to re-build a bicycle
May 4, 2011 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Bike Mechanics 101: What tools and general knowledge should I acquire before I make an attempt at dismantling and re-constructing a bicycle?

I am just getting into cycling. My cheap, craigslist frankenbike has suffered multiple system failures, so I went ahead a bought a shiny new bike. But now I have the busted old beater bike sitting in the garage, and I'd figure it would be fun to take it apart and put it back together again.

The only main issue with the bike currently is that the drive-side crank arm is stripped where the pedal attaches. And it could use a new paint job.

I just picked up a set of metric hex keys. I have looked at the Sheldon Brown website, as well as some various youtube tutorials. It seems like getting a crank puller would make the job easier as well.

I have a decent array of general tools, but are there any bike-specific tools you'd recommend? Specific tutorials, books or websites? Any tips or things you wished you knew before you started monkeying with your bike?
posted by gnutron to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Off the top of my head, the essentials to build a "standard" bike are:

- Hex wrenches of all sizes
- Torque wrench
- Crank puller
- Cassette lockring tool
- Bottom bracket tool (internal or external)
- Chain whip(s)
- Chain breaker
- Cable housing cutter or Dremel tool
- Spoke wrench(es)
- Truing stand

That is, these are the specialized tools you really can't do without or improvise easily. Some bikes may have additional needs, like older crank/bottom bracket styles.

This doesn't include headset installation or cutting the fork tubes. I leave that to the pros since it's even more specialized equipment and doing it wrong is expensive.
posted by kcm at 1:53 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sheldon Brown is really the best resource. Park Tools has some good tutorials if you want to try and figure out how to accomplish a particular task. Zinn's books have some strong followings within the professional shops. As for tips and tricks, don't wrench in good clothes. Good music and good lighting helps a lot. Automotive bearing grease is basically the same as what they sell in bike shops, but it costs 1/10th as much. The more beater bikes you can pull apart and fiddle with, the faster you'll learn.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:54 PM on May 4, 2011

This is a very helpful website.

Tools I use a lot:

-hex keys (1.5 through 8)
-spoke wrench
-bottom bracket tool (my cranks come off with 5mm hex wrench, but I need a specific BB tool to get the BB out of the shell)
-pedal wrench (you can use a hex wrench on some pedals, but I prefer a pedal wrench)
-chain whip (can't get the cassette off without it)
-cassette tool (used in conjunction with the chain whip)

The only thing I don't have is the special tool to seat a headset. I've used a rubber mallet to do it before and that worked just fine. Next time I have to do it I'll either just take the frame to a bike shop or shell out the cash for the proper tool. It's hard to justify the cost of that tool when I use it once every 6 years or so.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:57 PM on May 4, 2011

Sheldon Rocks! Go there. Also check out Makezine's Blog they did a whole month of posts on bikes recently with a lot on bike repair 101.

Remember: Shiny side up, rubber side down!
posted by a_green_man at 1:58 PM on May 4, 2011

On preview, I really wish I had a truing stand and a torque wrench. I can true by sight pretty well (by looking at the brake pads), and I've never stripped a bolt (knock on wood), but those two tools would make my life easier if I had them.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:59 PM on May 4, 2011

Bikes have a lot of specialized tools and quirks that go into mantling/dismantling them. A good set of wrenches and hex keys will solve most problems, but some parts require special tools. You should probably focus on specific parts of the bike at a time. For instance, removing a pedal you need to keep in mind that the left pedal is reverse threaded (i.e. it's right-y loose-y, left-y tight-y), you'll also definitely want a crank puller (but make sure you get the right type. Of course if your crank is stripped it may be time for a new bottom bracket, so you'll have to make sure you have the right kid of bottom bracket tool, etc. etc.

Basically, keep your focus narrow, fix one thing at time, and be prepared to pause your repairs to go buy a tool from your LBS or order one online.

As for tutorials, there are tons of videos and guides online.
posted by Panjandrum at 2:00 PM on May 4, 2011

To add to kcm's list with some not quite as necessary tools that will make your life easier:
- A real pedal wrench
- A "fourth hand" cable puller
posted by aganders3 at 2:00 PM on May 4, 2011

I'm no bike expert either, but I would recommend joining a coop like this one in the Oakland area so that if you don't have a tool at home, and you don't want to buy it right now, you can just use the shop. They also have free classes (as would most any bike community coop), and cheap/free parts. Make sure when looking for bike coops that you look carefully to see if it's a worker coop (a business owned and run by the workers, so they won't necessarily have a shop open to the public), or a community coop (business owned by the community that uses it, and in the bike world usually has a public shop to use for free/cheap with all the tools you could ever need).
posted by gauchodaspampas at 2:08 PM on May 4, 2011

PS, actually that shop I linked to is in Berkeley, not Oakland.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 2:10 PM on May 4, 2011

Also, man is it nice to have a repair stand to use when you're working on anything non-trivial. That's a significant investment and I second the co-op idea - people with skills to help and tools to use once and not have to buy.
posted by kcm at 2:17 PM on May 4, 2011

I just took apart an old bike and rebuilt it with a mix of new and original parts. I used all the tools that kcm mentioned, except a torque wrench (I ended up buying a screw extractor instead). Ah, I'll miss access to my roommate's tools...

Not mentioned was a pin spanner to take apart old school bottom brackets and threaded headsets.

An older Craigslist bike probably has a freewheel, not a cassette, in which case you need a freewheel remover tool, not a cassette lockring remover. You also would not need a chain whip.

You'll need degreaser, grease, oil, probably WD-40 if the bike isn't in great condition.

I don't think there's anything you can do about that stripped crank arm, besides replace it.

Read this before you decide to repaint. Unless the frame is very rusty, you're probably better off just cleaning and polishing a bit, and wrapping on new bar tape.

I agree with others that Sheldon Brown is wise, and Bicycle Tutor is handy.
posted by domnit at 2:26 PM on May 4, 2011

Please don't take this the wrong way, but...if you're asking a question like

gnutron: "I have a decent array of general tools, but are there any bike-specific tools you'd recommend? "

it sounds like you've never been in a bike shop, worked on a bike, or read anything about them. I say this because the first thing you'd notice when doing any of those things is that bicycles need many specialized tools.

So if I'm right about how much you know right now, then you would be much better served by signing up for some classes, volunteering at a co-op, or finding a friend who can show you in person, than by trying things based on the advice of random people on the internet.
posted by d. z. wang at 2:32 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

It can get expensive very quickly if you buy all your own tools.
Mike's Bikes in Berkeley has a fix-it night Wed @ 6p where they will let you use their tools AND give you tips.

I'd be more worried about how old your bike is. Fixing them up is not always worth it. When parts are rusty or need replacing, the frustration really multiplies. In addition to learning basic bike skills, you might find that you can never really get things 'perfect'.
posted by just.good.enough at 2:42 PM on May 4, 2011

the first thing you'd notice when doing any of those things is that bicycles need many specialized tools.

Most of which are designed to make something quicker/easier, not as a necessity. I have never had to have more than some wrenches and hex keys to disassemble a bicycle. Although I've never tried to take the rear cog off, maybe the holder thing is necessary.

Torque: if you can get a wrench inexpensively, good deal. But with non-rusty nuts and bolts, you can usually feel the right torque. There is no magic to it, if it is specified to be 40 ft lbs, and your wrench is a foot long, push down 40 lbs worth.

For nuts and bolts, you are best off using properly sized wrenches. Adjustable wrenches are the path to nut stripping.
posted by gjc at 4:12 PM on May 4, 2011

Not sure I agree about improvising tools. If you don't have a carbon-fiber bike or any carbon-fiber components, you can get away without a torque wrench. But I don't see any way to get the cranks off without a crank puller. Similarly, you are not going to get the cassette off the freewheel/hub without a lockring tool and a chain whip.

If you want to work on your bike to fix something more cheaply than the pros, and there's only a few things broken, you are not going to save any money doing it yourself. If you want to work on your bike because you want to work on your bike, invest in some good tools. They will make your life much better.

Borrowing tools from your friends also works too. Most of the time, they are just sitting idle, so why not ask?
posted by jrockway at 4:51 PM on May 4, 2011

Most of the basics are covered above, but I'd add a repair stand to this. Any repair that involves the gears/chain/brakes requires a stand to get it working perfectly. The quality of most repairs is improved by a stand. You can certainly perform these repair jobs without a stand, but I find I can never get it exactly right. A stand will also save a lot of wear and tear on your back and knees from bending over. Repairs tend to get done more quickly in a stand as well.
posted by EvilPRGuy at 5:33 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Zinn in the Art of Mountain/Road Bike Maintenance series has an interesting approach. He ranks everything as 1-easy, 2-intermediate or 3-expert. He also provides tool lists for each level, 1 being pretty basic barely more than ride-along tools, 2 being the level of stuff suggested here and 3 being well-equipped pro shop, including stuff like BB chasers, frame-alignment tools and the like. Nice feature, in addition to being great all-round repair manuals. Only buy the one Zinn book that's closest to your preferred style of riding though. There's a lot of overlap between his books.
posted by bonehead at 8:14 PM on May 4, 2011

I've tried to do some of my own bike repair using the Zinn book as a guide, but I've probably caused more damage than I've ever repaired. Once I managed to totally strip the hole for the pedal in the crank arm...which sounds like your problem.

My local bike shop was able to drill out the hole, screw in a new piece of metal, then drill a pedal hole in the new piece so it had threads. It took a drill press and a very skilled mechanic, but they only charged $30 which was much less than a new crank.
posted by miyabo at 9:19 PM on May 4, 2011

I don't think there's anything you can do about that stripped crank arm, besides replace it.

Assuming you mean that the threads for the pedal are stripped, and further assuming that it's the right-hand side crank*, the threads can be repaired with a Helicoil. Most any stripped thread can be fixed this way. This repair could conceivably be done without removing the crank. It requires the use of a special tap and a special coil-insertion tool, so you need to go to someone who is equipped with those. That may not be a bike shop; if none of the bike shops have those tools, identify the thread (M12 x 1.75, or whatever) and start calling machine shops.

*Finding somebody with left-hand Helicoils and taps is possible, but not likely.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:47 AM on May 5, 2011

« Older Gol Airlines cheated me out of about $620.   |   How does this "bridge" investment account work Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.