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20 Essential Bicycle Tools to Bring on Your Ride

Eugene is a keen recreational cyclist who likes mountain biking in the hills and forests of County Wicklow, Ireland.

Lots of things can happen when you're out on a bike ride: Punctures, broken gear cables, chains snapping, screws coming undone and lights becoming detached. In this guide we'll cover some of the most basic items you should consider bringing with you if you want to get home safely and in one piece.

Puncture repair kit.

Puncture repair kit.

Puncture Repair Kit

A puncture repair is something that you're inevitably going to have to do at some point on your cycle trips and a flat tire is one of the most common things that can happen to your bike. You can repair the flat in situ or replace the tube and patch the punctured one when you get home. Items 1 to 6 in the list below make up a puncture repair kit. These items are available as a self-contained kit or they can be chosen and bought individually. My guide "How to Fix a Punctured Bicycle Tube and Tire: 10 Steps With Pictures" shows you how to fix a flat tire.

1. Multiwrench for Wheel Nuts

You'll need one of these to loosen wheel nuts so that the rear or front wheel can be slipped out of the rear dropouts or fork ends respectively. Some bikes have quick release wheels and you don't need to loosen these nuts, but a multiwrench can be used for tightening and loosening other nuts and bolts around the bike. Various shapes and types are available, including flat types that don't take up much space in a bike bag.

Multiwrench.

Multiwrench.

2. Glue or Glue-Free Patches

Glue-free patches take the hassle out of roughening and applying glue to a tube before attaching a patch. However patches that are glued on should in theory bond better and not cause problems down the line. If it's cold and dark and you just want to get home quick, there's no doubt that glue free patches are an essential item to carry in a tool kit, but there's no harm having both.

Tube patch.

Tube patch.

3. Glue for Patches

This solvent based glue comes in small tubes and a blob is all that's needed for bonding patches to punctured tubes. Glue actually dissolves rubber in contact when applied, ensuring a strong bond.

4. Sandpaper

Sand paper, or better still a piece of cloth backed emery paper that won't be damaged by water is used to roughen rubber bicycle tubes before glue is applied. This helps the solvent based glue to dissolve rubber and bond better. Sometimes metal files/graters are supplied with puncture repair kits for doing this.

5. Tire Levers

You'll need at least two of these for prizing the tire off the rim in order to patch a tube.

6. Chalk or a Sharpie (Marker)

You can mark the tire with chalk or a marker in line with the tube valve before the tube is removed so that both tire and tube can be aligned after repair. This enables any thorns or other items still stuck in the tube to be found. (The hole in the tire will coincide with the patch on the tube).

Puncture Repair Tools. A pump, multiwrench for different sized nuts, patches, glue, emery paper and tire levers.

Puncture Repair Tools. A pump, multiwrench for different sized nuts, patches, glue, emery paper and tire levers.

7. Piece of Scrap Tyre or Tube

A blowout occurs when a weakened tyre rips open from the pressure of the tube inside. Even if you repair a tube and pump it up, it'll bulge and penetrate out through such a hole. Even if it hasn't ripped from the blowout, the tube will be destroyed as it rubs off the ground surface. A piece of doubled up scrap tube or section of tire (Taper the edges with a sharp knife so they don't dig into the tube) positioned on the inside of the hole stops this from happening.

Piece of scrap tire for repairing a blowout. Pare the edges to an acute angle with a knife.

Piece of scrap tire for repairing a blowout. Pare the edges to an acute angle with a knife.

Cover the area of the blowout.

Cover the area of the blowout.

8. Bicycle Pump

A hand pump is essential to pump up a tire after repairing a flat. Short compact versions are available that pump both on the forward stroke when the handle is pushed in and also when the handle is pulled out. Road cyclists also use CO2 canisters to pump their tires up to the higher pressures that are used compaired to mountain bike tires. On an MTB, 65 PSI is normally the max pressure for tires (check the max pressure written on the sidewall) and I usually run my tires at about 60 to reducing rolling resistance. However 30 PSI is perfectly adequate to get you home after a puncture repair.

9. Spare Tube

If you get a blowout, the chances are that the tube will be torn and damaged beyond repair. Also if you don't want to start patching a tube on the road when it's cold or dark, a spare tube is worth carrying.

10. Hex Wrenches

Many screws on bikes are hex head socket types. Set screws (grub screws) used for making adjustments to brakes are also hex socket headed. A set of hex keys, also known as "Allen" keys is used for these screws. A set with sizes ranging from 1.5 mm to 100 mm is fine. You can buy a "key ring" type set with the keys arranged on a ring, but these tend to get tangled up in each other. A better system is a set with keys stored side by side on a plastic holder.

Hex or Allen keys.

Hex or Allen keys.

11. Small Screwdriver

A small screwdriver can be used for tightening standard slotted head screws. Typically these are used on light holders. A screwdriver with a blade about 4 mm wide is ideal.

12. Cable Ties (Zip Ties)

An assortment of short and long types are useful for tying lights or cables back into place, securing bags or a pump so it doesn't fall off, holding reflectors on wheels if the clips break and any general purpose securing of items until you get home.

Assorted length cable ties.

Assorted length cable ties.

13. PVC Insulating Tape

A roll of PVC electrical tape (insulating tape) always comes in handy. You can also carry a roll of duct tape, but it's much larger. Tape does pretty much the same as cable ties, securing items that have come loose, but you can also use it to seal holes in bags or wrap around click mounts on lights to stop them bouncing out of the mount if you hit bumps on the road.

PVC electrical insulating tape.

PVC electrical insulating tape.

14. Head Flashlight (Headlamp or Head Torch)

In the unfortunate event of a breakdown occurring at night, you'll need a head torch to see what you're doing while making a repair. Sure, you can use your front light and try to hold it with one hand or prop it on something so that it points where it's needed, but a head torch is much more effective at directing light and keeps your two hands free. The best torches have the batteries mounted in the lamp section on your forehead. Some models have a separate compartment at the back of the headband that houses batteries, connected to the front with wires. However the wires can catch in things like branches if you're working in a confined location.

A head lamp is invaluable for working hands free when fixing your bike in complete darkness.

A head lamp is invaluable for working hands free when fixing your bike in complete darkness.

A nice slim head torch.

A nice slim head torch.

15. PVC or Latex Disposable Gloves

Repairing a bike can be a filthy business, because of all the grime thrown up by wheels as they travel over dirty roads and muddy off-road terrain. The drive train (front chain wheels, chain and sprockets on the rear wheel) is an especially dirty section of your bike, covered with a mixture of the oil you used to lubricate it and road grime. A pair of gloves will keep your hands clean as you work, so you don't get your handlebars and clothes dirty on your trek home. PVC or nitrile gloves tend to be more durable than latex. Make sure you get gloves that fit snugly so that you handle small parts without difficulty.

Disposable PVC glove.

Disposable PVC glove.

16. Hex Socket Head Cap Screws

Bike accessories such as pump brackets, carriers and drink bottle holders are often fastened to the frame with these. Generally they are 5 mm diameter. 20mm long screws are suitable as spares.

Hex socket head cap screws.

Hex socket head cap screws.

17. Chain Breaking Tool

If your chain breaks, you'll need to remove the broken or twisted links. To do this you use a chain breaking tool to push out one or more of the connecting pins holding the links. Each link is made up of two plates with spacing rollers and connecting pins. Prepare the two ends of the chain so that there's a pair of inner plates at each end, with a roller in-between the plates. Then after feeding the chain around a front chain ring and around a sprocket on the back and through the jockey wheels, attach one half of a quick link to one end of the chain and the other half to the other end of the chain. Holding an end of the chain in each hand, mesh the two halves of the quick link together.

Chain breaking tool.

Chain breaking tool.

Parts of a bicycle chain. (1) Outer plate; (2) Inner plate; (3) Pin; (4) Bushing; (5) Roller.

Parts of a bicycle chain. (1) Outer plate; (2) Inner plate; (3) Pin; (4) Bushing; (5) Roller.

If your chain breaks or the joining link on it comes off, you'll need to replace it with a new one as described above.

Two halves of a quick link for joining a chain.

Two halves of a quick link for joining a chain.

Sometimes chains are held together with a joining link whose pins must be squeezed together for removal. The tool for doing this is a master link pliers. Quick links can also be a little difficult to remove by hand if a chain is slippy, so it's wise to carry one of these.

Master link pliers.

Master link pliers.

20. Spare Batteries

Many newer, more expensive front lights use rechargeable batteries, but cheaper types and rear lights are powered by AA or AAA cells, so carry a few of these in your kit. They can also be used in a head torch. Plastic boxes are available for storing these cells safely so they don't touch off other metal objects in your kit which can short them out and potentially start a fire.

20-essential-bicycle-tools-to-bring-on-your-ride
Storage boxes like these are available for holding 4 AA or AAA batteries.

Storage boxes like these are available for holding 4 AA or AAA batteries.

Miscellaneous Items

Not absolutely necessary, but useful all the same.

  • Spare tyre valve caps. These stop dirt getting into valves or air getting out if a valve is leaky.
  • Ziplock bags. Useful for storing dirty gloves after a repair, banknotes, maps, plasters/dressings for cuts etc.
Tire valve caps.

Tire valve caps.

Storing Tools and Other Items on Your Bike

Several types of bags are available for storing small items such as tools on a bike. Here are some ideas:

  • Top tube bag that sits over the tube. Often come with a transparent compartment on top where you can store a smartphone and usually a cover that unzips on 3 sides and swings up, so the contents inside can be easily accessed. I don't recommend them for storing heavy items because they can get top heavy and unless the straps are tight, the bag tends to try and swivel under the tube.
  • Top tube suspension bag. A variation on the above, but straps are above the bag and it hangs underneath the tube. Bag usually zips at the side.
  • Top tube pannier bag. These are made up of two bags side by side with a piece of connecting textile that hangs over the tube. If they're loaded equally, they hang well.
  • Handle bar bags. If you have a phone and speedometer etc on the bars, these can get in the way.
  • Saddle bag. Various sizes available. A small one is convenient for storing a spare tube. My concern about this type is that straps can wear and a bag can fall off unknowingly, so maybe not a good idea to keep important things in it.
  • Triangle frame bag. These are attached between the top tube and seat tube.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Eugene Brennan

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