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Tool Question

Old 07-16-20, 07:29 PM
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408mopar
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Tool Question

I'm pretty new to bike repair. It seems there are a lot of special tools required. When I was young (I'm 61), I was learning car repair. One of the reasons I changed careers was because of all the special tools required, then after a few years, you hardly used them.

Is this how bike repair is? I stop and buy the correct tool. Even if I use it once, I like having it. (If I die before my wife, she'll be amazed at what she finds in the garage. Car and bike repair, stuff for around the house jobs, etc.) Probably from too many years of using, well, I'll just say, the "wrong" tools.
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Old 07-16-20, 07:56 PM
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There are a lot of specialized tools but also many which are common to all bikes. Good cable cutters are one example. I have never regretted the money I spent decades ago on my Felco cable cutters, they worl like the day I bought them. Hex and Torx keys are another, but you should consider them consumable, to be discarded when worn, although you CAN grind back the tips to expose new, sharp edges and prolong their life.
For my use I stick with older bikes that use the old standards like square taper cranks so I minimize the number of special tools I need to buy.
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Old 07-16-20, 10:49 PM
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You can get set up for pretty comprehensive bike maintenance for a lot less that you can for car maintenance. There are a number of previous threads that discuss what tools you need to get started, but I would start with the basics and then buy tools as needed for your bike only.
  • Set of metric Allen keys - buy decent ones and treat them well - sloppy use will result in rounded-out keys and fasteners
  • Low range (1/4" drive) torque wrench (really only necessary for torquing carbon components like bars and stems at ~5 Nm) and some Allen heads (more and more bikes are using Torx fasteners - only buy if your bike needs them). Decent beam-type wrenches are cheaper than click-type wrenches and don't need calibration - not quite as convenient to use, though
  • Medium range (3/8" drive) torque wrench (you'll need 30-50 Nm for installing bottom brackets, cranks and cassettes - however, I survived ~30 years and built many bikes without the benefit of such a wrench - as a general rule, small fasteners tend to be over-tightened (hence the need for a small torque wrench) and large fasteners tend to be under-torqued (hence the need for a sufficiently large ratchet handle or medium torque wrench))
  • Bottom Bracket and cassette tool (there are numerous BB standards requiring as many BB tools- they're not expensive unless you want a complete collection - get whatever one(s) you need for your bike(s))
  • 3/8" drive ratchet and some sockets - even if you don't get the larger torque wrench, you'll need something with enough grunt to install the bigger items - BB/cassette tools usually require a 3/8" square drive or a large-ish (1") socket head
  • Chain whip - needed to remove most cassettes in combination with the cassette tool
  • Cable cutters - needed for cleanly cutting cables and housing - treat them well and don't use them for anything else (I find that a Dremel with a cutoff wheel does a better job on housing)
  • Headset- and pedal wrenches (becoming less necessary as more and more bikes use threadless stems and pedals use Allen keys - only buy if your bike needs them)
  • A bike stand - not necessary, but makes life a lot easier
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Old 07-17-20, 09:38 AM
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My "go-to" tool is a set of folding allen wrenches as it's quick to swap between sizes and the angled head can get in tight places (but I also have long L ones for deep or tight screws and sockets for recalcitrant ones). These are $7 at HomeDepot.

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Old 07-17-20, 09:43 AM
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I have found Hozan's 4th hand immensely useful.. grabs cables and pulls it .. gets zip ties real tight too.
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Old 07-17-20, 10:20 AM
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Get a work-stand!

Bike work-stand makes everything easier, like a lift for auto mechanics does. I got by for many years hanging bike from rubber straps, but you don't have the stable position of bike that you need. Should have bought work-stand years before I did...
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Old 07-17-20, 04:11 PM
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I have a garage full of tools as well, but all my special bike tools fit in a single tool chest pull out drawer. Most of your car tools will do double duty.

A good bike stand does make life more enjoyable.
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Old 07-18-20, 08:57 AM
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408mopar
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So guess the answer is, "yes", there are a lot of specialized tools, but they don't cost as much as auto repair tools. Which is what I kinda figured.

I have all of the basics, and I buy any special tools I need as I go.

I do need a cable tool. Looks like a major agg saver there.

I built a work stand from PVC pipe. It helps a lot, but doesn't clamp it firmly. The bike hangs from it. Maybe Santa will bring me one someday if she, wants her bike fixed. (Around here, Santa looks a lot like my wife.)
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Old 07-18-20, 09:33 AM
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Originally Posted by 408mopar View Post
I'm pretty new to bike repair. It seems there are a lot of special tools required. When I was young (I'm 61), I was learning car repair. One of the reasons I changed careers was because of all the special tools required, then after a few years, you hardly used them.

Is this how bike repair is?
There are just a few specialized bicycle tools you'll need with specifics depending on which bicycles you work on. They aren't numerous - everything but my repair stand, wheel ruing stand, and wheel dish stick fit in one shallow tool rollaway drawer with room left over for all my hex keys and stubby combination wrench sets. Apart from repair and wheel truing stands which aren't technically necessary they aren't expensive.

Bicycles require a chain whip and cassette or freewheel tool. Most these days use a Shimano cassette tool.

Spoke wrenches in one of three common sizes are required for wheel truing.

Contemporary bicycles with threaded bottom bracket shells usually use a 16 notch socket.

Older usually have cup and cone hubs usually require cone wrenches in two sizes. Many need two of each size, although a few let you use a normal open ended wrench on the lock nut.

Older bicycles have threaded headsets which require a pair of 32mm wrenches.

Bicycles without self-extracting crank arms require a crank extractor.

Most companies switched to cartridge bottom brackets over 25 years ago, although becoming even more vintage you'll need lock ring and adjustable cup spanners. Replacing the fixed cup requires a special tool too.

A repair stand elevates bicycles to a comfortable height to work on them.

Using a truing stand at your kitchen table is more pleasant than spinning wheels mounted to your bicycle and observing brake pad or frame clearance as they rotate.

A smart phone app or tension meter will help achieve correct absolute tension if you build a wheel from scratch.

Last edited by Drew Eckhardt; 07-18-20 at 09:37 AM.
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Old 07-18-20, 10:05 AM
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Sadly, the answer is yes. When I was a kid, my dad maintained all of the family bikes with general purpose home tools plus a cone wrench that he made with a piece of thick sheet metal and a hacksaw. Later on, I made my own cone wrench, just for old time's sake. Looking at old Schwinns today, it's apparent to me that they were conscious of using components and fasteners that could be serviced by the owner using commonplace tools, or by a non specialized repair shop. They made bikes for humans to ride.

Those days are gone. Generally speaking in industry, new tooling is introduced to improve manufacturing, since more things tend to be manufactured than are ever repaired by their users. In the bike industry, I suspect that design changes themselves force changes of tools, for instance radically changing the diameter and fitting of the bottom bracket spindle necessitates a tool change. The cynical reaction is that this is a form of planned obsolescence, and some new designs do seem gratuitous to the casual rider like myself. But I think bike companies are mainly in the business of making and selling new bikes, not screwing people who have old bikes.

My habit is to avoid creating a fully equipped shop in advance of need. If I need to replace a part that needs a special tool, I order the tool along with the part. I don't pay extra for pro quality, if I'm just going to use something once per decade. I adapt home tools or even make things if it's quicker than buying something. For instance I don't know who makes 5/8 and 7/8 inch cone wrenches, so I made them myself.
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Old 07-19-20, 09:13 AM
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Special tools are nice to have when you need one. The truth is that doesn't happen as often as you are probably imagining. You will be surprised at how much bike maintenance you can do with just a 5mm Allen key.
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Old 07-19-20, 10:31 AM
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Originally Posted by Gresp15C View Post
My habit is to avoid creating a fully equipped shop in advance of need. If I need to replace a part that needs a special tool, I order the tool along with the part. I don't pay extra for pro quality, if I'm just going to use something once per decade. I adapt home tools or even make things if it's quicker than buying something. For instance I don't know who makes 5/8 and 7/8 inch cone wrenches, so I made them myself.
My approach is much the same. Made my own chain whip and derailleur hanger tester/ straightener out of old junk in garage. Doubly satisfying every time I use them.
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Old 07-19-20, 07:12 PM
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Originally Posted by 408mopar View Post

I built a work stand from PVC pipe. It helps a lot, but doesn't clamp it firmly. The bike hangs from it. Maybe Santa will bring me one someday if she, wants her bike fixed. (Around here, Santa looks a lot like my wife.)
...I used a couple of these hooks, strategically mounted to a garage level roof support beam, at a distance where one could hook under the stem, and the other under a saddle rail. There were a lot of things that are easier to do on a real stand, but I got by for several years using that setup.


Yes, there are a lot of specific tools, and yes, there is a lot of proprietary design that necessitates them. But if you're only maintaining one or two bikes, you won't require most of them.
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Old 07-20-20, 10:24 AM
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I think the answer is somewhere between "lots of tools" and "just these dozen," depending on what you want to do.

You want to open a bike shop (or coop), and be able to fix anything that rolls in the door? Remember the joke about the best way to make a small fortune running a bike shop is to start with a large fortune?

You want to maintain a few bikes for family members? Start with what you got, buy a few high quality general bike-purpose tools (like the cable cutter), and buy other tools as you need them. I'll probably never buy tools to chase bottom bracket threads or face a head tube -- it's worth cultivating a well-equipped local bike shop with a good mechanic, and paying them for such rarely used operations.
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Old 07-20-20, 10:33 AM
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If you are only working on your own bikes and maybe a few neighbors, you probably don't need much. I wouldn't by special tools until you need them. And then consider if you will ever need them again. I have a half dozen bicycle tools I've only used once.

Once to remove a part and then the part I replaced it with required a different tool. All together they would probably be a 150 bucks if bought today. Not much, but that might have bought me a good bottle of scotch. <grin>


Otherwise a couple specific sizes of allen key, torx, flat blade screw driver and JIS screw drivers. Maybe a phillips screwdriver. A tool to break your chain, a good one. And some decent levers to change a tire with.

Last edited by Iride01; 07-20-20 at 10:38 AM.
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Old 07-20-20, 10:45 AM
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Originally Posted by 408mopar View Post
So guess the answer is, "yes", there are a lot of specialized tools, but they don't cost as much as auto repair tools. Which is what I kinda figured.
One huge difference in terms of cost and convenience is that you don't need any of the electronic diagnostic stuff that modern cars require. That's one of the reasons why I find working on bikes so much more relaxing and satisfying.

Also, you are usually good with one set of whatever standard tool is require, whereas automotive tools often require some redundancy (10mm socket, 10mm long socket, 10mm open end wrench, 5" extension bar for socket, 10" extension bar for socket, universal joint for socket...)
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