If you ride a bike—for commuting or fitness, on- or off-road—you know that you’re going to break down. And when that happens, you’re going to need a reliable mini tool that allows you to make basic adjustments and repairs, quickly and easily, because the last thing you want to do, no matter where or how you ride, is walk home. We spent two months and logged a total of 1,000 miles putting 15 tools through dozens of en route and at-home repairs, and found the Topeak Mini 9 to be the best multi-tool for casual cyclists. Despite its diminutive size and price, the Mini 9 offers an impressive array of tools, with seven different hex sizes (including an 8 millimeter, which is required to remove some pedal systems) and a T25 Torx bit. That’s enough to handle the vast majority of on-the-road fixes and a decent amount of at-home maintenance between shop visits.
If you are a recreational cyclist who rides on the road or bike paths and needs a compact tool that can handle the most common roadside repairs, then this is the choice for you.
All of the Mini 9’s tool bits are of high quality, made of hardened steel, and long enough to give you enough leverage to do common repairs. The only trade-off for such a compact product: The tool bits are tightly packed and can be tough to open with gloves. A neoprene case is a nice bonus at this price.
Either of these tools should be sufficient to cover the vast majority of your needs, but if you are a mountain biker, ride a fixie or single speed, or if you just want something a bit more stylish, we have picks for you as well.
As the former editor in chief of Bicycling magazine and an avid cyclist for three decades, I have been fixing bikes for a long time. Along the way, I have bought, used, and tested scores of multi-tools. I love multi-tools. When they are well designed, it feels as though you have an entire toolbox tucked away in your back pocket, an elegant piece of industrial design that can dependably get you out of trouble when you need it most.
In addition to my own expertise and hours of field testing, I read hundreds of Amazon reviews from regular consumers who have purchased and used these products out in the field, as well as scores of product reviews of every tool in this survey from cycling magazines and websites.
If you ride a bike, ideally you should be able to perform basic maintenance and fixes on your own. Not only will this save you money, it can be personally rewarding as well. Minor things go wrong on a ride sometimes, and most of them are fixable. That’s why multi-tools are so wonderful—they are small and inexpensive and fit in your pocket but they can solve so many problems (though they’re not for flat tires—our guide for the tools you need for that common repair is here.)
All multi-tools are not equally well made. This is borne out by my own experience and by thousands of Amazon ratings and professional reviews of the tools. Some have bodies or bits that rust. Some have cheaply made mechanisms that eventually come apart. All of the products suggested below have track records for durability, both in my personal testing and in looking at other reviews. Durability is key when it comes to a mini tool – whether you buy an inexpensive mini-tool or a deluxe one, it should last for many years. You can buy a multi-tool that has all the same functions as one of our picks for a less money, but you’ll pay for it in lack of durability or—even worse—imprecise manufacture that strips your bike’s nuts and bolts. So we decided to go only with companies that have long track records in the bike business. There are lots of look-alike, secondary-brand bike tools available out there, some at bargain prices, but we’ve found that with tools, having a history is the best guarantor of reliability—and remember, a tool that makes you walk home is worthless.
Once we narrowed the field to established brands, we had to determine a tool’s must-have functions. That’s primarily determined by what kind of riding you do. Every mini tool must have hex keys (often called Allen wrenches), which you’ll need if you want to raise your saddle, adjust your handlebar or brakes, or replace a water-bottle cage. The 3-, 4-, 5-, and 6-mm sizes are the most common, and thus essential. But you’ll also need an 8-mm hex tool to remove some clipless pedals (like Look’s Keo and Crank Brothers’s Egg Beaters), and smaller sizes can be useful to adjust brakes and shoe cleats. We’ve organized charts below that highlight all the different sizes of hex bits (and other tools) on each of the multi-tools we tested for this roundup.
We also limited our tests to the most popular products. There are some interesting new multi-tools out there, with unconventional shapes or feature sets, but we didn’t think they had proven themselves enough in the field to warrant a pick here (we’ve tried nearly all of them). We combed our favorite cycling sites and forums to find out what other riders love, and we looked through scores of reviews on the top cycling sites, weeding out tools that had consistently poor reports of functionality or durability.
We took 13 tools, and rode city streets, competitive bike events, on the trail, and on neighborhood bike paths all around Southern California, We tried all the tools with gloves on and off; using them on hard-to-reach bolts on a variety of bikes and putting chain tools to use in the field. We examined real-world ergonomics, studying straightness of bolts and functionality of hinges, and removing tight bolts. The fixie tools were used by fixie riders who were instructed to remove their wheels at least once or twice. And mountain bike tools were sent onto single track.
Multi-tools are not a one-size-fits-all kind of product. Most people, particularly new and casual riders, will be satisfied with a super-compact option that contains just a handful of tool bits and can easily be stashed in a pocket. But smaller and lighter is not always better. Some tools with bits that are too short or are tightly packed have limited functionality; a featherweight tool is of limited use if you can’t reach an awkwardly placed bolt or it’s impossible to use with gloves on. Likewise, bigger is not necessarily better. You don’t want to lug around a heavy piece of steel with tools you don’t need or know how to use.
|Weight||Hex keys (mm)||Torx||Screwdrivers||Additional wrenches||Chain Tool?||Also includes|
|Park Tool IB-2||108 g||1.5,2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8||T25||flathead|
|Topeak Mini 9||92 g||2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8||T25||Phillips||N||neoprene case|
|Specialized EMT Pro Road||65 g||3, 4, 5, 6||T25||Phillips||N||chrome-plated steel bits|
|Lezyne Stainless 20||150 g||2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8||T25, T30||flathead,
|3 spoke wrenches||Y||tire lever, serrated knife, bottle opener, disc brake wedge|
|Blackburn Toolmanator 16||144 g||1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8||T25, T30||flathead,
|2 spoke wrenches||Y||mini shock pump, neoprene sleeve, Schrader valve adapter|
|SKS TOM 18||184 g||2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8||T25||flathead,
|2 spoke wrenches||Y||tire levers (2), brake pad opener, bottle opener|
|Topeak ALiEN II||290 g||2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10||T25||flathead,
|8-, 9-, 10-mm box wrenches, 2 spoke wrenches||Y||tire levers (2), chain hook, storage for 2 pins, nylon case|
|Pedros ICM||235 g||2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8||T25||flathead,
|3 spoke wrenches||Y|
|Crank Brothers Multi-19||175 g||2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8||T10, T25||flathead,
|8-, 10-mm box wrenches , 4 spoke wrenches||Y||steel carrying case, lifetime warranty|
|Lezyne Stainless 12||115 g||2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8||T25||Phillips||3 spoke wrenches||Y|
|Topeak Urban 8||132 g||4,5||15-mm wrench,
2 spoke wrenches
|bottle opener, tire levers (2)|
|Pedros Trixie||85 g||5||8-, 9-, 10-, 15-mm box wrenches||lock ring hook, bottle opener, lifetime warranty, bolts for bottle cage mount|
|Park Tool MT-30||153 g||2.5,3, 4, 5, 8||T25, T30||flathead,
|8-, 15-mm wrench||key ring holder|
Many tools now come with star-shaped Torx drivers. Most newer mountain bikes with disc brakes (which are showing up on more road bikes, too) use T25 Torx bolts. Some chainrings now require a T30 Torx bolt to adjust. And Torx bolts of varying sizes are being used on seatposts, stems, and other components. If you have a newer mountain bike or a higher-end road bike it makes sense to look at the bolts on your bike before you buy a multi-tool.
Many smaller multi-tools come with either a standard flat screwdriver or a Phillips head driver but not both, so again it also pays to look at your gear before you make a choice. Look at the small screws on the side of the rear derailleur or on the bottom of your shoe cleats if you use them. In most cases, a Phillips head will prove to be the most useful in the long run.
Though I have crammed multi-tools into a jersey pocket for many years, some cyclists dislike how tool bits can jab at their back, or rip a pocket or pack. Some tools come with cases or covers that prevent such issues—and keep the tool tidy and organized.
Though there are many mini-tool designs and shapes, we like the traditional folding-from-both ends design (similar to a Swiss Army Knife; it makes for a compact, light tool, and, if engineered properly, also allows longer bits—essential for leverage and getting into tight spots—to fit into a minimal package). The Topeak Mini 9 is super compact, but includes nine tools (seven hex bolts, one Torx bolt, and a Phillips screwdriver), all arranged so that you can actually use them (a lot of mini tools try to cram too much into a small space, making it difficult to actually use the tool on your bike or gain enough leverage to turn a stubborn bolt). We used the tool for adjusting saddle height in the rain, replacing bolts on cleats, and loosening a tight stem. For a compact tool, the Topeak’s bits are especially easy to access and a bit longer than those found on competitive products. Even so, the Topeak is also super light—just 92 grams—but remains burly where it needs to be: The tools themselves are made of hardened steel for durability, while the tool’s body is lighter aluminum.
The tool is well-loved by pro bike product reviewers. BikeRadar wrote: “If you’re looking for a lightweight tool, this is the only model we tested that comes in under 100g. Don’t think that makes it flimsy, though: This operates like a heavyweight. The quality is superb and in use the tolerances are great—it’s a truly nice piece of kit.” The AllSeasonsCyclist blog also loved the Topeak: “For me, the Topeak Mini 9 Pro multi-tool is the perfect of combination of weight and size for my road bikes.” The tool has more than 300 reviews on Amazon, charting at 4.5 stars with consistent compliments and few complaints.
The one obvious caveat is that the Topeak may not be an ideal choice for off-road riders. That’s because it doesn’t come with a built-in chain tool. Chain breakage is fairly rare in road and city riding, but can lead to a long walk home if you’re out mountain biking. Another potential issue is the compactness of the tool. That’s generally a plus, but there may be some situations—like attaching a water bottle cage—where you’ll want a longer tool.
Sure, $30 is not cheap for a multi-tool with six bits. But the EMT Pro Road is at once useful, cleverly engineered, and artful. Each of the four chrome-plated hex keys have been hollowed out—yielding a tool that’s far lighter than anything else I tested without any sacrifices in comfort or utility. Despite its super light weight, the bits are no less functional than on any other tool in this category. I fiddled with seat post bolts, removed and replaced a handlebar, changed cleats, and adjusted a derailleur with it. I used it in rain and with gloves. And (I’ve owned one for several years, pre-dating this review) I’ve never had so many other riders make comments or ask to hold a tool on group rides. It is both a tool and a conversation piece.
While most modern bicycles have a quick-release mechanism that allows cyclists to remove wheels without any tools, the rear wheel on fixed-gear bikes can’t be removed without a 15-mm wrench. While there are a number of clever multi-tools or stand-alone wrenches made with the fixie rider in mind, the MT-30 is the best choice to tackle the roadside repairs a typical rider might encounter. Because of its compact size, the 15-mm box wrench can’t quite match the leverage of a full-size wrench, but while testing on four different fixed-gear bikes, I had no trouble removing track nuts. And unlike most alternatives, the MT-30 has the right mix of hex, screwdriver, and Torx bits to handle most everything short of a broken chain. For added urban appeal, it has a key-ring holder.
Pedro’s ICM: There are a lot of good things about this tool, but weight isn’t one of them—the chunky ICM, with 17 functions, weighs several ounces more than the Crank Brothers m19, which includes two additional functions. That said, the ICM’s longer—and thus more useful—bits, and overall ergonomics, compensate a bit for the tool’s portliness. A few consumers on Amazon reported durability issues, but Pedro’s, a longtime and respected player in the bike-tool business, does offer a lifetime warranty on the ICM.
Topeak ALiEN II: It’s hard to imagine a multi-tool with more functionality than this monster, which has a whopping 26 tools crammed into the two-piece body (it can snap in half to make repairs easier). But it’s extremely large and heavy—more than most cyclists would want to carry on a ride. Using the ALiEN is a bit like taking a puzzle apart, and then not being able to put it back together. On-the-go repairs should be speedy, and this tool slows you down.
SKS TOM 18: This sturdy option from German stalwart SKS, which has been making tools for nearly a century, has a nice range of tools in a compact form. The spoke wrenches and chain tool on the TOM 18 (TOM is short for Tour Mechanic) are merely adequate, but the storage slot for a spare pin will be a big plus if you run a Shimano 9- or 10-speed drivetrain.
Blackburn Toolmanator 16: If you want a multi-tool that doubles as a conversation piece, this slim tool, with a micro-size shock pump (that works) and 15 other functions, is worth consideration. But it stacks up better on paper than it works in the field—the bits are annoyingly short (so much so that they couldn’t be used for some very standard functions, like tightening a loose saddle), and the wide, slimline shape makes it tough to get proper leverage.
Topeak Urban 8: In the same vein as the Trixie, the Urban 8 essentially is a 15-mm box wrench with a bunch of other functions shoehorned in. The Topeak’s design makes removing the nuts on a fixed gear bike a snap—and the bottle opener is great, too—but the hex bits are far too short and poorly positioned (there are parts on your bike that you just won’t be able to reach) to be of much use on this $30 tool.
We like tools that use a traditional folding design. At some level, tool companies are moving away from that; Crank Brothers—which has been known for folding-style tools—recently released a trio of models with a radical, triangular shape. The company’s Y Series tools are a huge departure from mini-tool tradition, but we’ve found the design to be less convenient to use—and that hints at what’s most important when it comes to a mini tool: You want one that’s actually going to work. That means that it won’t strip or round the edges of the surfaces it touches; it means that it won’t vibrate apart when you’re riding; and it means that it works intuitively. One tip: though you can use a mini-tool for at-home maintenance, these tools are designed mostly for light duty. If you get into serious bike repair, you’ll probably want a better set of tools with greater durability and leverage. For that, look for our Basic Home Bike Toolkit Guide, coming soon.
Originally published: April 13, 2016