Best Bike Tools for the Budding Bike Mechanic

Learning to work on your own bike is a rewarding and empowering experience. It can be intimidating at first, but as you tackle basic repairs it gets easier and practice makes perfect!

I wanted to share some of my favorite tools as a part of the series of repair resources I’ve been posting as of late. These are tools that every mechanic should acquire over the years. That’s the beauty of bike maintenance, you can slowly acquire what you need as things come up or parts need replacing.

The first item on my list is the official Park Tool Bike Blue Book of Repairs. I’ve mentioned it before I’ll continue to plug it as it gets updated regularly as new technology emerges within the cycling world. Pair this up with Park Tool’s YouTube channel and you’ve got a great baseline of introductory knowledge on how to repair your bike. Next up I’ll go over some of my picks for favorite tools for the home bike mechanic. Some are professional level tools, but they are worth their money investing in as they have stood up to daily work in the bike shop. These are some of the most basic tools to clean and repair your bike to keep it running well and to do some basic adjustments.
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The most expensive, but worth it tool is a repair stand. A portable repair stand will last years and make it much easier to work on a number of areas on the bike. Many people will usually start learning bike repairs on a bike while flipped over upside down on the ground. I can say from experience it’s worth the investment in getting a proper stand. I own a couple of different work stands, but my two favorites are the the Park PCS-4-2 and the Feedback Sports Ultralight stands.

The next item(s) I could absolutely not live without and that’s a high quality set of hex wrenches. Metric of course as that’s the system the bike industry is based off of measurement wise.

My personal favorite hex wrenches are from Pedro’s, the L Hex Wrench Set to be exact. The reason being is they have never rounded off, slipped during an adjustment, or failed in any way. The length is long enough to get purchase when loosening even the most over-torqued bolts and the L is short enough to get into tough to reach spots. Kudos to the folx at Pedro’s for designing a truly stellar set of wrenches.
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No mechanic can work without a proper screwdriver. In the bike world the #2 cross head screwdriver is a very common tool needed for derailleur adjustments on entry level and older model bikes. More modern bikes use hex wrenches, but there’s always a need for a high quality screw drivers even around the home. The Park Tool DSD-2 is a professional mechanic level option, but it’s never failed me and the handle is well balanced. Lesser expensive options can be found. I’ve just found the tips haven’t worn out or broken like they have on inexpensive options.

The next three items all have to do with bike cleaning. I always teach in my maintenance classes that cleaning your bike regularly is the best maintenance you can do. Cleaning helps prevent premature drive-train wear and tear, saves money on needing to replace parts or have to go in for service at your local bike shop, and allow you to inspect your bike to make sure there’s no damage to your frame or components.

Citrus degreaser is an inexpensive and safe way to clean just about anything on a bike, disc brakes excluded. You’ll want to stick to iso-alcohol for that. A good source of degreaser is buying a gallon jug and a spray bottle that you can dilute with water to make a spray on solution. My galon of degreaser has lasted me 6 years and I still have plenty to last me another probably 6 more. You can of course purchase bike specific cleaners at your local bike shop, but if you are looking to save a few bucks this is a great option. My personal favorite is Zep as it can be found at just about any local hardware store.

The humble toothbrush is a great cleaning tool. It’s worth keeping an old disposable one around to make it a cleaning brush for chains, cogs, and hard to reach areas on a bike. A natural bristle brush works best, but any type will do. Another cheap hack to keep your bike running smoothly.

Lemon pledge is every bike shop’s secret weapon. It’s used often for cleaning up frames and making components shiny. Since it has a waxy finish, it will also help prevent dirt and muck from sticking to your frame. Another well known secret in the bike shop world is it  is the easiest way to get a stubborn tubeless tire to seat. My shop sprays a bit around the entire edge of the bead on both sides of the tire where it meets the rim and 99% of the time the tire will seat right up on the rim. You’ll want to be careful where you use pledge as it should not be used on rims with caliper/canti/v brakes, disc brakes, disc brake pads, rotors, on the chain, or drivetrain. It should be used on items like the frame or just on the superficial areas of components to give them a good clean and shine.

A pedal wrench is something most home mechanics find they will eventually need. Swapping out pedals is something most mechanics don’t even have to think about, but there is a definite right vs. wrong way to do it. Pedals have left/right specific threading depending on the side of the crank it’s being installed on. The non-drive side or “left” hand side of the bike’s pedal will have threading that curves up and to the left direction, so you thread the pedal on tightening it counter clockwise. The drive side or “right” hand pedal has threads that go up and to the right, so you tighten the right pedal clockwise. The easiest way for me to remember is that no matter what side of the bike you are standing on, the pedal will always thread in towards the front of the bike and always be removed by turning it towards the back of the bike.

Most pedals will have a 9/16″ or 15mm flat edge to them for installation and removal. Kid’s bikes have a 1/2″ sized diameter and will need a pedal wrench with that specific sizing on it to install and remove them.

Not all pedals will have a flat edge to them, some will have a hex on the backside of the axle for installation and removal. Usually these are 6mm or 8mm depending on the manufacturer. I recommend having both a pedal wrench like the one above which is the Park Tool PW-4 and also one or even two larger hex wrenches like the Pedro’s example below as they make for easier removal as the long arm of leverage will help get enough purchase on the pedal.

A cassette tool and chain whip are usually the next tools procured by a home mechanic. I’ve seen sales of each increase over the past few years with the popularity of direct drive trainers. Most folks want to be able to remove their own cassette from their rear wheel and be able to install it onto their trainers rather than purchasing a second cassette. If you compare the cost, it does come out to be pretty close in price to buying the two necessary tools vs. a new cassette depending on the level of components you will be using.

Shimano’s FR-5.2G is the most popular option for installing and removing a cassette lockring. Most Shimano, Sram, and Sunrace cassettes use this tool for removal and installation. It is recommended that you speak with your local bike shop or your bike’s manufacturer to see which type of drive train system or cassette your bike has to ensure you purchase the correct tool. There are MANY different types of cassette lockring and freehwheel tools on the market. There are even different versions of the tool for bikes that have thru axles vs. skewers. Do some research before purchasing to make sure you pick up the right one!

On that same note, there are lots of different types of chain whip tools available on the market. Some fancier than others, but they all pretty much accomplish the same thing. Most mechanics prefer to use whichever they learned on. The chain whip above is what myself and many mechanics in my shop have used and are comfortable with. Park, Pedro’s, Abbey Tools, and Shimano all make their own version of chain whips. It all just depends on how much you want to spend and what type of ergonomics you like then using the tool.
A proper cable and housing cutting tool is an absolute must if you plan on replacing any old, frayed, or broken brake or shift cables. One of the things I see the most that people do wrong on the D.I.Y. or home mechanic front is  using side cutters instead of a proper cable cutting tool for trimming cables. DO NOT DO THIS! It does not make for a clean or precise cut and will leave you with frayed ends. It also just damages your side cutters as they are not designed for cutting braided metal cables like those used on bikes. They are also usually not sharp or strong enough to cut brake housing, which has wound metal that makes up the structure of the housing.

Do yourself a favor and buy a nice cable and housing specific tool. It will make your life so much easier and it will last you ages. Park Tool, Pedro’s, and Shimano all make great options for cable cutters.
Since we’re talking cables, I’m also going to say get yourself a nice needle nose pliers. The photo above is the type I prefer to use. They are from Channellock and have a full length plier portion with a very small side cutter built in. I use pliers for a number of uses including pulling things out of tires, pulling a cable extra taught if need be, fishing out a rusted or broken cable out of a shifter. My all time favorite use is crimping cable ends with them. I for some reason have always hated the built in crimping feature on most cable cutters, so I use the side cutter section of my pliers to make my favored double crimp on my cable ends.

You can tell that a mechanic is super nerdy or particular if they have a signature crimp that they like to do. It’s sort of our calling card to show who worked on a bike or who built a bike. Most people likely don’t even pay attention, but it’s a small detail that mechanics love to put into their work.

I’m going to wrap up our fine list hear with the humble tri-allen tool. Yes, I already listed a set of allen keys on here, but a tri-allen comes in handy in different situations. I use mine a ton when building up new bikes, installing or adjusting brakes, making a saddle adjustment, replacing stems, tightening a headset, and the list goes on. The industry standard is the Park Tool AWS-1. I personally have one of their now discontinued aluminum bodied versions of it with my name inscribed on it. It’s one of my favorite tools and it stays in my apron at all times as it’s just that handy.

These tools are by no means the end all, be all of what bike mechanics use. It is a very good start though and you can make just about any basic adjustment on a bike with these tools. Some honorable mentions to add would be a chain breaker tool, a chain quick link tool, a good set of metric sockets in sizes starting as small as 8mm and going up to 30mm. A good, sharp pair of scissors for installing and cutting bar tape is a good addition as well.

Many brands sell some good starter kits, but I prefer going the route of buying things as needed as you can choose a higher quality option from the start vs. getting a basic beginner’s kit with some less than high quality tools in the kit.

The nice thing about tools that any mechanic will tell you is that you can slowly buy things as you need them over the years and you’ll eventually have a really nice home setup to not only work on your own bikes, but work on a friend or neighbor’s bike in a pinch. I chose to leave out a lot of the things such as tire levers or a floor pump/compressor as I’ve touched on those items before, but you can look back at past posts for some ideas on inflation and what types of tools to bring with on a ride.

Thanks for reading as always and I hope everyone is staying safe!

Eat Well, Bike Often!

Cassandra
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Bike Repair Resources- Rear Derailleur Adjustment

I’ve heard it thousands of times from patrons walking into my bike shop. “My gears are messed up.” or “I can’t shift into my ___ gear.” or “My chain shifted into my wheel.” Usually it’s some complaint about gears not working on the bike and the person not knowing what to look for, how to fix it, or even understanding how gears work on a bike.

I figured it would be a good time to share some of my favorite resources on how to do a little D.I.Y. maintenance to save riders from a trip to the bike shop or at least be able to do a quick adjustment while out on a ride until they can visit their favorite bike mechanic!

Park Tool has one of THE most comprehensive repair guides they print annually as well as an amazing YouTube channel that covers almost any problem a cyclist can come into contact with on a bike.

This particular video shows the famous Calvin of Park Tool explaining in depth on how to properly set up and adjust a rear derailleur on a bike. The rear derailleur is in charge of moving the chain up and down the rear cassette or freewheel on a bike for the smaller, incremental gear changes that happen on a bike.

The shifter located on the right hand side (if you are located in the US at least) is what is connected to the derailleur via a long cable that is enclosed in a length of housing on the bike.

I’ll just go ahead and save you some reading and post a link to the video as it is incredibly helpful for the budding mechanic.

Part of me posting this is that I’ve been considering hosting one on work basic mechanic workshops this winter to encourage more women-trans-femme and BICPOC (black, indigenous, people of colour) folx to learn mechanical skills.

The cycling industry has traditionally only catered to cis-gendered white men, which has not only been represented in much of the cycling marketing, but also has been the primary base of employees found at bike shops.

The world is finally catching on that just as many women want to ride and that cycling is an activity that all folx can enjoy. Representation at the shop level is important and fosters a greater community of riders.

With the off-season rapidly approaching I hope to share more in this series and continue some of my reviews of mass produced cycling bags as I think it’s nice to have information out there on more commonly found products as there’s a lot of info on high priced-niche market bags.

Nothing wrong with those options, but not everyone has access to them! Stay tuned and I hope everyone is staying safe and sane.

Topeak Fuel Tank Review

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In a land of seemingly endless options of independent makers and custom bag companies, why would anyone want or need a stock production bag?

I’m here to dive into the world of production cycling bags including top tube bags, seat bags, and handlebar bags. Starting with one of my all-time favorites, Topeak’s Fuel Tank (large).

Topeak has been in the cycling game for nearly 30 years. They’ve been known for their iconic Joe Blow series pumps, but have since branched out to everything from bike repair tools to bags to cycling computers, saddles, repair stands, racks, lights, and more.

I had to do some background research Topeak as it’s not apparent where they are based. A little search engine sleuthing brought me to a profile on Bicycle Retailer’s website stating that Topeak is a Taiwanese based company.

It makes sense. Taiwan is the world’s hub of cycling manufacturing. State of the art facilities with both factories and design firms are sprinkled throughout the country. If you’ve ever purchased a bike or cycling product, it was likely either manufactured or designed in Taiwan.

Based off the design and aesthetics, part of me assumed Topeak was German based. Maybe it’s the fact that Topeak and Ergon (saddle & grip company) have been so closely linked as they have co-sponsored professional cycling teams.

Anyway, that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here because every time I post a photos of one of my bikes with the Fuel Tank I’m asked by someone what type of bag it is.

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The Fuel Tank is a masterfully designed bag. The outside texture is a rubberized finish with a carbon like pattern. You can see in the above photo the texture and stitching is high quality.

The bag is made in two size options. I opted for the large as it can fit even the largest of phones with loads of room to spare. The size specs are below courtesy of Topeak’s website:

Capacity- 45 cubic Inches
Size- 9.4″x4.3″x2.5″
Weight- 5.28oz

Topeak states that the bag is made out of a 420 denier nylon and PVC combination.

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While the outside of the bag is a sleek matte black, the inside is Topeak’s signature yellow. I’m always a fan of bags that have bright interiors so you can actually see what’s inside. The bag has an included padded hook and loop divider. You can see on the left side of the bag I utilized that to create a little holder for my lip balm. This makes it easy to find and be able to grab it one handed while cruising along while riding.

The right hand side of the bag has a large mesh pocket, Topeak suggests a battery bank or something similar can be placed here on their website. All of my battery banks are too large to fit in there, but I stash things like my minimalist wallet or nutrition gels in there. It also works well for stashing a mask since we are in COVID19 times as I write this.

To provide a bit of the scope of size for this bag I can comfortably fit the following:

iPhone 8 with case
Rav Power 20k milliamp battery bank
usb micro cord
Apple lightening cord
ear buds
several hydration mixes (I usually carry either a tube of Nuun or 3-4 powder packets)
2 nutrition bars (RX Bars or Clif/Luna)
nutrition bloks
a portable peanut butter packet (RX nut butter or Justins)
a packet of chamois cream (Hoo Ha Ride Glide)
minimalist wallet
cloth mask
portable hand sanitizer
+ more room to spare

You can fit a TON in this bag and then some. It’s one of the largest top tube bags I’ve seen on the market without being a custom product. P1040824P1040825
One of my favorite features of the Fuel Tank is the fact that you can pass a charging cable through the bag on the left hand side. This means that if you use a GPS, smartphone, or need to juice a light on the go you have the option to run a cable up to that devise while your battery bank stays safely tucked inside the bag.

I’ve only had to use this feature once on a bike camping overnight as I forgot to charge my cycling computer before I left home and it was awesome to be able to have that option without having to leave the zipper of the bag slightly open at the top.

The cable pass-thru placement allows you to tuck the cable out of the way and not jiggle around on the bag.
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Another feature I love about this bag is it’s essentially waterproof. The rubberized material around the entire bag paired with the thickly padded, structure, and the waterproof zipper with a zipper garage ensures your electronics and other sundries stay dry.

I can attest to this as I got absolutely drenched last summer on my bike camping outing with Bell Joy Ride Madison. You can read my write up or watch my vlog about the trip in earlier posts on the blog.
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As far as attaching the bag to a bike. I’ve been able to successfully attach it to every bike in my stable, including my large carbon tubed Topstone Carbon, which is notoriously difficult to put a strap style bag on- hence their top tubes have drilled attachment points for direct mount bag systems.

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There’s a small bit of wear on the bottom of the bag, but it’s still in wonderful condition!

The retail on the Topeak Fuel Tank Large is around $50 depending on where you purchase it. I’m sure you can find some sale prices online, but always recommend checking with your LOCAL BIKE SHOP to support them.

I purchased this item with my own money via my bike shop employer. I was not asked by them or Topeak to write this review and don’t receive any monetary compensation from writing said review.

Honestly, this is one of the highest quality production bags I’ve owned and used during my many years as a cyclist. I’ve had the bag for going on two years now and it has yet to fail me or let me down.

I’m always impressed by the amount of items you can carry in the bag and have never had one returned for any reason at my place of work upon recommending the bag to customers.

Topeak has a home-run on their hands with the Fuel Tank and hope they continue to keep making the product for years to come!

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Topeak Fuel Tank on the Bike Packing Rig

That’s all for this write up. Be on the lookout for write-ups on some of Blackburn’s production bags! I’ve also been plugging away at a video review for my Cannondale Topstone Carbon RX, but have had some issues with audio. Stay tuned as I’ll likely release a write up prior to the video.

Soma Double Cross Updated Build!

Anyone who has followed this blog has seen the various iterations of my Soma Double Cross. I posted about the very first build and wanted to share the updates I’ve made to it within the last year.

I retired my bar top shifters and upgraded from a more touring based 3×9 setup to a more modern 1×10 drive train to drop some weight and make the bike a little more simple.

Here’s the current list of components featured in my video above!

My custom build is as follows:

Soma Double Cross Frame & Matching Fork Size 48cm
(I’m 5′ 5″ for sizing reference)

Handlebars: Nitto Noodle 40cm
Stem: Dimension 80 or 90mm
Headset: Tange Seiki Annodized Purple
Stem Cap: Kustom Caps
Front Rack: Nitto M18 with long strut kit
Rack Bag: Lone Peak Micro Rack Pack
Seatpost: Ritchey Classic 27.2
Seatpost Clamp: Salsa Lip Lock Anodized Purple
Saddle: Ergon SR Women’s Road
Fork light mount: Paul Components
Bar Tape: Lizard Skins DSP
Brifters: Sram Apex 10spd
Cable housing: Jagwire Cables Road Kit in Silver
Cables: Shimano/Sram aka whatever was in my parts bin
Brakes: Tektro CR720
Rear Derailleur: Sram GX 10 speed
Cassette: Sram GG1070 11-36t
Chain: Sram PC1071 10 speed
Crank: Sram Apex 42t Wide Narrow
BB: Sram GXP
Wheels: Suzue Road Wheelset
Skewers: Salsa Flip Off Purple Anodized
Tires: Compass/Rene Herse Barlow Pass 700x38c Tan Light Casing
Tubes: Vittoria Latex
Rear Rack: MSW Porkchop
Panniers: Axiom Monsoon (discontinued model)
Tail light bracket/light: NiteRider Sabre 80 USB rechargeable

Fix A Flat Replacing A Bike Tube

Video three of my collaboration with Fitchburg Cycles is out now! This video covers that actual removal of a tire as well as replacing a tube and how to air it up using a pump. I go over using tire levers and some other tips on how to make sure you are correctly installing a replacement tube and the tire back onto your bike rim.

Check my previous posts on here as well as on YouTube for videos on gearing up for a ride with a tool kit as well as how to remove a wheel from a bike which covers detaching brakes and how to deal with a rear derailleur.

Thanks as always for checking out the blog. For more up to date and live content please feel free to follow @spokehaven on Instagram or Facebook.com/spokehaven.

Hope everyone is staying safe and sane!

ps- feel free to reach out via e-mail with questions, comments, content suggestions or review inquiries! info@spokehaven.com

-Cassandra