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ANNECY, France (VN) — Constrained by airline baggage limits on weight and size, and my own ability to move everything by myself, I left the vast majority of my earthly possessions in a storage unit back in Boulder three months ago. The rest went to charity, or straight in the trash. For the most part, paring down to the essentials was refreshing. Until it came to my toolbox.
Over a decade spent acquiring my favorite bits and pieces would have to be undone, at least for a few months. Packing up the entire box was out of the question — too much weight, and too much volume. So I had to be selective.
Like a magpie eyeing the Queen’s jewelry, staring into my box’s open clamshell only left me paralyzed. I began slowly picking out each tool I thought I’d need until, rather predictably, I ended up with nearly the entire box sitting on the floor next to me. With a generic bike sitting in the back of my mind, I had been trying to match each tool with a foreseeable problem, whether or not it was likely to be one I’d actually encounter. It was an exercise in futility and excess. A new approach was needed.
The obvious secret, as it took me far too long to find out, is to match up tool selection not with some generic bike, but with the one you’re actually bringing. Pulling my bike out of its box, eyeing it from tip to tail, it was clear that most of the tools I’d laid out would be utterly useless, or only useful in the case of catastrophic failure.
In the end, I got my small tool roll down to 7 pounds. In it is everything I need to keep up with regular maintenance, swap out new test parts, and respond to almost any difficulty.
Here’s what I brought. Thus far, it’s all I’ve needed.
Park Tool AWS-1 3-way hex: 4mm, 5mm, and 6mm hex keys. The most used and useful tool in any toolbox these days.
Bontrager Hex torque key: Pre-set to 5nm, these little keys are perfect for travel. The 4mm hex covers most of the highly torque-sensitive bolts on modern bikes. They are sold under a number of different brand names.
8mm standalone hex: Replaces a heavy pedal wrench, and is used to remove many crank types, specifically, the SRAM SRM I use.
Lezyne Stainless 20 multi-tool: Knife, bottle opener, small hex wrenches, a spoke wrench, and, most importantly, a chain tool. The little chain breaker is nowhere near as nice as the full-size version I use at home, but it gets the job done.
Chain whip/cassette lockring remover: A heavy necessity. Required for swapping wheels, obviously, but also for replacing a broken rear spoke.
Park Phillips and flathead screwdrivers: I just like the feel of these particular tools, and they are needed for derailleur adjustments on most bikes. Though SRAM went to hex-key adjustment screws with its new group, I brought them anyway.
Needle-nose pliers: Simply a good tool to have around for getting out of a jam.
Cable cutters: Older Park cutters with the spring and retention loop removed, which allows them to pack a bit smaller (but makes them slightly more annoying to use, too, fair warning). The new CN-10 doesn’t come with a spring — obviously Park just stole my idea.
Park MLP-1 quick-link tool: All my bikes use quick links, which make chain cleaning on the road a cinch. But without this tool, removing said quicklinks is a nightmare.
Lubes/cleaners: One small bottle of Motorex Dry lube (no spray cans, which can’t go on the plane), a tube of Pedros grease, and a rag. Dish soap and citrus solvent can be bought anywhere and are fine for most cleaning. I appropriate new towels/rags from hotels when necessary.
Bits and pieces: A roll of electrical tape; two valve extenders (don’t rely on being able to find long-valve tubes if you run deep wheels); an extra chainring bolt, M4 bolts and M5 bolts (why not, for 15 grams total?); extra carbon and aluminum brake pads.
Blackburn Frame Pump CF: A beautiful, carbon version that works great for daily top-ups and gets my tires up to the desired 100-110 psi without issue.
Arundel Dual saddle bag: Far away from anyone I could conceivably call to pick me up, I ride daily with two tubes, a patch kit, the aforementioned pump, one 10g CO2 and a Lezyne head, a spare quicklink, the Lezyne multitool, 10 euros and a cell phone. And my best hitchhiking thumb. All of it (except the thumb and cell phone) fit in an Arundel Dual saddle bag, which has a long, narrow profile and forgoes the seatpost straps that have worn through far too many pairs of shorts.
The takeaway from all of this is that manufacturers have made great strides in simplifying the installation and maintenance of their equipment in recent years. You can now adjust and mount just about everything with a hex key. In fact, the only three tools I needed to rebuild my bike after flying was the 8mm hex, 3-way hex, and the torque key — and I could have done without that, really.
When traveling, take a hard look at your own ride, figure out what you really need, and leave the kitchen sink at home. I didn’t need a shock pump, a full hex key set, torx keys or a set of cone wrenches. Chances are, for a few days or weeks or even months, neither do you.