Travel is roaring back as those who have shopped for airline fares have learned. Now that the pandemic is over, MAMILs are frantically packing their bikes and rushing off to faraway lands, clogging up oversized baggage carosels and abandoning luggage carts at taxi stands worldwide.
Forums and chat boards are awash with questions about suitable bike bags, bikepacking gear recommendations, and complaints about baggage handling. For the latter, I blame Samsonite and their TV commercials of a generation ago, showing gorrillas jumping on suitcases. I know many baggage handlers, and they are not gorilla-like in the slightest aspect; they’re more like sloths, moving slowly through the day, trying not to lift anything heavier than a leaf, and taking long breaks whenever possible.
For all the posts I’ve read about travel and logistics, I have seen very few that address a fundamental aspect- the tools needed for assembly/disassembly and maintenence while away from home. Of course, many travel destinations have bike shops, but more remote locations and off-the-grid travel don’t have the luxury of a neighborhood mechanic who can be bribed with beer.
Silca released its T-Ratchet and Ti-Torque tool several years ago, offering up one of the earliest travel solutions. The clever design offered multiple bits, a ratchet, and modular handle segments in a small pouch. Also included is a torque tool, comprised of a titanium spring with graduated makings for adjusting to proper torque. The tool has 2 inherent weaknesses, however: no audible click, and itty-bitty etching, seemingly designed to be unreadable in a poorly-lit hotel room. Silca did improve the etching design in subsequent generations of the tool, but the lack of a click can still be an issue for less-experienced mechanics. That said, I have 2 of these kits, and both have proven themselves to be spectacularly useful in both travel and race support situations. I added a couple of missing bits, namely 8 and 10mm, as well as a Leatherman Micra, in an effort to create as complete a kit as possible in a wallet-sized package.
Feedback Sports, know for their excellent workstands and tool kits, as well as the ubiquitous Omnium Rollers, released the Reflex tool, which clearly takes cues from the Silca. Being a MAMIL and easily distracted by bright, shiny objects, I bought one.
On initial unpackaging, the kit is quite small, and the most obvious distinction versus Silca is the inclusion of a single 5nm clicking torque bit. Not included is a bit extender, but these are available in multiple sizes in nearly any hardware store or your stash of tools in the basement or garage. Also not included is Silca’s legendary pricing, with the Reflex costing $55 less than the T-Ratchet kit.
Placing the two kits side-by-side, you can see the significant size difference. Neither is huge, and they both pack easily in a toptube bag or saddle bag. Being smaller, the Reflex is probably a better choice for bikepacking and point-to-point touring, where volume is always at a premium.
The Reflex has a small ratchet, moveable handle segment, and 5nm torque bit. These can be swapped around to change from a T-configuration to a straight handle. This can make access to odd bolt positions easier, such as when attaching bottle cages.
The Reflex includes the bit collection one would expect, with hex bits from 2mm to 6, plus Torx and a flat blade. The inclusion of a T10 may be questionable, as I have not run across this bolt size on any of my bikes (note that we are a Shimano- and Campy-free household), and the exclusion of a Philips bit is a little odd. That said, fewer Philips bits are showing up on bikes, as even derailleur stops are becoming hex. Neither kit includes 8 and 10mm bits. When traveling, I never reef down on my pedals during installation, and find that even these small tools offer plenty of leverage for removing pedals at the end of the trip. The 10mm is purely insurance for my crankset- the odds of using it are extremely slim. Also not included is a bottle opener, but you can always go get a Bic lighter and do it the right way.
I added a short Milwaukee bit extender to the Reflex kit, as well as the Leatherman (obviously there are many variations of this category of tool available, from Gerber, Victorinox, etc.). I find the scissors to be the most useful part while traveling, as some of the other tools in the Leatherman are redundant to the bits in the kit. Since the Reflex case has a second pocket, I was able to fit these inside and zip it closed. In the case of the Silca tool, I fold the top flap over the Leatherman. In both instances, the added tools are secure.To test the Reflex kit, I disassembled a travel bike with it. I had no problems or difficulties taking my bike apart with the ratchet or configurations of handles. Adding the bit extender definitely made some bolts easier to access. My travel bike has as many 4 and 5mm bolts as possible, so I can put these bits on the tool and quickly swap them around as I work, rather than reaching back to the bit holder. Time saved during assembly and disassembly can be spent drinking a delicious refereshing beer, smug in my cleverness of making the process of packing more efficient. Rebuilding the bike also went smoothly, with no problems.
Overall, I’d say that the Reflex compares quite favorably to the Silca kit, with the obvious plusses of a clicking torque tool and smaller case. Since the included torque tool is 5nm, if you need a 4nm for a specific part of your bike, it’s easy to add more torque bits. For most bikes though, 5nm is the recommended setting for seatposts, bars, and stems.
The Reflex tool has been added to my travel setup, allowing me to spread my growing collection of travel tools over several kits (including race support, quickie travel bags for day trips, and long vacation). Being a MAMIL, many of my excursions are planned in haste, so having a kit that’s packed and ready for specific trip types means I tend for forget fewer items. Nothing can irritate me and generate more grey hair than being far from home and knowing exactly where a tool is sitting, having been placed somewhere obvious so it would not be forgotten.
While I don’t necessarily see either as a daily-carry tool (I like the Wolftooth 8-Bit for that, due to small size and light weight), both the Feedback Reflex and Silca T-Ratchet kits are key to sucessful travel. I’m not convinced I need a torque tool on the trail or road, anything torque-related should have been taken care of before getting on the saddle.
In use, the two kits are functional equivalents, covering every bolt on the bike. Both are compact, easy to use, and can cover the vast majority of needs both in a hotel room and on the road, or even as the kernel of a home workshop tool collection. From a size and price aspect, the Reflex stands out as an excellent travel companion, one that should be included in every packing list. If I didn’t have existing Silca kits on hand, I’d probably buy a couple more Reflexes to sprinkle out through my gear and tool stashes.