Compared to a set of separate tools, a multitool keeps everything together in a portable, lightweight package. It’s ideal for slipping into a pocket or commuter bag. It can be handy for home maintenance as well, although proper ‘home workshop’ tools are usually tougher, more ergonomic and allow greater leverage.
It's easy to be swayed by the number of functions a multitool offers. If 10 functions is good, surely 20 is twice as good? Not necessarily. Some of them might be the equivalent of the Swiss army knife's fish scaler or that tool for getting grit out of horse's hooves – tools that no one ever uses. The best tool for you is the one that offers every function you do need and nothing you don't.
Look at your bike and consider what jobs you'll tackle. As a minimum, you should be able to adjust the brakes and gears and tighten any bolts that might work loose. A handful of Allen keys and a Phillips-head screwdriver might be sufficient. A chain breaker is invaluable for the rare occasions you need it, however, and some tools also pack tyre levers, spoke keys, blades, a bottle opener, 8 and 10mm spanners, star-shaped Torx bits, and more.
Size and weight
Any multitool will fit in jersey pocket or the smallest seatpack. The more compact and less pointy it is when folded, the more room there is for everything else and the less likely it is that the multitool will poke holes in anything. Most mulitools with a chain tool weigh between about 150 and 200 grammes. Tools weighing less than 100g tend to omit the chain tool, unless you're paying a lot of money for something made partly from carbon-fibre.
Design and build
Plastic, wood, and lighter metals such as aluminium are fine for the tool body, but the tools themselves should be hardened steel; soft Allen keys or screwdrivers are useless and will soon round off, possibly damaging your bike. Tyre levers are the exception and should be plastic or plastic-coated to prevent rim damage.
The tool should be ergonomic - not just comfortable in the hand, but designed so that every tool is in a readily usable location. It must be possible to exert reasonable leverage too. If there are any loose bits, there should be some means to prevent them getting lost. The side-plates on fold out tools can come loose, so you'll need to tighten the Allen bolt at each corner periodically.
Here are three tools costing from €25 to €35, all of which have the functions you need for the most critical roadside tasks.
Topeak Hexus II
The Hexus has been around for some years, a testament to its usefulness, perhaps. The plastic side-plates clip off, doubling as tyre levers. One also has a 4mm Allen key, to work the chain breaker, while the other has the two commonest sizes of spoke key. Other tools are: 2, 2.5, 3, 4 (yes, another), 5, 6, 8mm Allen keys; Phillips and flat-head screwdrivers; and a chain hook, which makes it easier to use the chain breaker. Weight: 167g
SKS Tom 18
There's a small compartment in this multitool to carry a spare chain pin. That's handy for chain repairs, although it's a tricker roadside fix than using a snap-together quick-link. Its other functions are: 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8mm Allen keys; Phillips and flat-head screwdrivers; T25 Torx; two tyre levers; bottle opener; two spoke keys; and a chain breaker. It comes in a neoprene pouch so won't snag your waterproof jacket in the bottom of your bag. Weight: 184g.
Lezyne Stainless 12
As the name implies, the tool parts are made from stainless steel and so won't rust, while the side-plates are polished aluminium. There are 'only' 12 functions but they're well chosen: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8mm Allen keys; Philips-head screwdriver; T25 Torx; chain breaker; and three spoke keys. Having fewer functions, it's lighter - just 115g.
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You don’t have to be able to repair your bike to enjoy worry-free commuting. Most roadside problems can either be pre-empted or soon solved.