What does your bicycle touring toolkit look like?
The proper bicycle touring toolkit depends on a number of factors. Am I riding in a group? What type of terrain am I covering? Will there be bicycle shops nearby? A group of bicycle tourists can spread out an extensive bicycle touring toolkit across their panniers quite easily. Credit card bicycle tourists on established routes can get away with a spartan bicycle touring toolkit. Solo remote adventure cyclists may need to carry more or are able to get by with less than a fully operational bicycle. What do you use?
Let’s look at a few bicycle touring styles and define what I would bring. One warning is that you need to know your bicycle inside and out and be able to do maintenance on it. If you don’t know how to fix it in ideal conditions [work stand and proper tools] you will have no chance at performing maintenance on the roadside during a rain storm. I am assuming you know your bike and you know how to work on it safely and effectively.
Experience is probably your most effective tool you have in your bicycle touring toolkit. Your credit card is perhaps the most used tool even when not touring ‘Credit card’ style.
I have split up the toolkits into three separate groups. Understand that the remote tourer would carry the complete bicycle touring toolkit = credit card + cross-country + remote. Let’s have a look at three , lightweight bicycle touring toolkits:
Credit Card bicycle touring toolkit:
The credit card tourist on an established route can get away with a minimal bicycle touring toolkit. This bicycle tourist will probably be within reach of a bicycle shop every day. If they leave on a bicycle that is well maintained there is no reason to carry an extensive set of tools. They should concentrate on daily prevention and they always are able to whip out the credit card and get a ride to a bicycle shop to tackle serious maintenance.
One should check their tire pressure everyday and closely inspect tires for cuts, thorns, and sidewall rips. Chain lube gets added everyday and anytime the rain kicks up. Flats are going to happen. Patching a tube is second nature.
Basic credit card bicycle touring toolkit:
Cross country bicycle touring toolkit:
Even on extended routes the cross-country cyclist can find themselves on stretches where there are days between bicycle shops and replacement parts. I have ridden my bicycle across the US and Canada three times and never had a major blowup of any bearing related part. When I leave on tour I am sure that my headset, bottom bracket, and both hubs are ready for a 3000 mile journey. The work you do in preparing your bicycle for the road is much more important than the work you will do on your bicycle while on the road.
On two of my tours the only maintenance that I did was preventative: chain lube everyday, tube repair, drive train fine tuning via barrel adjusters, brake tuning via barrel adjusters, tightening rack mounts, and possibly some wheel truing.
If you can switch from index shifting to friction mode you may never need to tighten your derailleur cables. My brake pads lasted all the way across the country on all three trips. A good set of tires with no ‘accidents’ can get you across the country but I would recommend rotating them about halfway through your trip. You see more wear on the back tire because it is carrying weight.
On one cross-country tour I had a rear rim crack several times around the spoke holes because of the weight I was carrying. I rode the damaged rim for about 50 miles and into the next bike shop I saw to have a new wheel built. It was my first tour and I was carrying too much weight on a 23mm racing tire. Sometimes you cannot fix your bike completely. Fixing your bike may default to making it rideable to the next available bike shop.
Add these items to complete your cross-country bicycle touring toolkit:
Remote location bicycle touring toolkit:
There are routes where one needs to consider carrying a much more extensive bicycle touring toolkit and spare parts. The bikepacking scene puts riders well away from bike shops and in the wilderness. Bicycle touring routes in places like Alaska, the Northwest Territories, and Patagonia come with the built-in feature that there are no bike shops and maybe no help at all. Maybe there is nothing within 5 days ride or longer.
I have never toured in these conditions. The farthest I have ever toured away from services was a three-day stretch. In these ‘out of the way’ places the conditions are also much more harsh demanding that spare parts be carried.
There are some debatable options. I have never had a shift or brake cable break while riding. I could easily set my derailleurs to one ridable gear with the limiting screws so extra cables might be out. At least one extra tire would be recommended as well as extra patches and tubes.
I worked as a bike mechanic for long stretch and I do all of my bike maintenance. In harsh conditions I would opt to carry the weight of an extra set of allen wrenches, reversible screwdriver, and a crescent wrench.
Add these items to complete your remote bicycle touring toolkit
What is in your bicycle touring toolkit?
Have I missed anything? Let me know.