Rachet Rocket

I’ve gone through loads of portable bike tools over the years. Most are functional, and will get you out of a pinch on the road, but they usually make big compromises in the name of compactness and light weight. When I’m home, there’s usually a tool that does the job better in my toolbox and the portable tool stays with the spare tubes waiting for the next ride. In the years that I’ve had the Ratchet Rocket (hard to remember how many), I’ve found myself pulling it out for all sorts of jobs around the house.

A tiny ratchet set is just the thing on many quick fix-it jobs. Although the Ratchet Rocket is tiny and lightweight, it sacrifices nothing in build quality and strength. It’s become practically indispensable when assembling flat pack furniture (Ikea should consider selling it as a suicide prevention aid). My tool has had some hard labor over the years, but it shows no wear.

-- Mickey  

Topeak Rachet Rocket RX Mini Folding Bicycle Tool

Available from Amazon

Kool Stop Tire Bead Jack

I know how to change bike tires. I watched my father do it when I was ten years old and the guys at the local bike shop make it look easy. So I never went for a ride without tire levers and a spare inner tube or two.

Unfortunately, knowing how and actually doing it can be two different things. They say to put the tire back on over the rim with just your hands, because using a metal tool may pinch your new tube or poke a hole in it. With some tire and rim combinations, it’s close to impossible, and becomes less possible as you reach those last few inches of bead and your hands get tired and sore. You’ll be stranded until you get that tire bead over the rim.

The Kool Stop Tire Bead Jack is the lightweight, inexpensive answer to this problem. Just put the fixed end on the other side of the rim, hook a section of bead and use the handle to pull it up over the rim. Repeat as needed, and in a few seconds, you’re done and on your way.

It’s too long to fit in a small tool kit. It’s about the length of a CO2 pump, but it’s not metal so it’s very light. You can stick it in a handlebar bag, or a rack trunk or just strap it to your top tube. You won’t want to ride far without it.


-- Matthew Perks  

Kool Stop Tire Bead Jack

Available from Amazon

This tool has been UNRECOMMENDED and is now in the DEAD TOOLS category. See the FAQ for more info.

Retractable Cable Combination Lock

[UPDATE 6 January 20014: Unrecommended! See video of how Mark cut the cable with a pair of scissors.]

You ran into the store for one minute, came back out and your bike was gone! Or your skis, or motorcycle helmet.

You know that big, heavy, secure lock you never carry because it’s too big and heavy? This is the compromise solution – easy to carry and easy to use. This lightweight cable lock fits in your pocket and prevents “casual theft.” Let them steal someone else’s bike/skis/helmet (not cruel, just realistic). The retractable cable extends 24 inches.

I’ve been using these for about 10 years or so. Squirt a little WD-40 into it once in a while to keep it from freezing in the cold. Replace it at the first sign of balkiness (it’s cheap enough).

-- Evan Marks  

Master Lock 24-Inch Retractable Cable Lock

Available from Amazon

Trixie Bike Multitool

I’ve had a fixed gear bike for a few months, and on a friend’s recommendation, picked up the Trixie. Pedro’s has found a way to cram just about every tool needed to work on a fixed gear bike into one tool, whether it’s a roadside emergency or you are working on your bike in the garage.

It’s a lockring wrench – fixies have a lockring that keeps the rear cog in place. Prior to owning the Trixie, I went through every tool I had in my garage in an attempt to tighten a loose lockring. I ended up on a trip to the bike shop.

It’s a 5mm Hex wrench – useful for handlebar and seat adjustments, and the jackposts for a water bottle cage. I hear it can be used on brakes too, although no self-respecting fixie rider uses them.

It’s a 15 mm box wrench – you need one to tighten the tires to the frame. No quick-releases on my bike!

It’s also an 8, 9, and 10 mm box wrench thanks to the slot in the handle. The 8mm is handy for chain tensioning, but I haven’t needed the 9 or 10mm yet.

It’s durable – 5mm thick treated steel – and portable. It can be mounted on the water bottle jackposts and comes with wingnuts to replace the jackposts if you so desire. I personally secure mine to the underside of the seat.

Lastly, and most important, is the included bottle opener, so you can reward yourself after the job and ride are complete.

-- Art Provost  

Available from Amazon

Knog Marker Light

When riding after dark you really want some good marker lights for your bike. (A market light is a blinky light that *helps* drivers see you when riding at night.) I find, though, that most of these lights are either too big, or they use short-lasting and hard-to-find watch-type batteries.

But more and more companies are making USB rechargeable lights. Knog in particular makes a great series of surprisingly bright LED lights for your bike in soft silicone that recharge in any USB plug. This also means that you don’t have yet another wall wort to lose, and you can always do a last minute charge at work or even in the car.

These lights are also low profile and light enough to just leave on your bike so they are always there when you need them.

-- Alexander Rose  

Knog Blinder 1 USB Rechargeable Light
$27 – $31

Available from Amazon

Park Tool Cyclone Bike Chain Scrubber

I’ve been bicycling for years but just recently purchased the Park Tool Chain Scrubber. This may be the simplest way to clean your bike chain and it can be done without dismantling anything (on most bikes).

The tool has evolved and been improved over the years from when I first saw it, with a smallish reservoir and three “spoke style” brushes, to what you see today. The first brush the chain encounters scrubs the outside of the links and the next two brush the inside and rollers. Before exiting the chain runs across a sponge to reduce the amount of cleaner remaining on it. There is a magnet in the bottom of the reservoir to pull the ferrous particles out of suspension and the entire thing comes apart for easy cleanup (strongly recommended to keep it working at its best).

Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I had this much “fun” cleaning a bike chain. Previously. to get a chain really clean. I would remove it from the frame and soak and brush before hanging to dry and then re-installing and adding chain lube.

The kit I purchased also comes with a hand brush that has a semi-circular toothed handle for digging the crud out from between the rear cogs and a bottle of citrus based cleaning solution. Support your local bike shop, ~ $30 or ~ $25 online + shipping.

-- Jeff Caslake  

Park Tool Cyclone Chain Scrubber

Available from Amazon

M-Wave Bicycle Safety Reflective Pant Leg Band

I’ve used these simple pant clips for the past 2 years. They are small, inexpensive and effective. They keep my pants from getting dirty from or torn in the chain of my bike. Their combination of simplicity and low price make them a great solution to a common biking problem.

-- Mark Creer  

M-Wave Bicycle Safety Reflective Pant Leg Band
$10 / pair

Available from Amazon

Lezyne Bike Tire Patch Kit

After years of carrying around a repair kit of bits and pieces for my biking excursions I decided to upgrade and replace almost all my bike gear. I came across this patch kit in a shop in London. Its a small aluminium sleeve containing adhesive patches, a tire boot (for those occasions when you need to patch the tire as well as the tube) and a scuffer to rough up the area of the tube before applying the patch.

The package also includes two strong nylon tire levers, which double as end caps for either side of the sleeve, neatly ensuring that everything stays together in your pocket or bag. This little kit, together with a spare tube and mini pump, is all I need to carry out when I go for a ride. The sleeve comes in various color options and I have a seen a few different shops sell them custom branded with their logos on.

-- Jeremy Gould  

Lezyne Lever Kit

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Lezyne

Planet Bike Lunar Levers

Every cyclist should have a flat kit to enable them to deal with a flat tire.  Most kits include simple levers to get the tire off the rim and a set of patches for repairing holes. The Lunar Levers combine these two needs into one. The levers themselves are better designed to help you remove and remount a tire than standard levers. Ingeniously, the levers store the patch kit inside inside the levers themselves, snapping together, forming a single unit, saving space.

Lunar Levers Kit

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Planet Bike

Skuut Balance Bike

Balance bikes teach balance before pedaling. Learning to pedal is easy if you know how to balance. Learning balance is fairly easy, too. But learning them concurrently is hard. With a balance bike instead of a trike or a standard bike with training wheels, it’s much easier for a child to learn the balance, steering dynamics and handling required to ride a bike. My son, at 2 1/2, can go at least a mile on his Skuut bike, and is learning all the skills he’ll need, so that when I get him a normal bicycle, with pedals, he won’t need training wheels.

The design of a balance bike is brilliant—it’s actually similar to the design of the first bicycles (velocipedes) that had no drivetrains. The particular brand of a running or balance bike for kids is not of much concern. Cool Tools previously featured the Likeabike, which was imported from Europe and lovingly crafted, but notably expensive. You can find cheap $50 metal balance bikes these days, but we use the current wooden standard Skuut which is good enough quality for $85.

Skuut Balance Bike

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Skuut