Because a bad workman might blame his tools, but bad tools are just bad tools...
When it comes to bike tool the temptation is to march into the nearest bike shop and pick something that ‘just get the job done’. And, for the most part, if you adopt that approach you will find something that does the job, but how well it does that job and how long it’ll last are a different question entirely.
Having said that, it's not the case that you have to spend significant money if you want the right tools for the job; you just need to know what you’re looking for.
Certain tools have particular requirements, not all of which are fulfilled by every offering on the market. Once you know what you're looking for you can go out and find it, and for the most part it doesn't depend on the price of the tool.
But not all tools are created equal, and some are more important to own than others. It might be nice to have a saw guide for cutting carbon steerer tubes, but if you're never going to do that yourself then what's the point? And if you own a tub cutting guide but don't have a set of tyre levers - what on Earth are you playing at?
Here are ten tools we think that every home mechanic should own, and if you have all of these you should be covered when it comes to the majority of home repairs.
And not just any old tyre levers, either. There can be a massive difference between a good quality set of levers and a poor quality set – the key being that one will snap far more easily than the other.
Similarly, though, the shape of the lever section will play a part in how easy it is to unseat the bead from the rim when you’re changing a tyre.
Material is another issue that has been argued about – should tyre levers be plastic or metal? Personally, I’d err on the side of plastic but not because of any concerns about damage to carbon rims, mostly because the lack of flexibility in metal levers I’ve had have made them far harder to use than their plastic counterparts. Of course, like everything, there’s always a middle ground and certain brands – most notably Park Tool and their TL-6 – offer plastic levers with a metal spine running through the body. That way you get as stiff a lever body as you could want with the compromise of having a slightly more flexible plastic lever section on the end.
Of course, the variables in tyre removal and installation (like tyre quality and size, tiny variations in rim size, bead stiffness and so on) will mean that not ever set of tyre levers can make each and ever job easy.
Personally, I like levers with a large, flat hook (or whatever you want to call it) at the end, because these are easy to get under the bead of most tyres, and easy to apply pressure to as well.
Even if you don’t have multiple sets of wheels, a chain whip will allow you to remove the cassette and give it a thorough clean (you do clean yours, right?) and perform and freehub maintenance your wheel might need.
What a chain whip does is simple. It holds the cassette to stop the freewheel hub turning when you try to undo the lockring on your cassette. Without the chain whip, the cassette will just turn when you turn the lockring and you’ll find yourself getting precisely nowhere.
Of course, you also need the lockring removal tool that fits your brand of cassette (Shimano and SRAM are the same while, predictably, Campagnolo’s differs slightly) otherwise you won’t be able to do anything.
There are a few more techy solutions if you don't want to use a chain whip, like Pedro's Vise Whip, but in all honestly they're a more expensive solution to a very simple problem and even cheap chain whips almost always get the job done well.
Allen and Torx keys
Bolts that require allen keys to tighten or loosen are everywhere on bikes. Sure, torx keys are gradually becoming more popular, and if you run one of the latest Campag groupsets you’ll find more and more of them, but certain parts of the bike – like the cable clamp on front derailleurs, for example – still universally use allen bolts.
What that means is that you really need to have a set of both allen and torx keys, although you may be able to get away with having just a T25 torx key depending on what bike you ride/groupset you run.
They also need to be decent quality. There are few bike maintenance issues more exasperating than tools that have rounded out, and poor quality allen keys can lose their shape quite quickly. That doesn’t mean spending hundreds, or even tens, of pounds on a set, but opting for something made from a hard material like steel means they should keep that sharp-edged shape for longer.
You also have choice between T-shaped or L-shaped. L-shaped are almost always cheaper, but T-shaped have purpose built handles making it easier to apply force when trying to use the long attachment.
One more factor with allen keys is whether or not they’re ball-ended. Ball-ended keys are easier to fit into tight spaces as they’ll do the job whether or not you can fit the key straight into the bolt – a big bonus for some of the more fiddly things you’ll find on a bike.
Under most circumstances you shouldn’t be hitting your bike. And you should never use your bike to do the hitting, not even if you’re Marcel Kittel.
But, sometimes, hitting your bike is necessary. An example would be when installing or removing cranks, and even then it should be done with care.
A rubber mallet is the ideal tool for a job like this, as it gives you an ability to apply the force you need without as great a risk of damaging components. We say ‘as great’ because you can still damage things by hitting them too hard. Don’t do it. It’s really not worth it.
Adjustable wrenches are really useful because they’re, well, adjustable meaning they can fit a whole variety of things.
Things like external bottom bracket installation/removal tools which can be close to impossible to shift without the appropriate leverage.
As well as a good range of adjustment, handle length is key because, as Archimedes said, the longer the lever the less force you need to apply to shift the damn thing. Or something like that, anyway.
Adjustable wrenches are also very useful when used with lockring tools, as it’s another task that can end up requiring more force than you think, especially if you haven’t removed your cassette in a long time.
This one is a bit more advanced, as most people don’t need to replace bottom brackets very often at all, and many modern bikes don’t need the headset pressed into the frame.
But if you want to maintain your bike at home, and have an integrated style bottom bracket like BB30, PF30, BB86 and so on, one of these is very useful. Believe me, I’ve used spinlock dumbbells to install BB30 bearings in the past but it’s a massive pain and a proper bearing press makes life an awful lot easier.
Ideally, a bearing press will have large rotating handles at both ends, making it easy to adjust either size if necessary. You also need to make sure that it has enough range to press the bearings right into the frame – it might sound silly but you never know.
Of course it’s no use having all these fancy tools if you don’t have anywhere to use them.
Propping your bike up against the wall is all well and good, but it’s far easier to move the bike up to your level, than kneel down next to it. Plus, if you’re planning a four hour ride the next day, the last thing you want to do is strain your back in advance. In all honestly, my work stand is one of the few tools I'd hate to have to do without now, because it just makes complicated tasks and little more accessible and a bit easier.
Having the bike up at, or near, eye level makes thing a lot easier. And if your workstand is height adjustable, that means you can move whatever part of the bike you’re working on to the level that best suits. Plus, being able to turn the cranks and move the chain while doing things like adjusting derailleurs is really useful.
You’ll want a strong clamp that adjusts easily and in small increments so you can make sure you don’t clamp your bike too tightly. You’ll also want the clamping section to be covered in some kind of rubberised material, as the last thing you want is something hard or sharp ruining your frame’s paint job.
Similarly, it has to be stable. Aside from the fact that it’ll be holding up to 10kg of bike suspended in the air, you don’t want it to be easily toppled over should you accidentally knock it.
One other thing to know is that workstands clamp in different ways: some clamp round the frame's tubes while more expensive, pro grade ones attach the bike by the forks and bottom bracket. Both do the job well, it just depends how much you want to spend.
Cable cutters need to be strong and they need to be sharp. A poor set of cutters can fray the ends of cables quicker than almost anything else and there’s nothing more irritating than having to buy and install a new cable because your cutters just aren’t good enough.
You’ll also want a set with rounded blades as these cut all the way around the cable, rather than through from the top and bottom. This should ensure that you’ll end up with a cleaner cut and reduce the chance of fraying.
As well as cutting cables and cable housing, some cycling-specific cutters have other features like crimpers for re-shaping deformed housing which, while far from necessary, are very useful little extras if you’re going to be using them a lot.
Torque wrench/torque keys
Whether you need a torque wrench or a couple of present torque keys really comes down to what you have on your bike.
For most people, preset torque keys like Topeak’s Torque 6 will do the job very nicely and a couple of those (a 5 and 6Nm version for example) will torque most parts on your bike and save you money over a full-on torque wrench. Some companies, like Park Tool, even do an adjustable version of these that can do 4, 5 or 6Nm and are really useful indeed.
However, if you need to torque something far higher or, like with a set of Garmin Vector pedals, need to torque accurately to ensure correct calibration, a proper torque wrench is your only choice.
They range in price depending on what features you do or don’t want, and even come with some fancy things like digital displays on really exalted models, but you needn’t fork out hundreds of pounds for one when in reality you can get a quality wrench for £100 or far less depending on the range of torque you need.
A chain tool is very important, because at some point you’ll need to replace or remove your chain, and you pretty much can’t get the chain off without one short of destroying it.
A good chain tool will have a solid handle, a good system for holding links in place while you separate them and a long enough level that you don’t need to apply an inordinate amount of force to push a pin out of a link.
Sure, you might have a chain tool on your multi-tool, but have you ever tried to use it? That one’s there as a last resort, not to be used when you’re actually planning on replacing or maintaining your chain. Trust us, a good chain tool is worth its weight in gold.