Currently in Chiang Mai, Thailand (06/12/2013) - 31200km cycled

27 May 2013

Tools and spares to take on a long bicycle tour

Posted by Will

This article comes from someone bereft of any intuitive mechanical ability. It’s probably not worth reading if you’re good at bike mechanics. It probably is useful if you don’t really know what you’re doing.

As far as the mechanical side of bicycle touring goes I didn’t know anything before I started. I barely knew how to fix a puncture. I’ve learnt along the way as you will too if you haven’t already.

Don’t ever let a lack of mechanical knowledge get in the way of starting your bike trip. Things work themselves out.

- Allan keys (hex keys) for every adjustable part of your bike. Most cyclists take a multi-key with lots of different sizes all in one tool. That’s OK but beware the fiddly bits that may not be able to fit your cumbersome tool of supposed convenience. I had this problem with a small screw on my front pannier rack. I couldn’t quite tighten it. Eventually the rack collapsed because of it. For fiddly parts, get an individual (L-shaped) key.

- Screwdriver (both normal and Phillips head). Is usually found attached to bike multi-tools. Again, beware the fiddly bits.

- Spanner with multiple sizes to tighten up nuts and bolts on your bike.

- Chain-link tool. If your chain snaps (which it is more likely to do in hilly terrain or if you’re really working your bike in a high gear) you’ll want this tool to fix it again. With it you should carry a couple of spare links (individual parts of the chain) and a spare pin. Not included on most multi-tools but definitely worth having on a long trip.

- Pliers. Not really useful for anything specific but useful for most unspecific fixes. Remove snapped-off bolts that have become stuck, lever something out of the way, tweak something into place etc. Inculded in the leatherman multi-tool (a good/better alternative to the much more famous Swiss-Army Knife).

- The bristly end of a toothbrush. Good for cleaning the complex parts of your bike. This should get out the bike-damaging stones and grit when you’ve been on a wet and dirty road.

- A small rag. Good for wiping down parts, getting off excess oil etc…

- Duct Tape. The thinner, smaller roll is better as it’s lighter and takes up less space although watch that it doesn’t lose its stick. Good as a temporary solution for a lot of mechanical problems. In most situations it will get you to the next bike shop. As famous bike adventurer Alistair Humphries says: ‘if a part moves that shouldn’t, use duct tape.’

- Iron wire. A thin length of a meter or so is very light and can be used in conjunction with duct tape to make a solid temporary fix. Gets odd jobs done.

- Strong cable ties. Get a variety of lengths and thicknesses. Like the above they get odd jobs done and can fix temporarily almost everything fiddly both on your bike and in your kit.

- Puncture repair kit. Available at every bike shop this consists of a number of patches (the more the better and the more different shapes and sizes the better too), rubber solution, sandpaper, some chalk (not really necessary) and at least 2 tyre levers (preferably metal or strong reinforced plastic).

- Spare inner tube. Obvious.

- Some spare nuts and bolts of the correct size for your bike.

- Bike oil. Ask a bike shop about bike oil. The cheap stuff will do but you’ll probably get a better performance if you get something a little bit more specific. Make sure you wrap it up tight in plastic as the containers they come in usually leak – definitely get a screw-top to your oil to reduce the chances.

- Spare brake cable/gear cable. Maybe. I do take one but I’ve never used it. Weighs practically nothing.

Above all, think about where you’re going when packing your bike toolkit. In Europe, you’ll find plenty of bike shops, plenty of spares everywhere, and plenty of decent bike mechanics. In Central Asia, you’d be pushing your luck to find a bike shop at all, let alone one with decent parts. But you will always be able to find a man with a tool (a friend of mine managed to get his frame welded in less than an hour on the Pamir Highway). Some parts of the world have better roads than others. Better roads mean less maintenance. Some places are hillier than others too. Pack accordingly!

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