Words and pics by Sanny
Choosing a multi tool used to be a simple task. No discerning mountain biker would ever be found without a Cool Tool©. Comprising an adjustable spanner, chain breaker, Allen keys and even a bottom bracket bolt tool (remember those?), it was the last word in trail mechanic tech. However, jump forward to 2015 and even Marty McFly would be saying “WTF Doc?” when faced with the almost bewildering choice of multi tools now available; brought about in no small way by the myriad of new “standards” that have proliferated in the intervening period. With so many options to choose from, there are several features worth looking out for when trying to narrow down the options. Here’s my list of priorities…
- First and foremost, a chain tool that doesn’t require thumbs of steel to operate.
- Allen keys that are long enough to fit into those awkward to reach parts of your bike and which cover a range of sizes from adjusting brake levers to fitting and removing pedals.
- A T25 Torx bit for brake discs is a must as is a screwdriver that works with gear adjustment bolts.
Fit those into an easy to carry package and you’re laughing! For what are relatively basic requirements, the markedly different approaches taken by manufacturers illustrate that there are several ways to skin a wrench monkey’s cat as you are about to see.
Jet Black Multi 13
Weight: 169 grams
All the tool bits are constructed from chrome vanadium and displayed no sign of rounding during the test
Hailing from Australia, the JetBlack Multi 13 arrived at my door completely unheralded and with no fanfare. It’s not a brand I was familiar with but as the test period wore on, the more it impressed me. In terms of features, all the important ones are included. Allen keys cover 2,2.5,3,4,5,6 and 8mm. A Philips and small flat head screwdriver are present and correct as is a T25 Torx bit. 3.3 and 3.45 spoke keys are included and in a break from the norm, are pleasingly easy to use. Their compact size means that you can turn a spoke nipple without that infuriating twist, remove and refit action, so often found on multi tools. Rounding off the package is a decent quality chain tool. The thumb lever is small but not so small as to make breaking chains a chore. It wasn’t the best chain breaker on test, but it was more than acceptable for trail-side repairs. All the tool bits are constructed from chrome vanadium and displayed no sign of rounding during the test. The finish on the body of the tool is matte anodised and it fits comfortably in the hand when torqueing down on stubborn bolts.
Overall, the JetBlack Multi 13 is a well thought out tool that delivers the essentials in a neat and easy to use package.
Crank Brothers Y Sixteen
Weight: 255 grams
…separates into a number of tools that wouldn’t be out of place in a workshop, let alone on the trail.
Coming in at the highest price and being the most expensive tool on test, the Y Sixteen has a lot to live up to. As a feat of design it is a joy to behold. Mounted in a triangular plastic frame, the Y Sixteen separates into a number of tools that wouldn’t be out of place in a workshop, let alone on the trail. The list of features is impressive. Comprising two ‘y’ shaped bits, it features the same range of tools as the JetBlack Multi 13 along with a T-10 Torx, a quarter inch driver and a C02 inflator. The chain tool was the best on test with the two ‘y’ bits connecting into the tool giving significant leverage on even the toughest of chains. The smallest Allen keys, Torx and screwdriver bits fit into the magnetised quarter inch driver giving them a secure feel in use. The only slight downside is that the bits are stored loose meaning that dropping and then losing the small bits on the trail is a distinct possibility. The CO2 inflator is a bit of a luxury but if you run tubeless, you may well be grateful for it when trying to reseat a tyre bead after a puncture.
Overall, the Y Sixteen has a real quality feel to it. It’s a weighty piece of kit but when it comes to releasing stubborn parts, the Y design is a bit of a winner.
Topeak Ratchet Rocket
Weight: 137 grams (excluding supplied carry case which weighs 67 grams)
In use, the ratchet is a tinkerer’s joy
The Ratchet Rocket is the definite odd man out in this group test. Being used to all in one tools, the Ratchet Rocket with its detachable ratchet (hence the name – duh!) and seven supplied bits came as a bit of a surprise. Part of me expected to lose at least one of the bits first time out but so far, everything remains present and correct. Compared to the other tools on test, the functions are a little more limited. Allen keys go from 2mm to 6mm while there is also a 2.5mm built into the end of the chain tool. There’s also a #2 Philips head bit and a T25 Torx included and it’s all rounded off with a built in chain tool and two separate metal tyre levers. The bits are held in place in the body of the tool by a magnetic strip and covered by a clear plastic housing (metal would be my preference but I failed to break it during the test so I’m probably just being picky) which is usefully moulded for fingers when using the chain tool. In use, the ratchet is a tinkerer’s joy – it may be small but it was effective at removing even the most stubborn of bolts while the use of bits meant that it could get more easily into those harder to reach parts of the bike, such as when adjusting reach on a disc brake lever. One of the neatest features is that the tool can be customised by buying other bits if you so choose. The chain tool ran a very close second to the Crank Brothers effort. It comes supplied in a plastic case that can be easily frame mounted although I would be just as happy with a cloth bag.
Overall, what the Ratchet Rocket lacks in features, it more than makes up for in terms of ease of use and flexibility.
Park Tools MTB 3.2
Weight: 265 grams
It’s truly a comprehensive tool for almost any situation.
If McGuyver and Carlsberg got together and made bike tools, the Park Tools MTB 3.2 would probably be it. In terms of features it has the rest of the tools on test beaten. In no particular order, it features (deep breathe) 8 Allen key sizes from 1.5mm to 8mm (albeit the latter being an adaptor which is all too easy to lose), T10, T25 and T 30 Torx drivers built into the detachable chain tool which itself features a disc brake piston press (which I particularly appreciated when changing disc pads) and a rotor truing tool which proved its worth on the trail when I warped a rotor. To this, add a flat blade and Philips head screwdriver, 8,9 and 10mm box end wrenches, an emergency pedal wrench (good for tightening up a pedal but too small to release a seized one), a presta valve core extension tool (great for tubeless users), a bottle opener, three spoke tools and a knife. It’s truly a comprehensive tool for almost any situation.
The tool fits together in a clam shell style design and can easily be broken down into its constituent parts. As a long term user of the Park Rescue Tool of old, I was really looking forward to testing this. However, the interference fit between the chain tool and one of the shells was loose meaning the tool kept coming apart in my bag. A carrying pouch, like they used to supply with the older Rescue Tool, would have resolved this. More seriously, the first time I went to use one of the Allen keys to tighten my stem up, the bolt holding the bits together sheared leaving me with a broken tool. It’s not the level of quality that I’ve come to expect from Park and suspect that is most likely an unfortunate one off problem. Park have a good reputation for warranty and I have no doubt that they would have resolved this issue for me without hesitation.
Overall, assuming my quality issues were a one off, the MTB 3.2 is the tool for when everything that can go wrong with a bike, does.
SKS Toolbox Travel
Weight: 251 grams
the tool oozes quality when you take it out of its pouch
Other than being aware of their mudguards, SKS have largely been off my radar as a brand. With their Toolbox Travel multi tool, I was interested to see whether it would live up to the German stereotype of being well designed and engineered. Constructed from Chrome Vanadium steel, the tool oozes quality when you take it out of its pouch. Coming in two parts which clip together neatly, it features 7 Allen keys from 2mm to 8mm (the 2mm is supplied separately along with a T20 Torx which can be added into the tool as required using a supplied Allen key in order to customise it to your needs), the usual flat and Philips head bits, tyre levers built into the body (fine in an emergency), 8 and 10mm box wrenches with two spoke keys built in, a chain tool and a T25 Torx.
The tool itself fits really neatly into your hand although you need to be slightly careful when torqueing down on a bolt not to cause the tool to split into its two constituent pieces. The bits themselves show no visible signs of wear while the small spring employed to keep the detachable 8mm bit in place does a very good job.
Overall, the Toolbox Travel isn’t flashy but features a useful range of tools in a quality product.
One of the great things about testing multi tools is that you come to realise that there is definitely a tool out there for every occasion. All the tools on test impressed me in their own way. I very much doubt that you would feel disappointed if you chose any one of them. Which to choose depends on how “tooled up” you want to be on a ride. One off quality issue aside, the Park Tool MTB 3.2 is so filled with features that you would probably struggle to suffer a mechanical that it couldn’t fix. If I hadn’t experienced the unexpected breakage, it would be getting a Recommended award. The Crank Brothers Y Sixteen is an unusual but effective take on the multi tool. It was good to use, exudes a feeling of quality and would just as happily find a home in a workshop as on the trail. The SKS Travel Toolbox fits neatly into a pocket or bag with a good range of well thought out and designed features. The Jet Black Multi 13 was the sleeper hit of the test. It perfectly blends a useful range of tools in a compact package that is so neat that you have no excuse not to carry it with you. The chain tool could be better but at only £19.99, it gets the award for best value on test. Which leaves us with the Topeak Ratchet Rocket. As one of the lightest tools on test, it’s easy to forget that you have it with you. The Ratchet is a real pleasure to use and makes my secret inner engineer smile every time I use it. The choice of bits is limited but the design is such that a trip to Screwfix means that you can customise it to your needs for not a lot of expense. As supplied, it hits most of the boxes for tools save for an 8mm bit. It may not be the most comprehensive tool on test but the Ratchet Rocket is proof that sometime less is more.
|Brand:||Jet Black, Crank Brothers, Topeak, Park Tools, SKS|
|Price:||From £19.99 - £39.99|
|Tested:||by Sanny for 2 Months|