Blackburn Tradesman Review
Cons: On the bigger and heavier side
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Blackburn is a cycling accessory company that makes a huge range of products from indoor trainers and bike packing bags, to lights and multi-tools. The Tradesman is a newer model in their multi-tool lineup that boasts 18 functions, a quality construction, and a reasonable price tag. It also has a unique and innovative tool in the quick link splitter, and its integrated quick link storage means you won't be fumbling around in the bottom of your pack trying to find it. When our testing finished, the Tradesman had impressed our testers so much that it ended up with our Best Buy Award.
The Tradesman has 18 total functions and has you covered for all of the adjustments and minor fixes you may experience while out in the field. Testers even like the quick link splitter tool so much that they said they'd consider keeping this tool in their garage or home workshop for doing drivetrain work that requires the removal of the chain.
The Tradesman has all the standard sizes of hex keys, 2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8mm. The 2, 2.5, and 4mm hex keys are L-shaped while the rest are straight. It also has a Torx 25, Torx 30, and a flathead screwdriver. There is a disc pad spreader, the only plastic on the entire tool, which has holes and indentations to store a spare quick link. The chain breaker is relatively standard and has spoke wrenches in size 0, 1, 2, and 3/Presta valve core tool machined into it. The most unique tool on the Tradesman is the quick link splitter, which is integrated into the chain breaker. This tool allows you to pop open quick links which are typically challenging to split otherwise.
The only occasionally-necessary tools the Tradesman doesn't have on it are a Torx 10 and a Phillips head screwdriver. This isn't too big of a deal since most modern bikes and components don't really use Phillips head screws anymore, and Torx 10 heads are generally only on found on brakes which you're probably better off working on at home. A few tools we tested with more functions are the ToPeak Mini Pro 20 with 23, the OneUp EDC with 21, the Lezyne RAP-21 CO2 with 21, and the Crankbrothers M19 with 19.
The Tradesman has relatively good ergonomics. The side plates have nice rounded edges, and the 3.5-inch long tool is easy and relatively comfortable to grasp. It was outperformed slightly in this metric by other competitors, like the Crankbrothers M19 and the Specialized EMT Pro MTB, due to their more contoured side plates and comfort in hand. This is not to say that it has bad ergonomics, as it is far superior to the Park Tool IB-3 or the smaller tools found on the OneUp EDC.
The overall size of the Tradesman is one of the largest in our test, almost identical to the Crankbrothers M19. This size fits nicely in the palm for a secure grip, even with gloves on, and allows for plenty of leverage should you need to torque on something. The length of the tools themselves is also quite good, with inch and a half long bits that make it easier to reach your bolts, plus some L-shaped hex keys in the smaller sizes to get into those hard to reach places. Again, the ergonomics are pretty good; there are just a few models that are a little bit better.
The Tradesman is among the heaviest models in our test selection. At 178g, it weighs in just 1g heavier than the Park Tool IB-3, and only 5g heavier than the Crankbrothers M19 without the case. For comparison, our Editor's Choice Award winner, the ToPeak Mini Pro 20 weighs 161g inside its neoprene case, 17g lighter than the Tradesman. This is in contrast to the three lightest models in this test which all weigh in around the 90-110g range, roughly 70g less than the Blackburn. If you're a real gram counter, you'll probably be happier with one of the lighter options like the Ninja 16+.
This is also one of the largest of the multi-tools, almost identical in size to the Crankbrothers M19 at 3.5" x 1.8" x 0.8". The Park Tool IB-3 is the same length as well, but is somewhat thicker and feels much bulkier as a result. These tools are far from huge, by any means, they are just a bit bigger overall than the smaller competitors. The smallest tools in our test, like the Specialized EMT Pro MTB, Fabric 16 in 1, and Ninja 16+ will take up significantly less space in your pack or saddlebag. If you can spare an extra inch of storage and don't mind carrying an additional 70 or so grams with you, then the Tradesman has more features than most of the smaller and lighter competition.
Ease of Use
A thick rubber band wraps around the middle of the Tradesman to keep all of the tools in place when not in use. It needs to be removed or just slid slightly to the side to get access to the tools you wish to use. Other than that, everything is right at your fingertips and ready to go the moment you need them. Testers found they liked keeping the rubber band around the middle of the tool when in use to prevent any other tools, especially the chain breaker, from getting in your way while wrenching.
The Tradesman scored well in this metric, right up there with the top performing models in the test. Other models like the Lezyne V10, Specialized EMT Pro MTB, Unior Euro17, and the Crankbrothers M19 (without the case) were equally user-friendly. It outperforms the ToPeak Mini Pro 20 here because you have to remove its chain tool to use it, and the OneUp EDC since you have to take it apart and keep track of its various pieces.
The Tradesman appears to be a very durable product. The tool is made almost entirely metal, with durable aluminum side plates and steel bits. The only plastic in the tool is the disc pad spreader which should stand the test of time assuming you never twist it; it has a "do not twist" warning printed on it.
The steel bits appear to be very strong and show virtually no signs of wear and absolutely no signs of rounding even after repeated use on stubborn heads. When compared to the Park Tool IB-3 whose Torx 25 head spun and was ruined the very first time we ever used it, we feel the Tradesman is a much more durable product. While it weighs more than several other models in the test, the durability of the steel bits is worth the weight penalty for most people.
At a retail price of $30, the Tradesman is a great value. It's $3 more than the Park Tool IB-3 but offers far better ergonomics, more useful tools, and a higher degree of durability. We feel this quality multi-tool is the best value in our test, and it takes our Best Buy Award.
The Blackburn Tradesman is a quality multi-tool offered at a reasonable price. With 18 useful functions, it has virtually every tool you need, and then some, to handle typical adjustments and standard simple repairs. It has all the normal hex and Torx bits, a chain breaker, plus helpful additions like a disc pad spreader, quick link storage, and a quick link splitter. There are lighter and smaller options, but if you value functions and durability over weight savings, we think the Tradesman is an excellent option for the price.
Other Versions and Accessories
Blackburn makes a full line of bike accessories including several models of multi-tools.
The Wayside ($35) has even more tools than the Tradesman, with individual detached hex keys for sizes 2-5, and a serrated knife blade.
Blackburn also makes toolkits that include all of the essentials you'll need. Check or their Switch Wrap ($45) or Local CO2 ride kit ($50).
— Jeremy Benson