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How to choose a bike multi-tool

Crank Brothers Multi Tool Gold

How to choose a bike multi-tool: what is it needed for?

Most people carry a multi-tool, or some individual tools, for roadside adjustments and fixes.

You might need to adjust your saddle, seatpost, or handlebars; or tinker with your derailleurs or brakes. If you get a puncture, you can use the tyre levers on your multi-tool, if it has them. If a spoke breaks, you may want to unscrew the spoke nipple with the spoke key on your multi-tool. If your chain snaps, you'll want to be able to remove the broken link with your multi-tool's link remover, and reconnect the chain, either by shortening it, or by inserting a missing link. 

Aside from your own adjustments and repairs, if you come across someone else in a fix, it's nice to be able to produce the tool they need, and get them back on the road. This is what froze wrote on the roadbikereview forum:

'I carry the Park MTB3, it has almost everything; and while there's a couple of tools on there I'll never use on my bikes, I may have to use them on someone else's bike.'

Similarly, Kibbee commented on Bicycles Stack Exchange:

'The only reason I could think of for having a couple of tools you don't need is to help out other cyclists when they have an issue. It's amazing the number of people who will ride around without any tools at all, or will ride around without some tool they need because they forgot about that one bolt or screw that uses that specific tool.'

Brooks England MT 10

What you need will depend very much on how far you're going - how far from home, or from a bike shop. This is what W T Harper says on the discussion on Bicycles Stack Exchange:

'This will depend totally on how far you will be from civilisation and/or a bike shop. If you're touring the Great Divide, you'll need everything necessary to make it home. If you're puttering around town you can get away with a few hex keys. I regularly carry different kits depending on where I'm going and how long I'll be away.'

I've left my bike locked up in town, and forgotten to take the saddle bag off, which was (unsurprisingly) promptly stolen. For short local journeys, I now sometimes choose to take the risk, and ride without a saddlebag (and therefore without my multi-tool).

Some touring cyclists prefer to take their own individual tools, rather than a multi-tool. This is one cycle tourer's opinion:

'Multitools are designed for weight-conscious sporting cyclists...We're all after an easy life and fixing your bike is a lot harder if you're using a multitool. The screwdrivers and allen keys...aren't long enough to reach the bolt head and can only make a quarter turn before the bulky body of the multitool obstructs any further rotation. You can't use two tools at once as is necessary when tightening a nut and bolt from both sides. The tyre levers are too fat and lack leverage.'

How to choose a bike multi-tool: what tools should it have?

Topeak Alien II

Allen keys

Allen keys are the most basic and important tool to have on a ride, and the 5mm key is the commonest size required. The other sizes you need depend on your bike. You could be very sensible, and check exactly which sizes you need for your bike; or you could just assume that you've probably got all the allen keys you need on your multi-tool. I'm not prepared to disclose which of these is my strategy.

Screwdrivers

Most multi-tools will have a flathead and a Phillips screwdriver. These can be used to adjust the limiter screws on your derailleurs. They may be useful for other general tasks - for example, if the nut holding your bicycle bell bracket came loose, you could tighten it.

A multi-tool may have a Torx screwdriver, too. Torx screw heads are most commonly found on bike brake systems.

Chain link remover

Not every multi-tool has a chain link remover, but if yours doesn't, it may be worth carrying a separate link remover and missing link. Although you're more likely to need one for a mountain bike than a road bike, if your chain does snap, you'll be properly stuffed if you can't put it back together on the roadside, and in for a long walk. 

Most commenters on Bike Forums agree that a snapped chain is infrequent, but it's worth having a link remover in case.

Spoke key

My multi-tool has a spoke key built into the back of the link remover. I won't be using it to replace a broken spoke on the roadside, because I don't carry spare spokes, but it could come in handy for unscrewing a spoke nipple, to remove the broken spoke, if a spoke breaks near the hub of the wheel. 

I've also got some duck tape wrapped around my bike pump, so I could tape a broken spoke to its neighbour. 

Kerry Irons on roadbikereview forum has another spoke key solution: 'I have my house key notched to serve as a spoke wrench.'

Tyre levers

Some multi-tools have tyre levers. For example, the Nutter incorporates a tyre lever in quite an innovative way. (The Nutter is available from Chain Reaction Cycles at £36.99). Otherwise, a set of two or three plastic tyre levers will not weigh very much.

How to choose a bike multi-tool: how much should it weigh?

LifeLine 10 in 1 Folding Multi Tool

The weight of your multi-tool will of course depend partly on how many tools it has. 

For example, my cheap Bike Hut multi-tool, which has allen keys, screwdrivers, and a chain link remover, weighs 213g. The Topeak Hexus II weighs 167g, and the Topeak Alien II, with all of the usual tools plus a knife, bottle opener, and pedal wrench, comes in at 290g.

How to choose a bike multi-tool: buying options

Topeak Hexus II Multi Tool

Prices for multi-tools vary widely, according to how many tools they offer, the quality, and whether or not it's a brand name.

Wiggle have a wide range of multi-tools, with prices starting at £2.50 for a LifeLine Essential 10 in 1 folding multi-tool. They sell the Topeak Hexus II for £17.99, and the Topeak Alien II for £29.99 (both prices valid at the time of writing). The Brooks England MT 10 comes with a nice leather cover for £24.74, and the Crank Brothers 19 Function Multi Tool (Gold) is gold coloured, and currently costs £23.69 at Wiggle. 

Lezyne V10

Chain Reaction Cycles have an even wider range of multi-tools, including the Topeak Hexus II and Topeak Alien II at similar prices to Wiggle. The Lezyne V10 Multi Tool is currently selling with a 26% discount, at £19.99. Amongst the Park Tools they offer is the Folding Allen Key & Screwdriver Set AWS9, at £8.99, and the I-Beam 1 Mini Tool at £10.49.

Park Tools AWS9         Park Tools I-Beam Mini Tool

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