If you have a well maintained bike, you rarely need tools while out riding… but when something does go wrong having your essential tools handy makes up for the hundreds or thousands of kilometres that you have lugged them around. A portable tool kit for the bike usually includes a spare tube, puncture repair kit, tyres levers, a multi-tool and maybe a chain breaker. Don’t forget to add a compact bike pump (or C02 inflator) and the majority of the mechanicals you will face can be fixed.
This review looks at two portable tool kits from X-Tool, a brand with a reputation of delivering tools at the budget end of the scale. Both are multi-tools and share some functional similarities but also a few key differences. Compared with big name brands such as Topeak, BBB, Park Tool or Unior, you will probably have a few dollars left over and because of this don’t have any excuse not to be prepared… but do they live up to expectations?
First up is the Switchit key which claims to reinvent the multitool, it includes a chain breaker along with various hex and Torx bits. The second tool is the Ratchet Stash, as the name suggests, a ratchet tool which comes with 6 bits. It fits neatly inside a black aluminium tube that can be attached to your bike via the the drink bottle holder screws.
X-Tools Switchit Keys – $16.99
Packaged inside a pouch, the Switchit Keys is a collection of individual bits. More specifically, 4 double-sided bits, a chain-breaker and a ‘handle’ for leverage that can interlock with the bits or chain-breaker.
The 4 double-sided bits provide you with a 2.5, 3, 4, 5 and 6mm size Allen key head, a T25 and T30 Torx and a flat head screw driver. Take the bit you need and insert it into the handle which gives you a perpendicular connection for leverage or a longer connection for more reach.
Some of the tools such as the Torx and smaller size Hex’s are less commonly required so you could remove the bits that aren’t required for your bike and save a few grams. At 187g, weight was not the main USP (Unique Selling Proposition). Disc brake rotors tend to be fastened with Torx bolts but if you aren’t running disc breaks or any other Torx bolts I suggest leaving this bit out of the kit.
The pouch fits into a jersey pocket though though it may be a bit bulky for compact saddle bags. The pouch itself is a little ‘basic’ and closes with velcro but it does the job of keeping the bits together. In comparison to some of the big brands, it doesn’t have the same finesse. But for functionality, it does the job. I wasn’t expecting to use the tools at all on the road but a slippery wooden bridge had other ideas. When my front wheel slipped on the moss and the handlebars twisted on the stem from the fall, I used the Switchit Keys and the right Allen key bit to straighten it up again.
I also used the chain-breaker when I discovered a ‘slipped pin’ in the chain of my road bike. Typically I use an awkward chain-breaker which is part of my Topeak multi-tool. For a less fiddly alternative for my workshop I had even purchased X-Tools Chain Rivet Extractor ($10.99) which failed on the first use because of an inferior construction. Though I got my refund on that, sometimes cheap tools can be cheap and nasty. The chain-breaker with the Switchit Keys however worked flawlessly and it was a relief to be able to replace the chain pin so easily.
My main criticism of the Switchit Keys is that it is a bunch of different bits that are not tied together elegantly. A higher quality pouch or alternative bundling solution would immediately add value… On the other hand, it is only $16.99 and gives you all the basic tools so for that price, just take it as it is.
Pro Ratchet Stash – $32.49
The Pro Ratchet Stash in enclosed in a black aluminium tube with rounded twist caps at each end. This snaps onto a plastic mount which is designed to fit underneath your water bottle holders on your frame. Some riders may discover that they to buy longer bolts (to fit both the mounting bracket and the water bottle cage). Incidentally, I was able to use the tool to attach the mounting bracket. Though the tube comes across as bulky, I didn’t have any problems with clearance while pedalling.
Inside the tube is a plastic holder that houses a ‘classic’ ratchet tool and six bits; 4, 5 and 6mm Hex bits, a T25 and T30 Torx bit and a Philips Head bit. Again, the Torx is less commonly required on bikes as Allen key bolts usually dominate. The flat head screwdriver works for the derailleur limit screws (which typically take a Philips head screwdriver) though on my bikes there are no other flat head screws.
Using the ratchet tool is a fiddly, from unscrewing the caps of the aluminium tube to replacing the bits into the holder. This is not a ‘fast’ tool. The ratchet is convenient, there is good leverage to comfortably tighten or loosen a bolt but I would also argue that a ratchet tool with this amount of leverage is not fundamentally required for a portable bike tool. The ratchet can reverse directions though the switch is plastic, this is the first ratchet I have seen with a plastic switch. And while I am pointing out a few problems, the bits each have a colour coded adhesive and which was already unravelling so is not much more than cosmetic.
A more serious criticism is the amount of dead space inside the tube, it is twice the size it really needs to be. In its current form it is better suited to mountain bikers or commuters as it keeps the tools out of a backpack, saddle back or pocket and mounts it onto the frame. The aluminium tube is fairly robust and as many mountain bikes have disc brakes with Torx bolts, the included Torx bits and leverage of the ratchet can come in handy.
But to be a more useful tool, I would like to see a chain breaker or even incorporated tyre levers because for $32.49, the cheaper Switchit Keys X-Tool gives you more functionality at half the price. While a ratchet is nice, it is not a necessity for emergency repairs.
Just the Facts
The cheaper X-Tools Switchit Keys at $16.99 is, in my view, a clear winner and what it lacks in elegance, it gives back in price and functionality. The more expensive Pro Ratchet Stash could be useful for some riders but is a chain-breaker away from being a more functional portable bike tool.
X-Tools are available from online retailers Wiggle (and Chain Reaction Cycles)