Sure, there are millions of roadside toolkits out there for sale. They range from the low-quality and bulky (think Harbor Freight) to the ultra-expensive and not quite applicable (think Sharper Image). Honestly, making your own roadside toolkit is the perfect DIY situation. First, it is super fun shopping and collecting all the pieces for your customized toolkit (it is a great way to slack off at work or kill time playing on your phone). In addition, making yourself the perfect motorcycle DIY roadside toolkit will ensure you get a toolkit that fits your bike’s particular specifications and carrying capacity constraints.
I am going to do my best here to progress logically through some considerations you should make when building your roadside toolkit, and ultimately conclude with particular suggestions on what I personally think you should carry.
Most Common Roadside Breakdowns
Your Bike’s Constraints
Obviously, the more storage space you have on your bike, the more stuff you can tote along. Essentially, you should base your possible repairs and the associated tools you carry on your bike’s capacity. For example, on a sport bike with limited space, you probably need to give up on the idea of doing more than a superficial tire repair – there are simply too many tools involved. A cell phone is probably your best bet in a situation like this. On the other hand, you can also increase you bike’s capacity with a fork bag, tail bag, or carry a few tools on your person (i.e. tools that hang off your belt or a fanny pack).
Another, bike-specific thing to consider is the most common style and size fasteners on your bike. One day in your garage, walk around your bike front to back – take your time and really take inventory of the most-common style and size fasteners on your bike. Obviously, if your bike is American, you don’t need any metric sockets and vice versa. You want to carry the tools that give you the most bang-for-your buck. On my bike, “Cal” there are tons of 9/16ths fasteners. If you can narrow down the fasteners on your bike to a limited range, then you can make sure those are the only ones you carry. More on this below.
What I Include and Why
Size and weight are your enemy when making yourself the perfect motorcycle DIY roadside toolkit. My list below is based on the most common breakdown situations mentioned above and making the assumption that your bike (and person) have only medium carrying capacity. In other words, I assume you have either a fork bag, tail bag, and/or are willing to carry a multi-tool on your belt. If you have saddlebags, you can obviously take along more (tire irons, lube, tube; or patch kit for tubeless tires), but I want to make sure you are carrying the bare essentials.
- Needle Nose Vice Grip – these are essential for fasteners requiring you grip both the bolt and nut side to loosen or tighten. This tool can also serve as a lever if you break a handle or a “stopper” if you lose an axle nut.
- Crescent Wrench – good for large fasteners. Even better than a standard crescent wrench is one of those extreme grip combo vice grip crescent wrenches. These are some of my favorite tools in my garage.
- Zip Ties and/or Duct Tape – they make miniature rolls of duct tape and honestly these two items are kind of multi-use in terms of holding fenders in place or holding together some frayed wiring.
- Multi-Tool – for obvious reasons. There is a knife for cutting pieces of wire and a bunch of different head screw drivers in a nice compact package.
- Wire and Wire Cutters – carry the standard gauge for your bike. Whatever makes up the majority of your harness. If you can, try and get a multi-tool with a wire cutter built in.
- Mini Ratchet or T-Handle with Custom Sockets – as mentioned above, know your bike. Figure out what sockets, Allen bits, or other items make up the majority of fasteners on your bike and carry whatever gives you the most coverage on potential fasteners that could come loose.
- Mini Chain Breaker, Two Spare Links, and Two Master Links – this combination together should allow you to fix a broken chain, which is about as far as you can go with a medium carrying capacity situation.
- Pre-Gapped Spare Spark Plugs & Spark Plug Socket – gap them at home and bring them along for that fouled spark plug situation.
- Wire Repair Kit or Clutch Cable – one of the more common situations that will leave you stranded is a broken clutch cable. They make wire repair kits, but you can also simply carry a spare clutch cable. A broken front brake cable on its own isn’t the end of the world. I wouldn’t recommend riding long distances with only a rear brake, but it can be done. Many bikes back in the day had just a front or just a rear. Go slow and get home safe.
- Quick Steel – I know I said no major engine repairs on the side of the road, but quick steel can harden to the point of getting a bike to limp home despite some forms of engine failure. Honestly, if catastrophic engine failure is the culprit, I suggest busting out that the most useful tool you have – your cell phone – and calling one of your moto-buddies.
You are probably surprised I didn’t include jumper cables or other battery items. If you really want to bring along jumper cables, I suggest making your own out of 4 gauge wire. They can be much shorter than what is commercially available, meaning they will take up less space. However, to save yourself on space, I suggest learning how to push start your bike. Find a hill if necessary. The bottom line is if that battery is strong enough to hold a running charge, then you can get the bike started with a skillful push start instead of carrying extra tools and accessing the battery. You would not believe how many times I push started motorcycles in my youth – it kind of goes hand in hand with buying $400 clunkers.
The list above is in no particular order; but I would say that if I had to pick one item only, it would be the needle nose vice grip. That said, I like the kit above because it provides good coverage for a decent range of common and reasonable roadside repairs.
Chris is a DIY Motorcycle Repair nut (pun intended). He advocates getting to know your motorcycle and experiencing the rewarding thrill of success that can only come through picking up a wrench and working on your machine. He was the founder of HappyWrench (now sold) and began wrenching out of necessity at a young age and has continued to teach himself and others through his research and writing. He believes anything is possible with a little ambition and patience.