My Favorite Tools (and one that’s definitely not a favorite)
By Ray Birks
There’s something satisfying working on your own bike. I know it saves me money and helps me prepare for situations where I might need to do repairs out on the trail. But even more so, my brain loves solving problems, and if you own a bike and ride it often, you’re guaranteed your share of problems.
I’m always a proponent of not only getting advice from your local bike shop and buying parts and tools there, but letting the workers do the heavy lifting on certain repairs that they are specially trained to do.
Below I’ve listed some of my favorite home mechanic tools. The ones I’ve included have a more specialized purpose, and although some of these tools could be replaced by everyday garage tools, having the right tool for the job makes things easier and puts a smile on my face.
Although most of these tools come from the Park Tool company, I was in no way compensated by them for writing this article. If you are unsure about the correct tool for your specific bike, head on down to your local bike shop and ask questions.
- Park Tool Master Link Pliers – Most chains nowadays have a master or “quick” link that makes taking the chain off and reinstalling it much easier. You can use pliers or wiggle it with your hands, but using these master link pliers from Park Tool makes the process super simple. Put the tool on either side of the master link and give a squeeze and the link pops open, making it easy to remove your chain for cleaning and replacing. Using the tool to combine the links is equally simple. Put your master links back on the chain, put the master link pliers on either side of the links and spread them out to lock the
links onto the chain. This has made cleaning my chain a simple chore rather than a dreaded one. If your current bike does not have a master link, count how many gears your bike has on the back and have your local bike shop get you the correct one. Here is a video demonstration.
- Stans NoTubes Valve Core Tool – This is one tool that I never knew I needed until I had a gift card at the bike shop and picked it up as a “why not” tool because I had a few bucks left to spend. It has come in very handy for tubeless tire setup and maintenance, and for less than $10 it’s an easy addition to your home shop. It removes the core of the valve where you put air into your tires or tubes. To use it, simply place the tool over your valve stem and turn clockwise to tighten and counterclockwise to remove. All the air will come rushing out of your tire or tube, and now you have easy access to replace a damaged valve core or add sealant. It’s light enough that you can throw it in your pack along with a spare valve core for those one-in-a-hundred times when you bend or break your valve stem. Here is a video demonstration.
- Brake Tools – Park Tool Rotor Truing Fork and Park Tool Hydraulic Brake Piston Press – Working on hydraulic brakes can be messy and tricky, but working on the rotor itself is pretty straightforward. If it’s bent and rubbing on the pads you just have to straighten it out. I used to use the channel locks
covered in tape but then threw down some coins for a rotor truing fork and have never looked back. It’s a simple tool with two slots in that slide over your brake rotor and allow you to tune your rotor by spinning it, seeing and hearing where it touches the brake pads and then tweaking it little by little until it’s straight. Here is the DT-2 in action. The brake piston press is another time saver especially when you’re replacing your brake pads on hydraulic brake systems. Sometimes after you’ve removed your brake pads you need to spread the pistons in order to make room for the new, thicker pads. Or you’ve accidentally squeezed the brake lever when your pads are out and don’t have any gap. The standard recommendation is always to use a 10mm box wrench to spread them back out but it’s sometimes tricky to get enough leverage or get the tool in the right spot. The brake piston press makes that job easy. Simply slide it in and press one way on the piston and then the other to create some space. BW Bicycles Cassette Lockring Tool – When I first started to monkey around with my bike, one task I always thought was out of reach was removing the cassette to replace it or clean it. It wasn’t until someone showed me that with a simple cassette lockring remover and a way to keep the cassette from spinning, this task is very easy. Granted, this process and the use of this tool has made it much easier with this Park Tool to hold the cassette, but I’ve seen friends use a rag to keep it from spinning with success as well. The lockring remover is a simple tool, like a socket, that removes the outer ring on most cassettes that in turn allows you to slide the cassette off and tighten it back on. The one I prefer is this tool from BW Bicycles because it has the socket built into the handle of the tool so I don’t need a separate wrench to turn it. It also has a guide pin to line things up correctly. Here is a video from Park Tool on the process. I could not find one that referenced the BW Bicycle tool specifically. *Note – make sure the lockring tool you purchase will fit your cassette or order the correct one from your local bike shop.
- Park Tool Wheel Holder – This was admittedly a splurge purchase, but I love having this tool bolted to my workbench. The Park Tool Wheel Holder comes in two varieties, the WH-1, which is a bit more portable and functional, with multiple wheel positions, but costs $99. The WH-2, which is the one I have, is more reasonably priced at $53 and attaches to your vice or gets bolted to your bench but only has one wheel position. Both of these tools have a simple job and allow you to mount your wheel for secure and easy access for repairs and maintenance, plus they come with accessories to fit all sizes of thru axles and quick release wheels. Here is a video about the WH-2 and the WH-1.
- Big 8mm Hex Tool – The final tool on this list is probably the simplest of the bunch. It’s an 8-mm hex tool that I use to remove pedals and bottom bracket bolts. The reason I love it is that it gives me a lot of torque to remove stubborn bolts, it has a nice ergonomic handle, and it has two ends, one with a hex head and the other with a ball hex head. Leverage, simplicity and functionality are its greatest attributes along with many fewer scraped knuckles. Here is a video about the tool.
Not So Favorite Tool
Kool Stop Tire Bead Jack – One tool that showed great promise when I bought it was the Kool Stop Tire Bead Jack. I have a set of 3.0 tires that I put on a separate set of wheels to turn my fat bike into a bikepacking bike, and they are the hardest tires to seat that I’ve ever owned. I’ve used every trick in the book, so when I saw this tool advertised, I thought it might help. It’s supposed to allow you to get lots of leverage to seat a tire onto the rim by hooking onto the rim and the tire bead and then using the leverage from the long handle to pry the tire on. But I found it tricky to get both points of contact on at the same time, especially with wider tires. The tool also sometimes slipped off and hit the rim tape which can cause tubeless tires to not seal correctly. There’s a definite possibility that I’m using the tool incorrectly or that it’s mostly made for skinnier mountain bike or road bike tires, but I didn’t find it terribly easy to use or friendly on the knuckles. Here is a video of how someone uses it correctly. By the way, the best way to get stubborn tires to seat on a rim is to leave the tires in the sun for a few hours until they’re nice and pliable: Then it’s much easier to slip them on.