

I’m used to evaluating tools in light of ultralight backpacking principles: taking only what I will use, seeking the lightest and highest performance versions, and those with multiple uses.  Many ultralight hikers will go into the wilderness with nothing more than a single-edge razor blade or some tiny scissors. So we can ads WEIGHT to the consequences of owning tools.

Given my love of tools and a good background in using them, it is all too easy to load up my bike with a selection of widgets. As with wilderness travel, it can be driven by the Tyranny of What Ifs: what if I get a flat, tear a sidewall, break a chain, snap a spoke or cable, etc? Like buying insurance, I am betting that something bad will really happen and spending weight to insure that I can deal with that uncertain something. Going back to the ultralight principle of taking only what I will use gets to be a Catch 22, as I might not have any mechanical issues at all, but I need some level of preparation.

My hiking kit includes the classic essentials with a first aid kit, whistle, compass and maps, knife, sunglasses, extra clothing, rain gear, extra food, water purification and storage, fire making, emergency shelter, lighting, and some repair items. I might hike a lifetime and never need the items on that list, but if I get between a rock and a hard place, I’ll be happy to have them at hand. When my bicycle comes into the mix, I take all the above, plus a few more tools for the bike. So we still have the teeter-totter of will it be used and is it foolhardy to go without.

Now I don’t do deep wilderness travel on my bike, or trekking remote roads in the Andes or places where I could be stranded for a week waiting for a part to arrive. Most of my bike travel is fairly close to home and in places where I could walk back to a main road in a couple hours at most. Much of my hiking emergency gear strategy is based on an injury that would keep me from walking, loss my gear, etc. Those concerns work with bike travel too, but with the bike I need to keep the wheels turning, keep air in the tires, be able to stop and steer and shift gears. Some trekkers have spare chains, spokes, brake parts, and more and the tools to go with them. I’m not going there.

So here is what I have found for my local trail trail and urban bike trips:Bike tools

  • Tire pump. This is a thrift store find, so the choice is driven more by price and accident than deliberateness. It is a Topeak MiniMasterBlaster and pumps on both strokes and is reasonably sized at 10.5″ and not too heavy at 5 ounces. I also have a Topeak Turbo Morph G pump with a gauge, a folding handle, and a foot lever to morph into a 10 ounce 14″ floor pump. It has a hose and is easy to use, but I can’t really justify hauling it. Weight and size null the cool factor. I have a CO2 inflator too, but it strikes me as Murphy-esque and could be more trouble than it’s worth. The inflator and a cartridge weighs nearly as much as the pump. My tires take just 55 PSI maximum but they have a lot of volume. The pump seems to make more sense and is more reliable. I haven’t had a lot of flats. so I don’t expect to be doing a lot of tire work in the field, but I have to be prepared, so a good part of my tools and spares are tire based.
  • Patch kit
  • Tire levers. I could get by with 2 rather than this 3 pack.
  • Spare tube. I was surprised how much this 26×2.10 tube weighs at 6.2 ounces. I did some research and there are tubes in the 3 ounce range, but do I want to ride on them?
  • Rubber gloves. Light and nice when dealing with the back tire and chain. They are ambidextrous and I could wear just one at a time to get the chain back on the cog.
  • Road wipes. Hand cleaner towelette.
  • Leatherman Skeletool CX. I had a Leatherman Wave which is a widget lover’s delight, but with case and bit set it could tip the scale at 12oz. The Skeletool is pliers-based and has a locking knife blade, wire cutter and 4 screwdriver bits in a5oz package. When I take the bike it replaces my 4 ounce Benchmade Griptilian hiking pocket knife, so I get a lot of function for the extra ounce. I can take Allen and Torx bits as well as the screwdriver bits, but Leatherman has altered the bits, flattening them to fit in the system and I don’t trust them for high torque stuff like my seat bolt. The Phillips and flat screwdriver bits work fine and I don’t have many fasteners on the bike with those heads. That little brass gizmo on a chain hanging form the end of the tool is a Schraeder to Presta valve adapter, allowing me to use any pump or compressor air source on my Presta tubes.
  • Park Tool MT-1 multi-tool. This is a brand new discovery for me. I have a fold-out bicycle multi-tool with 5 Allen keys a #2 Phillips and a flat screwdriver blade, but it weighs 4.8oz— nearly the same as the Leatherman. There are smaller Allen-based multi-tools but most are too short for good leverage. Those with more than 7 or 8 bits are ungainly to use and lean to the “Inspector Gadget” column. The MT-1 is just 1.6 ounces, has 5 Allen bits, 3 sockets and a flat screwdriver blade. It is 4.5″ long, so I can get some leverage with it. It will fit in the Leatherman sheath if I decide to include it. It was $11, which seems to be a good bargain.
  • Oil. I have a little dropper bottle of TriFlow oil. Decanting liquids to smaller bottles is an UL backpacking trick, following the principle of taking only what will be used. This works very well for personal hygiene items like soap, sunscreen, insect repellent, salves and ointments. I have cut out 12 ounces of pack weight this way, taking only enough for my trip rather than taking 3 ounces bottles of each item. This item is clearly labeled and marked “poisonous” so it isn’t mixed up with the other vials. Rubbing TriFlow in the wrong place might be unpleasant!
  • I do include a few zip ties, some duct tape, and spare batteries for my lamps.

So that is what I normally carry. I could add a chain breaker for rough trips; I have a Park Tool CT-5 that works very well and weighs 2.6 ounces. My bike has disc bakes and I should find a good way to work a Torx T25 into the mix.

Update: I was visiting the Bike Works community bicycle shop in the Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle and found a basket of mini multi-tools for a mere $5 each. The tool has 8 hard chrome vanadium steel bits including 2-6mm Allen keys plus flat and #2 Phillips screwdrivers. It weighs 3.4oz and is roughly 2-1/2″ x 7/8″ x 1-1/2″. As mentioned above, the weakness in these small tools is having enough leverage and if they have too many tools they get clumsy, but for $5 this isn’t a bad compromise. Definitely good for trips around town.

mini tool

So after that bargain, I bought a TransIt rack trunk bag in a thrift store for $5.99 and it included a Topeak Road Morph G tire pump! I had a Turbo Morph G pump, but I found that the gauge was broken, so this was a happy find. It doesn’t produce the same volume ad the Turbo version, but it is slightly small in diameter and weighs 7.2oz vs the 10 ounce Turbo model. I do like a pump with a short hose vs the whole pump attaching directly to the valve stem. With with weighing just 2.2 ounces more than the MiniMasterBlaster, I think this one will become first choice for my kit.

road morph g 1 road morph g 3



One thought on “On Bicycles and Tools

  1. jovialspoon July 14, 2015 / 6:47 pm

    A very useful post – thanks for sharing your info.

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