Travelling Tools

Story by Costa Mouzouris//
November 1 2014

Today’s technology is good but it’s not always perfect, so it’s best to have a backup plan.

Motorcycles today are extremely reliable, which is why most manufacturers no longer include toolkits on new bikes. However, you may still encounter some unforeseen mechanical snags when hitting the road, especially if you’re on an extended tour. When travelling, I make sure to carry enough tools to take care of any minor mechanical problems I may encounter, without having to carry a shop-sized toolbox. I want the toolkit on my bike to take up the least space, which is why I choose my tools carefully.

Tools should be portable, and a roll-up tool pouch is the best way to carry them; it keeps them together and organized, and it keeps them from bouncing around in your top case or saddlebag. There are several pre-assembled motorcycle toolkits available, such as the kits from Cruz Tools (, and some of them are even manufacturer specific. A kit like this is a great starting point, but here are a few extra things you should carry to minimize any downtime.


The most common wrench sizes on most motorcycles are 8, 10, 12, 14 and 17 mm, so you should stock one of each. I prefer stubby combination wrenches, because they store well, and if added leverage is needed to loosen a fastener, I either start with an eight-inch adjustable wrench (which should also be in your kit), or I double-up on the wrenches, as illustrated. Although this might seem primitive, the torque on bolts in these sizes should not be so high that there’s any danger of breaking a wrench. If you don’t trust this system, you can always carry full-sized wrenches. Also, add wrenches for your wheel axles; I bought a couple of OEM closed-end wrenches with an extension at a motorcycle salvage yard for five bucks.

You should carry many basic tools, some of which are included in the pre-assembled kits. These include small locking pliers (they’ve often been used to substitute as shift levers), small side-cutting pliers, a spark-plug socket, multi-bit screwdriver (though mostly, you’ll need number 2 and 3 Phillips heads), hex (Allen) wrenches, a pencil-type 0 to 50 psi air pressure gauge (it’s compact, robust and accurate), and a pocketknife.

Some bikes, however, might require specific tools. Late-model BMW and Harley motorcycles, for instance, use Torx fasteners throughout. Torx and Allen wrenches are often sold in kits, so only carry what you need, leaving room in your toolkit for other items.

My toolkit includes a bicycle pump, but you can substitute a 12-volt mini-compressor, which takes up more space but is more convenient. Note that you can remove the plastic case on some compressors, making them less pretty, but easier to carry. If your bike uses tubeless tires, you should carry flat repair cords and the tools to insert them. If your bike uses inner tubes, you should at least carry a patch kit, and note that the flat-prevention goop inserted into tires does not work with inner tubes (I hate the stuff and don’t recommend it, even in tubeless tires).

A battery charger can prove indispensable on a road trip, but most are too bulky to carry. A great substitute is a 120-volt AC adaptor with a 12-volt DC output. I added alligator clips to an adaptor salvaged from a defective home-alarm system. It has a 0.5 amp output, so it provides a slow charge (the output is always printed on the adaptor; the higher the amperage, the quicker the charge), but it helped me to limp home to Montreal from the Adirondacks once when the regulator let go on my bike. Plugging it in during a lunch break provided enough of a charge for the starter to engage, but I had also disconnected the headlight to reduce the draw on the battery (I was travelling in daylight).

Other useful items include a small test light, a compact LED flashlight or headlight, duct tape (wrap a length around a screwdriver shank to save space), spare headlight and taillight bulbs, and tie wraps (on a recent trip, tie wraps were used to secure a saddlebag after one of the mounting tabs had broken off in a tip-over).


If you are racking up the mileage on a trip, you’ll likely need a few maintenance items. If you have a chain-driven bike, bring a small can of chain lube and a small can of WD-40 (the latter also displaces water, which can be handy on questionable electrics). I also bring spare motor oil, which I transfer to a 250 ml bottle (if you need more than that during your travels, buy it on the road). And, of course, don’t forget cleanliness: pack a small tube of hand cleaner and disposable shop towels.

Finally, cache a spare key somewhere on your bike, but don’t make the same mistake a friend of mine did by storing it under the seat – which needed a key to remove.

Technical articles are written purely as reference only and your motorcycle may require different procedures. You should be mechanically inclined to carry out your own maintenance and we recommend you contact your mechanic prior to performing any type of work on your bike.


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