Top 10 Motorcycle gadgets
These days we are awash in gadgets large and small that depend on a myriad of batteries for functionality. From the watch on your wrist to the bike you’re riding, some type of battery powers the product and when the battery fails—which usually manages to happen at the worst possible time—the show’s over.
Well, we thought it might be good to present some ideas for stuff to consider for your saddle bag or gadget bag that won’t let you down because of a dead battery. It’s important to keep in mind that each of these ideas won’t replace a well-stocked tool kit for various situations, but at least in my experience, they have proven to be handy items in addition to the tool kit, if not always for my own situation, for things that have come up for other riders along the way.
Here are our top 10 motorcycle gadgets that are “no batteries required” arranged in no particular order.
Multi-tool: There seems to be no limit to the number of variations and brand names available where multi-tools are concerned. They range from pocket-size tiny to mission-capable massive.
Despite the range of options, most offer a fairly standard but definitely handy set of tools. Typically, they include the folding needle-nose pliers, with includes a wire cutter (of varying wire-cutting capability), crimper portion in the jaws, and in the handle, a knife blade, flat blade screwdriver, Phillips screwdriver, a small saw or serrated blade, file and bottle opener. Some may include small scissors and other implements, as well.
In the image several multi-tool options are shown with all their respective implements opened. The tools shown range from a small, pocket size multi-tool on the far left to a medium sized tool in the middle, a Swiss Army knife type on top (all from Sheffield http://sheffieldhardware.com/ ) up to a large, heavy-duty multi-tool called “Magnus” from Kilimanjaro (www.kilimanjarogear.com/ ). Another type of option is the pocket size multi-driver, such as this example from BikeMaster (www.bikemaster.com/ ).
The smaller examples are probably suitable for most tasks that may occur on short-range touring and day-trips. A tool like the Magnus example could be a good choice for the kind of things that may be encountered in off-road riding and adventure outings off the beaten path.
Tire repair and inflator kit: The one time I could have really used a tire repair and inflator kit, I didn’t have one. It was riding a street bike on a tote road a long way from pavement and in a steep river valley where a wrecker wouldn’t have come to haul my bike, even if I could have called one. It resulted in a long, sweaty push up out of the canyon and ever since, I have felt compelled to be prepared to do something about flat tires other than pout and push, no matter where it may occur.
Fix-a-flat and its variants are not an option for motorcycle tires, convenient though they may be for certain circumstances. The product is not recommended by its manufacturer for use on certain types of tires, including motorcycle tires.
There are, however, kits to allow repair of a puncture and inflation of the tire using compact compressed CO2 (carbon dioxide) canisters available on the market, such as this one from Progressive Suspension (www.progressivesuspension.com/ ). A similar kit is available from BikeMaster. Closed, the kit measures 4” x 6.5” by 2” thick and with its soft-side nylon carrying case, has some room for a bit of compaction.
Vise grips (generically: locking pliers): Years ago I read a story of a motorcyclist traveling on the Al-Can highway; a very long way from anything but the occasional prowling pack of timber wolves, he stopped to rest only to find that the pinch bolt on his gear shift lever had apparently vibrated loose and his shift lever had parted company from the bike.
Fortunately, he had the forethought to pack a locking plier in his tool kit and the presence of mind to realize it could be locked on the splined gear shifter shaft and serve as a temporary shift lever long enough to get him to the next place of human habitation. Ever since then, I’ve included a compact locking plier in my tool kit.
The example shown here is a needle-nose version measuring only 6.75” end to end. The example shown is from Illinois Industrial Tool (iit) www.iittool.com/ . Genuine “Vise-Grip” brand tools are manufactured by Irwin Tool Co. (www.irwin.com/tools/brands/vise-grip ).
Tire pressure gauge: Nothing is worse for a rider’s confidence in the bike than being out on the road miles from anywhere and having the bike feel like a tire is going low, but being unable to check the tire pressures to be sure. Some tires just don’t look like they are under-inflated, even when they are, so you can’t rely on appearance of the tire.
It is true that there are battery-operated digital tire pressure gauges on the market and I’ve had a couple of them, but for my money, nothing beats the simplicity and reliability of the simple, old-fashioned tire pressure gauges, whether with a dial read-out or linear read-out.
The accuracy of these devices is generally fair to good, but there can be some substantial variation. Compact size and an angled dual head are features I look for because not all bikes have valve stems that are easily accessible, particularly on the rear tire.
Also, for bikes with air-adjustable suspension, windshields, mounting brackets, brake lines, fairing parts and any number of things can make getting the head of the gauge squarely on the valve stem for an accurate reading difficult, so angle head or even those with a short hose and dial gauge can be helpful, though the ones with a hose tend to take up more space.
Cargo net: a six-hook elastic cargo net can be very handy for a range of purposes beyond lashing those yard sale goodies you stumbled across on a day trip to the bike. I once used a cargo net and some bungee cords to secure a hard-side saddle bag to my bike when the attachment fasteners had failed. And on many a day trip, I’ve used one to lash my yard sale goodies to the bike.
Bungee cords: The ubiquitous bungee cord is God’s gift to the motorcyclist who is always hauling more than the bike’s bags luggage can handle. Only one heavy-duty variant is shown here, but I usually carry at least two of these and two long but lighter duty ones.
Reusable rubber flex ties: Like bungee cords, these can be used to secure light objects that you don’t want to have under constant tension that a bungee cord or cargo net imposes.
Only one is shown here, but I tend to stow two in my bag. They may not be the best choice for securing things to a moving bike, but can be very useful for securing things in a bundle
Cable or “zip” ties: These in larger sizes are amazingly strong and versatile as a fastening solution. Their drawback is that they cannot be readjusted if over-tightened and are not reusable. I usually carry four along and they take up very little space.
All of these items should be used in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions and limitations as improper use could cause dangerous situations out on the road.
Electrical tape: Some say duct tape is the handyman’s secret weapon, but it is electrical tape that I’ve seen come in handy to handle bare-wires shorting out against a motorcycle frame, simple temporary repairs to seat covers, fork boots, you name it.
My advice: don’t buy the cheap stuff—it tends to have poor adhesive that just doesn’t hold up. How do I know? I buy the cheap stuff.
Mini-utility knife: It may seem redundant to carry a miniature utility knife if you invested in a multi-tool that already has a knife blade on it. The problem is, if you need to cut tape or some other such task and also have the multi-tool otherwise in use, you have a problem.
In addition, having a small utility knife is an inexpensive way to have a razor-sharp cutting tool that also can have the blade renewed to like-new cutting power even after heavy use by simply snapping off a blade segment.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “who has room to pack all this stuff?” To illustrate the portability of this particular set of items, and put it into context, we packed all these items into a 1 gallon capacity freezer bag, including use of the largest of the multi-tool examples shown, the Magnus from Kilimanjaro in its carrying case.
The package shown in the first image of this article is 8.5” x 9.5” x 2.75” and fits in the bag easily enough to allow the zip-lock to be completely closed.
Every rider’s needs vary and the gear you take along, if any, will depend on your needs. The old adage always applies: it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.