Going the (First) Distance: Bring the Right Tools for the Job

In the words of fellow long-distance riding enthusiast Paul Pelland (http://www.longhaulpaul.com/), “If your idea of a bike tool kit is a cell phone and a credit card, you’re in trouble already.” While carrying cash and alternative means of calling for help was covered in the last article (Point #6), the need to call for help can often be avoided by carrying the right tools on your bike. Unless you are not straying far from home and have someone who can bring you tools or a trailer on short notice, it is imperative that you have the ability to make simple roadside repairs yourself.

The goal here is not to carry an entire tool chest when you tour. You will not be doing a complete engine tear down and rebuild on an interstate shoulder. What a rider does need to carry is enough tools to perform the following:

  1. Remove front and rear wheels
  2. Tighten loose nuts and bolts
  3. Test electrical wires/switches/fuses/etc. for voltage
  4. Check battery voltage
  5. Remove/retighten clamps
  6. Remove/reinstall bodywork
  7. Change lightbulbs (headlight/taillight/turn signals/meters)
  8. Adjust/replace cables (clutch/throttle)
  9. Check tire pressure
  10. Add air to tires
  11. Cut and crimp electrical wires
  12. Replace brake pads
  13. Change spark plugs

Each bike will need different tools to accomplish those tasks. It is therefore best to check your bike’s stock tool set to see what size wrenches it includes. It is also important to include any special tools that accessories may need. For example, when I put a Givi luggage rack on my old Suzuki Bandit 1200, it used two 13mm nuts to secure the brackets to the motorcycle’s frame. The Bandit’s stock tool kit did not include a 13mm wrench, so I needed to add that to my bike tool set. Another example is my old FJR1300’s front wheel. The front axle needed a 19mm allen key socket to remove it.

In general, the tools needed to perform the above procedures will include the following:

For carrying the tools listed above, I use two small tool bags for the tools I store in my saddle bags (https://www.harborfreight.com/tool-storage/tool-bags-belts/11-in-tool-bag-61835.html), and a plastic bag or drawstring bag for tools stored underneath the seat.

The list of tools above may seem excessive. Why would a rider need to carry a wrench and a socket in the same size? The reality is different tools are needed for different parts of the bike. My old FJR1300 had two 10mm bolts that held the fuel tank down. The bolts were located in a small space between the tank and the steering stem. If I only carried the wrench the FJR’s tool kit came with, I would not be able to raise the fuel tank to make repairs. A rider also needs to be able to make repairs as quickly as possible when stuck on the side of a road. A road shoulder is a dangerous place, especially with the modern problem of distracted driving.

Additionally, carrying so many tools has proven invaluable to me on more than one occasion. The best example was a Memorial Day ride in 2016. I pulled over to check weather on my phone. When I tried to start the bike again, there was no power when I turned the key. Because I was carrying my tools with me, I was able to use a ratchet with an extension and a 10mm socket to unfasten the tank and a multimeter to find the electrical problem. I then used a wire key ring to bypass the failed wire between the main fuse and the key cylinder, and got the bike running again. Had I not had my tools with me, I would have been stuck calling a friend and leaving the bike on the side of the road. In that story, I was only about 100 miles from home. Imagine if I had been 1,000 miles away. Carrying the right tools can deescalate a nightmare situation into a mere inconvenience.

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