Now updated with reviews of The Alien and a new Park too - see end of the article for these reviews and updated conclusions.
Important updates and recommendations added 2 November 2000
In this study we are looking strictly at tools intended to be taken with you on a ride, rather than workshop tools.
If you are a folder enthusiast, then the special cycling tools which are available undoubtedly have attractions, since the problems of designing a device which can be crammed in a small space, with low weight and acceptable cost, correspond closely to the problems encountered in the design of folding bicycles. Just as compact size and ingenious folding does not always result in a bicycle which rides well, so the danger is with the folding tools that they don't perform very well - for example, they may not be strong enough or give the user enough leverage to do the required job, and sometimes the shape prevents you getting the relevant spanner, allen key etc into the space required..
There are lots of gadgets on the market, and new ones seem to be being launched all the time, so it's not been possible to test more than a few, but we've tried to look at examples of the main types currently on the market. We've also looked at examples of tool kits made up from single purpose tools, and compared these with the special folding tools. Any comments from readers which we can add to extend the range of this page would be welcome - please contact us if you can supply additional information.
One point which should be made regarding any set of tools is that it is a good idea to check whether it includes all the necessary sizes of allen key, screwdriver, spanner, which you might need before setting out - don't wait until you need something before finding you don't have it! Many of the folding tools have either a flat screwdriver or a Philips head screwdriver, but not both. Some bikes have special needs - for example, on a Brompton you should have a thin rod or small electrical screwdriver to remove the special nut holding the chain tensioner, on an AM or APB Moulton make sure you have a small enough allen key to fit the barrel connectors used to join the cables. Many of the tools do not provide a spanner suitable for tightening pedlas on teh cranks - I always prefer pedals which can be tightened with an allen key as well as a spanner for this reason.
comparison of some of the tools mentioned here in their folded state. Top
left is the Canondale, with the Park tool on the right. Both of these only
provide screwdrivers and allen keys (see detailed pictures below).
Underneath is the Minoura Handy 14, which also has a chain tool, spanners
and tyre levers. The Cool Tool at the bottom left in its pouch does not
include tyre levers, though a pair have been squeezed into the pouch,
together with some glueless patches and additional allen keys. The Power
21 Tool in its pouch also has some additional glueless patches included.
In addition to a tool of this kind I would always carry a spare tube and
'proper' puncture repair patches and rubber solution. In the case of the
Canondale and Park tools tyre levers would be essential additions, and I
would also add a chain tool. Many suppliers of these tools also have
add-ons to tackle jobs such as headset adjustment, but generally these are
quite heavy and bulky, and often do not work very well - you would be
better carrying dedicated tools for the additional jobs if you really
think they are necessary for normal riding.
There are a number of tools available which fold up in the style of a penknife. Although they can be quite compact, they tend to be rather heavy, and the emphasis is usually on allen keys and screwdrivers rather than spanners and other gadgets. Often you don't need all the sizes of allen keys provided, and others you need are missing, so that although they can look quite neat, I don't find they are very effective. A few typical examples are illustrated below.
A Park (left) and Cannondale folding tool. This version of the Park
tool is relatively bulky and heavy, and does not fold and unfold very
neatly, Only 3 allen keys were provided, plus flat and Philips
screwdrivers - all of good quality though. The Canondale is more
versatile, with more allen keys, but neither has any chain tool, tyre
levers or spanners.
There are a number of different versions of the Park folding tool, with slightly different tools included. The only ones I have seen are limited to allen keys and (in some cases) screwdrivers. They are particularly bulky and heavy, and despite the reputation of Park and the use of good quality materials, they don't fold particularly neatly. They seem more suited to use in the workshop than taking out on a journey. None of the versions I have seen would provide everything you might need, and you would need to carry other tools as well.
is the Handy 14 version of the Minoura, which I think is the most useful.
Although it is not small, and it is fairly heavy, it includes a good
selection of allen keys and flat and Philips scredrivers (the flat
screwdriver is rather too bulky for some jobs though), plus a chain tool,
tyre levers, spanners and spoke keys. With the addition of a suitable
puncture kit of real patches and rubber solution it is quite comprehensive
Minoura also manufacture a wide range of folding tools. They vary in the tools provided, but allen keys and screwdrivers are common to most types. Some also include tyre levers, sockets and a socket driver, or a chain tool - usually tehse are alternatives in different models, and not all in one tool. Again, these are quite heavy and bulky tools, though they fold quite neatly. However, even with the most comprehensive version you are likely to need to carry some other items.
The Canondale tool (see picture above) is one of the neatest of the penknife style tools, but with allen keys and a flat screwdriver you will still need to carry other tools.
This is a multi-purpose tool intended not just for cycling use. It includes a very ingenious set of folding pliers. It certainly doesn't include everything needed for cycle repairs, and as it is quite bulky, heavy and very expensive, I don't think it is particularly appropriate. A smaller version is available, but is still not particularly suited for cycle work. Recently a number of cheap copies of the Leatherman have come on the market, but despite the saving in cost over the original, they still do not represent a good solution in terms of cycle repairs on the road.
picture shows a Cool Tool augmented with a few additional allen keys and
other items to suit my needs. The main feature is a sturdy adjustable
spanner with thin jaws, which can tackle many jobs - more than
those fitted on most other tools. Some larger sizes of
allen key and a Philips head screwdriver are also provided, plus a
perfectly usable chain tool and some sockets. No tyre levers are provided,
so a few extras would be needed with this tool. There are a number of
extras available, include head set spanners and a carrying pouch (not
included with the basic tool). It's well made and fairly comprehensive,
and not too heavy considering what it includes, but you would need to
augment it to cover even basic needs - eg tyre levers, and
probably some smaller allen keys.
picture shows the 21-tool version of the Power Tool, which comes complete
with two small tyre levers and a chain supporting wire. The
neatly into a small pouch, as shown in the group picture.
Two versions are available - one with 16 and the other with 21 tools. The 21-tool version contains all the standard things you are likely to need in normal use (apart from Philips head screwdriver) and it is light and compact, and comes with a neat carrying pouch, so on paper it appears one of the best devices available. The main drawback is that the small size and the way some of the tools are mounted on the two main parts means you may not be able to get the tool into the right position to use it, and leverage will be limited. In terms of facilities provided this is probably the best, but with the serious question as to whether it will actually be able to do the necessary job - check and make sure about this before you rely on one!
A number of sets of individual tools, in a carrying case of some kind, are still on the market. Most of these standard sets are probably not complete for most people's requirements, and are quite heavy and bulky. The old Mafac tool kit was beautifully small and light, and did almost every job, except chains and allen keys, which could easily be added to the tiny pouch. The tools were not very strong - I've bent the tyre levers without much trouble in the past - but it was quite a good choice. As far as I know it has not been available for some years, but if you find one it might be worth getting it and adding the necessary allen keys and chain tool.
A good alternative, in terms of weight, size and cost, is just to make up your own tool kit. I've tried this, and to provide everything I think I need this has proved more effective than any of the standard commercial multi purpose tools! My kit consists of :
These are wrapped in a J-Cloth, held together with a rubber band, and
put in a plastic bag with a couple of cable ties, disposable plastic
gloves, an antiseptic wipe and a plaster, with another rubber band around
all of this. It's not elegant, but it is practical and cheap, and no
larger or heavier than the commercial alternatives.
I did not get a chance to inspect the Topeak tool The Alien until after the above report was written. It is shaped somewhat like the penknife style tools, but the tools are on the outside, and it separates into two parts. As the outside is not smooth due to the tools, a pouch is supplied. It is more bulky and heavier than most of the other combined tools described above, but it contains just about everything you should need - a good range of allen keys, some spanners, chain tool, tyre levers, screwdrivers and even a penknife. The tools fold out or detach from the main body and are of good quality, and unlike the Power Tool, you should generally not have any problems with the body of the tool preventing you getting an individual tool onto the relevant bolt, nut etc. There are no tyre patches, but there is space in the pouch for some glueless patches to be squeezed in.
Below: Left: Park Tool. Right: The Alien
Above - another view of Park Tool (left) and The Alien (right), unfolded to show some of the tools provided
The Park tool is quite similar in terms of facilities to The Alien - a very comprehensive set of tools, good quality, and the body of the device would not usually impede use of individual tools. Like The Alien, it separates into two parts, the outer casing of each part serving as a tyre lever. However, the outer case is quite smooth, with the tools inside, which also permits a glueless patch or two to be carried inside, and there is no need for a carrying pouch, reducing the size and weight a little. The major omission, and important to owners of many folders, is that there is no spanner suitable for removing axle nuts, so if you don't have QR hubs, and most folders don't, this may well rule it out.
I think that in practical terms an assembly of the individual tools you need is the lightest, smallest, cheapest and most practical form of tool kit you can take with you. However, the multi-purpose tools do hold an attraction. The smallest and lightest is probably the Topeak PowerTool 21, but the design means it is often difficult to get the relevant tool onto the offending nut, bolt or whatever, and leverage may be limited. Although bigger and heavier than the PowerTool, The Alien is more useful, and would now be my first choice - the Park would actually rate higher on bikes where there is no need to remove axle nuts (ie QR hubs are fitted). But I must re-iterate, whatever tools you carry, do carry out 'dummy' repairs with them to check that they will fit everything on the bike, that their shape does not prevent fitting them into some spaces, and that you can get enough leverage with them to do the job.
My thanks to Tim McNamara, who pointed out the lack of axle nut spanners on many of the tools - I had not even noticed that my Park tool lacked one until then, and this could have left me stranded, although I usually repair punctures rather than changing the tube. If you normally change the tube in the event of a puncture, and you do not have QR hubs front and rear (and most folders don't), then a spanner to fit the axle nuts, and give enough leverage, is a very important requirement.
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Last updated: 2 November 2000