Cool Tool Tuesday #4: Building a Cycling Tool Kit – the bicycle-specific basics

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You now own all the general-use foundation tools and you’re ready to add some cycling-specific tools into the collection. But with thousands of tools to choose from, where does one possibly start? Well… here. 

In this article, I’ll pick up where I last left off, and cover what I consider to be the must-have cycling-specific tools when building out a kit to handle the most common repairs on a range of modern bikes. Within this, I’ll give suggestions for where to spend and where to skimp, and I’ll offer some recommendations for those who seek the best. 

And if you’re left wondering where the hex keys, screwdrivers and pliers are, you missed the previous article. Similarly, if you are truly starting from scratch then it may be worth considering a pre-made tool kit, also discussed in the previous article. 

Things to think about 

Before I dive into talking about specific tools it’s important to pause and think about what you’re looking to do on the maintenance or mechanical side. For many riders, bicycle maintenance is a matter of inflating tyres and keeping the drivetrain lubed (and hopefully clean), and if this is you then you really only need a few of the tools suggested. Think about the tasks you want to do and work backwards to figure out what tools you need.

On a similar note, the bikes you own or plan to work on will greatly impact the tools you require. Someone who only rides Shimano components has no use for Campagnolo-compatible tools, and if all your hubs are new DT Swiss then you won’t need cone wrenches, either. Consider your individual use and need of every tool suggested below. 

Something that I’ll probably repeat in most Cool Tool Tuesday articles is that tool choice can be quite personal. It’s rare that professional mechanics will see eye-to-eye on tool choice. My recommendations are based on first-hand experience, but certainly many will have had different experiences and have come to different conclusions – you can tell me I’m wrong in the comments section.  

There are hundreds of more advanced or special repair cycling-specific tools not covered in this article. Cool Tool Tuesday is an ongoing series and I plan to cover many of the important tool categories. From tools for press-fit bottom brackets, to bearing replacement, to internal cable routing to my thoughts on various styles of tyre levers, I’ll get there eventually. 

Finally, I’m jumping into what I consider the most useful and commonly used cycling-specific hand tools. I’m assuming you already have a way to clean a chain, a means to inflate a tyre, a way to remove/install a tyre, and ideally a repair stand, too. Also, a bench is a must-have in a professional workshop, so also consider one of those as your wrenching experience grows. 

The cycling-specific tools to build a workshop from 

Tyre levers 

Many tyre levers are terrible. Pictured are some good ones.

Simply designed to help remove (or install) tight tyres, tyre levers are a staple of any cycling tool kit. I prefer plastic levers, or at least levers with plastic coatings. A good tyre lever should easily hook below the bead of a tyre and not snap in your face under tension (yet so many do). A nice plastic tyre lever is also the perfect tool for pushing disc brake pistons back into the caliper. 

 As teased above I plan on doing a deeper dive on this topic, but in the meantime, I’ll tell you that if I could only have one tyre lever, it would be a Pedro’s. If I could have a second tyre lever, it would be the Park Tool TL-1.2 which offers a slimmer width that comes in handy (especially for certain disc brake callipers). And if I could have a third tyre lever, it would be something lower profile like the Park Tool TL-4.2 or Michelin Ergo Comfort (sadly a little flexy) that are better sized for slipping under tyre beads. 

Chain wear gauge

Many older chain wear tools are designed to measure .75% wear which is arguably a little too late for newer narrower cogs.

Chains wear out and in the process more expensive wear sets in. That’s where a chain wear gauge comes in. 

I’ve covered the topic of chain wear and chain wear gauges in great detail before and my preferences haven’t changed. I prefer gauges that tell you when your chain is wearing rather than it’s worn out. The Pedro’s Chain Checker II and Park Tool CC-4 (or CC-3.2) are simple options that work across most chain types. 

I mostly reach for the KMC Digital chain wear gauge as it gives an easy indication of chain life. Just be warned that like most chain checkers, it’s thrown off by the larger rollers found on SRAM 12-speed chains. 

Alternatively, you can use a vernier or digital caliper – this is what Campagnolo recommends. Measure between a set number of chain rollers when the chain is new and make a note of the measurement. Now take that measurement and multiply it by 1.005 – this will give you the common .5% replacement point. Measure the chain once in a while until the latter number is seen. 

Chain breaker

Chain breakers work by pushing out or pressing in a chain pin. It’s a relatively simple task that a surprising number of cheaper tools fail at. If you’ve ever pushed a new pin in diagonally then it’s only partly user error – it’s likely also the fault of the tool.

Chains are arguably the hardest working part of a bike. Good maintenance and great chain lube go far in slowing wear, but eventually, you’ll need a chain breaker if you want to replace your chain. And even those who use quick links will need a chain breaker to first size the chain to the bike. 

Chain breakers simply drive a chain pin in or out of the outer plates, and you can spend as little as $5 and as much as $250 for something that in theory serves the same role. And while the purpose may be simple, it’s quite astonishing how many chain breakers either make it easy to damage your chain or just fail on the second use. 

I personally think spending approximately $50 is the sweet spot for home mechanics who want the tool to last. I’ve previously reviewed a bunch of home mechanic chain breakers, and the recommendations hold true today. Shimano TL-CN29, Birzman Damselfly Universal, Park Tool CT-3.3, Unior Pro – all proven options. If you have Campagnolo then get the slightly more expensive Pedro’s Pro 3.2 Chain Tool – it has a chain pin peening function. And it’s worth noting that while that test was from a few years ago, just about all the winning tools have since been updated to work with 12 and even 13-speed chains. 

Those who simply want the best will also be met with a confusing number of options – many of which have certain compatibility limitations. In my workshop, I choose to use an Abbey Bike Tools Decade that after what must be a few hundred uses is still on its original pin – something I’ve never managed from another chain tool before. However, to save having to pull that modular tool apart to fit different size chains, I use a Unior Master when working with SRAM AXS Flat Top, or thicker 9-speed and under. In my portable toolbox sits the versatile, far lighter and more compact Pedro’s Pro Chain Tool 3.2. 

Pro-level chain breakers can be quite expensive but they make the task of chain replacement far more efficient.

Also, there are specific applications when other tools win in pure user experience. Campagnolo’s own eye-wateringly expensive tool is simply the benchmark for its own chains, but the compatibility limitations make it a tough one to suggest. Meanwhile, Shimano, Rohloff, and a handful of other brands have their names to some drool-worthy chain tools, too.

Ok, I’m getting carried away. Clearly, this topic needs its own article, too. I’ll put a pin in it for now. 

Chain Quick Link Pliers

The Shimano-style tool is the benchmark for the latest crop of super tight-fitting quick links.

Chain quick links, master links, chain connectors – whatever you call them, they’re becoming increasingly common. Quick links were almost always tool-free in the days of 8 and 9-speed, but narrower versions typically now require tools to undo (unless you’re using a Connex link). 

Quick links and their related tools is another topic I’ve done a deep dive on previously. The Shimano TL-CN10 remains my very favourite for its ability to easily open and close tight links – it’s the closing of super tight links (aka, Shimano) that the vast majority of chain link pliers suck at. A vastly cheaper but only subtly different version of this Shimano tool is the SuperB 2-in-1 (I believe SuperB is the manufacturer of the Shimano tool). 

While I prefer the control that the above tools provide, you don’t need them. As shown in the linked article you can also hold the rear wheel and use pressure through the crank to lock a quick link. And then you can use pliers to undo them (although this will likely burr the edges if you’re planning to re-use them).

Cassette lockring tool

Want to install or remove a cassette (not to be confused with a freewheel)? You’ll need a cassette lockring tool. 

Regardless of how many speed/cogs the cassette has, Shimano and SRAM share the same HG-style tool. This tool is also used for internal-type centerlock disc brake lockrings. And most impressively this tool interface hasn’t changed in decades. It’s a seriously rare thing in the bike industry that you can use the same tool on an 8-speed bike from the 90s and one from today that has a 12-speed cassette and an entirely new freehub body design. Meanwhile, Campagnolo uses its own unique spline tool, one that also hasn’t changed in decades.

Cassette lockring tools don’t need to be expensive, and even the low-cost sockets will do the job for most. Put that socket in a bench vise or just turn it with an adjustable wrench and you’re rolling. For years I used a cheap Lifu cassette socket that performed impressively well for what it cost, but eventually, I stopped using it because it wouldn’t clear certain hub axles when working with centerlock disc rotor lockrings – a common issue with a number of cassette sockets, especially cheaper or older options. 

That said, Abbey Bike Tools totally changed the cassette lockring tool with its Crombie tool. In fact, it’s a tool so good the whole company was founded on the creation of it, it’s one of my absolute favourite tools to use, and the tool has been widely copied (but not replicated) since. Yes, it’s just a cassette tool welded to a handle, but it also allows you to work on many quick-release wheels without removing the quick release, it never suffers from fitment issues related to silly axle end cap designs, it fits lockrings super securely, and my original is celebrating its 8th birthday today and still works like new (I had to look that up, I swear I don’t have calendar reminders for such things). Plus the one-piece design means you’re grabbing one tool-less each time. 

There are many lockring tools on the market, but I’ve never met anyone who has regretted buying an Abbey Crombie.

Abbey Bike Tools offer multiple versions of the Crombie, including a ⅜” socket if you’d rather use a torque wrench. In the workshop, I love the single purpose role that the original one-sided solid-handle Crombie serves. In my travel toolbox I have the Dual-sided ‘SuperLight’ Shimano/Campagnolo version. If you think you’ll never work on Campagnolo then the dual-sided Shimano/Shimano version is a nice option with its thru-axle support nub. 

Chain whip / Cassette holder

That cassette lockring tool is somewhat limited in usefulness without a way to stop the cassette from freewheeling upon removal. And that’s where a chain whip, cassette plier or cassette holder comes in. 

There are a few different styles of tools for holding onto that pointy cassette while you undo the holding lockring.

The most common form of this tool is the chain whip (the first two on the left in the above photo, ruler shown for scale), which is effectively a couple of short lengths of chain attached to a handle. You can quite easily make one yourself, but unless you’re a skilled craftsman, the ones you can buy will be better. For casual use, this is a tool you can skimp on, just buy one with a modern width chain and from a brand or seller that’ll grant you a quick warranty if it’s ever needed. The lower-cost versions are often closely comparable; examples include BBB, PRO, Lifeline, SuperB, BikeHand … and the list goes on. 

Those seeking a pro-level tool should look for something with a narrow chain, a strong pinning method attaching the chain to the tool, and a good amount of leverage – some of the new 11/12-speed cassettes can be very tight to remove. The Park Tool SR-2.3 is a beast of an example. Meanwhile, those wanting a chain whip for a portable tool kit should look to the Abbey Bike Tools chain whip as it docks really cleanly with the Crombie for compact storage, or a lighter but larger option is the Wolf Tooth Ultralight Chain Whip. And if for some reason you’re weighing your toolbox, then the Silca 3D Printed titanium chain whip is the very lightest (and most expensive) thing going, but leverage isn’t on its feature list. 

There are of course chain whip substitutes. Cassette pliers or a Pedro’s Vise Whip both offer benefits over a chain whip. Cassette Pliers such as the Park Tool CP-1.2 or Feedback Sports are super quick to clamp onto a cassette cog and can help reduce the chance of chain slippage. Meanwhile, the Pedro’s Vise Whip may be slower to adjust between different cog sizes, but once locked on it’s the most secure thing money can buy – I just sometimes wish it offered more leverage. 

The Pedro’s Vise-Whip is the most secure-holding tool on the market. You can quite literally stand on it (although best not to in case your foot slips).

And then there are cog wrenches (pictured above, third from left), first done by American tool manufacturer Stein (unique and under-appreciated tools) and since replicated by the likes of Pedro’s and Unior. These simply offer pins that engage with the smallest cassette cog. They’re simple, durable and quick to use. The downside is that they’re cog size dependant and if you’re working on various cassettes with 10, 11 and 12T small cogs then you’ll need more than one tool. I also never really got on with them for super tight cassettes – I prefer things that offer more of a physical hold. 

In the workshop, I like the quickness of the Park Tool Cassette Pliers but find they can be overwhelmed on overly tight cassettes – at which point I reach for a custom made long length chain whip (even longer than the Park Tool SR-2.3) – leverage can be a glorious thing to have on the rare occasions you need it. In my travel/portable box, I keep an Abbey Chain Whip docked to the dual-sided Crombie.

Pedal wrench 

Pedal wrenches don’t need to be fancy, just make sure they’re not short. Even the shortest one shown here isn’t nearly as short as some being sold.

I’ve put the humble pedal wrench fairly low down the list as so many high-quality pedals can now be installed or removed with a 6 or 8 mm hex key. Still, if you’ve got cheaper pedals, older Speedplays, or don’t yet have the longer hex keys I suggested you buy, then a pedal wrench is the tool to have. 

A modern pedal wrench is often just a thinner and longer leverage version of a 15 mm open-end spanner. Sadly many regular spanners are too thick for the narrow gap between pedal body and crank, hence the specialist tool. 

I don’t have any super strong feelings about pedal wrenches other than short length pedal wrenches are a waste of Earth’s resources. At best you can’t remove a stuck pedal with such a short tool, at worst the short handle puts your hand directly inline to get a fist full of out-of-this-world-painful-chainring. The bad news is that cheap pedal wrenches are often short. 

One of my favourite pedal wrenches on a budget is the Cyclo Extra Long Forged Pedal Spanner, although they’re tough to find in certain markets and I wouldn’t pay a premium to import one. Beyond that, many of the bigger cycling tool brands have options that will do the job reliably, just look for something with at least 300 mm (12”) in length. Park Tool, Pedro’s, Unior, Cyclus, Birzman, Lezyne, are just a few examples. 

In my portable toolbox, you’ll find an Abbey Bike Tools Team Issue pedal wrench (on the far right in the above photo), because it’s light and I’m fancy like that. And on my tool wall in the workshop sits Abbey’s longer-length Shop pedal wrench. And while I appreciate how these wooden handled tools feel in the hand, I honestly wouldn’t complain for a second if I needed to return to my Cyclo or Park Tool. 

Shimano Preload cap tool 

All of these tools serve the same function.

Statistically speaking there’s a high chance you own a bike with a Shimano crankset. If that bike is of an enthusiast level and from the last two decades then it probably features a star-shape bearing preload bolt on the left crank arm. 

While Shimano does have a professional tool with a ball grip for the task, the company’s $2-$3 FC16 plastic tool works just fine. And if you’ve got access to a 3D printer then it’ll only take you a few minutes to find a free download of something similar and print it in a basic PLA material, too. 

Whichever tool you choose, just know there’s a small little safety tab that needs to be lifted once the two pinch bolts are loose. For this reason, I like the Park Tool BBT-10.2 as it saves me from having to grab two tools for this task, but otherwise, a small hex key or poker tool does the trick. 

“Common” bottom bracket socket, also used for disc brake lockings 

Once upon a time, nearly all external bearing bottom brackets shared the same tool. It was a simpler, nay, magical, time when press-fit was rare and toolboxes were significantly smaller. 

And while it’s no longer the solution to all external bearing threaded bottom brackets, the 44 mm diameter and 16-notch bottom bracket tool is still an important one to own. There’s a fortune of bottom brackets from the present and past that require this tool, but it’s also the tool for dealing with external-style disc rotor lockrings. 

Not dissimilar to what I wrote about with cassette lockring tools, these external disc rotor lockrings present new complications in that you need to clear the hub axle. A simple solution is a spanner-style tool such as the Park Tool BBT-9, Wolf Tooth Pack Wrench (my pick), Unior 1609, or Pedro’s Bottom Bracket wrench II – a few of which also include the above mentioned Shimano preload cap tool. And those wanting the most compact option to go with a ⅜” ratchet or breaker bar should check out the Outboard BB Cup tool from Real World Cycling (RWC). 

The Real World Cycling tool features a “Crows Foot” design that uses a 3/8″ square drive ratchet, torque wrench or breaker bar. It’s a great option for those seeking a compact tool kit.

Personally, I like the ability to use a ratchet and so a socket-type tool remains my preference. Abbey Bike Tools’ “Common” socket is my go-to here as it offers enough depth to clear hub axles, while the chamfer-free design means you’re less likely to slip off the stupidly thin new style of external disc rotor lockrings (a road specific problem). 

More specific bottom bracket sockets 

Admittedly there are a few duplicates here, but this drawer is a good example of the sh*t show the bicycle industry has become from a lack of cross-brand communication.

If you don’t already know how many different styles of bottom brackets tools exist then it’s highly likely you’re better off not knowing. Seriously, it’ll upset you. 

There’s not a whole lot of point in buying bottom bracket sockets to bottom brackets you don’t own and may never see. And so unsurprisingly I suggest you simply buy the appropriate sockets for your needs. 

Those who want the very best will enjoy the precision fit that tools from Abbey Bike Tools, Enduro Bearings, CeramicSpeed and a few other premium brands offer. It is quite amazing how little free play these have at the bottom bracket splines compared to cheaper options. 

Those who prefer to run cheaper tools should just pay attention to keeping the tool square to the bottom bracket and watch for cosmetic damage to the splines. If there’s an obvious wiggle between the tool and part then you can use cling wrap or a plastic bag over the bottom bracket cup to tighten up the fit – this will also help reduce cosmetic damage. 

Preset torque wrenches

Plenty of efficiency in the workshop can be gained by having a preset torque wrench (or three) for your most common needs. Having such a thing will also save plenty of wear on your adjustable torque wrench.

I briefly mentioned torque wrenches in the previous article, and I’ll briefly mention them again here. More specifically, I think anyone working on quality bicycles should own a 5 Nm Preset torque wrench. The 5 Nm figure is easily the most common across multiple brands of stems, seat clamps, and various other potentially delicate components. And having a preset torque wrench to hand means you’re more likely to use it than just wing it by feel. 

As previously covered in my Most Loved Products of 2020, my personal favourite Preset torque wrenches are the Fixed Torque Drivers from Pedro’s. They offer a comfortable handle and cam-over design that means you can’t accidentally over-tighten that expensive carbon part. A close second to these would be the Park Tool PTD range. 

Cheaper consumer-level options worth considering include PrestaCycle, Ritchey, and Bontrager. Or you can get preset torque adapter bits from Topeak and a few other brands that work with your bit-ratchet of choice.

Cone wrenches

Cup and cone bearing hubs aren’t as common as they once were, and therefore you may have no need for cone wrenches. As the name implies, these ultra-thin wrenches are for tightening or loosening hub cones where a regular spanner most certainly won’t fit. 

The one requirement of cone wrenches is that they need to be thin.

Annoyingly different hub models demand different sizes of cone wrenches, and some even demand two of the same size. Professional workshops are likely to have duplicated complete sets ranging from 13 to 28 mm, and Park Tool, Pedro’s, Hozan, Cyclus, VAR and a number of other cycling tool brands offer such sets. The one thing they should have in common is that each wrench needs to be about 2 mm thick. All of these brands also sell the wrenches in individual sizes so you can easily buy pro-quality tools in the few sizes your hubs need. 

Otherwise, casual users may want to consider smaller and less comfortable double-ended cone wrenches such as the Park Tool DCW range. Plenty of cheaper generic wrenches do exist but many can be a little too thick to fit the cone wrench flats of some common hubs. 

Another more universal option is a thin adjustable spanner such as the Engineer TWM-07 – although care is needed to not strip the wrench flats on some more delicate cones. And if you’re really fancy, then a customised Knipex Pliers Wrench is sure to be the envy of fellow tool nerds. 

A customised Knipex Pliers Wrench can be tough to find and you give up the warranty in the process. They’re also terrifyingly expensive which I why I only have one of them.

Spoke wrench 

Most bicycle wheels are kept in true by spoke tension, and adjusting said spoke tension is typically done with a spoke wrench. There are many different sizes and styles of spoke wrench, and depending on your spokes, you may need an extra tool to stop the spoke from twisting. 

Spoke wrenches are certainly a tool category that wheel builders hold some strong opinions over, in fact, they tend to hold strong opinions about all facets of wheel building tools. And some wheel builders, such as Adrien Emilsen of Melody Wheels in Perth, will even change the spoke wrench based on the brand and even the exact batch variance of nipple he’s turning. 

Fundamentally you’ll be served fine by matching the suggested spoke wrench size to your wheels and most cycling tool brands have decent options here. Park Tool is certainly the most common and nothing to scoff at and their extensive range plus colour identification makes them a common choice. Knowing what size to get can be confusing and that’s where the vernier (or digital) callipers mentioned in the previous article once again come in. 

In most cases, pro wheel builders will often reach for a Park Tool Master, Cyclus, DT Swiss, P&K Lie or Hozan. Those same pro wheel builders get cold sweats in their nightmares from people truing wheels with folding multi-tools, pliers or even the six-sided ring-shaped spoke wrenches.  

Just a few pro-level spoke wrenches. And because they’re small they’re not always big money.

Brake bleed kit 

The topic of bleed kits and broader disc brake-related tools is something I’ll cover in future. However for the impatient then the simplest answer is to match the bleed kit to your brake manufacturer. For example, I love using the SRAM Pro Bleed kit for their brakes, while Shimano’s new syringe and bleed cups are what I use most for Shimano. Meanwhile, the kits offered by aftermarket brands such as Epic Bleed Solutions can offer good value for money. 

Bleed kits don’t need to be fancy. But sometimes the fancy ones typically make the process easier and cleaner.

While often good quality, I typically only recommend the professional level universal kits from the likes of Park Tool and Jagwire if you have a range of different brand brakes that share a brake fluid type – otherwise, you’re likely paying for parts you won’t use. 

Shock pump 

A shock pump is likely a must-have tool if you ride mountain bikes.

A shock pump is a necessary tool for anyone that owns a mountain bike with air-sprung suspension. If you only own road bikes then skip this one. 

It was quite a few years ago and at a different publication that I did a deep dive comparison on shock pumps – not a whole lot has changed since. The generic Digital pumps sold by Fox, RockShox, Canecreek and countless other brands remain an easy to use, reliable, and highly accurate option. While either the general analogue versions or the Topeak PocketShock DXG are safe picks for those wanting a good pump without batteries. 

Derailleur hanger gauge 

Got some money left in the kitty and looking to get more detailed with your servicing? I strongly believe that a derailleur hanger gauge is no longer a professional workshop tool, it’s also a must-have for anyone looking to call themself a home mechanic. Follow the link to read all about the best derailleur hanger tools and why I think you need one. 

Forgotten in the last article

Lastly, I’ll circle back to a few small general-purpose tools that some argue I left out in the previous article. They may or may not be useful for your needs.

A small set of precision screwdrivers is handy if you’re looking to get intricate with some shifters or replace the batteries in certain electronic devices. A small kit from IFixIt represents amazing value for money, otherwise, there are countless high-quality options from specialists in the electronics industry. I personally use a mixture of PB Swiss and Wera precision drivers. Wiha is another great option. 

A few readers suggested a pair of multi-grip pliers is a must-have general tool. I mostly only use multi-grips when things have gone wrong and so I can’t say I use them a whole lot. Either way, Irwin makes a good value pair, while my absolute favourite is the Knipex Cobra in a 250 mm length. Multi-grips are not a substitute or replacement for the Knipex Pliers Wrench suggested in the previous article. 

Finally, I forgot the humble magnet. Extendable magnetic tools can be bought at most automotive supply stores. Alternatively, you can use a magnetiser tool and turn your existing screwdrivers or hex keys into magnets – just be warned that collecting shards of steel or picking up unwanted bolts can be annoying. 

What about…? 

The list above and the previous article should cover most beginner to intermediate service tasks, however, keep in mind that I’m mostly focussing on the most useful tools related to modern and quality bicycles. Older bikes and even current lower-level bikes will often require a few different tools to what’s covered above. For example, many bikes use a square taper or similar internal threaded bottom bracket which means you’ll need a crank puller and cartridge bottom bracket tool which I haven’t covered. Or perhaps your chainrings require a chainring nut tool. It’s a good idea to figure out what tools you’ll need for a repair before commencing the task.

As always there’s more to talk about in the world of tools. And that’s exactly what Cool Tool Tuesday aims to bring you.

Cool Tool Tuesday will be back in two weeks time. In the next edition, I’ll offer some insight, tips and tricks related to the storage and organisation of all your new tool purchases.

Note: A number of the tools mentioned in Cool Tool Tuesday are not sold through traditional cycling channels and can be hard to find, which is also kind of the point of the series. Access to the tools covered will be easy for those in Europe and the United States. Use a search engine to find the products mentioned.

This content is produced independently and purposefully without related advertising, affiliate links, or other commercial interests. Like much of our content, it is funded by VeloClub members. If you found this content valuable then please consider joining.

Cool Tool Tuesday #4: Building a Cycling Tool Kit – the bicycle-specific basics Source link Cool Tool Tuesday #4: Building a Cycling Tool Kit – the bicycle-specific basics