This Bike Tinkerer's Toolset

This subject came up last week on our reader forum, and a number of readers asked that I follow through on my threat to write an article on bike tools for home use. So here you go, and this comes with caveats: I知 sure I知 missing some important tools; and I知 not a bike mechanic.

That said, I built a Diamondback Andean last week with Shimano 9150, with a Rotor crank and BB, and tested a number of disc brake caliper and rotor options on it. On a second bike stand I built a Scott Plasma Premium with SRAM Force 1 (1x) at the same time; and in a former life I did own a bike manufacturing company with the actual factory that made the bikes, so I知 not without some bike assembly skills.

Furthermore, I'm constantly swapping out parts on these framesets in order to write about them, and I need tools to accomplish all of this.

But I知 serious. I知 not a mechanic. John Burke and Mike Sinyard own bike companies too, orders of magnitude larger than mine ever was, and I doubt any of the three of us could get a job wrenching in a bike shop (I know I couldn稚). I知 a tinkerer. So, the tools I list here are tinkerer痴 tools.

Omitting the general tools you need

The list here omits what I think any man-skills man would own, such as a solid workbench, with a solid vise on it (when you look at the miter block below, realize this goes into a vise no vise, no using the miter block). Typical stuff like good screwdrivers, handheld motorized tools like drills and accompanying bits, a Sawzall, pliers, open end and socket wrenches, rubber mallets, and measuring tools like levels, a couple of micrometers, tape measures. For big dumb stuff like your vise you can probably get these at Harbor Freight or Northern Tool. For stuff that requires hardened metal like screw drivers and drill bits maybe go a step up. I also use the heck out of a bench grinder, which is a tool just dumb enough that Harbor Freight will do you.

You値l need a hack saw and here are a couple in the pic above, one with a 32 tooth-per-inch blade and the other with an abrasive blade for cutting carbon. Either will cut carbon fine as will a Sawzall as long as the blade is fine enough. Just, those abrasive blades for Sawzalls aren稚 going to fit inside the slot in your miter block.

The tools in the image highest above are in that 堵eneral tool variety with a couple of exceptions. One of the key tools you値l use over and over are a good set of 都ide pulls for cutting cables. If you池e going to spend a bit if extra money, the first 2 things that you値l want to splurge a little on are side pulls and your bike stand (we値l get to this next). Mine are Felco side pulls and you値l spend $55 or $60 on a set of these. You can get some very good cable cutters from Park Tool for $35 and if you want to get going easy, cheapies will cost you $15.

The other thing you値l see in that image highest above is a tubing cutter and I don稚 see any reason to splurge on this. Just, if you end up cutting aero aluminum extensions these are what you値l want for a nice clean cut.

The Bike Stand

I致e owned a lot of bike stands. All kinds of bike stands. There are a few of them above, and I致e got twice this many. You can go with the fork mounts and the real heavy duty stuff, but I keep coming back to the Park PRS-25, which is holding that Diamondback Andean. That痴 about a $300 stand. It folds up very modular, is very light and portable, but is very sturdy. You can稚 beat this stand, though Feedback Sports and other companies make very good stands. Park has a 塗ome variety that I haven稚 tried but it looks very much like the PRS-25 above and it痴 a $185. It痴 the PCS-10. Looking at it, I can稚 tell any difference between this and the PRS-25. Note I知 grabbing this Andean by the seat post. This Park has a very forgiving set of jaws. You don稚 need to clamp down hard on the seat post. I don稚 have good luck with the fork mounts because tri bikes have very funky bottom bracket shapes and BB-mounted rear brakes.

I post the image above to show you some of the tools I own that you don稚 need. See all of that stuff? Pass it by. I致e got headset and bottom bracket facing tools, bike specific taps which are very expensive, but you aren稚 riding steel bikes any longer so you don稚 need to face and tap surfaces the way we used to prep our bikes in the old days.

See those large-mouth wrenches, 30mm, 32mm and the like? We aren稚 using those sorts of headsets with lock rings and top caps, and I haven稚 used any of those wrenches in many years. There are some really nice bicycle tool sets that start at around $100 that have all sorts of great tools, but they also have some of these bottom bracket spline tools and large bike-specific wrenches that we just don稚 need.

Bike Specific Tools

In this image just below you'll see my initial list of the bike-specific tools you will need. If you get a deep enough spline tool you can use it to take off cassette lock rings both for standard quick release wheels and wheels with thru axles. I致e got that one works for both. You use the same spline tool for Shimano痴 Centerlock disc rotor lock rings (the lock ring that clamps the rotor onto your wheel's hub). These are cheap buys. If you spend more than $10 on a spline tool, why? You値l need it to either work with a 1/2 drive (shown) or you put a spanner or open end wrench over it. I like the 1/2 drive type the best, because a wrench can slip off when you're torquing it. This spline tool works in conjunction with a chain whip. You need both the spline tool and a chain whip to take off a cassette.

That thing with a screw driver handle is a presta valve core remover (for putting in sealant). Then there痴 a chain tool, a Shimano (well, in this case this one痴 made by Rotor) BB tool (if you're intsalling a BB with threads instead of one that just presses in, i.e., PressFit), a bottle of 5mm ferrules and 5mm crimp-on cable ends. You always need to have some rim strips around, this is a Profile Design, you can get Continental in rolls, like a roll of plastic or duct tape. Getting a lot of flats in a row? Check to make sure your rim strip hasn稚 moved exposing even a tiny bit of a spoke hole. That痴 why I keep rim strips always handy.

In that image is a presta valve chuck for an air compressor. Set the compressor to 95psi or whatever floats your bat and, whammo, instant inflated tire. I致e got a little pancake compressor I use for this as well as for my other pneumatic tools (framing nailer, brad nailer, pneumatic stapler and so on). There痴 a spoke wrench in that image, I have these in 3 sizes, but I use these less and less as the wheel makers have their own ways of tensioning spokes. But, speaking of spokes(!), you値l see a loose spoke there. I use these a lot. The elbow end I use for fishing cables out of aerobar extensions, pursuit bars, and frames. The other end, I often grind this down to a point and when I cut cable housing I push the spoke in there to make a flattened opening round again. (And I use that 都pear end for a number of other useful jobs.)

Now, cables, here痴 where you could get into some serious money. You値l have to shop around, wait around, to get some good buys on bulk cables like this. The one thing I壇 tell you is that for brake cables you値l probably want double-ended, with the two ends shown in the pic above, so that you can cut whatever end off you don稚 need (the "barrel" end is popular with many MTB levers). Brake cable housing is 5mm, and you want to use brake cable (mostly) and brake housing (always) for brake routing. Shift housing is 4mm and the shift cables you see in my image are 2000mm long. What you want is 2500mm or 2700mm or something like that (at least 2300mm long). The Scott Plasma Premium I just built? It痴 got just over 2000mm of cable run from the bar-end shifter to the rear derailleur. None of these bulk cables I have would have worked too short. That痴 a tri bike for you!

Plus, a cable of 2300mm or longer is not just a bike component, it痴 a tool. If you need to fish housing through a bike you may need to run the cable through first and then use that cable as a guide for the housing. You値l need the cable to run through end entire run of housing and then you値l use the cable to pull the housing through. You may need a long cable for that. So, even if you are a confirmed electronic shifting person, you'll still need a few of those long cables around just for fishing internal housing through a frame.


What you see here are cone wrenches and this set from Park is great. It痴 got everything from 12mm to 18mm. Except I just found out I now need something like a 19mm or 20mm cone wrench for Shimano痴 1-button bar-end shifter. The documentation said 17mm but nope.

There痴 a pedal wrench there and I致e seen pedal wrenches that double as chain whips (chain is attached to the other end). Then of course you need everything from 1.5mm to 10mm in Allen keys. Why 10mm? Some crank and crank dust cover assemblies. You need an 8mm also for cranks and for many pedals, like Shimano and Look KEO. You need ball end on one side, standard as well, and you need to use the ball end only when necessary. Don稚 overuse that you値l round the bolt heads.

I would also recommend a standard set of Allen wrenches that don稚 have that nice ergo grip, because that grip gets in the way sometimes. At the top of the image are a pair of Torx T25 wrenches, you池e going to need those (Zipp, SRAM, Quarq and more and more companies use Torx), as well as a couple of Ritchey torque keys. Those are 5nm and you can put several bits in there, Allen or Torx.

Lubes, Sealants & Adhesives

I知 not going to get into a big religious debate with you people! I don稚 care whether you use Squirt or WD40; Pedros or 3-in-1; Park or Morgan or Finish Line. That痴 a separate discussion. Just, here痴 what I知 saying: You lube, with oil, every moving surface, everything that rubs against something else in a repetitive fashion (chain pins and plates, derailleurs, brakes). You grease everything that痴 threaded. Get that? Grease threads (pedals, where the derailleur threads into the dropout).

But in some cases you don稚 grease. In some cases, smaller bolts, that might come unscrewed given enough time and vibration, you need to make sure those threads are secure. So, I always have Blue Loctite and Red Loctite or if you want the generic it痴 just 鍍hread locker. I use Blue for almost everything, but in a very few cases, where it痴 going to be permanent, then it痴 Red.

There is just about no threaded thing on a bike I assemble that doesn稚 get some treatment: anti-sieze, grease, or thread locker. While I am no mechanic, my bikes don稚 fail. They don稚 break, they don稚 come apart, they don稚 unthread. Very, very few times in my 40 years of cycling, racing, making bikes, getting bikes ready for the pros I work with, has a bike ever failed during a race. One reason is because every thread gets something. Some treatment. Those screws that hold brake and derailleur cables? Those too.

The rest

There are a few other necessary tools, for pressing and extracting things. What you see here is a headset press I致e had for about 30 years and Park still makes this same tool. I use it for PressFit bottom brackets. Those two tubes with the splayed ends? They池e extractors. The splayed end sits against a BB or a bearing and you whack the other end with a rubber mallet. There痴 also a little bearing puller in the image. And then there痴 my trusty miter block. I use this for so much stuff bike and non-bike I don稚 know what I壇 do without it.

Let痴 talk about what all of this costs. Here are some prices on some of these parts, from X-Tools, Bikehand and IceToolz:

BB Press: $43
Miter block: $20
Side pulls: $15
Chain tool: $35
Cassette spline tool: $6
Race Extractors x 2 sizes: $30
Sidepull cable cutters: $15
Cone wrench set, 12mm to 19mm: $20
T25 wrenches: 17
Allen wrench sets (T handle set and elbow set): $40
Chain whip: $8
Pedal wrench: $15
Oil, grease, degreaser, threadlock: $35

The above totals $299. You might be able to get these cheaper if you buy a set for $50 or $80 or $100 that has a lot of these tools in it. You池e going to get some tools you don稚 need but so what as long as you get a break on the tools you do need?

You aren稚 done yet. You need a bicycle repair stand. You can spend $50 on these, or you can spend upwards of $200 on a Park or a Feedback. I don稚 know how well the cheaper ones work. I do know that a good workstand pays for itself. The three price breaks are $50 (overseas bargain); $200 (solid home use); $300 (portable professional use).

Otherwise, as regards the items above, most of what you see in the pictures I took I致e own since the 1980s and 1990s. If you buy quality tools from Park, Felco, Feedback Sports, they tools will outlive you. You値l pass them down to another generation. Each of the tools above can be bought at or below the prices I list, but the prices go up as you look to the premium vendors. Just, I have Campagnolo, Park and VAR and Felco tools that I致e owned for 25 and 30 years and they池e as good as new. Will tools made by these other companies last that long? I don稚 know. Do they need to last that long for you? I don稚 know.

Then we have consumables. Cables, housing, ferrules and whatnot. I probably own $500 worth of housing and cable. But you don稚 need to own all this. I saw a box of 100 aluminum crimp-type cable ends on eBay for $1.49, 100 ferrules, 5mm, for $1.98, and a box of 36 stainless spokes on Amazon for $14. I don稚 know that I would buy cheap no-name shift cables from the Orient on eBay (ferrules yes, shift cables no). I do see 100 pieces of 2300mm shift cable for $80 to $100 for first quality stainless, and about $50 for galvanized. I壇 just hunt around and wait for my best deal on stainless, at least 2300mm long if it痴 for tri or if it's used as a tool. If you don't need to keep a boatload of cable and housing around just buy about 30 meters of both brake and shift housing (it痴 often sold in 30 meter rolls), and to keep maybe 10 each brake and shift cables around.

Finally, tape. The price of rim tape I just don稚 understand. I see rim tape for $8. For one wheel! Are you kidding me? I also saw bulk 26 x 20mm Kenda rim tape on eBay for $4.95 and I don稚 know how many you get but that痴 more my style. Maybe there痴 some magic to rim tape. I doubt it. Oh, and you need lots of black plastic tape. That痴 a Harbor Freight thing. Buy a half-dozen rolls or more at a time.

Which brings me to my final point, which is that tools are tools. They池e not bike tools. They池e tools. Sometimes if you jump out of the bike industry you fall into better pricing. Do you shoot air guns? Are you a home brewer? Do you make your own club soda? You may well use threaded or unthreaded 12 gram CO2 cartridges, which are exactly what I need to inflate bike tires. I don't shop for bike CO2 cartridges. I shope for CO2 cartridges, and I can usually find them for $.50 each if I buy a fair number.

There is a bit of freedom that comes with working on your own bike. You can fix what needs fixing yourself. You take comfort in the knowledge that you know what makes your bike tick, and that you致e battened down its hatches as well as can be done. The tooling you need is now cheaper that it was a generation or two ago. It痴 all very uplifting until you cut a steerer too short. Which we致e all done. It痴 a rite of passage.

I encourage all you expert home mechanics to begin or add to an existing thread on our forum with your own suggestions (with pictures!) of tools you need and use.