“Be prepared.” — The Girl Scout motto
Being prepared used to mean carrying a spare tube, pump, and a modicum of tools. In the age of smart phones, however, preparedness has taken on a somewhat different meaning. For many, being prepared now means having the latest rideshare app installed on their phone. Carrying a phone while riding is never a bad idea, but a spare tube and the necessary tools are cheap insurance when you’re in a remote area with poor–or no–cellphone coverage.
Over the past ten years my on-the-bike repair kits have ranged from nothing (dumb, I know) to the kitchen sink approach. This year, I decided to take a more sane approach, starting with pocket (aka, multi/mini) tools. Rather than review a handful of tools with identical specs and features, these particular tools were specifically chosen to cover a wide range of varying requirements. So whether you’re exploring the back country or riding to the bus stop, there’s a tool that’ll keep you rolling.
By their very nature, pocket tools are all about compromises. Small tools typically lack the necessary leverage for high-torque fittings, and big tools are often heavy and bulky. Blackburn’s Switch, however, manages to successfully balance compactness and versatility in one tidy package. Weighing 98 grams (total), the Blackburn is only bested by the 91-gram Spurcycle. But with the Blackburn’s case weighing 28 grams, the Switch is actually the lightest (multi-)tool in this roundup. Light weight doesn’t mean wimpy, though. With its all-steel construction, Blackburn’s Switch feels decidedly sturdy in use. A comfortable handle accommodates L and T-style configurations, making it easy to use in tight spaces. The stylish, topo-inspired carrying doesn’t rely on Velcro, but instead features a giant rubber band to keep the contents secure. My only complaint? No bits for 2 mm or 8 mm hex fittings.
|Hex||2.5mm, 3 mm, 4 mm, 5 mm, 6 mm|
|Weight||98 grams (total), 28 grams (case)|
Silca T-Ratchet + T-Torque Kit
Ever been on a ride and experienced a slipping seatpost or handlebar? It’s not only annoying, it’s potentially dangerous. Many components are designed around specific torque values, and if you under- or over-tighten them, you risk damage. Thanks to Silca’s T-Ratchet + T-Torque Kit, you can eliminate the guesswork when it’s time for a mid-ride adjustment. Inside the kit’s waxed canvas carrying case you’ll find Silca’s Ti-Torque beam, a 72-tooth ratchet with convertible magnetic extensions, and an assortment of hex and Torx bits. At the heart of the system is the Ti-Torque beam. With three separate scales, the Silca covers a range of 2 – 8 Nm. Unlike most shop-style tools, the Silca doesn’t click when you reach the desired torque. Instead, you pick the applicable scale, and then tighten until the markings line up. It’s actually easier than it sounds, but the tiny numbers can be hard to read if you have poor eyesight.
|Hex||2 mm, 2.5 mm, 3 mm, 4 mm, 5 mm, 6 mm|
|Torx||T10, T20, T25|
|Other||#2 Phillips head bit|
|Weight||225 grams (total), 62 grams (case)|
Making a name for themselves with their exquisitely crafted bells, Spurcycle recently expanded their lineup to include a 10-function pocket tool. Constructed in Richmond, California, from grade-5 titanium, Spurcycle’s tool includes 10 chrome-plated bits neatly housed in a lightweight X-Pac carrying case (that just happens to be made in San Francisco). Even with its minimalist form factor, the Spurcycle tool is a joy to use. This is one of the few pocket tools that I would describe as precise. Bits are held securely by a small magnet tucked away inside the socket, and the tool’s sliding handle moves with the precision of a medical instrument. Operation requires no special sequences or machinations–it does exactly what it needs to with minimal effort, while taking up barely any space in your pocket or pack. Spurcycle’s tool may cost more than its counterparts, but it might just outlast your current bike.
|Hex||2 mm, 2.5 mm, 3 mm, 4 mm, 5 mm, 6 mm, 8 mm|
|Weight||91 grams (total), 9 grams (case)|
Topeak Mini 9
I’ve purchased four or five of these Topeak Mini 9 tools over the years because I either lose them or give them away to stranded riders. At one point, they could be found in every one of my bikes’ seat packs. Why? They’re small, inexpensive, and built to last. Everything–save for the 8 mm hex adapter–is attached, so there are no bits to drop or lose (the included neoprene case keeps things secure when not in use). Throw it in your backpack or seat bag and it’s there when you need it. Topeak may be known more for their larger, more complex tools, but the Mini 9’s build quality is excellent. There’s no annoying play in the fold-out bits, and they’re positioned for easy access. Due to the tool’s compact size, however, leverage is somewhat limited (although that’s never been an issue for road/trail-side repairs).
|Hex||2 mm, 2.5 mm, 3 mm, 4 mm, 5 mm, 6 mm, 8 mm|
|Weight||98 grams (total), 7 grams (case)|
Wolf Tooth Pack Pliers
Wolf Tooth’s Pack Pliers aren’t a replacement for your multi-tool, but rather, are designed to complement your pocket tool’s functionality. These aren’t just any pliers, though. If you’ve ever struggled to open a greasy, dirty quick-link, you’ll appreciate the Wolf Tooth’s design. Compatible with 9-, 10-, 11-, and 12-speed chains, the Pack Pliers made short work of disconnecting the KMC, Shimano, and SRAM master links on my test bikes. Inside the handle you’ll find space for two complete quick links (not included), which are held in place via a large magnet. That same magnet also makes the tool auto-closing. Wolf Tooth didn’t stop there, though; the pliers can also be used to tighten valve stem nuts on tubeless setups, and there’s a built-in tire lever (not recommended for use with carbon rims). And last, but certainly not least, you can use the Y-shaped cutout to remove or replace presta valve cores.
|Other||Quick-link pliers, tire lever, valve core remover, valve stem lock nut wrench|
Disclosure: The above companies provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.