What bike tools do I need?
March 12, 2010 7:25 AM   Subscribe

A good all-in-one bicycle tool set?

I spend a lot of time tinkering with my bikes and my friends bikes, but I don't really have all of the tools that I need. At all. My tool set is very limited. I have a chain tool, some screw drivers, some allan wrenches, a pump, and that's about it. I have a stand that works ok for my needs.

I have a few bikes kicking around that I want to tinker with but I don't have everything that I need to get the bottom brackets off, the cassettes, the pedals, etc.

I see 44-piece bike tool sets on Amazon and I think they look beautiful. (this one, for example). I also appreciate that it's compact. It's apartment living for me, and my living room also doubles as my workshop.

Should I just spend the $99 and have everything that I need? I'd like to just get down to the nitty-gritty without having to spend a ton of time collecting tools. In other words, I'd like to acquire my tool set as economically as possible, but if it makes sense to get everything I need with one-click, I'm open to that.

I ride road bikes, but I also have a hybrid and I'd like to be as versatile as possible.

posted by TurkishGolds to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I buy tools one at a time, as I need them, so I can't speak to any of the complete sets that are prevalent on the Internet.

But I will volunteer that you really get what you pay for with tools of any type. Cheap bike tools never fail to disappoint. If I had the money to do it all at once, I'd get a Park or Pedros set.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:30 AM on March 12, 2010

Damn, beaten to it, but yes, cheap tools will leave you weeping and frustrated. That chain whip will come apart on the second use, do you really need an adjustable wrench, those multi-size spoke wrenches are poorly cast and machined and will ruin your spoke nipples. Buy them one a at a time, or hit up your local bike club's swap meet/flea market and buy used.
posted by fixedgear at 7:41 AM on March 12, 2010

I'm also a buy the best kind of what you need when you need it kind of guy. Poor tools make working on bikes much more frustrating. I mostly buy Park tools and if you were looking to get one or two more useful things, I would recommend a chain whip and cassette tool. After that, maybe a really nice pedal wrench.
posted by advicepig at 7:48 AM on March 12, 2010

Response by poster: Actually, I have a good chain whip! So if cheap tools are out ... maybe the real question is what else should I get? And is there a good place to buy them online? Also, is there any such think as a high-quality set that I can buy online somewhere?
posted by TurkishGolds at 7:55 AM on March 12, 2010

I think I had that M-Wave kit at some point, and was sorely disappointed. Tools can last a lifetime if they're good - and Park Tool and Pedros are the commonly-accepted definition of good, when it comes to bike tools.
posted by tmcw at 7:56 AM on March 12, 2010

I really don't think that any tool set is worth the price. As others have said, I have bought tools as I needed them, buying a decent tool ("shop quality") every time. The initial outlay is a lot less and I have good tools which don't wear out.

Leonard Zinn has an excellent discussion of what tools to buy in either his road bike or mountain bike "Art of Maintenance" books. If you can afford either (you don't need both), that's an excellent first addition to your tool box right there.

Basically, he divides the tools into three levels: beginner/tinkerer, which is mostly hand tools and such, intermediate, which you can slowly get into as you go and shop level, which includes the specialized and very expensive tools that need significant machinist experience to use, BB facing tools and the like.

You will need to buy some specialized bike tools, but most of what you need can be found in the tools section at Sears for much less than, say, Park sells them for.
posted by bonehead at 7:59 AM on March 12, 2010

Sure--Park sells sets/kits in various sizes. Here's one.
posted by box at 8:00 AM on March 12, 2010

I agree with others, though, that it makes more sense to buy tools as you need them. Depending on what kinds of bikes you're into, there's stuff you'll need that won't be included in the kits (e.g., I like vintage MTBs, so I've got tools for 1 1/4" threaded headsets), and there's stuff in the kits that you'll never, ever have any use for (specialized bottom-bracket tools are a good example of this).
posted by box at 8:07 AM on March 12, 2010

That Park kit is a great example of what I mean by kits being overpriced. It's got a tonne of stuff in it that you'll never need (all the BB spline tools, for example. Just buy the one or two that you need, not all of them, you won't need a 14mm cone wrench unless you're servicing a Campy bike, etc...), and a bunch of stuff that you will need but isn't there: you need 2 15mm cone wrenches to service most rear axles. And what the hell do you need the chain washer for? That $30 extra right there.
posted by bonehead at 8:11 AM on March 12, 2010

I'm going to echo the above statements: I've got a ton of mileage out of just a 4-5-6mm Y-hex-wrench, a chain whip, an adjustable wrench, a Shimano lockring tool, and a pedal wrench. Buy Park or Pedros as you need, and you'll be good to go. I like Excel Sports Boulder for online ordering (Park, Pedros), but you also can't go wrong buying from your local bike shop.
posted by The Michael The at 8:24 AM on March 12, 2010

I'd suggest getting a good set of metric wrenches (Craftsman), a set of allen wrenches (Park, Pedros, Craftsman), and picking up bike specific tools as you need them (Park, Pedros). Early on, that's probably just cone wrenches, freewheel tool, chain tool, spoke wrench, maybe a cable cutters. Adjust as needed.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:44 AM on March 12, 2010

What The Michael The said. And now that I'm using SRAM PowerLink chains with a master link, I don't need a chain breaker or one of those plastic chain washer contraptions at all.
posted by turbodog at 8:45 AM on March 12, 2010

If I had space for it I think I would get:

Park p-handle hex set
appropriate crank puller
appropriate bb tool
torque wrench
chain whip
chain tool
appropriate cassette tool
appropriate spoke wrench
pedal wrench (actually already have)
work stand

And I would get Park or Pedro's (except the torque wrench probably).
posted by ghharr at 8:51 AM on March 12, 2010

Btw, in terms of tool storage, I hear you. I went more than a decade without a proper workroom. I found that a soft bag, like this one, just big enough to fit a torque wrench, and a couple of canvas tool rolls made for a very flexible and compact storage for bike tools. I could strap it on the rear rack of my bike too, which meant that I could go to where the bikes were if necessary. Ziplock hard-plastic disposable containers make good discount small parts holders and parts washer pans too.
posted by bonehead at 9:08 AM on March 12, 2010

I've decided against buying a set of tools for myself. Instead I go to The Bicicocina (Bicycle Kitchen) here in LA and use one of their stands and toolsets. Tool libraries in general are awesome resources if you can't afford your own fully-stocked workshop. These places in Boston might be able to hook you up with the tools you need and a space to work: Bikes Not Bombs, Broadway Bicycle School, and Quad Bikes.
posted by carsonb at 9:35 AM on March 12, 2010

This is a more useful kit but I agree with everybody else you are better off buying your own tools. Actually I'd agree with carsonb. The places he links to are all good but it does seem that Boston doesn't have the direct equivalent to the Bicycle Kitchen or the Bike Farm where I'm a mechanic up here in Portland. I'm kinda surprised by that really its not like Boston doesn't have bike culture. Quad bikes comes close but its seems geared towards students. You should start one. Really. Then you could have all the tools you need plus a steady stream of people telling you how great you are.

Failing that ghharr's list is not a bad place to start. I's make a couple of alterations. Granted I'm not working on people's $4000 dollar road bikes but I've never had real use for a torque wrench in the years a I've been a mechanic. I'm sure the P-handle hex wrenches are real nice, but they also seem a lot of money for what after all is a buch of hex wrenches/allen keys. I wrench all day long with a 4/5/6 mm Y wrench and a park tools fold away set for the odd sizes. You can buy both these for under twenty bucks and I only really use the former because it's easier to grab off the bench.

I would invest in a set of cable cutters if you are feeling fancy. They do make a difference and we use ours all the time. Third hand tools are cheap and pretty essential. You don't need one but a fourth hand tool is useful as well. With the both of them I get get a brake set up after replacing a cable in a couple of minutes. This is the kind of job we teach people to all the time, you might not do it so much, but get the third hand tool.
posted by tallus at 11:23 AM on March 12, 2010

tallus: you are right about the p-handles, I was being all gear-geeky. I in fact get by with a crappy folding set.

As far as the torque wrench, you can certainly get along without it but it's not super expensive, you can use it for other stuff (cars), and would make me feel a lot better if I were working with carbon parts, which are starting to show up on even entry-level road bikes.
posted by ghharr at 12:15 PM on March 12, 2010

Broadway Bicycle School seems to do what Bike Farm and Bicycle Kitchen are doing. I can't speak for the latter two, but BBS has stands and tools that they rent by the hour for a totally reasonable rate. They will also do one on one teaching time if you run into trouble. They run bicycle maintenance classes, too. They're employee owned! I don't know what more you could ask for in a bike shop.
posted by clockwork at 12:24 PM on March 12, 2010

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