Bike Tools – For Beginning Cyclists

Bike_Fit_photoThere are two things you can do to get the most enjoyment out of cycling.  As a beginning cyclist the first important thing that you should do is to get the best bike fit that you can.  If your bike doesn’t fit you right then you will not have the desire to ride and your bike, no matter how much it cost you, will soon become a great place to collect dust and hang stuff.

But that’s probably not why you’re reading this article – you’re here to find the basic tools for beginning cyclists.  So, the second thing you can do to ensure that you have many enjoyable years on the bike is to learn how to maintain your bike and do basic repairs and upgrades.  We’re not talking about a full rebuild of your hubs or anything complicated like that.  What we’re saying is that there are few tools that every cyclist should have in order to perform the routine weekly, monthly, quarterly, annual or mileage-based maintenance.  (Check out our maintenance how-to articles to get tips to keep your bike on the road)

We’ve compiled an extensive list of the Essential Bike Tools that every cyclist should have on the next page but what are the basic bike tools that you need to just get by?  Most would agree that, aside from a good set of tire levers, 90% of all routine bike maintenance can be done with basic garage tools.  We’re not talking about anything special, just a basic tools that you can get from your local automotive, department or hardware store.  You will want to make sure you at least have the following in your bike-ready repair kit:

  • Allen Wrenches
  • Open-end wrenches
  • Screw Drivers
  • Pliers
  • Adjustable Wrench
  • Tire Levers*

That’s it.  There isn’t much else that you will need to do basic maintenance on your bike.  The 6 item categories above will allow you to perform most easy adjustments & fixes.  I know there will be many who will argue with this list because we didn’t include a chain whip, or a chain break or a cable cutters.  We know that.  We’re not talking about the “Essential Bike Tools“, we’re just talking about the Basic Tools here.  Now as you get more into cycling and as you become more familiar with wrenching on your bike, you will want to get the more bike-friendly versions of these tools.  Like T-Handle hex wrenches and cone wrenches as they are more effective.  But basically these are what you will need to get started.  Check out our how-to articles, reviews and tool rankings to see which of these basic tools are the best.

*Tire levers are the only tool on this list that are specific to bikes.  See below for links to some of the best tire levers around.

 

Bike Tool Introduction & Definitions

As mentioned before, there are many tools that are specific to just one type of part or one manufacturer.  In the past there weren’t any standards or parts that were universal in the bike world so many of the older tools are unique and specific.  However for most newer bikes there are a few different categories of tools specific to working on your bike.  Here is a quick list of some of the more ubiquitous bike tools and a brief explanation.  This list is basically a reference with links to various pages within the site as well as external links to some of the best examples of each tool in the various categories.  Click on the tool names to see the review archive for each tool type.  Please let us know if we’re missing any.

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Basic Bike Tools – we like to call these your “garage tools” these are the tools (or tool sets) that you can buy at your local big box store (or from a tool truck) and you use them around the house.  If you want to go high-end on these, there’s nothing wrong with that.  Most bike repairs done at home can be done with a good set of garage tools.

  • Set of metric & standard Allen Wrenches (also called Allen Keys or Hex Wrenches) – make sure you have a 2.5, 3, 4, 5, and 8 mm as these will be used most often.  For bike specific hex wrenches, look into a set of t-handle or y-handle as these make it easy to maneuver around a bike for repairs and maintenance.
  • Screw Drivers – you might want to get a few different sizes of both flat, Phillips and Torx head.  While the Torx head bolts and screws are rarely used on most bikes, there are some manufacturers that use them.
  • Pliers – you will want to get a good set of needle nose pliers, a set of slip joint pliers and a set of locking pliers (also known as Vise Grips which can be used as a fourth hand in a pinch – pun totally intended!).  It’s not usually necessary to have a set of channel locks but they can be useful on occasion.
  • Open-end Wrenches or Spanners – you will want to make sure you have a metric set in sizes 8, 9, 10, 15, and 17mm.  You will want to get a quality set of wrenches and most would recommend getting the thinnest set you can as they will fit most bike applications better.
  • An Adjustable Wrench (also called an Adjustable Spanner or Monkey Wrench) – you will want to get one that opens to at least 32 mm.  Sometimes having 2 or more adjustable wrenches comes in handy.  You should never use a pipe wrench so it is not recommended.

 

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Bike Work Stands – A bike work stand, bike maintenance stand or bike repair stand as they are sometimes called is basically a device that was created to hold your bike in place while you work on it.  It brings the bike up to a comfortable level so you don’t have to bend over to work on your bike.  They usually have a clamp which attaches to your bike’s seatpost or another part of the bike to hold it in place (although some attach to the forks and bottom bracket).  There are 4 different types of bike work stands.  There are fixed stands which usually bolt to the ground and are mostly used in a larger shops, there are portable stands, fixed bench/wall stands which bolt to a work bench or a wall, and then there are some which attach to the bottom bracket or frame.   They could easily fall into the “essential tool” category as they are great for working on your bike, storage and cleaning.  Please check out our extensive section on bike work stands.

 

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Hub, Wheel & Tire Tools – We think it goes without saying that second to your running gears (cranks, chain, cassette, etc.) the tires are some of the most important components on your bike.  If your tires aren’t at the correct pressure, if your wheels/rims aren’t aligned correctly (aka True), or if your bearings don’t spin freely you will introduce a significant amount of resistance which will make your rides less enjoyable and frustrating.  Here are some of the tools you might need or encounter related to your hubs, wheels & tires.

  • Bike Pump / Mini Bike Pump – I think it goes without saying that a bike pump is an essential tool.  If you tires aren’t at the correct pressure you will wear prematurely or have a difficult time riding.  We recommend a good floor pump with an accurate gauge.  We also recommend a pump that can accommodate both Presta and Schrader valve types.  It’s also a good idea to purchase an additional mini pump as an EDC Tool.  Please check out our rankings to see which pumps are the best.
  • Tire Levers / Tire Spoons – these tools are used to help you to lever the bead of the tire off of the rim.  For most wire bead tires you will have a difficult time removing the tire from the wheel unless you have a tire lever.  These should not only be in your essential tool kit but also in your everyday carry kit that you take on every ride.  They are invaluable when repairing a flat.
  • Tire Patch Kit / Tire Repair Kit – this is a kit which will include patches used to seal holes in your tubes.  Some are self-sticking (aka pre-glued) patches while some kits come with a small tube of glue for applying the patch to the hole.
  • Cone Wrenches / Cone Spanners – Cone Wrenches are like open-ended wrenches from a normal tool kit but they are much thinner.  They are specially sized to accommodate the older style “cup and cone” bearings on wheel hubs.  A lot of the newer bikes actually have sealed bearings so a cone wrench isn’t required as much as in the past.  You will always use two cone wrenches in concert when working on a hub to hold one side still while you loosen/tighten the other side.
  • Spoke Wrenches – A spoke wrench is basically a piece of metal with a slot/slit in it.  It’s used to turn the small nipples that are on the end of your spokes.  By tightening and loosening your spoke nipples you can cause your wheel to bend in or out.  While it’s not recommended to use a spoke wrench without a truing stand, sometimes you need to make a quick field repair to a bent rim.  It’s a good idea to have a set of spoke wrenches or at a minimum a good multi-tool that includes a spoke wrench.
  • Tire Bead Jack – is a more heavy duty, and less mobile, tire lever.  A tire bead jack is used to install tires on wheels especially when the tire is really tight.
  • Dishing Gauge – is used to measure the dish of a wheel.  When building a wheel it’s important to see if your hub is centered in your wheel hoop.  When looking at a wheel from the thin/vertical side, a dishing gauge will measure how far your hub sticks out on either side of the plane of the hoop.
  • Wheel Truing Stand / Wheel Jig – in layman terms, a wheel truing stand is a tool which measures if your wheels are straight or if they’re bent it will help you to identify where they’re bent.  Technically, a truing stand measures the side to side radial trueness of a wheel’s rim.  Once a bend is identified a spoke wrench is used to bring the rim back into straightness/trueness.

 

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Brake Tools – Brake tools are used to adjust caliper, cantilever and disc brakes as well as adjust the cables or hydraulic lines which are used to actuate the brakes. Here are a few of the tools you will find that are specific for bike brakes.

  • Cable CutterHousing Cutters – just as the name implies, these cutters are used for cutting the larger diameter brake cables and robust housing.
  • 3rd Hand or Third Hand – this tool is used to clamp the brake pads against the wheel/rim during adjustment.  This is important so you get the proper brake alignment and the name says it all – without this tool it’s almost impossible to get your brakes adjusted correctly.
  • Cable Tension Tool – this tool is great for holding cables (both shifter and brake cables) tight/taught so you can adjust the brakes.  Occasionally this tool is referred to as a “4th Hand” but not very frequently.
  • Hydraulic Brake Bleed Kit – if you have a mountain bike, cyclocross bike or even a road bike with hydraulic brakes, a brake bleed kit that is specific to your brand is an invaluable tool.  This tool/kit allows you to get any unwanted air out of your lines which can create braking issues when present.

 

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Cassette & Chain Tools – most of the tools in this group are used to keep the rear section or your running gears operating properly.  The front cranks/chainrings, the cassette, deraillers (front & rear) and the chain make up the running gear.  It is recommended that you service, or completely replace, your chain and cassette every 1500-2000 miles.

  • Chain Break, Chain Splitter, or Chain Tool – a chain break or chain splitter is used to cut or break a chain.  When you get a new chain it will usually be too long for your bike so you will need to remove a section (cut it).  The chain break will punch out the pin so that you can remove the links.
  • Chain Whip – is used to grip your cassette so you can remove, replace or tighten it.  If you’ve ever tried to remove a cassette without a chain whip your hands are probably still mad at you.
  • Chain Gauge – as a chain gets used it begins to stretch.  You won’t know how stretched it is unless it 1) breaks or 2) you use a chain gauge to check the distance between links.  If it’s outside the recommended range it’s time to replace it.
  • Derailleur Alignment Gauge – while not used very much anymore due to the softness of the aluminum used for derailleur hangers, this tool is used to help make minor alignment adjustment to the hanger.
  • Chain Master Link Tool – this tool is used with SRAM and KMC chains, the master link joins the inner ends of a chain.  The master link tool compresses the chain for quick application and removal of the master link.

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Headset Tools – Steering a bike is one of the most important things you can do when riding.  The following tools will help you maintain and repair almost every part of the steering component group.  The headset is the front section of the bike frame where the headset is where your forks and handlebars/stem meet.

  • Headset Press, Cup Press – The headset has bearings in it to facilitate turning – which we have found is very useful when riding.  The bearings usually sit in a removable groove called a cup.  This tool is used to press the cups into place.  If you try to just use a hammer you will most likely bend the cups and render them useless.
  • Headset Puller, Crown Race Puller – this tool does the opposite of the headset press and is used to pull the crown race or cups.
  • Headset Wrenches – there are a few different headset wrenches that are usually used on lower-end bikes and older bikes.  Some headsets are threaded and will have a very large nut which requires a headset wrench.
  • Star-nut Setter – the star nut is a very strong angled & sharp nut that goes inside your fork’s steering column.  This tool is used to set the star nut in place.
  • Head Tube Facer or Reamer – this hand tool is used to machine the head tube to ensure the bearings sit (align) properly.  The tool usually has a separate facing and reaming cutter for all the various headset standards.

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Bottom Bracket & Crankset Tools – The front section of the running gears are comprised of the bottom bracket, crankset, chainrings and pedals.  The parts that go into this section are usually pretty robust since they experience a significant amount of force during rides.  It’s important to keep this area clean, lubed and tight.

  • Crank ExtractorCrank Puller – Most cranksets, after they are properly aligned, are sandwiched together by tightening the crank bolts in the crankarm.  The splines where the non-drive crankarm attaches are tapered which causes a very tight fit.  To remove the crankarm you will need a crank puller.
  • Pedal Wrench – a pedal wrench is a special tool that is used to put on and take off pedals.  It’s usually pretty long so you can get a decent amount of leverage.  Most pedals don’t have enough clearance between the crankarm and the pedal to use a standard open-end wrench so a pedal wrench is thinner.
  • Bottom Bracket Wrenches – there are many different bottom bracket standards and due to the nature and shape of the bottom bracket bearings this special tool is used for attaching and removing the bottom bracket.
  • Thread Chaser – if you are doing a new build or an overhaul of the bottom bracket it’s usually a good idea to chase the bottom bracket threads with a thread chaser to ensure they’re clean and free of any burrs or debris.

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Bike Tool Kits – A bike tool kit is a quick way to purchase most of the essential tools that you’ll need to work on your bike.  It’s also a great way to make one quick purchase and ensure that all of your tools are of the same quality, have the same warranty and can be stored easily.  We’ve compiled a great buying guide on bike tool kits with rankings, reviews and helpful information.  Below are a few different tool kit classifications.

  • Beginner Kits – a beginner toolkit will usually have all the basic tools that you will need for minor repairs and almost every tool you’ll need for regular maintenance.  Most beginner kits will have a set of allen keys, a cassette removal tool, a chain whip, a chain break, a bottom bracket tool a pedal wrench and a few other spanners or cone wrenches.
  • Apprentice Kits – the next level up from a beginner kit will usually include a greater variety of tools, cleaners and accessories to allow you to perform almost every type of bike maintenance except for a few things like wheel truing and some pressing/facing.
  • Master Kits & Pro Kits – a pro kit will contain almost every bike repair tool imaginable.  You will usually pay a pretty penny for a pro kit but if you need all the tools then it’s worth it.  For a normal home mechanic a pro kit would be overkill and you would probably never use some of the included tools.

So, which of these tools do you really need?  What are the basic tools you need and which specific bike tools are essential?

The table below provides a set of quick links to all of the reviews in each of the six bike tool categories.  The links below will take you to an archive listing of the different review articles and posts about the topics.

Bike Tool Quick Links - View Category Archives

Tool TypesDescription & Uses

Basic Tools

These are the basic tools which should be found in any shop, garage or tool kit. These include wrenches, screwdrivers, allen keys, sockets, ratchets, hammers, etc.

EDC Tools

Everyday Carry Tools: These are the tools that you should take with you on every ride and, in some cases, you should carry with you all the time "just in case". Examples of EDC Tools would be a mini pump, a bike multi tool, patches, etc.

Essential Tools

Much like the "Basic Tools" from above, these are the tools that you should have in your toolbox no matter what type of bike you ride. These tools are the essential tools to own to maintain and repair your bike. This would include a bike work stand, a chain stretch gauge, a chain whip, a set of allen keys, etc.

Tool Sets

There are so many different bike tool sets out there. This is an archive of all the tool sets we've reviewed and more information on each one (with a category ranking and where to get more information). These sets range from small and cheap to very large and expensive.

Specialty Tools

There are a few specialty bike tools out there that are bike specific, brand specific or are used or special bike repairs/rebuilds. We still review those so you can review an archive of the specialty bike tools. Some specialty bike tools include the headset press, a truing stand, a frame stretcher, and many others.

Innovative Tools

What's new and innovative in the bike tool world. Most people think we've gone as far as we can go in this realm - then someone comes up with a new tool! Here are some of the newest that we've seen.

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