The field of on-bike and steerer-tube tool storage hasn’t quite delivered on its promise to finally rid us of our packs and pockets. There are dozens of options out there, and all involve some level of compromise. But maybe it’s time we just accept that. Travis Engel sure has, so he’s here to review the least-bad in-frame tools on the market. We swear, it’s better than it sounds.
In-frame tool storage is a pain. I’ve tried every option that’s come out since the trend started, and very few make a compelling case for abandoning the old ways. After all, normal multi-tools aren’t exactly bulky. And they don’t suffer the limitations that arise when trying to shove them somewhere they weren’t meant to go. But the idea of in-frame storage just holds so much potential. When I first popped a Specialized SWAT tool out of a Stumpjumper’s headset cap, I fell in love with the convenience. I did not fall in love with the tool. There’s no 2 or 2.5mm hex. If I (or someone I ride with) suddenly feels the urge to dial out the reach on a front brake lever a quarter turn, it better happen in less than ten seconds.
But that’s the thing. The more utility that a brand tries to pack into an in-frame tool, the more clumsy it tends to become. All of them are small, but some are so small that the wrench can’t easily reach the bolt it needs to turn. Some use interchangeable bits, but that robs you of the speed and convenience of an at-your-fingertips tool, especially when those fingertips are inside a glove. Others have clever ways of puzzling together multiple tools into a cylinder, but you’re stuck transforming Optimus Prime every time you just want to tighten a stem bolt. So, after years spent questing after an in-bike multi tool that I could actually live with, these are the only two I would (and do) keep on my personal bikes.
OneUp EDC Lite
Much respect to OneUp’s O.G. EDC tool. The pump-storage version impressed us when we tested it in 2018, and I threaded the steerer tube on my RockShox Pike faster than you could say “voided warranty.” But that was over five years ago, and I’m less of a fan now. And not because of the treading part. OneUp now offers other ways to install the full-sized original EDC, and the threads didn’t actually void your warranty. I just don’t want to fumble with a chain breaker and a tire lever when all I need is a 4mm hex. That’s why I like the much simpler EDC Lite. Installation only requires you to slide down your star nut / expansion wedge a couple inches, not totally remove it. Also, it’s one of the few systems that will work in a carbon fork, because it doesn’t need to extend through the fork crown. On tools that do extend through the fork crown, adjusting your bearing preload is intuitive, because the bolt is in reach through the fork crown, but it’s a little more tricky on the EDC Lite. Assuming you used the included 4mm preload bolt, the tool’s 4mm hex is positioned so that, when extended, it can reach the bolt. With a couple of the opposite bits extended at 90 degrees, you can twist the assembly and bolt together in a pinch.
The EDC Lite has just two moving parts—the folding tool and a clip—and together, they snap into a hollow top cap. You get a T25 Torx, 2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, and 6mm hex, plus a clever 8mm achieved by pairing the 6mm with the adjacent flathead screwdriver. Both OneUp and EDC made the bits just long enough that my knuckle will still clear the surface of whatever I’m tightening. Both also could stand to have a little longer chassis for easier use, but that’s just not gonna happen in this category.
Accessing and using the tool is simple. Just pull on the clip, remove the tool, and pop the clip back in the top cap for safe keeping until the job is done. It’s quicker than rooting around in a pack, but I think the Bontrager BITS has a slight edge here (more on the BITS below). It offers more to hold onto than the EDC Lite when disconnecting the tool, and takes less thought to properly orient the components for re-insertion. My only other complaint is that the detent securing the tool needs occasional lubrication.
I keep an EDC Lite tool on the two bikes I’m most likely to do multi-day rides on, when I’ll naturally have a more robust tool kit that includes a chain tool and full-sized hex wrenches. But this little thing is always in reach.
Doesn’t include seldomly used tools
Works on carbon forks
Sometimes sticky to remove
Read more at OneUp
That gripe I had about the chain breaker on the original OneUp EDC does not apply to the one on the Bontrager BITS. There’s no tire lever in the mix. The folding tool easily pops out of a cradle on the chain breaker, which itself can then slide right back into the steerer tube while using the multi tool. And when it slides in, it’s a lighter action than the EDC Lite.
Installing this system requires pressing out your star nut, and then correctly combining the various included spacers and preload bolts to match your steerer tube length. But once it’s all together, adjusting your bearing preload from under your (non-carbon) fork crown is a tad more intuitive than doing so on the EDC Lite.
Like the EDC Lite, the BITS tool has a T25 Torx, 2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, and 6mm hex plus a flathead. The BITS’ 8mm is the shaved, oblong hexagon style instead of the EDC’s two-piece design. I’ve had the same results with both: don’t get your hopes up. It’s usually the scant two inches of leverage that’ll keep you from loosening a stuck pedal, not the unorthodox bit shape.
The BITS chain breaker is surprisingly ergonomic, and has a secure rattle-free master-link caddy. Though I wish Bontrager offered replacement push pins for it, it’s nearly as easy to use as my Park CT-5. That’s why I keep the BITS tool on my go-to trail mountain bike, whose accompanying essential repair kit is a little slimmer. That kit has other essential tools, but I don’t bother bringing a chain breaker or extra hex wrenches.
The included chain tool doesn’t slow down access to the multi tool
Can’t be used on most carbon forks
Read more at Bontrager
It’s best to think of tools like these as supplemental, not comprehensive. As a way to put a lot of utility in a convenient spot, but not necessarily solve all your problems. Neither of these tools is a replacement for a well-assembled roll bag of essentials. But they’ll keep you from having to dig one out as often.