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Bike folks looking to refresh their commuting kit or wanting to add to it for overnight camping trips or bike touring here are some must have items to help get you there and back safely and with less hassles. 
Picture of mini pumps for bike commuting and touringConvenient, portable, packable mini pumps
"They don't make a good mini pump" to quote my old bike school instructor in Oregon.  That may be true but a mini pump shouldn't be compared to a frame pump for performance.  Mini pumps are the "it's certainly better than nothing" option that the teacher was inclined to agree with.  That having been said there actually are some mini bike pumps that are better than others.  Two that I have owned for several years are pictured at left.  My tried and true Crank Brothers Road Pro has been replaced by the Power Alloy Pump with the only difference I could see is that the newer model is nine inches long like the Topeak Pocket Rocket.  I like my older model better.

Any-how, it is a good idea to know-how to repair a flat prior to participating in any serious bike travel whether that be bicycle touring or commuting.  One of the primary assets in one's preparedness kit is a pack along pump.  Today while cleaning the shop and sorting through some old tool boxes I found these two old mini pumps. The Topeak Pocket Rocket and Crank Brothers Road Pro. Still working fine after dusting them off and testing their functionality.  I like keeping a mini pump in my pack or bag in case I forget to put the frame pump on my grocery getter bike after having the pump on my mountain bike.  Both of the mini pumps here are excellent quality, very small and lightweight perfect for an emergency or as a back up pump.  

Picture of Park Tool MTB3.2 multi tool for bikesPark MTB 3.2 for modern bikes
Got disc brakes?  Lots of bike folks are finding disc brakes on road and commuter bikes and seems more of standard equipment than brakes reserved for mountain bike use.  An excellent multi tool for disc brake equipped bikes is the Park MTB3.2 Tool.  

Hoping to get one for my disc brake equipped commuter bike as just last night I had to fiddle with a slightly out of true rotor to eliminate friction for my ride.  Sure an adjustable wrench can do the job just fine but I thought how convenient it would have been to have that little tool tucked under my saddle for just such an issue.  Not to mention all the other 27 quality tools packed into the smaller lighter weight model of the old Park MTB3 Rescue Tool.  More information at the multi tool review earlier this month. 

Picture of Cygolite Metro 360 USB rechargeable front bike lightCygolite Metro 300 or 360 Front Light
Even folks who do most of their commuting or touring daylight hours can benefit from having a quality set of front and rear bike lights.  Bright, strobing lights that can alert drivers of you and your bike's presence.

Cygolite Metro 360 USB rechargeable with a 25 hour run time in pulsing or strobing mode is also exceptionally bright when used in the brightest solid light mode.  The strobing steady function is unique to this light and is very convenient for being able to see the road or pathway while signaling drivers at the same time.  Cygolite Hotshot Taillight also USB rechargeable and 200 hour run time is of exceptional quality and very well reviewed. 

Picture of bike commuter wearing Bell Muni bike helmet Commuter friendly Bell Muni
Hmm, guess there was some controversy about shoulding the "need" to wear a bike helmet.  Whatever, I find them convenient at times for adding helmet lights, visor, rear view mirror, ya they can work pretty well for lots of things.  Last year when I reviewed my ten year old Bell Metro Bike Commuting specific helmet I learned that it was being replaced by the Bell Muni.  While the Muni may have some of the bike commuting concepts like that of the Metro it is a far cry from being anywhere near the helmet the Bell Metro is.  I say "is" as I am confident of getting many more years of use from my old helmet. 
What the Muni lacks the quality and features of the Metro it is very reasonable considering it's about half the price the Metro was ten years ago.  There have been some mixed reviews regarding sizing but reading over the information can help in size selection.

Happy Holidays from our bike family to yours.

 
 
Picture of locking ergonomic cork bike gripsLocking ergonomically shape grips
For handlebar tape on drop bars cork tape is preferred by many avid cyclists.  So why would that be different for bike grips?  

A big turn off for some folks was assuming they would have to use spray adhesive to install old fashioned cork grips.  While that style of cork grip is still in use there are many cork grips available including all the features specific to virtually any other grips being made including ergonomic shape, locking grips or integrated bar ends. 

Last year I found some locking ergonomic molded rubber cork grips.  I hadn't heard of the EVO SL1 Cork Grips or read any reviews but was excited to try them for the very decent price based on the description.  One of the reasons for my wanting such a grip was due in large part to the hot humid climate and wanting a grip that didn't feel gooey tacky like so many other grips tend to do after being weathered for a few months. 

Picture of tanned cork mountain bike gripsEVO SL1 grips seem more durable
After a solid year of casual trail use, mostly commuting, bike camping and lots of exposure to the weather the EVO SL1 mountain bike grips have seasoned nicely.  With a look and feel that resembles leather more than cork the grips not only look good and feel good but have developed a very protective sheen very similar to putting shellac on all natural cork grips like those pictured in the next grips reviewed. 

On the practical side of things since I was looking to relieve hand numbness and tendinitis pain these grips have played an important part in mostly eradicating the pain associated with that.  Putting these grips on a mountain bike built for bike commuting and off road touring with a steel front rack has provided a nice solid feel to the sweeping handlebars while pedaling with a front pannier load.  

Considering there are three points of contact between a rider's body and their bike (hands, butt and feet) resolving pain while at the same time adding a confident feel to a bike is a nicely added bonus. 

Click on links provided or photos for information or purchase or continue reading for some all natural cork grips from Dimension.


Picture of all natural cork grips on mountain bike for bicycle touring and commutingDimension All Natural Cork Grips
So called all natural cork grips are made with a synthetic foam and cork just as many of the popular synthetic cork bar tapes.  This pair from Dimension is a very natural looking cork grip that wears and holds well. 

After applying a few coats of shellac and allowing it to dry completely I used Loctite Spray Adhesive to ensure a good bond without slippage.  These are very comfortable grips and I like the looks of them as well.  After clear coating them they feel very durable and will be interesting to see how they look after a year of riding them unless I decide to sell the old Specialized Rockhopper.  

There are of course several other natural cork grips but the Dimension Cork Grips have been around awhile and are well reviewed.   Use link provided above for information or to purchase. 

Links related to this topic:
Four Favorite Cork Grips



 
 
Picture of winter bike commuting apparel
Layering for Winter Bike Commuting provides many options.
"Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night stays these commuters from the swift completion of their appointed rounds".  Adopted from the unofficial postal service motto but is true of many hard core bike commuters as well. 

However if you're new to bike commuting you may have had some rather unpleasant experiences attempting to ride a bike in adverse weather conditions.  If not, consider yourself lucky as most well traveled bike commuters have many stories to share  regarding their learning curve on the way to obtaining expert knowledge of what does and does not work under certain conditions and the most popular is winter bike commuting.  From trying different tires on varying wet surfaces to pedaling out fifteen miles in sub zero temperatures knowing what to wear and how to layer different fabrics can sometimes make a difference in a joyful ride or a miserable commute leaving some folks abandoning winter riding altogether.  

Layering is effective in not only keeping a person warm and dry but also provides ability to stay cool under varying temperature changes.  In severe winter climates with drastic temperature changes ranging from zero degree morning wind chill factors and sunny late afternoons supplying a balmy 40 to 50 degrees knowing how to effectively layer clothing not only for changing temperatures but wind and precipitation as well. 
Picture of bike commuter with winter apparelBike Commuter well equipped for winter

Ten years ago while living on the property of an "off grid" cabin in Colorado I was car free and spent three winters bike commuting approximately twenty miles round trip five or six days a week.  I made some mistakes along the way hurt myself a few times on steep frozen dirt roads but for the better part of it I didn't just survive, I thrived.  Information discussed here is effective layering that not only worked well for me in Colorado but in wet climates like Portland and Astoria, Oregon.  It is actually a fairly easy task to run out and purchase stuff to stay warm and dry but keeping bacteria and body odors from accumulating after several days of use is something to consider when purchasing warm gear for cold weather riding to the work place.
  

Beginning with a good moisture wicking, fast drying and antibacterial fabric that wont add too much bulk for layering is very important.  Afterall it is the material which is touching your skin and is either holding or wicking perspiration.  Wool, synthetic blends and silk are all good to consider and each has it's own best qualities. Therefore I found having a cotton, wool, synthetic blend from Duofold worked best for most all conditions due to the 25% wool that acts as a natural antibacterial fabric and the faster drying wicking properties of the lesser synthetic I found it lasted longer before it needed to be washed.  Rather than push the limits of one base layer of thermal underwear I opted for two pairs to alternate through the work week and so I have a second set of silk underwear.  Silk is not as fast drying and is extremely warm so I found I didn't need to layer as much with it.  Plus it is very nice to sleep in.  Having these two options as base layers worked extremely well.  The only reason I didn't try merino wool underwear was the price tag. 
Picture of winter bike commuting base layerSilk base layer is very warm, natural fabric.
Ear muffs, helmet rain cover and replaceable lens sunglasses that don't fog up while wearing a face shield makes for a very pleasant ride.  Folks argue that wearing ear muffs cancels out too much sound so that they can't hear cars and don't feel as safe not being able to hear as well.  My ears had a tendency to become so cold that I had to stop to warm them and if I was running late it was miserable not being able to stop.  Therefore I wear ear muffs whenever I feel like it.  I found that wearing a beanie under my helmet and adding a helmet cover to close the air vents from the frigid cold reduced my need to wear ear muffs and the original Masque is very nice to have when it's so cold that breathing ice crystals is a health risk. Ya, if it's that cold definitely get.  Why invest in good sunglasses for your winter bike commute?  Besides changing light conditions and shorter wintery days using clear lenses when it is so cold that your eyes water so profusely you can hardly see where you are going and they have proved to be very helpful in heavy rain as well.  Not to mention a truck passed me on the highway once sending a rock directly into one of the lenses but didn't crack the polycarbonate.  Nice. Lastly but not leastly is a good helmet light.  I have had my Planet Bike Sport Spot light for many years now.  I like the long run time in flashing mode, very bright and because I was riding unlit rural roads if I were to get a flat it worked great as a hands free work light for repairs.  I installed rechargeable NIMH batteries and has been nicely cost effective.  

Picture
Wool sweaters are simply a must have for winter bike commuting.  Natural insulating properties that keep you warm and with water wicking lanolin fibers is warm even when it gets wet.  Wool is also naturally antibacterial usually for the life of the garment and when not too bulky is excellent for layering.  I was fortunate enough to find a fairly form fitting light weight wool sweater that I could zip a wind proof shell over if needed.  Here's some quoted information from the wool experts at David Morgan

"Because of the temperature gradient between the warm skin and the colder exterior of the wool garment, the moisture from perspiration migrates towards the outer surface of the wool, and there evaporates into the ambient air. The insulating value of the wool fleece or fabric is determined largely by the pockets of air trapped within the fabric. The amount of water vapor in the air within the wool fabric is a function of the temperature and the amount of water in the fibers, and affects the heat conductivity of this air. All else being equal, when the amount of activity or the ambient temperature increases the body perspires more, the heat conductivity of the air trapped in the wool fabric increases, and the insulating value of the wool decreases. Thus wool clothing not only keeps the skin dry and warm, but also adjusts its degree of insulation to some degree to suit the amount of activity and external temperature".
That explained why I have favored wool so much in cold, wet climates and couldn't have said it better myself because I didn't know that. Nowadays whenever I look for arm warmers, leg warmers, mittens, caps or beanies as a gift or for myself it has got to be mostly wool for our winter outdoor activities.

Picture of Thermal Soft Shell Jacket for winter bike commutingThermal Soft Shell with Vest

For dry, bitter cold with nasty wind chill a favorite not only of mine but of many other winter bike commuters is a thermal windproof shell.  A description like that is just what a bike commuter wants to hear for cold windy conditions.  Typically this type of garment consists of polyester and elastene allowing the material to stretch and move without feeling restricted in movement.  Usually fleece lined for added warmth and there is perhaps none better for price and performance than the Pear Izumi Elite Barrier Jacket available for both men and women.  Sizing seems to run a bit small and I wanted to be able to layer underneath so I got a large when I normally wear a medium.  By clicking on any of the links provided and reading the reviews you will understand why this is such a popular winter soft shell jacket among many types of cyclists.  The newer models have reflective trim and excellent color options.  As mine is black I added a commuter vest for better visibility as well as having another outer layer that is easily packable.  Nice combination.

Picture of bike commuter wearing windproof shellPackable Windproof Shell

Due to the incredible warmth of my thermal softshell jacket sometimes it was too warm and as I mentioned how much better wool performs for odor reduction I found that having a thinner, more packable windproof shell over my sweater worked best in keeping me from getting too hot and perspiring too much on the steep climb into town. Also, the full length zipper allows easy ventilation as well as having a fully vented back panel, something thermal softshell jackets don't offer. When my after work evening ride home was mostly downhill I packed along arm warmers just in case there was a cold snap. 

This is the most pack friendly lightweight shell I own and can also be worn over a thermal softshell layer for extreme dry cold at temperatures well below freezing. 

Cycling specific shoes are arguably a poor choice for winter commuting.  Regarding keeping feet warm and dry as I prefer thick wool socks and sandals having a pair of neoprene booties like these from Pearl Izumi work very well.  Easy to put on and are compatible with bike shoes. 

Picture of waterproof jacket and pants for bike commutingWaterproof, ventilated Jacket and pants

When it comes to the vast array of nylon, gore-tex or other synthetic waterproof or windproof garments I have found that opinions of how these types of fabrics perform varies greatly from one person to another.  I have tried several varieties and have an assortment of rain and windproof outerwear to choose from most of which are easily stowed in a bike pannier or hydration pack so that I can regulate being over or under dressed on the go.  A truly waterproof outer shell that breathes well and doesn't feel like plastic has always been lacking in my array of winter bike commuting gear and I have tried several.  Without mentioning brand names or how awesome their products are supposed to be I have at long last found a truly waterproof, breathable jacket designed specifically for bike commuting and I couldn't be happier with the Craft Active Bike Rain Jacket or the Levi's Commuter Series Parka.  

Waterproof, windproof pants that can be worn to commute with more of an everyday casual look. 



At a certain point in my budgeting I thought to myself "wow, gearing up for winter bike commuting is sort of expensive, maybe I should just drive".  That thought lasted about a minute.  When my sister asked "what do you do on days you don't feel good?"  My response was "I take it easy".  The importance of proper layering for consistent winter bike commuting is very important.  My first year I did the "grin and bear it" method but as my body burned excess fuel to stay warm in extreme cold without proper attire I experienced significant weight loss of approximately 15 pounds.  I also noticed ice crystals in the air on some of my winter wonderland night rides and learned later how potentially harmful  it can be to suck ice crystals while pumping up a steep climb.  There is nothing wrong with getting off the bike and walking it when it's the wiser thing to do in harsh winter conditions.  

Links Related to this Topic:
Waterproof Cycling Clothing
Bike Commuting in Wet Weather
 
 

High Sierra Hydration Pack for Mountain Biking, Touring and Commuting

Picture of mountain biking with High Sierra Quick Shot 70 Hydration Pack
Mountain Biking in Colorado with High Sierra 70 Hydration Pack
Picture of High Sierra Hydration Pack for bike commuting with helmet holderNice helmet carrying ability
There is nothing wrong with touting good equipment when you find it.  Particularly when it delivers more than expected.  This can be said of the quality and affordable hydration packs from High Sierra.  

Most of my gear for bike touring and commuting has been of such good quality I haven't had to replace anything for ten years or more.  Might have something to do that I don't feel the need to keep up with bike fashion trends or the latest greatest gadget.  When a friend stepped on my twelve year old Nalgene hydration pack and broke the plastic buckle I considered replacing it.  Later after all the fuss of BPA Free hydration containers I decided to look for a new hydration pack.  

Whenever I replace a substantial piece of everyday riding equipment I consider what I didn't like about the item (seems there is always something) and look for a product that meets that criteria of "new and improved".  Things I was looking for were an ergonomically designed bike specific hydration pack, two litre reservoir, simple strap system and a way to store my helmet when not in use. 
I located just such a critter last year with the High Sierra Splash 70 which has been replaced this year with the Quick Shot 70.  I'm not exactly sure what they improved in the newer model compared to mine as I am quite satisfied with it's rugged design, insulated tube to prevent freezing, surprisingly adequate cargo capacity with a 2 litre reservoir and very waterproof.  Other than removing the so called "monster hook" for adding extra items to the outside of the pack such as a sunglasses case, visor or hat.  Listed specifications of the two packs are identical other than the differences mentioned.  By following links provided you will see how well reviewed both models of this hydration pack have been. 
  • Large, front-load main compartment
  • Separate, side-access hydration reservoir compartment makes it easy to access your water supply
  • 2-liter hydration system has a wide opening reservoir for easy filling and cleaning. System is BPA free and antimicrobial
  • Hands-free reservoir pressure valve Insulated water tube cover helps to prevent water from freezing in the tube
  • Hinged front pocket holds a helmet. Front zippered pocket holds bicycle tools, accessories or media player

Picture of High Sierra Quick Shot 70 hydration pack for bike touring and commutingHigh Sierra Quick Shot 70
An example of how much stuff I have been able to fit into this pack with a three quarter full reservoir. Topeak Hexus Multi Tool, Tire Jack and tire levers, wallet, cell phone, three energy snack bars, bike gloves, beanie or stocking cap, Planet Bike Sport Spot Helmet Light, Packable Windproof Shell, leg warmers, arm warmers, rear clip light for the included relective clip strap and when I am wearing my helmet the external pocket holds quite a bit of whatever I want to stash in it.

What did I like best about it?  The price.  When I purchased my old Nalgene pack it was sixty five bucks with my employee discount while I paid a mere thirty five bucks for this new and improved pack not to mention it was ten years later!

I have been using my High Sierra Hydration Pack for a solid year now on camping trips, bike touring, mountain biking and commuting and it still looks like new.  Click on any photos or links provided in this post for information or to purchase.

Links related to this article
Variation of Hydration




 
 
Picture of front bike lights and bikes for bicycle commuting
Assorted Front Bike Lights for used for commuting and touring.
Picture of front bike lights for bike commutingOlder model front bike lights
Over the years I have tried several different brands of front bike lights.  Finding a good balance of battery run time and emitting enough light to see rural unlit roads when need be.  

For mixed conditions this is referred to as "see" or "be seen" the latter referring to the flashing or strobing front bike light.  When LED's hit the market several years ago it was a nice improvement for bike light technology.  As a former bike shop owner I tried out several not only for myself but I was looking to provide my loyal customers with a quality product based on their needs and complaints of the bike light they were currently using.

Most common of the complaints was not being able to see well enough on unlit rural roads during their commutes.  As my riding took me along busy roads as well as those same dark roads my customers were referring to I found having both a good strobing light combined with a bright solid light was the best combination given the options at the time.  Drivers seem to associate a strobing light with movement.  That is to say that when a driver sees a strobing light they assume that whatever the white strobing light is it is in motion and contributes to a rider's safety.  Turning from a road that is well travelled with traffic to a dark unlit road with potential pot hole or other unseen road hazards having a solid bright torch to flip on works very well.  Upper left photo is a touring bike also used for commuting with a now discontinued Dura Vision Pro that requires four AAA batteries but has a very long run time of approximately 120 hours in strobing mode and is mounted to the front rack.  A Cateye HL-EL520 requires four AA batteries, is very bulky, does not have a strobe function, rather has two solid light mode settings but has a battery run time of approximately 150 hours with a mountain bracket to fit 31.8 mm bars.  That size mounting bracket was actually pretty hard to find on a decent light several years ago.  The brighter setting combined with the strobing Duravision Pro worked very well ten years ago and are still working well to this day.  Links to a few quality bike lights are provided below.  

Picture of Cygolite Metro 300 for bike commutingCygolite Metro 300 clamp fits 31.8mm handlebars
Times have changed with brighter, USB rechargeable Lithium Ion bike lights which are very well made, durable, water proof or water resistant and of course they will all fit an over size handlebar.  With these new improvements to bike commuter safety the same challenges of finding a light with a good balance of a long lasting battery and bright enough to see with still remains.

After much research last year and many commutes later I highly recommend the Cygolite Metro 300 to anyone looking for a new front bike light for commuting.  Small, light weight (110 grams) solidly built, USB rechargeable and the 25 hour battery is still the best choice available for the modest price of under fifty bucks. 
Another added benefit is that this model has a strobing steady mode which pulses light and remains steady at the same time.  Day Flash mode provides the 25 hour run time. Here are some specs. for run time at different modes. Note that the Cygolite 300 requires 5 hours to completely charge. 
Med: 3:00 hours
High: 2:00 hours
Low: 13:00 hours
SteadyPulse™: 3:30
Flash: 25:00 hour

Other than the longer charge time of five hours compared to a one hour NIMH battery quick charger for the AAA batteries there is also the scenario of not being able to swap out a set of batteries if it begins to dim out.  This happened on one of my longer bike commutes along a dimly lit pathway but I was able to put it on stroble mode to get home.  This had me a bit concerned about winter commuting when the cold can significantly reduce the rated battery specifications.  For this reason I keep my tried and true Planet Bike Sport Spot 4 which can either be worn on a helmet or handlebar.  It's small enough to keep in my pack is very bright with 100 hour run time and runs on three AAA batteries.  While commuting in Portland at night for a few hours I was really glad I had the option to swap in fresh batteries I had carried with me for the ride home. 

Of all the front bike lights I own the Cygolite Metro 300 is certainly the brightest and offers superb versatility.  An easy fix for the non replaceable battery concern would be to carry a power stick typically used for cell phones as a back up power source particularly if it's a very long, chilly commute.   

That about covers most of various bike lights I have found to be of affordable quality with their varying qualities.  If you're looking for a USB rechargeable battery option, by that I mean removable batteries that can be charged via USB with a second battery option of rechargeable AAA batteries then consider this model from Magnus Innovations.
Still affordable at less than a hundred bucks but is an excellent choice providing the optional power sources just described.  

 
 
Picture of bike computer while ridingCateye Strada Cadence Computer
Really doesn't seem like it was all that long ago when I fitted a Cateye Strada Cadence bike computer to my touring bike.  Although, by the looks of that old Cateye Opticube front light, I suppose it's been a few years.

With all the app happy folks creating GPS apps for today's "don't leave the house without your phone" that's gotten bike folks enjoying social mile tracking groups like Strava and Map My Ride I continue to use my bike computer as the preferred method of tracking my miles.

Having an odometer on your bike is like knowing when a car needs an oil change.  I can easily reference it for periodic bike maintenance and having owned and been riding this bike for so many years I have a good idea as to what it needs and when.  It worked very well for a recent chain replacement.  After checking the odometer I thought, hmm, better check for chain wear and I had caught it just in time.  Ever experience excessive chain wear that causes gear wear on the cassette?  Then put a new chain on and have it skip?  With an odometer on the bike you can find which chains wear the longest and how frequently you might need to replace that chain or try upgrading. Not to mention keeping that cassette intact.  My Cateye Strada Computer is approximately ten years old have had to replace the batteries in it twice and still works with the same accuracy as it did when it was new.  I haven't had to rewire it or anything.  There isn't a cell phone app that will claiming that any time soon. 

Picture of cell phone bike app on bikeFree bikey app with stem mount
Owning several bikes and wanting to track miles is when I appreciate having a simple bike app.  I have tried a few including some of the social ones and finally found one I like in the bikey app.  A simple, easy to read display I have used to track commuting times for route selections and other references such as comparing various bike's comfort level and speed over the same route.  It's a free app without ads and seems to use less battery than any other gps tracking bike app I have tried as well as being very accurate.  I like the pause and resume features when running errands that is extremely simple and easy to use without glitches.  

Though bikey works fine in my pocket or handlebar bag finding a sturdy stem or handlebar mount for using navigation assistance with google maps was another matter.  By far the best one I have found thus far is the Minoura Handlebar Phone Grip.  

Reviews of other similar products complained of the holders snapping over bumps on rides or worthless for trail riding.  Photo below shows the sturdy features from Minoura.  

Picture of Minoura Handlebar Phone Grip
Minoura Cell Phone Grip handlebar mount
Picture of Planet Bike Protege 9.0 Wireless 9-Function Bike Computer with 4-Line Display and Temperature
Planet Bike 9.0 Protege Wireless
Picture of Planet Bike Protege 9.0 9-Function Bike Computer with 4-Line Display and Temperature
Planet Bike Protege 9.0
Other bike computers I like due to the optional features such as temperature display, wireless options and easy to read display screens is the Planet Bike Protege 9.0 available in both Wireless and Standard Wired Installation.  Both models include the following features:
  • Planet bike protege 9.0 9-function bike computer with 82-centimeter wire-mounting kit for the front wheel and case
  • Functions include current speed, speed comparator, ride time, trip distance, dual odometer (for two wheel sizes)
  • Four-line macromonitor lcd displays up to five pieces of data at a glance
  • Computer fits 25.0 to 31.8 millimeter handlebars, and magnet fits up to four-millimeter bladed spokes
  • Ultrasonically welded to be completely weatherproof; lifetime warranty


Nice features for winter bike commuting. 
 
 
Picture of multi tools for bikesVariety of Multi Tools for different types of bikes
With all the gadgets used by folks keeping up in a multi tasked world one could say that bike multi tools have been taking care of that for cyclists for several years now.  Having one gadget that can perform several different tasks that is compact, light weight and fairly simple to use has become a standard for modern efficiency.  

I'm not stating this as a fact but being from Portland, Oregon I like to think that the Leatherman Tool was the first multi tool to hit the market with any success.  Since 1983 and long before multi-tasking was a household term gadgets abound.   As could be expected multi tools for bikes have shown up for cyclists as a new best friend in "keeping the donkey light" as we like to say when packing our gear.

"Hehe, last time I saw a bike tool kit it was the cheesy old crusty crap tools in a zippered vinyl case, held in place with elastic webbing. They weighed a ton and weren't very good!"
Picture of Topeak Hexus II Multi Tool for bike commuting and touringTopeak Hexus II Multi Tool reliable as ever
Having a multi tool that matches up well with your bike is mostly where product selection begins, "if the tool fits use it".  While comparing features to cost consider the fact that a lot of the tools offered may not ever be used on your specific bike.  That's ok as it is nice to be of roadside assistance to a fellow cyclist needing one of your excess tools.  The point is to find the best multi tool for your bike with a few extras "just in case". 

One of the reasons I prefer the Topeak Hexus II is it's very thought out design which in its' simplicity has managed to provide one of the best features missing on most all other multi tools.  Namely the chain holder which looks like nothing more than a small piece of wire and if you didn't know it an actual tool to be removed and used you would think it was just part of the tool itself.  

One of the two included tire levers has a built in hex bit for attaching the torx bit (included in the tool) and fits as a handle for the chain tool shown in photo above.

If you're looking for some much needed open or box wrenches either carry a Leatherman Tool, a small adjustable wrench or pliers or consider the Park MTB-3 Rescue Tool.  Box wrenches are something to consider if you have fenders with fender stays, some rack stays and some older model derailleurs and bolt on wheels as for example many internally geared three speeds.

Picture of Park MTB-3 Rescue ToolPark MTB-3 Rescue Tool has lots of features
I appreciate Park Tool Company for all they have done and continue to do to make working on bikes safer and simpler than ever before.  The name Park Tool means quality to most bike folks of all ages and their multi tools are excellent.  I own an older model Park MTB-3 Rescue Tool (photo at left) that provides 22 tools for most all basic repair needs and especially nice for older model bikes that require a wrench to adjust the seat and seat post.  

 Although I had to replace the chain tool on my older MTB-3 it has been a reliable tool to keep in my pack and have helped others on several occasions with it.  Other than most of the popular nut sizes covered by the box style wrenches the MTB-3 also provides a mini saw style knife blade and a cute little bottle opener molded into the chain tool handle.  The tire levers do not include a spoke holder and are a bit wide if you have a stubborn tire that needs a smaller lever to get the bead started over the rim.  Another factor some bike folks consider is it's bulk and weight compared to the Topeak or many other multi tools though comes with a nice carry pouch that can be worn on a belt.  Of course this tool lacks the little wire thingy for holding two ends of the chain for repair like that supplied in the Topeak Hexus II.

Picture
Although the MTB-3 has been recommended for older bikes due to the box wrenches the newer 3.2 model is an excellent choice for newer bikes with disc brake.  The Park MTB3.2 Rescue Tool has been very well reviewed for it's size and weight being much smaller and lighter than the MTB-3.  This 27 in 1 model is very popular for it's rotor truing tool, disc brake piston press and rugged pedal wrench.  

Looking to add this to my kit on my mountain bike for touring and commuting.

Picture multi tool for bikesNon branded but quality multi tool has basics covered
I received a basic multi tool shown at left as a gift with a Windsor Oxford Three Speed a couple years ago.  A chain tool has been added to this generic piece and the nylon plastic tool holders double as tire levers like the Park MTB-3.

This tool fit the needs of the three speed and I like the spoke wrenches notched on the box type wrenches. Although this tool is of a no name brand it has worked well when I needed it and is still a very solid quality item that I keep in the bike's saddle pack.  

Very reasonably priced for the budget minded and makes an excellent gift like the other tools reviewed here.  


Picture of vintage portable bike repair toolsVintage bike repair set is still very useful.
Today's multi tools for bikes have come along way from the days of rounding up several bulky, heavy tools of so called "poor quality".  I keep this old set that includes a small spoke wrench for an old Puch Bergmeister that doesn't have much need of hex bits other than the new stem I added.  

Any of the multi tools discussed here can help get you out of a bind whether it's on the trail, commuting or on a long bike tour when it's essential to have some basic repair items.  





 
 
Picture of bike commuter wearing Levi's Men's Commuter Series ParkaLevi's Men's Commuter Series Parka
At long last I have found a quality waterproof cycling coat for bike commuting that didn't cost as much as an inexpensive bike. Another nice touch (pun intended) with the fabric is that it doesn't feel like plastic and breathes very well.  

I wasn't too keen about the color when it arrived as the description stated it is orange when it's actually a dark pink.  I don't mind it at all though I kinda wonder what the so called green might actually look like.  Sizing seems to be appropriate as the medium fits as I had expected.  I can wear a thin sweater under the parka without feeling restricted in movement.  

Features I like are the large zippered pocket on the back which is still accessible while wearing a hydration pack and is water proof.  Here are a list of specs from Levi's that need some correction as the only "zippered pocket" on mine is the large pocket on the back. 

• Billed hood with drawstring
• Multiple zip pockets
• Large back vent
• Extended tail for additional coverage
• 56% Cotton, 41% Nylon, 3% Elastane 

Picture of Levi's Commuter Parka Levi's Commuter Parka
I wasn't too sure whether or not I would be interested in the "billed hood" but the design allows the hood to be pulled over the helmet which is a pretty nice feature without restricting peripheral vision.  

A couple other features worth mentioning are the velcro wrist closures and storm flap front chest pockets which don't require a zipper anyway.  So far I have had the Levi's Commuter Parka in a heavy down pour and on warm wet weather rides.  Comfortable and stylish as well as seems to be durable enough for bike touring. 


Although the Levi's Commuter Parka is the most expensive item of the Levi's Commuter Series apparel I was able to find this one on sale at The Clymb.  The Clymb is an online discount retailer who at the time of this writing have select models available.  Membership registration is quick and easy and is required before making purchases.  

 
 
Picture of Origin8 Gary 2 Bars on mountain bike
Origin8 Gary-2 Bar, quality dirt drop bars for your mountain bike.
Some of the first uses of dirt drop bars appeared on the Bridgestone MB-1 and thirty years later are becoming popular again with several manufacturers providing their own models.  Twenty niner's, fat bikes and other enthusiasts are finding that adding some dirt drops to their ride is a lot of fun.   "Everyone should own at least one road bike and one mountain bike" to quote a self proclaimed novice bike expert. 
Picture of cable routing with Dirt Drop BarsCable routing with MTB frame
Personally I haven't found a desire to build up a bike with dirt drop bars until I landed an old Diamond Back Ascent EX frame with an exceptionally long top tube and long chainstays.  A frame geometry very suited for bike touring which might be why Diamond Back added the third water bottle carrier under the down tube, something more common to a touring bike than a true all mountain trail bike.  Ironically this provided an opportunity to have a mountain and road bike in one build, a nice "two fer" in reference to earlier quote. 

All those factors contributed to my wanting to build an on and off road touring bike where dirt drops would make the most sense for a mountain bike with drop bars.  Pursuant to this goal I found a lot of information on a variety of dirt drop bars. My main objective was to find a handlebar to provide comfort and multiple hand positions during the long haul, something preferable when building a touring bike.  

After locating some 3 x 9 Sunrace bar end shifters and reasonably priced Tektro brake levers I decided on the Origin8-Pro Pulsion Alloy Gary-2 Handlebar, 530 x 25.4mm, Black as I had some stems stashed in the shop that would make a good fit for a comfortable yet performance oriented riding position.  Photo below of the completed build shows handlebars slightly higher or parallel with bike seat while aligning top of stem and bar with front axle while riding on the brake hoods.  I have had the opportunity to run some errands and take it out for some longer jaunts and it felt very comfortable after getting the seat height dialed in. It helped to wrap some Cinelli gel pads under the handlebar tape at the drops for some added cushe.   I like the Sunrace bar end shifters and although they are sold individually rather than in pairs the price for a set of 3 x 9 shifters is excellent.  When combined with the Ergonomically designed Tektro RL340 brake levers I am enjoying the handling of this particular bike as all this work proved to resolve many of the frame's design issues which were causing a good deal of discomfort. 
Here are some useful links for parts used in building a bike with dirt drop bars:
Tektro RL340 Ergo Brake Levers Black/Black
Origin8-Pro Pulsion Alloy Gary-2 Handlebar, 530 x 25.4mm, Black
Shifter Sunrace Hb Barend Slr96 Rh 9S Bk/Sl
Cinelli Cork Tape, Bike Handlebar Tape
Cinelli Gel AVS Pads 

Picture of mountain bike for touring with Gary 2 dirt drop bars
'91 Diamond Back Ascent EX mountain bike for touring with Origin8 Gary-2 Bars.
 
 
Picture of Park Tool FR-3 Suntour Freewheel removal toolPark Tool FR-2 and FR-3 for Suntour
Working on older bikes can be a bit challenging at times.  Rust and corrosion contribute to a majority of failed projects either by damaging parts and components in an effort to repair or simply giving up on the stubborn old parts that have succomed to neglect or obsolescence.

Having proper tools for bike repair tasks is obvious to anyone who has attempted to work on a bike with a crescent wrench and pliers.  Knowing which tool is most appropriate is when knowledge and experience is most appreciated.    

Picture of Park Tool FR-3 used with axlePark Tool FR-3 held in place with axle
It's not a common task to remove an old Suntour freewheel so while I observed the initial efforts to remove the freewheel with the appropriate tool I noticed that the tool wasn't being held in place with an axle or quick release skewer.  After several attempts to remove the freewheel and consequently having the tool slip out of the freewheel to be removed I finally grabbed an old bolt on axle to hold the tool in place.  This was a particularly stubborn freewheel to remove so a quick release may not have done the trick.  I have both Suntour freewheel removal tools from Park Tool.  The FR-3 has four splines and the FR-2 (photo above left) has two.  For real stubborn parts the four splined FR-3 works better.  

Picture
Whether it's an old Shimano freewheel or Suntour I have had this big old adjustable wrench wrapped with foam rubber and tape for just such an occasion.  Once the freewheel removal tool is held securely in place, using the wrench and a mallet always does the trick.  

Photo at left shows successful removal of the stubborn old part and now the old Peugeot has a brand new six speed freewheel from Shimano.  

So, if you ever find yourself having to remove an old Suntour freewheel don't forget to hold the tool in place with either a quick release skewer or and old bolt on axle.  



 

    Bike Tourings' Blog

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    by Rideon

    Opened one of the first Bike Commuter Coffee Shops in the U.S.  Certified Bike Tech. with more than ten years serving the bicycle touring and commuting community.

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