A quality bike multi-tool is one of the most important accessories you can carry with you whether you're mountain biking, road riding, gravel grinding, or bike packing. Having the ability to make adjustments and do simple repairs while out in the field can save you from walking miles back to the trailhead or waiting for someone to come and pick you up. Likewise, a good multi-tool can be a functional and space-saving option for people to work on their bikes at home. There are several factors to consider when searching for the right multi-tool to meet your needs, and in this article, we'll try to address them.
Know Your Bike
A multi-tool is only useful as long as you have at least some basic knowledge as to how to use it. You can have all the tools in the world, but they don't do you much good if you don't know what to do with them. Some things, like tightening loose bolts, are pretty self-explanatory, but it helps to get a good feel of the various parts of your bike and how they work. If you're unfamiliar with bike repair, we suggest attending a bike repair or maintenance clinic. You can thank us later. If you're already familiar with your bike and trailside repairs, then you probably already know what you're looking for in a multi-tool.
What Features Do You Need?
Bike multi-tools come in all shapes and sizes and with a dizzying variety of tools and functions. The tools you need is ultimately up to you, but we feel that there is a minimum of tools that everyone should carry with them at all times while riding. Every model in our review has at least these essential functions, hex keys in sizes 2-8mm, Torx 25, and a chain tool. The reason we feel these tools are essential is that on most modern bikes the most common bolt head sizes have hex heads in 3, 4, 5, and 6mm, with some also using 2mm and 8mm. Torx 25 is becoming increasingly common and found on everything from brakes, brake rotors, derailleurs, and even seat clamps. A chain tool is essential because it is the only way to fix your chain if it breaks. If you carry a quick link, you still need a chain tool to remove the broken part of the chain to install it. If your chain breaks and you don't have a chain tool, your bike is an expensive scooter.
It is also essential to take a good look at your bike, or bikes, to see what tools and functions you need to perform adjustments or repairs in the field. Does your bike need a flathead or a Phillips' head, maybe both? When you know your bike and all of its parts you can more effectively select a multi-tool that has all of your needs covered. Likewise, tools are only worthwhile if you know how to use them. Sure, your multi-tool may have four sizes of spoke wrenches, but are you willing or able to try and true your wheel in the field or at home? We all love a fully featured multi-tool, but only so long as all of the tools are useful to the user.
How Will You Carry It?
All of the multi-tools in our test are designed to be compact and portable and taken along with you on a ride. The size, shape, and weight are all considerations for each model's portability, as is the way you intend to carry the tool. Will you be stashing it in a backpack or fanny pack where you have room to spare? Perhaps you'll be storing it in your bike's saddlebag where space is limited? Or maybe you're the type who carries it in a jersey pocket or storage bibs? In general, most multi-tools are slim and rectangular, with tools that fold out from the middle. This shape takes up little space no matter where you carry it.
If carrying the tool in a pocket, be it on your jersey, your shorts, or a pair of storage bibs, a smaller and lighter tool is likely to be less obtrusive and bounce around less than a heavier or larger model. You may also want to consider a tool that has a soft or smooth cover or case so that you don't have metal directly up against your skin. If you're squeezing your multi-tool into a small saddlebag with a bunch of other things, again a smaller tool may make the most sense from a space efficiency standpoint.
The tools in our test range in weight from 101g up to 178g. The heaviest models are generally the largest yet they are still plenty easy to stash in a pack and are relatively lightweight considering the wealth of tools they contain. Lighter is generally better, but even the most weight conscious riders we know are willing to ride around with an extra 50-70g to have all the features they want.
Recently, there is a growing trend among many mountain bikers to carry less gear on their backs and more gear on their bikes. It is incredibly comfortable and convenient to have everything you need, tool, tube, tire lever, C02, etc, always attached to your bike. The market has responded and there are some tools available that hold your tools and items in innovative ways. There are some that slide into your steerer tube, through your crank spindle, or even inside your fork's axle. We test one such model in our review, the OneUp EDC.
What Else Should You Carry?
In addition to a multi-tool, there are several other things that you should generally bring with you to fix problems out on the trail. It is important always to have a spare tube or two, tire levers, tubeless tire plugs (if your tires are set up tubeless), and a way to inflate your tires, either CO2 or a mini-pump. Most multi-tools don't have any of these items, although a few have tire levers included in their design. A quick link is also a great thing to bring that can help to simplify the chain repair process. Some multi-tools have quick link storage integrated into their design so it's always there when you need it.
There's plenty to consider when choosing the right multi-tool to meet your needs. We hope the information presented above helps you decide on the model that's right for you.