by Nick Di Cristofaro
What are the most important tools a bike mechanic should own? The answer can vary greatly from one mechanic to the other. A professional who works on a variety of bikes every day will need a wide assortment. It is overkill, however, for the hobbyist/home mechanic to mimic the pro. So what tools should enthusiasts have in their home garages? Well, that depends. What bikes do you have? How often will you perform certain jobs?
First, let’s look at the basics tools before we get to a list of five essentials. For the basics, you need a good floor pump. Checking air pressure before every ride is a habit every cyclist should have. A set of metric Allen wrenches – ranging from 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8 – will suffice in most situations. Needle-nose pliers always come in handy. I use them mostly to hold cables taut while tightening them down to brakes or derailleurs. I like to have a good quality set of tire levers in my shop and a compact set for your jersey pocket. You need a Phillips No. 2 and JIS No. 2 (Japanese industrial standard) screwdriver for derailleur limit screws mostly. You can get by with a Phillips but a JIS screwdriver will work and grip a lot better for Shimano parts.
Now on to the essentials.
Rear derailleur-hanger alignment gauge
Proper indexing of the rear derailleur starts with an aligned rear hanger. Even a new frame has to be checked before mounting the rear mech. If you are going to tackle shifting issues on your machine, this tool is necessary.
You need a good quality pedal wrench especially if you are travelling with your bike. You can get by sometimes with a 15-mm open-end wrench or 8-mm Allen wrench, but having a pedal-specific tool allows you more leverage. Most bicycle tool makers produce a long 8-mm with a handle that works great for this purpose.
Chain tool and quick-link pliers
You can’t cut a chain without a chain tool. Invest in a good quality instrument if you plan on replacing your own chains. Quick-link pliers make life easier when removing quick links – SRAM calls them PowerLock and the 11-speed Shimano chains now come with a master link.
A quality torque wrench
I can’t recommend the torque wrench enough for a new or home mechanic. It takes lots of experience to get a feel for how tight to twist down different sizes of fasteners. You don’t want to tighten down a $400 carbon handlebar without this experience and without a torque wrench. The most common “click type” wrench will give when the desired setting, usually in Newton metres, is reached. Your wrench should be able to measure from 2 to 8 Nm. The range will let torque down handlebars, stems and seatposts.
Cable cutters are essential if you are going to replace cables and housing. Using regular side cutters will work in a bind. But to get a good, clean cut on cables and housing, bicycle-specific tools will work better. Having a tool that has jaws to crimp cable ends is nice, too.