Chain-Tool

Now, we start to dig into tools. Probably the most needed item in your home workshop, and the most common first purchase, a good set of common tools are needed for about 75% of your bike repairs. There are a lot of starter kits out there which might work for your needs. Or you can create your own kit from the suggestions here.

There are a lot of great tool companies such as Park, Pedros, Lezyne, Birzman, plus some lesser known ones like Lifu, IceToolz and Spin Doctor. And tools don’t have to come from a bicycle-specific maker. There are also tools that are worth buying the top-end right away such as the Park professional chain tool above, and some where the basic tool works just fine.

Both Zach and I have been professional mechanics in the past, but do all of our work at home now. Take a look inside as we discuss what works for us in building the starter tool kit for your home workshop….

 

Park-Tool-Starter-Kit Park-Tool-AK-38

TIM: Park Tool may be the most popular of the bicycle-specific tool makers, since they probably have the most robust selection of bike tools, and have been around for a long time. They offer two great kits to start out, With the Home Mechanic Starter Kit on the left and the Advanced Mechanic Kit (also called AK-38). Going back 15 years, I had a job in a shop that required that I have my own tools, and the Park AK-32 was the first real bike tools I had. Things have changed over the years, so the kit changed name and now contains 38 peices, and is the least expensive kit that contains the shop-grade cable cutters, chainwhip, chain tool and pedal wrench. Even at 15 years old, all my original tools may show wear, but are still fully functional. So if you can afford the $330, it is the best place to start.

Zach: The AK-32 was my first set of real bike tools as well. When I was 12 I decided I needed to pull apart the hub on my Kona Lavadome after riding into a lake… that’s a normal thing to do right? Only I didn’t have any idea what I was doing and managed to pull off the freehub without taking off the cassette first. After a trip to the local bike shop and a few days without riding I vowed to learn how to do all my own repairs and eventually was given the AK-32 as an awesome gift from my parents. Like you, all of those tools are still in use except for the chain cleaner which broke.

Tyler: I’m almost embarrassed to admit my first all-in-one was the Nashbar kit that came in a plastic case with molded shapes for the basics. It was cheap and it did the job for many years, though, even back when adjusting threaded headsets was a common repair.

Shimano tool kit

I think we will all vouch for the Park kits at this point, but these days there are a number of other great options out there as well. I keep the Shimano PRO tool kit in my car at all times for trail size fixes. Due to the blow molded case which keeps everything neat and tidy, it has a low profile that is great for road trips and keeping your OCD at bay. This would also be a great option for starting a home shop. If you want the organization of the PRO kit with even more tools, we were impressed with Birzman’s Studio kit at Frostbike last year.

Chainwhip

TIM: I find the best way to assemble a really good home tool kit is to find out what the shop guys are using. When you go to purchase your tools, ask them for their recommendation. That is how I once found the Pedros Pro Socket Handle, and even though I am biased towards Park, the Pedros is by far the best way to hold a cassette lockring socket. For a starter kit, you will need a chainwhip and a lockring socket in order to remove the cassette, but you can hold the socket with an adjustable wrench as well.

Zach:I’ll second the Pedro’s Pro Socket handle over the Park equivalent, but when it comes to cassette tools for me nothing beats a Crombie tool from Abbey Bike Tools. One piece, nothing to lose, the Crombie fits Shimano and Campy lockrings, and in most cases doesn’t require you to remove the skewer. In some instances having the center pin does help, but I haven’t come across anything yet where I couldn’t use the Crombie. I’m less particular when it comes to chainwhips, but Park’s professional model has always been a favorite. For someone building up their tool arsenal, something like Lezyne’s Classic Chain Rod makes sense since it also includes a lock ring wrench.

Hammered

TIM: A pretty important piece that is typically left out of starter kits is a hammer. Available from most home improvement stores, there are a few that you may want, as a standard hammer may do damage to more fragile bike parts. One I always have around is a dead-blow hammer. This is a hammer made with a rubber or plastic face, and filled with free-moving weights inside. This allows you to stike something without the rebound of a metal hammer, as it transfers all of the kinetic energy instantly. They are able to do this by having some space inside where the filler weight, typically lead shot or sand, provides inertia, but dampens the shock. A dead-blow hammer is a helpful tool for tapping lightly on crank spindles or steerer tubes of modern bikes, where tight tolerances make them a bit stiff to remove. The other one I always have around is a brass headed hammer. Brass is softer than steel, but is very heavy, so it’s a great hammer to have around if you really need to coax out a stuck item, but the softer brass won’t deform or break things. Both of these are not bicycle-specific, and are available anywhere.

P1050923

TIM: This is a debate between mechanics that will likely never be settled, to use Y-wrenches or long-handled wrenches for your primary allens. A Y-wrench gives you three sizes in your hands at all time, but may not be ergonomically perfect, and lack on the ability to generate real torque. Long-handled allens give you plenty of leverage, and are easy to hold, but really slow down the work process, as each time you need a new size, you need to put down one tool, and grab another. I have strong hands, so I really prefer Y-wrenches. Pedros has a nice one out now that has the three commonly used Torx sizes on it, T10, T25 and T30.

Zach: Sorry Tim, but my motto has always been 3-ways do not belong in the workshop. Period. I keep one in the door pocket of my car for quick adjustments trailside, but you will never find a 3 way on my work bench. In most cases I find the three way design to interfere in tight quarters and doesn’t offer the perfect balance of a T-wrench for quickly spinning fasteners. I don’t like most P-handle wrenches either, since they can be ungainly and really only useful in certain circumstances that require a ball end. Either Allen or Bondhus T-wrenches along with a Bondhus (Park) L-Wrench set is exactly what you’ll find on my bench.

workshop-tool-tyler-2

Tyler: I’ve always stuck with the Pedros “L” hex wrench set, which is available under a number of different brands but offers a 1.5/2/2.5/3/4/5/6/8/10 all in a convenient holder. This has lasted me more than a decade of continuous use, so I’d qualify this under the one-and-done category of buy a good one first so it lasts. The handles are longer than what you find on cheaper kits and most hardware store purchases, too, which provides more leverage.

Tim: Agreed. Even if you are a Y-wrench person like me, someday you will need the extra leverage for a stuck bolt, or need to access a place the Y-wrench won’t fit into. Bondhus heads allow you to still turn the bolt, even if the wrench is accessing from an angle, thanks to a really cool semi-rounded head.

Zach: Yeah, the Bondhus wrenches are a sure thing. Bondhus manufactures many of the Park Professional L-Shaped wrenches so you could buy these in red or blue.

workshop-tool-tyler-1

 Tyler: Lately, though, much of my work has been done with either the Fixit Sticks shop model T-handle or the Prestacycle Presta Ratchet, both shown here:

Park-Tool-Ruler

TIM: This great Park metric ruler came as a feature in my original AK-32, but is no longer in the AK-38. It was able to measure ball bearing sizes, and spoke lengths, two things that are slowly going away with sealed cartridge bearing and proprietary-spoked system wheels. Whatever you use, make sure your kit has a metric measuring device. Even though we are in the last bastion of the English System of Measurement, the bicycle industry operates in the metric system, and almost all hardware and specifications on your bike will be in metric.

Zach: I’m sad to hear the Park ruler is no longer in the set, definitely a great piece. The only reason I ever reach for a different ruler around the shop is to use the DT-Swiss ruler which has built in spoke gauge measurements.

Pliers-and-Cutters

TIM: Here are a few more tools to add, whether you buy a pre-made kit, or make your own, since these are not included in kits. Also, even though you have cable cutters, you should NEVER use those to cut zip-ties or other packaging. A set of side cutters and end cutters are also available from hardware stores, and using them will help save your cable cutters for only what they were designed for. Vice-Grips are another must, even for a small tool kit, as they can help you grab a stuck item, or even a wrench if you need a third hand for a certain task.

Zach: A quality set of side and end cutters are definitely important, don’t skip here. I went through 3 cheap side cutters at the shop in the same time frame as a single pair from ChannelLock that are still going strong.

Tyler: I’d add a simple tape measure to the list, too. I use mine constantly for checking seat height on the various bikes that come in. And I’m always letting friends borrow bikes, so it’s great to be able to get them right back to my preferred spot. If you have a professional bike fit done, it’s always good to double check all the measurements whenever switching out a saddle, stem, etc. Chances are you’ve already got one laying around the house, it’s just time to move it to your new workshop.

LIST OF NEEDED TOOLS – 

  • Metric Allen Wrenches – Y-wrenches if you like that sort of thing, and a long-handled L wrenches
  • Chain tool – Don’t skimp on this, its important, and cheap ones are hard to use and break fast
  • Chain whip and cassette tool (unless this is beyond your ability, then take it to a shop for this)
  • Screwdrivers
  • Cone wrenches (unless this is beyond your ability, or your bike does not use adjustable bearings)
  • Spoke wrench(es)
  • Pedal wrench
  • Metric open-end wrenches for 6mm-10mm
  • Cable Cutters – this is another place to get the best you can afford.
  • Vice Grips
  • Tire levers and patch kit
  • Side cutters and end cutters
  • Metric measuring device
  • Hammers
  • Tape measure

Check back in for Part 4, where we start to dive into the big and technical tools that you may need to perform the more difficult jobs.

If you haven’t seen them already, make to check out all of the other installments from our Home Workshop Series!

Part 1: How To Build A Home Workshop To Match Your Skills

Part 2: Lighting, Tool Storage and Work Stands

30 COMMENTS

  1. I’m surprised there’s no mention of hex/allen sockets: If you’ve got a ratchet already, they’re arguable cheaper than any nice T-handle set, provide better speed & better power than any hand tool, & if you need torque tolerances, all you need to add is add an in-lb wrench & you can handle 90% of bike applications(only exception I can think of offhand is some brands of cranks wanting more torque than most in-lb wrenches can apply.) I still use my P handles all the time, but sockets are probably one of the best bike tools I own. Heck, most sets come with the 10mm you need for some caps on crank spindles that you’ll not get in a T handle set.

    • @groghunter, good point I have the Park SBS-1 set mounted to my bench, but I find myself rarely using them. Usually just for the torque wrench. I like the control T-handles provide more and don’t like constantly switching sockets, but everyone has their own preferences.

  2. I can second that the ak-38 is one of, if not the best home mechanic sets. It has pretty much everything you could need for basic repairs. Also y-Allen wrenches make every job easier. At the shop I work for we use y-Allens for everything where we can. If the y-Allen doesn’t fit then we go for the Ls. Also an important tool to add would be a torque wrench. Especially for carbon bits.

  3. As a fellow professional mechanic, I have a Y wrench in my toolkit, and not ashamed to say it haha. I definitely prefer it for adjusting road brake calipers and headsets (all the sizes you need in one hand, no need to switch between a 4 and 5). I keep a selected few T-handle allen wrenches too, a 5mm and a t25.

    I picked up an awesome ratcheting allen wrench set at costco of all places http://www.ebay.com/itm/like/381036349266?lpid=82&chn=ps

    Its been awesome for tight spots like road caliper mounting bolts and disc mounting bolts on the brakes that are mounted inside the rear triangle.

  4. @Zach Overholt Another big reason that I’m a proponent of sockets is that they’re a lifesaver for any kind of stuck part. far too many people be smacking knuckles when they’d be fine if they had a proper tool. Case in point: Stamped Shimano BB wrench vs Pedro’s BB socket: I’ve destroyed my hand smashing it between the Shimano wrench & the chainstay, the Pedro’s is always problem free.

    Another thought: what takes up more space in a portable toolkit: a separate BB wrench, cassette wrench, Open wrenches(usually just in a couple sizes you need) & a set of allens, or the same tools as sockets?

    • @Groghunter, for sure – socket type BB tools are a no brainer. I don’t mess around there, I use one of the massive 17″ ratchets with a Flex head to make sure there is enough controllable torque so you don’t strip out the BB (talking about the home shop). Ratchet and sockets are also extremely useful for removing chainring bolts. To me, the portable kit contents depend on what you plan to do. When I go to provide support for charity rides and events, I’ll take a tool kit with T-handles and the tools I find to be the most effective. If it’s just to have something in the car for trailside emergencies, I find the set of ball-end L wrenches to be sufficient. But I’m definitely on the extreme end of the spectrum and am very particular with my tools.

    • @Jp, for the home mechanic? Probably not, but we used it at the shop within the last decade. Also had a full selection of cotter pins to choose from!

  5. I’m a folding wrench kind of guy. Have been since the hard-edged versions in the 80s to the plastic/soft-edged Park version(s) I’m using now. Big enough to wrench on things, but small enough to not give you the leverage to really over-torque stuff.

    I’m also a fan of ‘buy it when you need it.’ I needed threaded HS tools, so I bought em. Needed loose-ball BB tools, so I bought em. …but before I knew I needed em, I didn’t ‘waste’ my $ on em

    I’m also a fan of ‘buy once, cry once’ when it comes to tools. Yeah, you may save a bit of $ buying an off-brand, but in the long run, you’ll have the good tools MUCH longer than cheap ones. For example: I’m still using the first pair of Shimano cable and housing cutters I bought in the late 80s. (ditto with the HS and BB tools even though those don’t get used NEARLY as often as they once did)

    M

  6. Torque wrench keeps me from overdoing it on most parts, especially stems where you want equal clamp on all face plate bolts… Carbon parts demand proper torque. Checkout that CDI TorquControl wrench, has been a nice addition to my collection.

  7. This professional mechanic rarely uses a torque wrench on low torque (<10 Nm) bolts. I used them much more often on things like crank bolts. My reasoning is, I don't know what 40 Nm feels like, and RFT doesn't (or shouldn't) always cut it. I'm also ready to admit I use a torque wrench to remember to do up the pinch bolts on Shimano cranks: if I didn't get out the wrench, the bolts may still be loose; it also helps you figure out that tightening one side of a pair of pinch bolts effectively loosens the other (hence Shimano's sticker about "equally and evenly").

    I pretty much NEVER trust a bicycle-grade torque wrench not to crack a carbon bar. Stated bolt torque is based on bolt size and material/grade and thread pitch, and has NOTHING to do with some vague approximation of "crushing strength" of your carbon bar or seatpost or what have you. Seriously: NOTHING AT ALL. Read up on the way threads and bolts and the application and distribution of torque works if you don't believe me. Still, it takes a good amount of practice and awareness to know what's going on inside, say, every faceplate of every stem, and it's tough for someone who sees fewer than ten examples of any part annually to understand this.

    In any case, get over the idea that "carbon parts demand proper torque": if anything, they demand proper casting, forging, or machining in the first place, and an even application of ANY torque at the end of the day. (Todd: credit for referring to a CDI wrench, at least!)

  8. I find at home a Quik-Grip clamp makes a great substitute for a fourth-hand tool for setting brake cables. Simply clamp it over the caliper (through the wheel), then tighten the cable. (Then back off the cable adjuster barrel, which of course you remembered to wind out by a couple of turns earlier…)

  9. Gotta chime in and note the USAG T-handle Hex wrenches. I have the ball headed versions too, which from what I can tell are not available in the states. Google it!

  10. The less time I spend searching for tools the less frustrated I get. I always used Y-wrenches cause they were fast. Only where clearance is a problem (seatposts and such) would I use the L-wrench. I learned to be a wrench in bike shops so the less tools i needed the better. Reaching for things, then finding out the other guy borrowed it, is a PITA. (Also easier to overtorque with a L-wrench). I also hated socket sets, or any tool where a bit was inserted in a handle. The play in the bits is what bothered me. Has to be a solid tool without pieces.

    With hammers, a small piece of 2×4 lumber always did it for me when it comes to needing persuasion. Or hammer on the wood.

  11. SB – congratulations on outing yourself as a mediocre mechanic.
    Any professional in any mechanical industry, automotive, bicycle, marine, etc. understands the need for a torque wrench. Your attitude is similar to that of the low-skill “grease-monkeys” at tire shops that use air tools to install wheels without a torque stick and without check later… More often than not, while you’re not breaking parts per-se, you’re grossly over-tightening them.

    As a professional, 2 things stand out about your claims:
    First, while bolt torque does not directly measure clamping force, it is the most strongly related and easily measurable thing for anyone outside of a laboratory. Your claim is like some BS someone spouted in a review of hanger alignment tools, that since we can’t know EVERYTHING we shouldn’t be concerned with the one thing we can know. Bolt torque is HIGHLY related to the clamping force, and you have NO way of measuring otherwise outside of sophisticated lab equipment. Your attitude of “feels decent” is responsible for breaking stuff. I have NEVER seen something break because of torque wrench usage outside of manufacturing defects.
    Just because the torque wrench doesn’t measure exactly what matters doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it. It does the best job of anything readily available. And it should be used on any part, carbon or not, where a torque spec is provided.

    If you’re going to be anal about the relevance of torque, please spend your time berating people for inconsistency in thread lubrication/preparation and the usage of friction compounds vs grease on interfaces. That’s worthwhile.

    Second, your hand is not a torque wrench. It just isn’t. I use click style torque wrenches probably in excess of 20 times a day, perhaps double in busy summer seasons. When I don’t use one to see how my “torque hand” is doing, sometimes I’m 1 Nm low, sometimes 1 Nm high, sometimes more.. that’s way past the margin of error of even a reasonably abused, hasn’t been calibrated in 5 years torque wrench… I have wrenches that have been used to loosen bolts (by people that don’t know what they’re doing) for 2+ years that are still within 10% calibration, again WAY more accurate than your hand is..

    Don’t be one of those mechanics that insists on being a know-it-all or magician. Bicycle mechanic-ing is magic only to those who don’t understand the machine, and there is no secret that you know and no one else does about torque. Torque specs are given by manufacturers who employ several engineers who each individually knows way more than you. Follow them.

    Last note on this rant – UNDER torquing is JUST as bad as over. The reason to use a torque wrench is not just so you don’t crush things, it’s so things don’t slip while you’re riding…

  12. as a professional bike mechanic (and workshop manager) some of my favourite tools are not bike-brand specific:

    -German made “Knipex” brand for side and cutters, and pliers (use Park for cable cutting / end cap crimping).

    -Japanese made Hozan C-160 ratcheting wrench (14/15mm). Beautiful quality, great for bikes with nutted axles.

    -Stanley FatMax ratcheting screwdriver. Perfect for torx fittings, especially T25 on disc brake rotors.

    -USA made Trusty Cook dead blow hammer. The best.

  13. My first purchase for bicycle was torque wrench because I need to adjust the seat & seatpost after the bike delivery. I ordered the Italian brand and this was the best decision I’ve ever made and I’m proud of it.

    http://www.chainreactioncycles.com/sg/en/effetto-giustaforza-ii-pro-torque-wrench-bits/rp-prod68223

    My second purchase was nifty 2 in one cassette remover tool , a grease and a chain whip because I needed to change my very heavy stock wheel 2041g with a little bit lighter one 1710g.

    http://www.chainreactioncycles.com/sg/en/x-tools-pro-cassette-remover/rp-prod55936

    I’m now looking for digital pressure gauge and still unable to find a good one. ( I’m returning Topeak digital pressure gauge which works only on my MTB wheel and not on road wheel).

  14. No mention of the single most important tool any workshop can have.
    The rear hanger aligner.
    It will get used long before any chain breaker/cassette removal /cable cutters.

  15. @Darryl good point.

    I have rear hanger aligner in my “wish list” but I thought it’s for pro.

    vice-grip or cable puller for cables , anyone ?

  16. goridebikes, in defense a year Sept ago I did a cycling trip to Tuscany staying in a small hotel, spectacular trip. BMC stayed at the hotel for 3 days for a TTT training camp for Worlds, an incredible experience for me, hanging out in the hotel with the riders and staff. I watched the team mechanic build up a new frame delivered by Jim Ochowicz. Carbon everything possible. He never used a torque wrench. Using broken French and sign language I asked him why not. After all, this was The Team Bike, one of the most expensive frames BMC made. He just gave me a look and pointed at his hand. I seldom use a torque wrench on stem bolts, seatpost clamps, etc. crank bolts, yes. Been doing this for years, haven’t cracked anything yet. With a 3 way it’s pretty hard to over torque unless you are really ham fisted. I’m a bike tech and work on bikes everyday for a living. Call me a mediocre mechanic if you want. But I don’t think that BMC guy was mediocre.

    And I’ll second the recommendation on the Fix-It-Sticks T Wrench, my go to tool.

  17. @Darryl I have to disagree for the home mechanic, unless they’re working on more than just their own + a few buddies bikes(basically, I’m saying you don’t need it unless you’re doing this for money.) That tool is expensive, & for how often you need to bend a hanger vs just replacing it(aluminum doesn’t like being bent back & forth, & hangers are cheap.) That tool is really meant for steel frames without a replaceable hanger, which most people aren’t dealing with very often.

  18. if u r working on bikes everyday then u probably have muscle memory for the torques. u don’t need torque wrentch for crank botls too.

  19. Darryl,

    Thats a pretty big tool, and will be in next week’s edition about more involved tools. I think you may be an anomaly if you are using that before a chain breaker.

    Tim

  20. That Abbey tools crombi is on my wish list. For the hex wrenches, I have the Y & P types on my bench, plus the bondhus ‘drivers’ which are much handier than the L or P wrenches for many applications. I use a pre-set torque tool that accepts multiple bits for all stem/handlebar adjustments.

    For cone wrenches, the combination wrenches in the basic park set are a good start, but once you get into fiddling with your own bearings, go with a set that has padded handles. Same for a pedal wrench. The first one I bought was a combination chain whip / pedal wrench, which works; but I now have a dedicated pedal wrench with a more comfortable handle.

  21. PB Swiss allen wrench set, no Y tools allowed. The convenience is great but the two ends of the Y you’re not using have an awful habit of knocking into other places on bikes. Seen lots of scraped frames from people trying to take off bottle cages with them.

    Also, the Y tools don’t fit in a roll very well, and that makes taking them to the pit a pain.

  22. I have to say that every single bike that comes in for service needs the hanger aligned.
    Very rare are new frames straight and the only bikes I have seen with straight hangers when they come in the shop are titanium with no replaceable hanger or steel. And an aluminium Klein, they are straight and burly strong.

    If you need to replace a hanger, don’t assume that a new one will just bolt on and be straight, very rarely does that happen.

    If the hanger is not aligned the bike will never run properly.

  23. Hi Darryl & Tim,

    Could you recommend model & brand ?
    I’m going to get one and I want to start learning. I don’t want to wait until part 4 of this article. Thanks.

  24. Daniel –

    I use a Park model, its quite old, but still works. For a der alignment tool, they all do essentially the same thing, they thread into the mounting hole, and use a long lever that doubles as the measurement tool against the wheel, and as a brute force lever to put it back into place. If you can swing the cost, the new Park model is the best, as it has more offset to clear more modern frames that have a lot going on at the dropout.

    We are going to cover these kinds of tools in the next installment.

    Tim

What do you think?