Compiling a repair toolkit for bicycle travel is no one’s favorite task. It’s like buying insurance: you hope not to need it, but you know not having it is an invitation for bad luck. Plus, bicycle tools are heavy, and just having them isn’t enough – you need to know what to do with them.
In the nervous excitement of getting ready for my first bicycle tour, I ended up packing a bunch of tools and parts I didn’t know how to use, crossed my fingers, and headed off to Southeast Asia hoping for the best.
Now, 9000+ miles and plenty of practice later, I have a pretty good handle on the bike touring repair kit issue. It turns out there’s no single right answer, but there are plenty of suggestions born from experience. My goal with this post is to demystify the topic and explain how to choose the optimal repair kit for your specific bike tour.
Whether you’re bikepacking for a weekend near your home or touring across a continent, this repair kit list will save your butt when you need it. And sooner or later, you’re definitely going to need it.
Finding the Balance
There are plenty of variables to consider when deciding what to bring in your repair kit. To name a few:
- length of your trip
- availability of parts where you’ll be riding, and whether local parts are likely to be compatible with your bike
- remoteness of your route and how stuck you’d be if you can’t repair an issue
- current state of your bike parts and whether they’re likely to need maintenance on the road
- how tight your schedule is
- how light you’re trying to pack
- personal tolerance for risk
- your knowledge of bike repair and maintenance
In the following lists, I try to balance the weight and space of repair gear with the likelihood that it’ll be useful based on those variables.
It’s impossible to cover every potential issue, so please don’t send me angry emails if you have really bad mechanical luck on your next tour. (Feel free to send a non-angry email though. More data is always useful, and I love sympathizing with a good adventure story).
Based on my own experience with 9000+ miles of bike touring and bikepacking, plus a lot of research, I believe these are solid recommendations. But of course, you should filter them through your own judgment and risk tolerance.
One other important tip first: knowledge and experience are lightweight and extremely valuable. Learn some basic bike repair at home first and then ask yourself, when packing supplies, “Could I make this repair myself without an internet connection?” If not, think twice about bringing the supplies for it.
Types of Trips
For purposes of the table below, I’m going to categorize bicycle travel into three types: basic, standard, and expedition. What the heck do those mean, you ask? Well, I just made them up, but here’s what I’m thinking:
Basic: A tour of less than, say, 2 weeks. Mostly on smooth ground through relatively populated areas in relatively developed countries where you can find bike shops every few days that stock compatible parts. Examples:
- Riding the Pacific Coast route down California
- Riding the GAP and C&O Canal trails on the east coast
Standard: A tour of several weeks to months, mostly through relatively populated areas in relatively developed countries. Or, a shorter tour through rugged and remote areas or places with minimal infrastructure.
- 4 months touring in Europe
- 2 months touring in Southeast Asia
- 2 weeks extremely remote bikepacking in the Oregon and Nevada desert in the summer heat
Expedition: Several months or longer mostly in remote, rugged, and/or low-infrastructure areas. Examples:
- Touring Cairo to Cape Town in Africa
- Bikepacking across Mongolia
Also, consider your personal tolerance for spending time and/or money to solve bike problems. Parts can be shipped from another continent, you can hitchhike for days to the nearest big city, or you can ask around the village until you find a creative mechanic. But all of these will take time, money, or both. If this kind of problem solving sounds exciting, consider packing lighter. If it sounds like a trip-ending disaster, err on the side of being more prepared.
The Big Bicycle Travel Repair Kit List
This list, showing the repair kit items down the left and the type of bicycle trip across the top (see above), gives a general idea of what most people will want for each type of trip. It’s based on my own personal experience, judgment calls about what I would take for future trips, and a whole lot of research and conversations with other traveling cyclists.
Down below, in the next section, I’ll explain key details about each item and recommend some products I personally use on my tours and bikepacking trips.
Notes and Recommendations
Here are all the tools and supplies from the list above, with some extra tips and personal recommendations.
Portable pump: Ideally a durable one that fits both Presta and Schrader valves, giving you more flexibility. This one is small and has been very durable for me.
Multitool with chain breaker: Ever since my cheap one exploded all over the road in Vietnam, I only use and recommend all-metal multitools like the IB-3 from Park Tool. It’s important that your multitool has a chain breaker tool that actually works, which again, some of the cheap ones don’t. The IB-3 chain breaker works great.
Spare tubes: Make sure they’re the correct diameter and width for your tire, and the correct valve type for your rim. Presta valves are smaller and will fit through Schrader valve holes, but not the other way around. Some long-haul touring cyclists get their Presta rims drilled out to accommodate Schrader valves so they can buy either kind of tube on the road. Consider that common bicycle wheel sizes differ across the world, and your 29 inch fat bike tubes might be hard to find in Asia, while a more standard 26″ or 27.5″ x 2″ tube might be easy. Store spare tubes away from water and direct sunlight if possible.
Tire levers: Some multitools claim to have these, but I’ve never found one that works as well as standalone ones. So far I’ve found these Park Tool tire levers to be the easiest to use and resistant to breakage. For long trips, consider bringing an extra in case you break one.
Tube patches: Personally I’m a huge fan of these pre-glued patches. I doubt they’re available worldwide, so you may want to bring extra for long trips. If using traditional glue patches, note that the glue can dry out inside the container over time, so always check it before leaving on a new trip.
Tubeless tire repair supplies: If you’re running a tubeless setup, you’ll need a few extra supplies for flat repair, typically sealant and tire plugs, plus possibly super glue, a curved needle, and heavy thread. This article at bikepacking.com has some expert advice. Do note that you should still bring a spare tube and patch kit as part of your tubeless backup plan.
Quick link, also called master link: these are handy for repairing your chain in case of a broken link, or if you need to remove your chain from the bike for any reason. With two you can even splice in a spare section of chain to repair a larger damaged section. Make sure you get the right kind for your chain. Alternatively some cyclists use connecting rivets/pins for this, but they’re not reusable, and I’ve personally never tried them.
Piece of old cable for opening quick link: If you need to open a quick link and don’t have needle nose pliers, this neat trick can help. If you’re feeling fancy, these pliers from Wolf Tooth are a sweet upgrade.
Leatherman multi-function tool with pliers: I find this surprisingly handy. The pliers can be used in place of a spoke wrench or valve core tightener, and for pulling sharp things out of tires. The scissors can cut gear repair tape or trim my nails, and the flathead screwdriver fits some of my bike screws. I once used the file in place of lost sandpaper from my patch kit. There’s a bottle opener. Finally, it’s TSA-approved for carry-on airplane travel because it does not have a blade (so you might want a separate pocket knife). This means when I get off the plane I can use it to open my cardboard bicycle box, which contains all my other tools and sharp things.
Chain lube and small rag or pack of disposable wet/baby wipes: Chain lube is found in bicycle shops worldwide, but your favorite kind of wet/dry/teflon/whatever might not be. I actually prefer a small pack of disposable baby wipes, easy to find in many convenience stores, to carrying around a greasy rag.
Zip ties / cable ties: Small, light, and handy for creative repairs to racks, panniers, and pretty much anything. Bring a few different sizes.
Gorilla tape or duct tape: Wrap a few turns around your pump or lighter. Useful for repairs to panniers, camping gear, and even tires.
Blue Threadlocker (if riding rough surfaces): If you have bolts holding things on your bike anywhere – bottle cages and racks being most typical – this stuff is gold. Once you’ve had a rack bolt vibrate loose on washboard gravel, or a bottle cage shake off on rocky singletrack, you’ll never forget to apply this to your bolts and pack a small tube for reapplying.
Spare cleat and bolts: If you use clipless pedals, consider bringing a spare cleat and bolt or two for your cycling shoes. They’ve been known to wear out, break, or get lost. This is less critical if you have MTB-style shoes with recessed cleats and hybrid or dual-sided pedals which would allow you to pedal comfortably without clipping in.
Presta – Schrader valve adapter: Super cheap, super small, and super useful if your Presta pump breaks and you need to use more common Schrader valve pumps found along your route.
Thin gloves: Bike repair can really get your hands dirty. If that bothers you, consider a pair of nitrile or latex gloves, or even thin work gloves, to pop on for those messy roadside repairs. I thought this was overkill, until I rode behind a herd of cows for a few miles and thought about what would happen if I needed to fix a flat…
Spare brake and shifter cables: You’re unlikely to need these except on a very long tour, but when you do, you really need them. Cut them to length at home first, where you hopefully have access to a cable cutter that’s up to the job. Wrap them up and stash them in your handlebars, seat tube or other out-of-the-way place. And also know how to install them without an internet connection, otherwise they’re not going to do you any good when you need them most.
Spare brake pads: These are unlikely to be needed as an emergency fix, but depending on your pads and riding conditions you might need to replace them partway through a long tour. A full selection of specific types and sizes can be hard to find on the road, so consider bringing a full set with you (and know how to install them). This works especially well with cartridge style brakes and disc brakes, where the pads are fairly small and light.
Spare chain links: I usually take a lightly used (not too used, so that it’s not too stretched) chain and remove a section of about 10 links, leaving the rest at home. With this and two quick links, I can repair a damaged section of chain and still have all my gears. Make sure the chain links are the same size and type as your chain.
Spare bolts: This depends on your bike and what you have attached to it, but it’s not a bad idea to carry a few spare bolts for your racks, bottle cages, etc.
Emergency tire boot: This is nice to have in case of a bad tear in your tire. They’re small and cheap so I carry them, but I’ve heard you can also use a folded food wrapper or dollar bill, though I would expect these to not be very durable fixes.
Electrical tape in small roll: The more I travel on my bike, the more I appreciate electrical tape. It’s durable and sticks well to bicycle frames, but is also easy to remove and doesn’t leave sticky residue. I’ve used it as emergency rim tape, to attach bottle cages without bolts, repair torn handlebar tape, protect my frame and handlebars from mounting hardware, and probably many other things. I take a small, partially-used roll on tour and stuff something else in the center cardboard cylinder to save space.
Standalone allen keys in a few common sizes: Sometimes a multitool is awkward or simply doesn’t fit into certain nooks and crannies on your bike. Examples I’ve run into include trying to tighten my bar end shifters where they fit into the bar ends, and tightening or moving my brake levers where they mount to the drop handlebars. For a long tour you may want to bring individual allen keys in 4mm, 5mm, and 6mm sizes, plus possibly 8mm if your pedals have the option to use it instead of a pedal wrench (sometimes a multitool doesn’t provide enough leverage for tight pedals).
Spare derailleur hanger, if your derailleur uses one: My derailleur doesn’t use one, but if yours does, it’s handy to bring an extra. The hanger is designed to bend easily in order to save the other parts around it, so it’s definitely possible to bend one in a crash.
Adjustable wrench: Something small like this 6 inch wrench, handy for various nuts and bolts. However, this is probably one of the easier tools to find in workshops around the world, so if you’re packing light you might consider doing without.
Spare tire: If bike touring extensively in a place where bicycle tires are hard to find in your size, especially over very rugged ground, consider carrying a spare tire. Get the kind with a folding bead, not wire, so it’s easier to carry.
Entire spare chain: If touring for 2000+ miles in a place where you’re not sure you can buy a spare along the way, consider carrying a spare chain. They’re heavy though, so you might prefer to mail one to yourself at a designated resupply location when needed. Note that more specialized chains, like 10, 11, and 12 speed, can be harder to find in developing countries than more typical lower-speed versions.
Spare spokes and nipples: These are small and easy to carry, but make sure you know what to do with them if you need them. I’ve never had a spoke fail on me, but I know it happens, particularly during heavily loaded tours on less sturdy bikes. Bikepacking.com recommends storing them in your seat post with a bit of rigid foam, which sounds like a great idea to me.
Pedal wrench: If you plan to fly with your bike, you’ll likely need to remove the pedals. Depending on your pedals, you may be able to install and remove them with an 8mm allen key. But, consider that older and/or cheaper pedals often require a pedal wrench. If you end up needing to replace your pedals during your tour (which can definitely happen – been there a couple times actually), you might need to acquire a pedal wrench as well.
Spoke wrench in correct size: I have this listed in the expedition category because I have never needed one in 9000 miles of touring, and in an emergency you can use an adjustable wrench or the pliers on your Leatherman. But, they’re small and some touring cyclists swear by bringing them. Some multitools include them, so check yours before buying a standalone.
Valve core tightener / remover: Again, not something I’ve needed often, and it’s possible to use your adjustable wrench or pliers instead. But if you find your valve cores coming loose often, or you’re putting sealant into your tires or tubes, this small tool may be worth carrying.
Packing Your Tools and Repair Kit
Some people like dedicated tool organizers, but you don’t need to get fancy here. Plastic bags or mesh pouches work just fine. A few tips and ideas:
- Put things you’re likely to need more often – multitool, Leatherman, flat repair kit – in a place where you don’t need to empty out all your gear to get to them. Frame bags and top tube bags are good for this, as are small pockets in panniers.
- Put heavy things – spare chain, larger tools – lower on your bike and closer to the center. This could be the bottom of your frame bag, or the bottom of your panniers.
- Get creative with things you don’t need often, like spare cables or brake pads. These can be stored inside handlebars, seat tubes, etc.
- Spare tubes should be protected from the elements – dirt, rain, direct sunlight – or they’ll degrade faster. Some people put them in a plastic ziplock bag with a little baby or talcum powder to prevent rubbing and catching on the plastic.
- Repair supplies and tools don’t necessarily need to be in fully waterproof storage. But if your gear has gotten soggy lately, check on your tools to make sure they’re not staying damp and getting rusty.
One setup I’ve been liking lately is to store most of my repair kit in a wide-mouth water bottle under my down tube. It’s not a great place to store water because it’s constantly covered in dirt spray from the front tire, and on my small frame only a small bottle fits there anyway. It’s easy to get into and fills space that’s hard to use for anything else (except, maybe, a jar of peanut butter).
Sharing Tools and Repair Kit
Sharing gear as a couple or group might seem like an efficient way to carry less, but think carefully when deciding to split a repair kit among multiple riders. Consider whether there is any chance you will end up riding separately, even for a few hours, and what that means if one of you has a mechanical issue while the other is riding ahead and you don’t have a way of communicating.
Personally I think every rider should carry their own basics like pump, flat repair kit, etc. and be able to use them alone. Consider it a little extra insurance if riding in a couple or group. If one of you has problems with your essential repair gear, the other’s redundant gear can be a backup.
For tools or supplies that are unlikely to be needed often, especially for a couple that is very likely to stay together for the whole trip, I think it’s fine to split up items like adjustable wrenches, standalone allen keys, and spare chain links to lighten everyone’s load a little.
Finding Repair Help Around the World
You can have the best thought-out bicycle touring repair kit in the world and still, someday, you’re going to need a little help while on the road. Here are some strategies for that:
- Motorbike repair shops are far more common than bicycle shops in much of the world, and the mechanics often have a good selection of tools and solid mechanical aptitude. They’re a good first stop if you need something you don’t have while on tour.
- Hardware stores sometimes stock basic bicycle parts in small towns that don’t have a dedicated bike shop.
- This may be specific to the fact that I’m female, but I’ve found that men the world over will enthusiastically jump in to “help” fix my bicycle whether they know how to or not. Sometimes they’re very helpful, but other times they’re not familiar with the specifics of my bike and can end up making it worse. Accept help graciously but cautiously.
- Talk to people. I once managed to source a replacement pedal in a tiny Nebraska town by simply making small talk with a curious couple at McDonalds. The man asked where I was riding to, I replied “nowhere until I get my pedal fixed,” and the McDonalds employee wiping a table nearby said “Pedal? My brother has some pedals! Let me call him.” It was almost too good to be true. It’s not always this easy, but remember, no one will offer to help unless they know you have a problem.
- If the part you need might be found on locals’ bicycles in the area, you may be able to buy a used part from someone you meet. Obviously you should offer them a generously fair price and make sure you’re not depriving someone of their only means of transportation. But if they’ll be able to source a replacement or simply have some unused parts sitting around, consider making a deal.
- In the US, Competitive Cyclist offers free 2-day shipping on orders over $50. I’ve seen people use this to get repair supplies shipped ahead on their route in a cheap and timely fashion. And of course, there’s always Amazon.com.
Fellow bicycle travelers and bikepackers, what do you think of this list? Did I miss something important? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Other Bicycle Travel Resources
If you’re into traveling long distances by bicycle, you might also find these helpful.
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