The (Bike) Tools That I Use Most: 6 ‘Must Have’ Implements
Gweetings. In this post I’m going to talk about the bike tools I use the most on my magical cycling adventures. Or ‘bike maintenance’, as normal people might call it.
No particular science was applied (plus ça change). I took a mental canter through my memory banks and tried to think about the implements I’d had most cause to use in recent years.
Then I wrote them down. Hopefully this will prove useful if you’re starting your own cycling tool collection, or wondering what all the cool grease gurus are tinkering with.
Or something. On with the show!
The Joy Of Hex Keys
My most commonly used cycling tool is not even cycling specific. I’m pretty sure it was my nascent interest in bikes that compelled me to buy it though.
I say ‘it’. Perhaps I mean ‘they’.
They are a set of good quality of Allen keys (hex keys as they may be known internationally) made by Wera. The hex keys are made of high quality steel and have nice long handles wrapped in rubbery plastic (so they’re easy on the hand).
The handle ends have ‘ball ends’ – sort of hex-shaped balls – so you can tighten and loosen hex bolts at awkward angles if necessary.
This is the equivalent set on Amazon, although I mine aren’t colour-coded (more’s the pity…)
Wait, I guess I should tell you what I use them for.
I bought the set because I really needed the big one. There was something bike-related (it was a long time ago) that needed a really big allen/hex key head with a nice long handle.
I might even have used it to dismantle a rear wheel freehub. I fancied myself as a bike mechanic and planned to clean and regrease the bearings. It didn’t work. I had to buy a new wheel (in fact a set of wheels – they’ve got to match…).
I came away from the experience with a good set of hex keys though.
Now I use them for general hex boltery:
- For all cases where I need to loosen a bolt (taking apart chain rings, jockey wheels, releasing brake cables);
- For some cases where I need to tighten a bolt and I don’t have to be too careful with overtightening (e.g. the seat post bolt on my kids’ bikes, securing brackets to the handlebars)
(The ‘other cases’ for tightening hex bolts should generally involve my torque wrench).
A Good Lever
After concerns over plurality in my previous entry, now I’m questioning whether the next one (er, ones) is a tool at all.
Time to talk tyre levers.
If something is made entirely of plastic, is it a tool? Maybe these should be classified as utensils.
No matter. Tyre levers are an important part of my arsenal, and should be in your quiver too.
I’ve got a set of the Park Tool TL–2 Tire Levers (it’s an American company), which (i) are blue); (ii) clip together so that they all stay in one place; and (iii) get the job done (at a reasonable price).
Park Tool (other tool makers are available…) also make tyre lever sets that are plastic but with steel tips (not sure of the use case, other than perhaps wanting to cause more damage to the rims of your wheels?) and heavy duty ones made entirely of steel.
My levers live in my saddlebag, so they’re always at hand if I have a mid-ride flat. Being plastic they don’t add much weight (certainly not in the context of all other weight we MAMILs carry).
I Am A (Multi-) Tool
Another resident of the saddlebag is my trusty multi-tool.
Every ‘craftsman’ seems to have one item for which ‘trust’ is the key metric. For carpenters, it’s (I don’t know) their saw (their hammer?). For firemen, their trusty hose (ahem). For crusading knights, their keen-edged sword.
Every recreational cyclist therefore needs a trusty multi-tool.
It’s another cheat tool, as far as this list goes. It’s multiple tools in one (as the name might suggest). My one has a number of different levers with various shaped ends – hex (again), Philips and flat screwdriver heads.
There is even a chain link tool, although it’s more for use if you find yourself in a mid-ride broken chain pickle rather for sizing a new chain in the workshop. For choice, you’d want to use a proper, more accurate chain tool, with less risk of squeezing the links together as you push in or out the bolt.
Cut To The Quick (Link)
If you want to eschew the chain tool entirely*, you might want to consider fitting quick links to your chain.
(* Wait, don’t do that. If you break your chain with all that massive pedal power you’re applying, you’ll need a chain tool to remove the broken link.)
Whilst aware of quick links in passing, I was introduced to them (in person?) by my friendly local bike mechanic (who sadly appears to have shut down operations) when he fitted me (my bike) with a new chain.
His reasoning for having them was to aid and encourage regular cleaning of the bike. By having a quick link, it is ‘dead easy’ to remove the chain, allowing me to:
- clean the chain thoroughly in a bath of degreaser; and
- clean the chain rings, derailleurs, jockey wheels etc
all without the chain getting in the way.
It almost makes it easier to remove the chain when cleaning, than leaving it on and trying to clean it in situ.
Once all that is done, you can reinstall the newly-cleaned chain on the newly-cleaned bike just by reinserting the quick link and pulling the two ends of the chain apart until it clicks into place.
(After you’ve realised that you don’t know what direction the chain passes through the rear derailleur so you have to watch a YouTube video whilst getting grease all over your new iPhone and then still not being sure so having to get grease all over your copy of Zinn And The Art Of Road Bike Maintenance book).
As I mentioned above, unclipping the quick link is ‘dead easy’ (i.e. not at all easy) unless you also get a dedicated set of quick link pliers. With the quick link pliers, removing the quick link is actually dead easy (and quick).
PS. Make sure you buy the right sort of quick link for your chain. It should say if it’s for 10-speed, 11-speed etc…
A Hastily Added Extra Section
You might want to get a set of quick link pliers.
These are like normal pliers but the end bits (the bits that ply?) are narrow and sculpted and fit into the gaps between the font and back faces of the chain link.
You use them to squeeze the two ends of the quick link together in order to release it. You could use normal pointy-ended pliers but these risk squeezing and bending other links in the chain (not advised).
I’ve see YouTube videos of people using bits of string (or maybe gear cable), pulled together, to release the link. But that straight up doesn’t work (certainly not for me).
If you do buy some, get the ones that are shaped both to push together and pull apart the bits of the quick link. I’ve seen some pliers that just do one of the jobs (which is a little pointless).
I can’t seem to find the ones I’ve got online any more. If I was buying a new set, I’d go for the Park Tool MLP 1.2 pliers. Which I’ve linked to just… about… here:
Now Watch Me Whip, Watch Me Nae Nae
Once upon a time, I wrote a post that made far too much play out of the fact that if you search for ‘chain whips’ on Amazon, you get… (ahem) … results that will not help you when removing the cassette from your rear wheel.
I also made the profound observation that lock ring rhymed very much with c…
[vinyl record scratching noise]
I have grown up at lot since the very immature days of my mid thirties.
So now I will talk briefly about chain whips and lock ring tools without letting so much as a brief smirk flit across my face.
In the same way that a quick link makes for easy chain removal and more effective cleaning, having the ability to remove the lock ring that holds the cassette on means that you can slide off the cogs (the sprockets) and clean them individually (at least for the bigger ones that come apart).
You need the chain whip to wrap around the cassette, holding it firmly in place whilst you turn the lock ring (using a lock ring tool). When unlocking the locking ring, you’re essentially rotating it in the same direction as the freewheel. So without something stopping it from doing that, turning the lock ring does precisely nothing.
You could try holding the cassette with your hand. You’ll then need to to try driving to A&E with one hand in a greasy rag, wondering whether they have a cure for blood poisoning.
I’m pretty sure you could make your own chain whip (of sorts) with some old chain but I’m kind of a ‘spend a little bit of money on the right tool’ kinda guy.
I’d say I’m more likely to do a bike clean where the chain comes fully off, but I clean the cassette without taking it off. So said chain whip and lock ring tool are not used super frequently. But when I do need to use them, they’re super helpful.
Some Tools Are Better Than Others
Some tools’ mothers are better than other tools’ mothers*.
(*Howsabout that for shoehorning in a 1980s indie music reference)
The go-to brand in cycling tool world is Park Tool. If you’ve watched one of the pro team bus tour videos on, say, GCN, you’ve probably have noticed the array of blue-handled tools in the mechanics section.
I’ve got a few Park Tool tools (it’s clumsy that you have to say ‘tool’ twice, but whadyagonnado): my big pedal crank; a nice chain whip; the aforementioned plastic tyre levers.
But like many people, by collection of tools is a hodge podge of brands. My multi-tool, which is generally kept with tyre levers in my saddlebag, is made by Crank Bros (who do a fine selection of multi-tools by the way).
If you want to be colour coordinated and have every tool you can think of, then Park Tool sell a master kit comprising 278 tools (at the current count). For the princely sum of (I think) £7,000, you get everything but the kitchen sink. And whilst there may not be a sink, there is a stool. Money well spent.
So that brings us neatly to the end of my brief rummage through my tool box and saddle bag.
Recommendation: get a decent multi tool and tyre levers. Your future cold, wet and tired self will thank you when you next have ‘a mechanical’, mid-ride.
If you’re planning ever to clean your bike (I suggest you don’t close your mind to this idea), some quick links and dedicated set of pliers is a cheap and easy way to make the cleaning process easier and more effective.
A nice set of rubberised hex/Allen keys will improve both your cycling and wider personal lives (!).
(I could – maybe should? – have mentioned a torque wrench in this post. I didn’t, as I don’t actually use my one all that much. Nonetheless, if you want to know more about cycling torque wrenches, then please to read my most comprehensive post on the subjectmatter.)
Right, over to you:
- Are there any ‘must have’ tools that I’ve missed that every self-respecting velocipede should own?
- Do you have a favourite tool? (What a question)
- Are you vehemently anti-Park Tool (dunno why)?
Let me know in the comments below.
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