The number of options for carry-along cycle tools is staggering, and any shop will have an overwhelming number from which to choose. Folding multi-tools have historically been the most common, but bit-based multi-tools have grown more popular in recent years, and for good reason. They offer more tools in a package that’s often smaller or lighter, and they also usually provide more leverage, too.
But which one is the best? According to CyclingTips resident tool nerd Dave Rome, some of the new bit-based tools are genuinely fantastic, like those from Fix-It Sticks, PB Swiss Bike Tool, Spurcycle Tool, or the Mineral Designs Mini Bar. Some are just so-so, and others you should maybe just leave on the store shelf.
Why a bit-based multi-tool?
- Test Criteria: Tools must offer easily interchangeable bits and be compact enough to carry when riding.
- Our pick: Mineral Designs Mini Bar
- Runner-up: Spurcycle Tool
- Also consider: PB Swiss Bike Tool, Fix-It Sticks Blend
- Best with torque function: Topeak Ratchet Rocket Lite NTX
Compared to more common folding multi-tools, bit-based tools can be configured to match exactly what your bike requires, and they are generally lighter for the given number of tools. In most cases, they also feel more like a shop-grade tool, offering better comfort in your hands, more leverage, and a more natural weight balance.
The bits themselves are often borrowed from industrial applications, and so they are often made of higher quality steels and to tighter tolerances than usual. This makes these tools quite suitable for regular home use, too, and replacement bits are easy to find when needed.
Several bit-based tools also incorporate a convenient ratchet mechanism for extra-rapid operation in the field.
By comparison, common Swiss Army-style folding tools often offer only modest leverage, and their bulkier designs can have clearance issues with tight-access bolts (such as saddle clamps, suspension pivots, and integrated seatpost binders). The fixed tool configurations probably include functions you don’t need, either, or omit ones that you do.
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What tool do I carry when riding? This. I’ve become a fan of bit-style tools over the years, and PB Swiss offer a simple, functional, smooth-edged and high quality tool. PB Swiss rebrand the same tool for pocket-tool and knife specialists Victorinox. * * It simply consists of a 5mm hex key, that works with the magnetic bit adaptor (another item I love) to drive the other included steel bits. The hex key snaps into the plastic body, securing the bits in place. Plastic tyre levers sit on both sides of the tool, they work, but they’re the crappiest part. All up, it only has a bit (intended) of weight at 89 grams. * * After nearly two years of use, a little cosmetic corrosion is present on the bits. Otherwise it has been flawless, and bolt access issues have never presented. * * What is your favourite bike multi-tool? What other bit-style tools have you used and can recommend? *. *. #cooltooltuesday #cooltool #biketools #swissmade #pbswisstools #multitool #pockettool #pockettools #hexkey
However, bit-based tools aren’t the holy grail of multi-tools and there are compromises.
By design, bit-based tools have lots of small pieces that can be lost in the brush. And although the multiple bits allows you to choose which ones to carry, it’s usually a slower process than just unfolding a Swiss Army-type tool, and you also need to make sure you’ve got the right bits to begin with.
There’s also the clearance issue. Bit-based tools usually reach into tight spaces more easily, but deeply recessed bolts – such as found on many seatpost heads and brake lever bodies – may require a longer bit than what you have.
How the tools were tested
You’ll see a common trend amongst the winners and also-rans in this review, with priorities placed on size, weight, versatility, and ease of use. In my mind, those are the key attributes for bit-based tools. Individual wants and needs will vary, though, so keep that in mind.
Some tools tested here have additional features that some might find useful, such as a chain breaker or tyre levers, or even a built-in torque wrench. Take all of the integrated tyre levers with a grain of salt, though. The Topeak, PB Swiss, and Birzman tools all include them, but none work well for super tight tyres. Separate tyre levers are light and cheap, however, so such inclusions haven’t impacted the results.
All 4 and 5mm bits were measured with a micrometer, and surprisingly, all tools on test were within workable tolerances. There were a handful of slightly oversized and undersized bits (in all cases, these scored lower), but at the same time, all were close enough to function without short-term issue.
Tools that feature a built-in torque function were tested for accuracy and repeatability. Both the Silca Ti-Torque and Topeak Ratchet Rocket Lite NTX fared well here, while the PrestaCycle TorqRatchet and Birzman Torque Ranger were capable of being accurate, but more prone to user error.
Scores were used to help rank the tools. Scores out of ten were awarded for easy of carrying, ease of use, and perceived build quality, providing a maximum of 30 points.
Ease of carrying was judged on how well the tools and included bits are stored, weight, overall size, and general shape. Ease-of-use is based on whether the tool is fast and fumble-free to use, how well it works across typical adjustments, available leverage, and how comfortable it is in the hand. And the perceived build quality looked at tolerances, durability, and general construction quality.
Price was factored in, too (based on US retail). That aspect is unfairly swayed by too many factors (such as international variances, mail order vs. retail pricing, etc.), so there is just one bonus point allotted for a low-cost tool and nothing for an expensive one. That may not sound like much, but this was a closely fought battle.
Simply put, you can’t go wrong with the Fix-It Sticks, PB Swiss Bike Tool, Spurcycle Tool, or the Mineral Designs Mini Bar. All offer the benefits of bit-based tools and do so in a compact size.
While the leaders were based on ease of carrying and simple use, it doesn’t mean they’ll match your needs perfectly. Many of the bit-tools that scored lower may prove to be the perfect accessory for occasional home repair, or as something to leave in the car or to take on riding holidays.
Likewise, if you value having a torque wrench, then both the Topeak Ratchet Rocket Lite NTX and Silca T-Ratchet + Ti-Torque should be high on your list. In fact, the torque limiting bits included with the Topeak Ratchet Rocket Lite NTX would make a great addition to any of the tools tested, and Topeak does sell them separately.
If you must have a chain breaker included, then check out either the Topeak Ratchet Rocket or put together your own modular kit from Fix-It Sticks or PrestaCycle. Otherwise, the Park Tool CM-5 is the best pocket-sized chain breaker to bring with you.
Best in test: Mineral Designs Mini Bar
I didn’t expect this tool to finish first, but it did. The tool is centered around a welded and drilled-out L-shaped steel driver handle with three bit sockets. The driver is solid enough that I’d have no qualms standing on it to break free a pedal or a frozen thru-axle – something I can’t say about any folding multi-tool – and the three sockets afford plenty of flexibility in terms of leverage and tool access.
Strong magnets hold the driver against the plastic bit holder when not in use. There are also magnets securing each of the six bits, and Mineral Designs include an extra four bits so you can customise the tool to your liking.
This isn’t the smallest or lightest tested, but it does nearly everything the PB Swiss does and with one less piece to fuss over. And given it’s nearly half the cost of the Spurcycle, it gets the edge.
Pros: Super strong, simple to use, bits contained with magnets, good size, price
Cons: Slightly heavy
Included tools: 2/2.5/3/4/5/6/8mm hex, T25, #2 Phillips and flat screwdrivers (can only carry six bits)
Runner-up: Spurcycle Tool
Spurcycle is best known for its impressive bells, but recently the company added the simply named “Tool”. Instead of using a fixed steel handle like the Mineral Designs Mini Bar, the Spurcycle Tool uses a sliding handle made of Grade 5 titanium, made by Paragon Machine Works. As a result, the Tool is the smallest and second lightest on test. The included fabric carrying case – made by X-Pac in San Francisco – holds the handle and ten bits, and still leaves room for coffee money and a key.
None of that sounds cheap, and it isn’t. Even so, money doesn’t buy perfection. The bit holder is a little too floppy, and its design doesn’t quite meet the level otherwise presented. Still, this, or the PB Swiss, remain the top pick if you want to feel a little fancy when your saddle slips.
Pros: High-quality build, simple to use, sliding handle design, small size, low weight
Cons: High price, flimsy bit holder
Included tools: 2/2.5/3/4/5/6/8mm hex, T10 and T25 Torx, #2 Phillips
PB Swiss Bike Tool
This is the tool that inspired the test. PB Swiss is a popular premium tool brand amongst professionals, perhaps best known in cycling circles for its rainbow coloured hex keys. As the company’s sole cycling-specific product, the Swiss-Made Bike Tool (also made for Swiss Army knife specialist Victorinox) centers around a 5mm hex key. From there, an included bit adapter allows you to attach other tools as needed to either end.
The bits are top notch in terms of fit and durability, as is the 5mm hex key. The plastic holder has proven durable, too, and I’m a huge fan of its smooth and compact profile.
However, the bits do have some minor cosmetic corrosion after a few years of use, and the included tyre levers are best used only in emergencies, especially given they produce a smooth edge to the holder.
Prior experience suggested to me that this tool stood a good chance of taking the top prize here. But it’s clear that competitors have taken notice of the formula and improved upon it, as both the Mineral Designs and Spurcycle options are easier and quicker to use – but not by much.
Pros: Swiss-made quality, proven to withstand professional use, low weight
Cons: Adapter adds an extra step, weak tyre levers, bits prone to cosmetic corrosion with age
Included tools: 2/2.5/3/4/5/6mm hex, T25 Torx, #2 Phillips and flat screwdrivers, tyre levers
Fix-It Sticks Replaceable Edition
Fix-It Sticks is the pioneering brand in bit-based cycling tools. The ecosystem of compatible tools has grown significantly since the original launch in 2014, with optional accessories that now include tyre levers, a chain breaker (which is also sold by PrestaCycle), and a sleek bottle cage mount. Tested here is the company’s Replaceable edition, which uses two “sticks”, each with removable bits on the end, that can join together to make a sturdy T-handle. They’re housed in a nice sleeve, with space for plenty of extra bits if required.
I also tested the newer Blend version, which replaces one of the stainless steel replaceable sticks with a lighter original aluminium stick with fixed 4 and 5mm hex bits bonded into the ends. This drops the weight to 128g, while still providing plenty of customisation with the second stick. I prefer this version.
Pros: Comfortable to use, the Blend version is light, small size, high function, convenient mount and add-on accessory options, reasonable price
Cons:T-design won’t fit in some places
Included tools: 2/2.5/3/4/5/6mm hex, T25 Torx, #2 Phillips #2 (can also carry an additional two bits)
Weight: 156g (128g for Blend version)
Chapman Mfg Cyclist’s Screwdriver Kit 2309
Chapman Mfg isn’t well-known in the cycling world, but the company has been making bit-based tools in Connecticut, almost without change, since 1936. Included in this sole cycling kit is a quality bit-ratchet, the company’s own selection of USA-made bits, a screwdriver handle, and a thumb spinner. Despite the in-house construction, it’s the cheapest tool in the test.
There’s a true sense of nostalgia here and despite being small enough to ride with, I’d happily keep this tool in the workshop. The extended knurled spinners on the ends of the bits are a nice touch, and the ratchet feels like it’ll last forever.
However, there are some aspects I’d like to see changed to make this kit better for riding. The included screwdriver handle and the plastic thumb spinner just aren’t needed; leaving them at home drops the kit weight down to 121g, too. Instead, Chapman Mfg should add a bit extension for greater versatility with the ratchet handle. The plastic carrying sleeve is slim, but it could also be shorter in length.
Chapman Mfg has room for improvement with this kit, but once they fix the minor quibbles, they should increase the price and start getting the deserved attention.
Pros: Old-school quality, low-profile ratchet, simple to use, low price
Cons: Includes unnecessary tools, case could be shorter and better for letting tools dry if wet
Included tools: 2/2.5/3/4/5/6/8mm hex, T25 Torx, #1 and #2 Phillips
Topeak Ratchet Rocket
With a clumsy case and various bike mounts provided, it’s easy to excuse this tool as being something built for more recreational cyclists. But if you ditch the external case and the included tyre levers, you’re left with a good ratchet, seven bits, and a surprisingly functional chain breaker.
The bits do rattle a little in their storage sockets, and given my recent success with Topeak chain breakers, you should keep it for emergency use only. Otherwise, this is a tool that deserves consideration if you want a bit ratchet that also includes a functional chain breaker that you can use in a pinch.
Pros: Ratchet design, good leverage on chain breaker, easy to use
Cons: Brittle plastic on bit cover, wasted additions
Included tools: 2/2.5/3/4/5/6mm hex, T25 Torx, #2 Phillips, tyre levers
Weight: 205g (127g without case)
Fabric Chamber Tool
This compact aluminium cylinder is cleverly designed with a ratcheting head and tidy internal storage. For movie buffs, there’s also the bonus feature of being reminiscent of how the dinosaur DNA was stolen in the original Jurassic Park.
This tool is one of the only ones tested to use non-standard, extended double-ended bits. Thankfully, they are of respectable quality and they do afford the tool clearance into (most) tight spots.
But the Chamber is a little heavy, and a mostly metal design makes it prone to rattling (which can be fixed with an o-ring, or by shoving a small piece of paper into the end). Additionally, the paranoid mountain biker in me says it’s not something you’d ever want to land on, so it’s best transported somewhere other than a pocket or hydration pack.
Pros: Unique design, ratchet design, lots of tools
Cons: Heavy, prone to rattling, long bits can occasionally present clearance issues
Included tools: 2/2.5/3/4/5/6/8mm hex, T10 and T25 Torx, #2 Phillips and flat screwdrivers
Topeak Ratchet Rocket Lite NTX
This kit is pretty similar in purpose to the Silca below, but does so with a marginally cheaper price and a slimmer case. It’s quicker to use than the Silca, and the Nano TorqBits torque-limiting 4, 5 and 6Nm extension bits read impressively close to quoted figures – better than some dedicated workshop tools, in fact.
While it wouldn’t be absurd to carry this on a ride, especially one where you know you’ll be making fine fit adjustments, this tool is most impressive when used for travel, left in a car, or as a compact home set.
If you do decide to take it on a ride, then I’d suggest only taking the torque bits that your bike requires (probably just the 5Nm) and ditching the useless tyre levers. Doing so will see the kit drop to 167g.
Pros: Accurate torque function, good range of tools, fast to use, impressive size given the contents
Cons: Large for a carry-along tool, weak tyre levers
Included tools: 2/2.5/3/4/5/6/8mm hex, T10/T15/T25 Torx, #2 Phillips screwdriver, bit extension, 4/5/6Nm torque bits, tyre levers
Looking and functioning the most like a traditional folding multi-tool, the B-Series from Crankbrothers combines some of the best attributes of both portable tool types – but it also includes downsides of both, too. It’s simple to use, for example, but it’s also quite heavy. And although the dual-sided bit driver is a potentially nice feature, the sockets are too shallow to provide adequate bit support.
It does do some things well. The included bits are longer than usual for better access to recessed bolts, and it’s also remarkably quick to use since there isn’t a separate case to fiddle with.
Pros: Loads of tool sizes, fast to use, long bits
Cons: Heavy, sloppy bit holder
Included tools: 1.5/2/2.5/3/4/5/6/8mm hex, T10/25 Torx, #1/#2 Phillips and flat screwdrivers
Lezyne Storage Drive
This is a far more compact version of the Lezyne T-Drive (below), and the bits are stored directly within the large aluminium handle. That compactness comes at the expense of ease-of-use, though. To access the bits, you must first unthread one end of the handle, slide out the appropriate bit, and then slide the handle through the separate bit holder. All in all, there are too many small parts, and it’s easy to drop a bit when putting it together. Annoyingly, the innermost bit is sometimes stubborn to remove from the handle.
It works nicely once assembled and is the lightest and most minimalist tool tested, which I like. The included strap lets you attach the tool to a seatpost or your frame, but I don’t fully trust it for holding the two separate pieces, so it’s best to carry it in a saddle wrap or something similarly secure.
Pros: Extremely light, comfortable leverage
Cons: Fiddly to use, high chance of dropping a bit, two separate pieces
Included tools: 4/5/6mm hex, T25/T30 Torx,
Weight: 77g (including holder)
Birzman M-Torque Ranger
If you want to carry a 5Nm torque wrench on a ride and little else, this plastic-bodied tool is worth a close look. It features a sprung toggle button that clicks when you reach 5Nm of force. Despite the simplicity, it’s surprisingly accurate, recording an average peak of 5.15Nm. However, that accuracy is dependent on how evenly you’re applying the force, and certainly, a little grit in the tool will cause havoc on such repeatability.
Beyond this feature, it’s expectedly light given there’s only space for five bits. It’s a bit of a fiddle to use, with the bits only accessed once you remove those super wide tyre levers. I also found the bit holder got a little floppy with age.
If carrying a 5Nm torque wrench on a ride doesn’t do anything for you, it’s a hard pass on this one.
Pros: 5Nm torque indication in a minimalist package
Cons: Clumsy use, limited number of tools
Included tools: 3/4/5mm hex, T25 Torx, flat Screwdriver, tyre levers
PrestaCycle T-Handle ratchet
PrestaCycle was one of the first companies to promote small bit-based ratcheting tools for use in the workshop, and I was an early convert. The ratchets and bits remain competitively light and small to carry, but PrestaCycle is yet to offer them in a ride-friendly case. I’ve resorted to using an O-ring to keep the tool and bits together, but be warned about poking holes in your spare tube!
I like this tool. I’ve had the identical tool in my travel toolkit for over a year, albeit I paid twice as much and it was sold under the Facom brand name. New for PrestaCycle, this ratchet affords more leverage than most and features a clever pass-through extension which turns the tool into a T-handle.
As a workshop or compact travel tool, I really rate it. However, PrestaCycle should include a compact case or sleeve to keep everything together. A storage case is available separately, but it’s impractical for riding use.
Pros: Quality and versatile ratchet, bit choice is open to customisation
Cons: No carrying case included
Included tools: 2/2.5/3/4/5/6/8mm hex, T6/T8/T10/T15/T20/T25/T30 Torx, #0/#1/#2 Phillips and #1/#2 flat screwdrivers, ¼in square socket adaptor
Weight: 88g (add 108g for 20 bits)
Silca T-Ratchet + Ti-Torque
This is one of the more modular tools available and can be used as a normal ratchet, a T-handle, or even a screwdriver. The tool, bits, and case are all high-quality and are nice to use. The torque feature on the latest version has proven to be fairly accurate. Silca claims this tool is the most compact 2-8Nm torque multi-tool available.
The Silca T-Ratchet + Ti-Torque is something I’ve reviewed in-depth before, and while both James Huang and I use one when traveling, it remains something that I deem too large for carrying on a ride. The magnets used to hold everything together sometimes aren’t as strong as I’d prefer, either.
I’ve found a kit like this (and the Topeak Ratchet Rocket Lite NTX) is best used for repairs at the car or in a minimalist home workshop. Still, it’s competitive in size to a few other popular bit-based tools and certainly deserves a mention.
Pros: Quality build and design, accurate torque feature
Cons: Cumbersome for riding use, modular pieces can come unattached
Included tools: 2/2.5/3/4/5/6mm hex, T10/T20/T25 Torx, #2 Phillips screwdriver, bit extension, 2-8Nm torque extension
The new TorqRatchet adds a spring-indicator torque wrench to what is otherwise a proven bit-based ratchet tool. Once your bolt is nipped up, you press your thumb on the torque handle until the desired number is reached. However, those torque gradients are incredibly fine (pack your reading glasses), and I found it nearly impossible to read the torque figure I was aiming for. I’d prefer to see every odd number left out for better legibility.
It’s a similar tool to what Feedback Sports launched at Eurobike, and while this one is super compact without a case, the Feedback version is easier to read. A storage case is available, but as with the PrestaCycle’s T-Handle ratchet, it makes for a bulky package that isn’t well-suited to cycling.
Pros: Low weight
Cons: Torque indicator is extremely hard to read
Included tools: 2/2.5/3/4/5/6/8mm hex, T6/T8/T10/T15/T20/T25/T30 Torx, #0/#1/#2 Phillips and #1/#2 flat screwdrivers, ¼in square socket adaptor
Weight: 67g (add 108g for 20 bits)
Featuring an aluminium sliding handle design, this new Lezyne tool is reasonably light, fair in size, and comfortable to use. But for unknown reasons, Lezyne requires you to assemble the tool before it’s ready for use, instead of just modifying the shape a little so that it fits in the case as is (or vice versa). It’s possible to remove the foam insert and fit the assembled tool and bits in the case, but then it rattles, is fiddly to find the right size bit, and you’re likely to drop something.
This tool is perhaps best left at home or in the car.
Pros: Comfortable to use, nice looking
Cons: Slow and fiddly to use
Included tools: 2/2.5/3/4/5/6/8mm hex, T10/T25/T30 Torx, #2 Phillips and flat screwdrivers
Arguably the most unique tool on test, the Crankbrothers Y series are modular multi-tools built around the ubiquitous Y-wrench. In this 12-piece tool, you get two magnetic Y-wrenches providing five of the most common tool sizes, with the sixth being a bit holder. The bits are then stored amongst the three clip-out canisters on the perimeter, with glueless patches included in one. More expensive versions replace some canisters with a chain breaker and even a CO2 inflator head.
It’s a clever tool that works well enough, but I found it a pain to find the desired bit on the rare occasion the Y-wrench wasn’t suitable. And those Y-wrenches can present the occasional clearance issue with certain seatpost designs. Those are all aspects I can live with, but the general shape is just awful for carrying in a jersey pocket, a saddle bag, or similarly tight confines.
Pros: Y-wrenches are good for many repairs
Cons: Awkward shape for carrying, too many pieces
Included tools:2/2.5/3/4/5/6/8mm hex, T10/T25 Torx, #1 Phillips and flat screwdrivers, glueless patch kit
So are you bit-tool user, considering it, or do you prefer to stay with something else? Or do you go completely sans multi-tool on your rides? Let us know in the comments below.