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.
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.
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!
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