The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How We Tested Bike Multi-Tools

Monday July 1, 2019

Each of these bike multi-tools was tested over an extended period while riding throughout northern California with a focus on the greater Lake Tahoe area and Santa Cruz County. In many cases, we used the tools to make necessary adjustments and fix real-life problems out on the trail. Thankfully, trailside mechanicals aren't all that common, so we supplemented our ride testing at home in the workshop to run the tools through a gamut of tests including popping pins out of chains, tightening and loosening bolts, and accessing hard to reach spots on our otherwise fully functional mountain bikes. Whenever possible or applicable, we applied the scientific method to our side-by-side testing.

Features


To examine the number of features on each model, we started by counting all of the tools and their various functions. In addition to all the tools on each model, we considered additional functions like quick link storage, spare chainring bolts, CO2 storage, and a carrying case. The competitors in this review range in features from a low of 10 to a whopping 23. In many cases, the tools with fewer features are just as useful in the field as those with more. The importance of certain functions may depend on your specific needs and skills as a mechanic.

The tools of the IB-3
A look at one of the most fully-featured multi-tools  the ToPeak Mini Pro 20.

Ergonomics


We tested the ergonomics of each model by using them a lot and taking note of the way each model felt in hand. We carefully considered the length, width, and overall shape of each model and their effects on comfort and leverage. This involved lots of side-by-side testing and frequently switching between models for direct comparison. Along with the multi-tool's comfort, we also considered the tool layout as well as the size and shape of individual tools. The bits and pieces of the various tools come in different lengths and sizes, and we did our best to determine which function the best. A good example of this is the chain tool. The chain tools on the various models are all slightly different, and some simply work better than others.

The different shapes and sizes of these tools provide varying levels of ergonomic friendliness.
The different shapes and sizes of these tools provide varying levels of ergonomic friendliness.

Portability


Each of the multi-tools in this review is portable and designed to be taken with you on your cycling adventures. Portability is mostly an objective metric based on the weight and size of each model, but other factors like the shape and texture of the tool also come into play. We determined each tool's weight in grams with our trusted kitchen scale. For the models that have cases, we weighed them both with and without the case. To determine the size of each model, we measured the length, width, and thickness and recorded it in inches. We also performed a visual comparison with all of the tools placed side by side. In most cases, the differences in the overall weights and size of the tools aren't huge, but they do represent a noticeable difference when carrying the tool in a pocket and can be important to the individual user.

Multi-tools come in all different shapes and sizes.
Multi-tools come in all different shapes and sizes.

Ease of Use


Most multi-tools are designed to make your life easier out on the trail by concentrating most of the important tools you need for adjustments and quick fixes into one user-friendly unit. Not all multi-tools are equal, however, and some are easier to use than others. We evaluated the overall user-friendliness of each model by using each tool regularly on their own and during side by side comparisons. For most of the models in this review, the differences in ease of use are subtle. Things like taking a tool out of a case, how easily the tools are located and deployed, and whether or not there are multiple pieces to keep track of play a role in how easy each model is to use. The ease of use of each model became evident over time and repeated use, though many of the tools scored pretty evenly in this metric. When you bring along a new multi-tool on every ride, it quickly becomes apparent which ones are easier and more convenient to pull out for a quick adjustment.

Real world ease of use testing with a broken chain.
Real world ease of use testing with a broken chain.

Durability


A quality multi-tool will likely last you for several years if taken care of and used properly. Most are crafted from durable materials like aluminum and steel and are designed to hold up to whatever abuse you can throw their way. To evaluate the durability of each multi-tool in this review we used and abused each as if it were our own. In the name of testing, these tools performed a season's worth of adjustments in a short period to see how each stands up to heavy use. Additionally, we ran a fatigue study using rotor bolts to test the strength of each tool's T25 Torx wrench. The T25 wrench commonly wears out quickly, so this test gave us valuable insight into that material quality of each multi-tool's wrenches. Most of the multi-tools proved to be impressively durable, while some showed weaknesses in their materials and design.

The M19 next to a 10 year old M17. Other than a touch of corrosion its safe to say these tools are designed to stand the test of time.
The M19 next to a 10 year old M17. Other than a touch of corrosion its safe to say these tools are designed to stand the test of time.

Conclusion


A good multi-tool is an essential part of any rider's kit that can potentially save your ride and the day. We thoroughly tested each of these models to find the best overall bike multi-tool as well as tools that shine in our individual metrics. We hope that our comprehensive testing process and detailed comparative analysis helps you find the best multi-tool to suit your needs and budget to keep you rolling wherever and whenever you ride.