Welcome to the Ultimate Bike Tool Buying Guide!
Riding your bike can be one of the most enjoyable experiences out there. You get the exhilaration of zipping along, under your own power, on trails, up mountain passes or down an empty road. But what happens when you’re out in the middle of nowhere and your have a breakdown? You could have something as simple as a flat tire or you could have had some sort of catastrophic component failure. Either way you should know what tools you need while on the trail as well as the tools you should have at home. You never know when or how your bike will break.
That’s what happened to me. I was in the middle of a 30 mile mountain bike race and my rear derailleur hanger busted, sending my rear derailleur and my chain into my rear tire. Let’s just say it was a mess. Luckily I was within a short hike from the pits and I was able to limp my bike there and attempt a few repairs. But, nothing happened. When I got to the pits I realized that someone had forgotten the team tool kit and our bucket of spare parts. I was out of the race – with only 4 miles to go!
I vowed that day to not let that happen to me again – but I decided to take it one step further and try and help prevent that situation for others. That’s part of the reason why I started CRANXX – to help beginning cyclists find the right tools to so that they can fully enjoy the ride. The site isn’t just for beginners though, I also wanted to make it accessible to the seasoned bike wrench so they could come here and maybe learn something as well. That’s where the CRANXX Ultimate Bike Tool Buying Guide Comes in to play – it’s your best resource for getting started and also serves as a great reminder for those who know their way around the bike.
WHERE DO YOU START?
The best place to start when setting out to buy your first bike tool, or your first bike tool set, is to start by asking a few simple questions: Why do you need bike tools? What are the best bike tools to buy? What are the most essential bike tools and what are the cheapest? And why can’t you just buy a decent set of basic house tools from a Big Box store and go to town on your bike? Over the next few paragraphs we hope to answer these questions and GUIDE you through your bike tool purchase.
The answers to the questions above are pretty simple. Most bikes, even on the lower end of the quality/price spectrum, are pretty simple machines but they have some highly specialized parts. From the mechanisms that control your shifting (known as derailleurs), the bearings in your axles and the components in your shocks (if you have a mountain bike) all of these parts move and take on stress when you ride. Moving parts, over time wear and become loose. Chains and cables stretch, bearings wear and get “sloppy”, and shocks take a beating and need some TLC.
If you have an endless supply of money (which most of us don’t) then you can just take your bike to a professional bike mechanic every few months/miles and have them tune it up for you. And when it breaks you can just take it down and have it fixed. BUT most of us don’t have that option. So we need to learn how to maintain our bikes ourselves and to do that you need the right tools (click here to get introduced to some of the various bike tools)
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF A TOOL IS RIGHT FOR THE JOB?
When deciding which tools to go after you first need to determine YOUR level of expertise, the age of your bike, the type of bike it is, how frequently you ride (which determines frequency of maintenance) and what you plan on doing with your tools (are you doing a full frame-up build or just bolting on some parts?). This will help you determine the types of tools you need. Some repairs can be done with basic “garage tools” that can be found almost anywhere. Other repairs will need highly specialized bicycle tools.
We want to find the tools that will allow us to keep our bicycles on the road and riding smoothly but not have to spend as much as a new bike just to buy them. There are several tool options out there for everything from basic home use all the way up to professional/race use. We here at CRANXX have always lived by the “Mechanic’s Motto”.
If you ask most experts they will tell you that you should spring for the highest quality tools that you can afford and that you should build your bike tool collection one tool at a time as you need it. This way you can get the best tool and you don’t end up with a bunch of tools that you will never use (or worse yet will never learn to use properly).
But, going back to the lack of unlimited funds, most of us can’t do that either so we want to purchase the best bike tools, that will still do the job, but for the least amount of money. To help you decide we came up with a classification for our tool reviews so you will easily be able to identify if you have found the right tool for the job.
Also, for ease of use and consistency throughout the site we have broken down most bike tools into these 4 categories. They are ranked based on how often the tool will be used and the quality/durability of the tool. Obviously there are some specialized bike tools out there that won’t get used very often but require a high level of quality so we wanted to incorporate that into our classifications. Here they are:
- Hobbyist (Basic repairs & limited use)
- Home Mechanic (Full bike build/rebuild & more frequent use)
- Shop Quality (Daily use – controlled environment)
- Professional (Frequent use – Almost indestructible)
Now that we have established a categorization methodology for bike tools we can move forward and begin to explore the different types of tools that are out there. You will need to establish which category you fit into in order to determine which tools you need. If you are just getting into biking, or if you just need to work on your kid’s bikes then some of the tools rated as “Hobbyist” will most likely work for you as their use will be infrequent and not very stressed.
WHAT TOOLS DO YOU NEED?
There are 6 different categories (according to us) of tools that you can use for bike repairs. We list and describe each of the 6 types of tools below. Each link will take you to a more detailed page, or an archive page, on that specific category which will provide you with individual reviews, comparison tables, rankings and tool directories.
- Basic Bike Repair 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. You can purchase a higher priced quality tool set or you can buy some of our recommended Cheap Bike Tools.
- Everyday Carry Tools – these are the tools that you should take with you on every ride and, in some cases, carry with you all the time “just in case”. They include the very important Bike Multi Tools, mini pump (or CO2 pump), a patch kit, and other such items.
- Tool Sets and Bike Tool Kits – buying all of your basic bike tools all at once is often a very good way build your tool collection. It’s also a great way to ensure that you get most of the tools you need (or will need). There are some great small bike tools sets as well as some very large sets. Some are cheap, some are expensive but almost all of them include the essential bike tools and will work for most repairs.
- Essential Tools – We’ve put together a list of the essential bike tools you need. This list is broken down by level of expertise (Hobbyist, Home Mechanic, Bike Shop & Professional tools). At a minimum, your “shop” should have these tools – it’s the easiest way to make sure you have the right tools for the right job and keep your bike on the road… or trail… or course… or track… or wherever you choose to ride.
- Specialty Tools – there are several tools that you might need to help you with your bike repairs. If you don’t know that a specialty tool exists for a particular job, you will waste a lot of time (and possibly risk damaging your bike) if you use the wrong tool. There are headset presses, bottom bracket presses, crankset tools, and many more.
- Innovative Tools – this is a category of tool that has to be the most fun for us to cover. We enjoy finding those tools that will, or have, revolutionized the bike wrenching world. This is where you will find tool concepts, Kickstarter projects and new bike tools (we even stretch this category a bit and include cool bike gadgets). If you have a tool you would like to submit here, please post a comment and we’ll add it.
WHAT BIKE TOOL BRANDS DO WE RECOMMEND?
Unfortunately picking the right bike tools isn’t as simple as just picking a tool brand – although some brands are better than others. We break this down into a few different categories as well. There are 3 common brands you will find in bike tools – there are “Name Brand” tools which have an established name and are easy to recognize. There are the “House Brand” tools which are mostly all produced from a small number of manufacturers and then one of the bigger bike stores will either slap their name on them or they will provide an established brand just within their store. Finally there are the “Off Brands” which aren’t very well known, are usually cheaper (both in price and quality) but most will work in a pinch – it’s important to note that some of them are actually quite well made and we have recommended some of them in our cheap bike tool reviews.
Here’s a very brief list of some of the different brands you will find – if you want to see our extensive list of tool brands please check our our Bike Brands Directory.
- Some of the top Name Brands (usually sold through large online bike stores)
- Park Tool
- Unior Tools
- House Brands (specific to the online bike shops)
- Off Brands (You can find an abundance of these brands on Amazon & eBay)
- RAD Cycle Products
- Big Roc Tools
- Delta Cycle
- Bike Hand (seems like it’s the same as Jenson’s House Brand but sold on Amazon)
Obviously you can check here on CRANXX to see how each of these tool brands rank as well as visit the different reviews for each tool. You can also check out their reviews on Amazon or eBay if available.
WHERE TO BUY & GET MORE INFORMATION:
- Bike Tool Introduction & Definitions – we’ve compiled a list of the most common tools and a brief definition of each.
- Where to Buy? – at the end of each tool review and comparison we will provide links to some of the most affordable places to buy each tool – just click on the links!
- Check out the bike tool reviews – we have a pretty extensive review section. You can either use the search box at the top of the site or you can search through the various categories.
- Check out rankings – we have compiled a Basic Bike Tool Ranking as well as a Bike Tool Set Ranking list.
In Summary follow the DOs & DON’Ts:
– Make sure your tools fit the nature of the work you’re doing.
– Understand that cheaper tools aren’t built for shop use.
– Your Research!
– Buy Cheap tools if you plan on using them frequently.
– Buy without checking out reviews first.
– Forget your tools when you go on a ride!