Wolf Tooth EnCase Bar Kit One multi-tool review: Tiny size, big on function
The proliferation of dropper seatposts and the advent of enduro racing have effectively killed off the use of seat packs on mountain bikes, ushering in a subsequent flood of clever options for on-bike storage of spares and tools. That sort of integration has been slower to make its way over to the road side, but Wolf Tooth Components now offers what is possibly the most clever solution to date for discreetly hiding away necessary tools so that you don’t just have them when needed, but also don’t have to look at them when you don’t.
I’ve tried out a lot of on-bike tool storage solutions over the past few years for my mountain bikes. My current favorite is the 100cc EDC pump from OneUp Components, which bundles a properly functional frame pump with a small folding multi-tool, a chain tool, a master link tool, tire plugs, CO2 inflator head, and tire lever all inside one single bundle that clips neatly next to my bottle cage.
There are quite a few other options for on-bike tool storage, from companies such as Fix-It Sticks, Industry Nine, Syncros, Topeak, Specialized, Arundel, and others. They do the job for the most part, but many either leave some functions out, or go about their business without fully concealing their identities in a way that would satisfy aesthetically demanding roadies.
Wolf Tooth’s new EnCase Bar Kit One, however, seems to have nearly every major roadside repair need covered, and the whole thing hides away inside the ends of your handlebar.
The Bar Kit One consists of two halves: one is a basically an interchangeable bit tool, while the other incorporates a chain tool and tire plug kit. Each half fits inside a custom rubber sleeve system that can be trimmed to fit various types of handlebars, and is attached to custom machined-and-anodized aluminum end caps (that also have enough space inside for small items like a Presta-to-Schrader valve adapter or spare master link).
The multi-tool is rather ingenious in and of itself. Although quite compact at just over 10cm in length and less than 15mm in diameter, it nevertheless includes an indexed pivoting head and 17 different functions: flathead and #2 Phillips head screwdrivers; 2mm, 2.5mm, 3mm, 4mm, 5mm, 6mm, and 8mm hex drivers; T10, T25, and T30 Torx bits; and even a spoke wrench and valve core tool. All of the bits store along recesses machined into the side of the aluminum body, and are held in place with a combination of magnets and o-rings.
There’s also another magnet on the end of the tool body that can be used for sticking the tool on to various ferrous objects for temporary keeping, or to hold a second bit while you’re in the middle of roadside repair.
The other side of the tool is simpler in terms of functionality, offering up a basic chain breaker (that works with all modern drivetrains, SRAM’s new 12-speed included) and a tire plug kit. The plug fork stores inside the reversible cap, and there’s room inside the canister for at least five “bacon strips”.
Clear omissions from the Bar Kit One include any means of tire inflation, a tire lever, or — of course — any means of storing a spare inner tube. But that said, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot missing otherwise, and the complete system, including the storage sleeves, weighs a surprisingly reasonable 131g — about 40g lighter than many multi-tools of similar functionality. Retail price is US$120 / AU$176 / £127 / €119 for the complete Bar Kit One package, and Wolf Tooth will also sell the kit piecemeal as well.
Using the Bar Kit One
First and foremost, installing the Bar Kit One could hardly be easier. Cut lines are molded into each of the storage sleeves so you can quickly trim the girth of the kit for thicker-walled carbon bars, for example, and while you get a more finished look if you re-wrap (or at least trim) the end of the handlebar tape, I found neither to be necessary.
Also, although it seems like the length of the tool might preclude its use in many drop handlebars, it’s important to remember that each tool also has a pivoting end so that it can effectively follow the curve of most drops. I had no issue fitting the Bar Kit One in nearly every handlebar I had on hand — more than half a dozen different models, in both aluminum and carbon fiber. Riders using older-style ergonomic-bend handlebars might be out of luck, but those have thankfully mostly gone by the wayside, anyway.
More problematic, however, are Enve carbon handlebars since those use closed ends and proprietary rubber bar end covers. And while the Bar End One also fits in mountain bike bars, it’s only compatible with open-ended grips.
When it comes time to use the Bar Kit One, it’s simple to grab the aluminum end cap and yank it out of the bar, even with gloved hands; likewise with getting the actual tool out from the rubber sleeve.
Using the bit tool is truly a joy. Although the bits themselves can be tricky to extract from their storage pockets — more on that in a minute — the form factor of the tool allows for both easy access and tons of leverage as needed, just by rotating the head. From a functional perspective, it’s just like using a traditional L-key, although without the usual ball-end. The body doesn’t provide enough muscle for truly tough jobs like removing stubborn pedals, but in fairness to Wolf Tooth, that’s not usually something you need to do roadside (although it does have implications if you’re interested in using this kit as a travel tool).
The chain tool is a bit clunky, to be honest, but it does get the job done of pushing out a pin in preparation for installing a spare master link. Outside of that, it’ll also push a pin back in, but given the basic nature of the tool, that’s not something I’d recommend except in an emergency since there’s no way to properly peen the end like you’d be able to do with a more shop-quality chain tool (like from Rohloff or Pedro’s).
As for the tire plug tool, there’s not a whole lot that needs to be said here: it works. It’s a tad cumbersome to use since there’s a bit of assembly required before you’re ready to actually insert a plug, and it’s certainly not nearly as quick as some of the more racing-oriented models such as from Dynaplug. But it gets the job done nonetheless — provided the cut isn’t too big — and hopefully you haven’t relied on the Bar Kit One entirely and have still packed a pump or CO2 inflator since the tire is likely to be flat by the time you’re done with the process.
Downsides are fairly minor.
My biggest complaint was how hard it was to remove bits from their storage pockets. The magnets hold them in quite securely (which is generally a good thing), but there’s not enough room to get your finger behind them to easily pop them out. Thankfully, Wolf Tooth has already updated the design since the pre-production sample I tested here, and now you just have to push on one end of the bit to get the other other end to poke out, kind of like kids on a seesaw.
That said, Wolf Tooth has still had to resort to smaller-than-standard bits in order to get the tool so small. Instead of the usual 1/4″ hex format, the Bar Kit One uses smaller 4mm hex sockets that are harder to source. Replacements will be available from Wolf Tooth as complete sets for US$20, but given that they’re made of S2 tool steel, you thankfully shouldn’t need them very often, anyway (unless you lose one).
A good initial taste test, with more to come
Overall, the Bar Kit One is a might fine little tool, clever in its design and packaging, yet still with little compromise in terms of its core functionality. It’s lightweight and unobtrusive, but a gem to actually use when needed, and consistent with the level of quality I’ve come to expect from the brand.
Interestingly, Wolf Tooth says that the Bar Kit One is just the first piece of what will soon be an entire family of EnCase on-bike tool solutions, and given how good this initial release is — not to mention its Pack Tools collection of travel tools — I’m certainly eager to see what else is to come.
According to Wolf Tooth marketing manager Kurt Stafki, the next piece will drop some time around March or April of 2020, but what exactly that will entail is anyone’s guess. Wolf Tooth is at least considering expanding the range of Bar Kit One color options, though. Currently, the tool and bar end caps are only offered in basic black, but the caps will likely be made in additional anodized hues in the near future.
In the meantime, black will do just fine.