Title photo: Aerostich
This story has been updated from its original publication in September, 2016.
We’re starting to get close to warmer weather, so it’s time to start preparing for the riding season.
Every motorcyclist needs a toolkit, even in today’s world, when a cell phone and a membership of the CAA can bail you out of many predicaments. In Canada, the CAA will tow you home or to a dealership, but in the US, AAA will not tow motorcycles and it will not fix a flat tire. If you’re a member of an auto club, check the rules for motorcycles before you get into trouble beside the road.
If you’re not a member, or you cannot call for somebody to rescue you, then here’s a guide to what you should carry with your bike. You don’t need to be able to lap your valves or hone a cylinder on the side of the road, but you should have a basic level of self-sufficiency, with some key tools and the knowledge to use them.
At a minimum, you need tools to tighten up loose nuts, bolts, and screws, along with a few other basic bits to get you out of simple jams.
- Wrenches At a minimum, carry wrenches for the fasteners on your bike – on most European and Asian bikes, that’s 8 mm, 10 mm, 12 mm, and 14 mm (and possibly 17 mm and 19 mm).
- Screwdrivers/hex keys/etc.Take note if your bike has any weird fasteners. For instance, Harley-Davidsons sometimes use screws with Torx heads, and they usually have a massive Phillips-style screw holding down the seat, which requires a special screwdriver. Vintage Japanese bikes can be pretty fussy about requiring JIS-pattern screwdrivers, or you’ll strip your screw heads.
- Tape/wire/zip ties Handy for securing damaged bodywork, and capable of serving other purposes in a pinch.
- Electrical tape Wrap a few inches of tape around a wrench handle
- Flashlight (or use your phone’s built-in light)
- Tire gauge
- Spark plug Make sure it’s gapped correctly beforehand.
- Spark plug socket Available on eBay if your local automotive store doesn’t carry the size you need.
- Sockets Some people bring them, some people don’t. They may not be necessary on your bike. Bill Dragoo, a US-based riding trainer who’s done adventure riding all over the Americas, says, “If the answer is most fasteners can be handled without them, don’t bring them except as backup or for other riders who may have different bikes … Pick what fits and leave the rest at home.” And really, that’s solid advice for any basic kit.
The tools described above will suffice for around-town riding, when you can always park the bike and return with more tools. If you’re venturing further from home, you’ll need a more comprehensive kit, though. You need to be able to maintain your motorcycle’s chain, if it has one. You need to be able to repair and inflate tires.
- Rear axle wrench
- Chain lube
- Mini chain breaker
- Master link
If you have tubed tires, practise changing your tires at home with the same tools in your kit, so you’re comfortable using them when you’re on the road. Skip the C02 inflators flogged in the ads in back of motorcycle magazines – buy a compressor that runs off your bike, or use a compact bicycle pump. Tools such as a Pack Jack or Bead Popper can make tire changes a lot easier, but also add weight and bulk to your load, which is why Dragoo says he teaches his students to change tires without these gadgets. His opinion is that, “Some work fairly well but others don’t or do not work as well in some circumstances. A good set of tire irons and hands trained in their use will suffice in almost all situations.”
- Front axle wrench
- Air pump/compressor
- Valve corer
- Lube For seating the bead on tubed tires. A bit of dish soap in a small container will work.
- Patch kit/spare tube For tubed tires. A larger front tube will work in a rear wheel, to get you home.
- Tire irons For tubed tires.
- Plug kit For tubeless tires.
- Spare bulbs Most bulbs are easily found on the road, but if your bike uses an odd size, bring a spare.
- Circuit tester Dragoo says he packs a sharp, pointed circuit tester that not only helps diagnose electrical problems, but doubles as an awl if he needs to stitch a ripped tire sidewall together.
Heading off-pavement presents its own set of challenges, which should be reflected in your toolkit. Things that are readily available when riding in more populated areas might be impossible to find, or require a long wait. Also, if you’re on bad roads or off-road, you’re far more likely to damage hard parts like an engine case, so be prepared to repair them.
- Oil Bring at least a litre of oil with you if you’re headed into the woods or down a remote road like the Trans-Labrador Highway.
- Oil Filter
- JB Weld SteelStik SteelStik (here) or a similar product can patch your engine and help get you home if you put a hole in the case.
- Strap/rope If you’ve ever been stuck in a bog, you’ll know this is a must-have. Plus, you can use it to tow a bike out of the woods if you know the proper procedure (see riding trainer Clinton Smout’s how-to here). Some more wisdom from Bill Dragoo: “There are times when we simply can’t get the bike running again. When this happens, a sturdy tow strap is the best tool we can have.”
- Spare parts Before a long trip, make sure wear parts (cables, brake pads, etc.) are in good shape, and if you’re adventure riding, make sure levers and other breakable bits are protected by handguards and other armour. But some pieces are still vulnerable; you might be wise to pack a spare shifter and clutch and throttle cables, at a minimum.
Where to buy?
You can buy a lot of the basic tools at your local Canadian Tire/Wal-Mart/Princess Auto/whatever. Many motorcycle-specific tools are available at good prices at Rocky Mountain ATV. However, if you’re after high-quality tools, Motion Pro, Best Rest, and the Aerostich catalogue are good (but spendy) places to look.
Carrying it all around
Most bikes have a small storage compartment where you can shove some small tools (a tool roll helps keep things organized).
If that’s not enough space, you can add storage. Some cruiser riders opt for the handlebar bag, which lets you carry a small toolkit. Dual sport riders often use a pack strapped to the tail or even the engine guards to carry the essentials (Editor ‘Arris was a firm believer in this policy). A fender bag is a good place to carry tubes and tire irons.
Many adventure riders, with their bigger toolkits, will opt for a tool tube, often strapped to the front of the skidplate or under the rear fender. If none of these options works, you can always get a backpack with built-in tool storage. Just make sure you find some way to bring your kit with you – the best toolkit in the world does no good if it’s miles away at home.