Riutbag R15 review

Back in June I received my Riutbag R15 and i have been using it as my go-to backpack ever since. Riutbag are a company descended from a Kickstarter to make a backpack which is only accessible through the back panel, meaning that it is extremely theft-resistant when worn. The company states that Riut is pronounced “riot’ and stands for “revolution in user thinking.” This is probably the only thing I really dislike about this bag, as it feels excessively wanky and corporate for a company which started out as a Kickstarter.

The bag appealed to me for two reasons; firstly I frequently travel for work and I am often unsure of what to expect with regards to petty crime in the places I visit and secondly, the bottle pockets looked perfect for my Klean Kanteen Insulated 591ml which I usually have with me. Since June, in addition to numerous day trips in the UK, the Riutbag has come with me to Kunming in China, Copenhagen and various cities (and crappy industrial towns) in Japan. Other than finding it unpleasant to wear when severely overloaded (two laptops, 500 ml water and work tools) I have been extremely happy with the bag.

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The outward facing side is plain, but does not draw unnecessary attention to its unusual design. The bottom is a waterproof plasticy material, so that the bag is less likely to absorb water if put on wet ground.

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When taken off, the back panel can be unzipped and folded out. There is also a small pocket at the top and two small pockets in the straps. The pockets in the straps are a bit of a disappointment because the contents are on the wrong side of the strap padding, so anything hard will dig into your body.

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The R15 has a bottle pocket on either side (other than capacity, this is the main thing distinguishing it from the R10). Unlike most backpacks, the bottle pockets take space away from the inside of the bag, but they give the bag a certain sleeknesss which it would otherwise lack. The recessed bottle pocket design also retains the bottle very well and as mentioned earlier, will comfortably fit a 591ml Insulated Klean Kanteen bottle (the 946ml will also fit, but is a bit tight).

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The R15 is not a massive backpack, but it is large enough to be a practical day-pack for me. Shown here, the bag has a coat, jumper, headphones, 3DS, 13-inch laptop, bottle and numerous other small items in it.

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At the back of the main compartment are two mesh zipped-pockets for small items.

The back panel is well organised, with two open pockets (the large one has retaining straps for a laptop, so it would not slide out when the bag is opened up like this) and a smaller zipped pocket. The zipped pocket has a small business-card sized pocket inside it. The outside of the middle pocket has pen holders.

The R15 construction is very good. It mostly consists of a mildly padded, thick Cordura type fabric, with some neoprene also used where appropriate. There are some really nice details, such as the elastic loops on the end of the straps which allow any excess strap to be folded away rather than left dangling. There is a small loop on the top of the bag which I assume is designed for hanging the bag from a hook, due to the presence of a much larger, padded handle adjacent to it. The design of the bag is updated based on user feedback, if you were to order an R15 today, it would not be quite the same as mine.

As this is primarily a cycling blog, I have tried cycling with the bag on whilst on a hire bike in Copenhagen. The R15 is not any worse to cycle with than any other backpack, but of course under most circumstances anyone who is not extremely silly would use pannier bags to carry stuff when on a bike.

Based on the past five months, I would recommend the Riutbag R15 to anyone looking for a versatile and secure day-pack.

More honest cyclist warning stickers for motor vehicles

A tweet from @aseasyasriding reminded me about the problem of those stickers which seem to have proliferated on the back of HGVs (and now other commercial vehicles in the past few years) which are all some variation of a warning to cyclists not to pass the vehicle on the inside. Obviously I hate these things, but I will admit to having something of a dark admiration for the idea behind them. These stickers likely originate from discussions inside the road haulage industry and I suspect that the decision to issue them as taken as follows:

  1. Use of HGVs whose design is heavily optimised for motorway use in towns and cities without significant modification means that even a momentary failure of competence or compassion from a driver can lead to fatal consequences for other road users (particularly cyclists).
  2. Modifying HGVs would be very costly to the road haulage industry and is therefore resisted.
  3. Even if the industry were receptive to the idea of modifying HGVs, the period of time between the public learning of their intention to modify HGV designs and the last unmodified HGV coming out of service would be a liability nightmare for the industry.
  4. Certain parts of the road haulage industry use pay structures (such as pay-per-load) which put drivers’ pay at odds with the safety of other road users.
  5. The death toll associated with the road haulage industry gives it a bad image.

And so the now-ubiquitous warning stickers were created for HGVs (which have since spread to other commercial vehicles such as buses, vans and even taxis). These stickers ingeniously and insidiously turn a road haulage industry problem into a problem of cyclist behaviour in the minds of many of those who see them. Slowly but surely in the public imagination, the problem of a HGV driver overtaking a cyclist to turn left becomes the problem of cyclists passing HGVs on the inside. The problem of the immense blind spots of HGVs becomes the problem of cyclists passing HGVs on the inside. The problem of HGV drivers not signalling their intention to turn becomes the problem of cyclists passing HGVs on the inside. The problem of risk-taking by drivers who are paid by the load becomes a problem of cyclist behaviour.

In response to the (admittedly highly-sucessful) attempt at reality distortion represented by the original stickers, I thought I would present some alternatives which are perhaps a bit more honest:

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One for skip lorries and others who are paid by the load:

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And a few more ready for when these things inevitably start making the jump from commercial vehicles to private cars:

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And finally, the subtext of the original signs:

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More on bottles and how I reconnected with cycling

Upon returning to the UK after spending three weeks in the densely populated Chinese city of Kunming, I felt a yearning to get out into the countryside. For me, the easiest way to get out into the countryside to take to the stretch which exists between home and work. However, since moving house to the other side of Chester in early February 2016, I had not tried cycling between work and the new house, or really done any cycling which wasn’t strictly functional. Because of this, when I reviewed my Klean Kanteen Insulated bottle, I never really considered that the Kilner/Grolsch style swing-lock lid on it would be quite difficult to drink from whilst actually on the bike (When carrying it on the bike, I had usually not bothered drinking any of the contents until I got to the train). Because of this, on my ride through the country lanes I had to stop every time I wanted to take a sip.

The swing-lock cap can be removed fairly easily (although I am not sure how well it would hold up to being removed/replaced frequently) and replaced with either the standard loop carabiner top or the sport cap, so I decided to replace the swing-lock cap with the sport cap for drinking iced water whilst riding. I tend to get quite hot when cycling and the physiological and psychological benefits of having a really cold drink available when doing some fairly physical riding was something of a revelation for me. I haven’t really seen any of the other people on bikes, particularly the sport cyclists, using insulated bottles and this seems very odd to me now. I hope this is due to simple lack of awareness rather than misguided concerns over weight. There is no escaping the fact that water is heavy, so in the face of such a significant benefit why would you worry about a few extra grams from the bottle itself?

This left me with a bit of a problem. Before work I usually fill my insulated Klean Kanteen with Pepsi Max and drink it on the train or bus (I have recently been experimenting with travelling to and from work via bike-bus-bike rather than bike-train-bike due to the piss-poor punctuality, reliability and frequency of the Arriva Trains Wales service). In addition to requiring the the use of the swing-lock lid (which would have to be swapped for the sport cap each day) there is no way for me to refill my bottle with properly cold water after I leave the house. The solution was to buy another bottle so I could also take some iced water to work with me for later in the day (or if I choose to cycle home) so I purchased a 709 ml (24 US fl. oz.) Hydro Flask.

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I chose Hydro Flask for the additional bottle because the insulating properties are generally regarded as pretty much identical to the Klean Kanteen but they differ in the available sizes and a few design details. The standard mouth Hydro Flasks are available in 18, 21 and 24 US fl. oz. sizes (532, 621 and 710 ml to the rest of the world) whereas the standard mouth insulated Klean Kanteens are available in 12, 20, 32 and 64 US fl. oz (355, 591, 946 and 1900 ml). Both manufacturers have some additional sizes only available with the wide mouth.

The designs of the bottles and caps also differ in a few ways. The thread on the loop carabiner and sport caps offered by both Klean Kanteen and Hydro Flask are compatible with standard mouth bottles from either company. The loop caps are similar, but the Hydro Flask one is solid and insulated, wheras the Klean kanteen one is hollow.

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Solid, insulated HF on the left. Hollow KK on the right.

The loop caps differ in their sealing gaskets too; the Klean Kanteen lid uses a silicone O-ring with a circular cross section whereas the Hydro Flask uses a silicone gasket which appears to have a rectangular cross section and which is more recessed into the lid.

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Artist’s impression of lid sealing. KK on the left, HF on the right. Both lids will seal on either bottle.

I have discovered that the gasket of the Hydro Flask loop cap, in addition the the vents cut in the threads seem to make this lid work better with carbonated beverages than the Klean Kanteen loop cap. This is true whether the cap is fitted to a Hydro Flask bottle or a Klean Kanteen bottle.

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HF cap with thread cut-outs on left. KK cap without cut-out on right.

The sport caps are both similar, with both having a silicone spout which can be pulled open using fingers or teeth and both using a little silicone vent valve to let air into the bottle to replace the volume of liquid sucked out. A lot of users have reported that the vent valve on the Hydro Flask sport lid is prone to falling out with use, leading to leaks, which does not seem to a problem with the Klean Kanteen sport lid. Like the loop lid, the Hydro Flask sport lid is insulated, but is sealed with an O-ring similar to the Klean Kanteen rather than the gasket in the loop cap. I am not sure how much benefit the insulaton in the lids really provides, but the extra volume of the insulated lids should prevent the liquid inside from being able to slosh around as much.

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I find that the green Klean Kanteen sport lids produce a mild plastic taste in water when it is not very cold which the black version does not seem to suffer from. However, YMMV.

The necks of the bottles also differ, with the Hydro Flast has a plain top instead of the folded-over lip which forms the top on the Klean Kanteen. The plain top of the Hydro Flask is easier to keep clean, but means that the threadless swing-lock type lids available for the Klean Kanteens, which in my experience are the best option for carbonated beverages, are not an option on the Hydro Flask.

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591 ml KK on the left. 709 ml HF on the right.

As I had a spare Klean Kanteen sport cap, my solution has been to use the Hydro Flask loop cap when I put the bottle in my bag and then switching to the Klean Kanteen sport cap when I want to drink my water. This arrangement lets me drink iced water whilst riding and since overheating is usually the main limiting factor I encounter when cycling, having an insulated bottle filled with ice and water means I enjoy riding a whole lot more and can cover longer distances faster than I could before.

Victorinox Cybertool 34 Review

A while back I reviewed my Leatherman Surge multi-tool. I am a big fan of the Surge and there have been many times when I have been glad to have it with me (holiday in Cornwall, overseas work trips). However, as noted in my review of the Surge, the locking blades mean that the Surge is in a bit of a legal grey area; when carrying the Surge I need to have a “good reason” to do so if I wish to stay on the right side of our purposefully vague laws on such things. Similar laws also prevented me from taking the Surge on a work trip to Japan a few months ago. Because of this, at the end of last year I decided to supplement my Surge with a swiss army knife, as the relatively small, non-locking blades mean that I can enjoy the benefits of having it with me at all times without the requirement to have a “good reason.”

A few years ago I read about a swiss army knife designed specifically for people who work with PCs, which included a small bit driver for the various small phillips and torx screws used on motherboards and in laptops. When I started thinking about getting a swiss army knife, I remembered this and I was pleased to find that not only does it still exist, there are a few different versions available in the Victorinox Cybertool range. The bit driver is also available in some of the larger Swisschamp models too (XLT, XXLT, XAVT).

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For me the Cybertool 34 (CT34) offered the best range of tools within the size range I wanted, without having too much redundant overlap with the Surge. Both the CT34 and Surge have bot drivers, with some overlap in the supplied bits, but I would be much happier using the CT34 above the likes of a delivate motherboard than the Surge. Similarly, I prefer the Surge when working on things at a larger scale. The CT34 is available with translucent red or blue scales. I damaged the scales on mine (and never really liked the translucent scales either) so I decided to replace them with black.

The CT34 buts are 4mm hex, with a ball bearing on one side of the bit to retain them in the driver/holder. The holder only makes contact with the bits on two sides, so it is important to ensure one of these sides make contact with the ball bearing to prevent the bits falling out of the holder and the bit driver will also act as a 4/5mm nut spinner when empty. The bit selection includes #8, #10 and #15 Torx drivers, #0, #1 and #2 philips drivers (will also double for Pozi drivers in a pinch), 4mm hex driver and 4mm flat-head. In a pinch, the #8, #10 and #15 Torx drivers will also happily double up as 2, 2.5 and 3 mm (respectively) hex drivers too. The bit driver is what really makes this tool, and brings the whole Swiss Army Knife concept into the 21st century. I believe that the special bits are made by Facom and compatible alternative bits can be found in their catalogue.

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The CT34 has a few features which the Surge lacks; the scales contain a surprisingly useful pressurised ballpoint pen, tweezers, toothpick and a pin, in addition to an eyeglass screwdriver which lives wound into the corkscrew. I wouldn’t want to write a lot with the pen, but it does often come in useful for writing down a quick note or marking something up. The toothpick is great, and it is possible to buy replacements once it gets to the point where you want to retire it.

Scale tools

Other tools unique to the CT34 are the corkscrew and hook. The corkscrew is not really that useful unless you tend to drink a lot of wine outside. The hook is rated for to almost 100 kg, which opens up some possibilities (zip-line, anyone?).

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Like the Surge, the CT34 also has two blades and pliers. Unlike the Surge, the blades are both non-locking and neither are serrated (the Surge has one straight and one serrated). The blades hold an edge very well, but because if this they require a bit more work during their (admittedly less frequent) sharpenings.

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The pliers are sprung and much smaller than the Surge pliers; they are ideal for small detail work which makes them a good compliment to the Surge pliers, rather than redundant. They also include wire cutters (only really good for small gauge wire) in the jaw of the pliers and a crimper in the arms.

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The remaining tools are duplicates of the tool selection available on the Surge, and include the following: A can opener (with a useful small flat head driver) and a bottle opener (with large flat head driver/scraper/pryer & wire bending notch).

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Very good sprung scissors.

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Sharp awl with eye for thread. I like this awl better than the Surge awl, and I have made some holes in wood with it when there was no drill available.

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The tools in Swiss Army Knives are held in place using back-spings. These keep the tools folded away when not in use and give the tools a satisfying “snap” when opening/closing. The main disadvantage of the back-spring mechanism over the Leatherman is that most of the tools require fairly long and substantial nails (or some sort of substitute) to get at, whereas the tools on the (admittedly less sleek) Leatherman are easily accessible without using nails. I get around this by using the tweezers from the scales to open the tools which have nail nicks, and the use of nail nicks does make for a much smaller overall package when compared to the likes of a Leatherman. At the time of writing I am in South China and I have managed to grow my nails a bit due to the fact that I have stopped biting them whilst I have been here due to the generally less hygienic conditions here (e.g. public toilets with no hand washing facilities, non-drinkable tap water etc.) and the nail nicks are working just fine for me at the moment.

Much like the Klean Kanteen bottle and Leatherman Surge I have reviewed previously, I have become rather attached to the Cybertool 34. I think part of this is due to having these things with me so much of the time and enjoying the various benefits they bring. This is especially true for the things I have with me when I’m travelling abroad on my own. Whilst it is smaller and therefore less capable than the Surge, after nearly eight months of carrying it with me most of the time I am very happy with the CT34. Paired with the Surge there are not many jobs which cannot be tackled. The CT34 is also a very capable tool in its own right, without being too bulky to carry around all/most of the time (although if you are going to have just one tool of this sort, the Cybertool 41, with the addition of a wood saw, metal saw, file and chisel may be a better option).

Klean Kanteen Insulated (591 ml/20 US fl oz)

I first heard of Klean Kanteen (KK) via Lovely Bicycle. They are available here in the UK (including in a few bricks and mortar shops) but as they are made for the US market, their capacities are made to crazy US units, rather than sensible, rest-of-the-world metric.

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Vacuum flasks are nothing new, but the majority of vacuum flasks on the market are aimed at people who want to carry hot, still drinks and are often sold with lids intended to double up as cups to drink from. Something I wanted for a long time is a vacuum flask for cold, possibly fizzy drinks and which I could drink from directly whilst on the go, rather than using a separate cup, but there did not seem to be any products which could need this requirement. One of my main aims was to reduce the number of cold drinks I purchased whilst out and about on warmer days, partly to save money and partly because of the tendency of many shops to use broken/ineffective drinks chillers or to not bother with stock rotation when filling fridges (Boots and Superdrug, I am looking at you).

Eventually, I found out that Klean Kanteen made insulated versions of some of their classic range of bottles. The size I bought (nominally 591 ml, 600 ml in practice) came with a loop carabiner lid, and I was not sure if the lid would be ok with fizzy drinks. However, I saw that a larger version of the same bottle (but with a swing-top lid) was being sold by Klean Kanteen as a growler* for carrying (carbonated) beer.

For a while I used the loop carabiner lid, but the seal on this did not do very well with carbonated drinks; the lid had to be screwed down very tight to prevent the pressure leaking out and when it was opened, a small part of the seal would often unseat before the rest, sometimes resulting in a highly directional spray (especially after riding the Brompton over cobbles). This happened in quite spectacular fashion as a sat in the quiet coach of a Virgin Pendolino to Edinburgh, spraying two fellow passengers with a fine mist of Pepsi Max. After this, I decided to give the Swing-top lid sold with the Klean Kanteen growlers a try instead. The addition of the swing-lock cap produces an ideal solution for keeping cold, fizzy drinks cold and fizzy for an extended period of time (9+ hours has been no problem). Occasionally, I have also had coffee in the bottle, which stays hot enough for me for at least four hours (and possibly a fair bit more too). A few times, I have used it for beer too.

Another feature of the flask which I like is that it is constructed from 18/8 stainless steel, inside and out. Whilst I suspect that the recent hysteria about BPA is overblown, I do not like the flavour-retention which happens with most re-usable plastic bottles. Aluminium bottles can also have this problem, as they require lining and this lining is usually made of some sort of polymer. The advantage of stainless steel is that it does not retain or impart any flavour on the contents of the bottle and is resistant to corrosion from the sorts of things you are likely to store inside the bottle and also the sorts of conditions the outside is likely to be exposed to. It is also durable, I have dropped mine a few times and whilst it is dented, it still functions perfectly well.

This bottle really works well for me, I use it everyday. I even took it with me when I had to travel to Japan for work in early May, which allowed me to really maximise the benefit from the airport lounge access I got as a check-in bonus.

*Growlers are vessels for transporting draught beer from a bar or brewery for later consumption elsewhere. I suspect that the name may be hindering the concept in the UK somewhat.

Update

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I have been in Kunming, China for a few weeks and I have really appreciated having the KK bottle with me. Tap water here is not drinkable, and in some of the workplaces I’ve visited there are often very few opportunities to get a drink. When drinking water is available, the custom is to serve it hot (which I do not find particularly refreshing) due to long-standing concerns here about water quality. Luckily, I’ve been able to have clean, icy-cold water available whilst at work and travelling around. It may seem like a small thing, but it has made the wider situation a lot more tolerable.

The Cargo Cult of Cycling Culture

Cycling culture is a term which is nebulous enough that it can mean significantly different things to different people.

To some, it will bring to mind images of hipsters and the fixed gear scene, or the likes of the counter-cultural Critical Mass movement. To others, it will invoke the BMX scene, or road cycling clubs, or people who live and breathe mountain biking. The one thing linking all of these ideas of cycling culture is that their members all take the bicycle and make it a significant part of their identities.

Because of this, I find it weird when “cycling culture” is discussed as a cause of cycling being a mainstream mode of transport in The Netherlands. The implication is that Dutch people are not choosing how to travel primarily based on their experience of their environment, but because of some sort of unique “cycling culture” which is a part of being Dutch. This implies that this ill-defined “cycling culture” would need to be somehow replicated in the UK in order to allow cycling to become a mainstream mode of transport here. Some people may make the further inference that replication of this Dutch “cycling culture” is sufficient in itself to allow cycling to become a mainstream mode of transport.

Also worth noting is that just because driving is the dominant mode of transport in the UK, it does not follow that the UK has an equivalent “car culture” which is a part of being British. Certainly there are car and motorsport enthusiasts who make the car part of their identities, but this is hardly typical of the average person in the UK. I also occasionally see arguments that the use of cars as status symbols in the UK produces a culture of driving and works against the cause of cycling as a mode of transport. Whilst there are also people who spend a lot of money on cars which they see as status symbols, these are also the kind of people who will spend money on other conspicuously expensive items in exactly the same way. It is the display of having the means to buy the car which is important, not the car itself (or the watch, clothes, house, boat, etc.). Again, I don’t see this being a major factor in the dominance of driving as a mode of transport in the UK. This kind of behaviour can also be seen in The Netherlands. Just owning a car is not in itself much of an indicator of socio-economic status nowadays.

The truth is that The Netherlands has no cycling culture and the UK has no car culture. What both countries have is people who choose how to get around by picking the path of least resistance, based on their own experience. Whereas for British people choosing the car is usually the path of least resistance, for Dutch people choosing the bike is often the path of least resistance. This is not due to a difference of culture, but an result of the differences in the built environment.

Certainly, there are also additional non-infrastructural factors increasing the attractiveness of cycling in The Netherlands, such as the provisions organisations and businesses make for people travelling by bicycle, but these are a reaction to the transport choices people make, not the main reason they make them. This reaction serves to reinforce the effect of the built environment on transport choice, as it does in the UK.

The argument that The Netherlands has a particular cycling culture which we would need to somehow replicate here for cycling to become a mainstream mode of transport is at its best cargo cult thinking, and at its worst, acts as an excuse for inaction and a quiet acceptance of the status quo.

Infrastructure is the foundation of cycling as a mainstream mode of transport. Nothing else will stand up if that foundation is not there first.

Leatherman Surge multi-tool review

It is hard to know what tools might be needed in an unexpected situation when you are out and about, whether on or off the bike. Multi-tools can be a useful way to stay prepared without the impracticality of carrying a selection of individual tools around with you.

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The Leatherman Surge has the following tools accessible from the folded position:

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A plain blade.

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A serrated blade.

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Spring-action scissors.

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A T-shank adaptor compatible with either the file or saw provided, or any other blade with a common T-shank end.

When unfolded, additional tools are accessible:

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Pliers including replaceable wire cutting/stripping blades and two crimping cut-outs below the pivot.

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An awl, large and small flat-head screwdrivers.

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A bottle/can opener and a bit-driver which is compatible with proprietary Leatherman bits (available separately) or regular hex bits with the use of an adapter (available separately)

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Proprietary Leatherman bits (not necessarily included with every Surge)

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In addition to this, my Surge came with a leather pouch which can be worn on the belt. This is useful as the weight of the Surge is a bit too much to be comfortable in trouser pockets.

The build quality is really quite impressive. There is no play in the pliers or any of the other tools, the tools are made from an appropriate grade of steel for their intended purposes and the blades are designed in such a way that their edges do not strike or sit in contact with the housing when folded away.

Sadly, in the UK at least, the Leatherman Surge is not a legal carry item for most people because it features two locking knife blades. Whilst there are exceptions for those with a “good reason” for carrying one, such as profession, the vagueness of that clause could lead you to think that you’re safe whilst actually falling foul of the law. Because of this, and the absence of an adjustable spanner, I would not recommend the Surge as a multi-tool for cycling purposes. However, I would recommend it for anyone who would benefit from having a really good general purpose multi-tool.