12 Tools You Need To Work on Your Bicycles
So you want to fix up that old 10-speed that's been gathering dust in your garage for the last decade? You're going to need the right bike tools.
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Choosing Bike Maintenance and Repair Tools
With bike shops seeing record numbers of customers and many common parts and components back–ordered due to the pandemic, it’s never been a better time to learn how to properly maintain and work on your own bike. If you’re at all handy — and I’m assuming you are because you’re reading this — most of these tasks are actually pretty easy. (Luckily you can find plenty of tutorials on YouTube, and, of course, FamilyHandyman.com.)
While many of the tools you need are probably already in your workshop (like the tools in the first three slides, below), there are quite a few specialty tools to consider adding to your toolbox sooner rather than later.
So, what should you look for in a bike tool?
- Quality. As with many tools, you can feel the difference in quality when holding a solid, well-made pedal wrench versus one that feels as if it’ll break the second you apply the slightest amount of pressure. Not only that, but a poor quality tool can potentially damage your bike components as well.
- Usability. Most bicycle tools are designed with a specific purpose in mind, and they do that one task very well. Think about how you’ll be using that particular tool and the bikes you’ll be working on.
- Warranty. Most tools should be backed by a limited lifetime guarantee. If the manufacturer doesn’t stand behind its multi-tool, don’t be surprised when you’re standing on the side of the road with a broken tool in your hand, mid-repair.
- Manufacturer’s reputation. Park Tool, Pedro’s, Feedback Sports, Topeak, Silca and a few other companies are known for putting out high-quality products year after year and have earned their customers’ loyalty.
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Allen Wrenches (Metric)/Torque Wrench
I use Allen wrenches more than any other tool when working on my bikes. I still carry a Stanley all-in-one set in my van’s tool box. The handle allows me to get a little extra leverage when wrestling with a tricky bolt. In my garage, I’ve upgraded to a set of Park Tool P-handle wrenches. They simply feel better in my hands.
If you own a carbon-fiber bike, a torque wrench is a must-own, because it prevents you from over-tightening bolts and cracking the material. If you own one already, make sure the torque gauge can dip down to the single digits. Pro Bike Tool sells this inexpensive model, and I personally use Topeak’s digital version.
I recently switched my road tires to Continental Gatorskins that are almost impervious to flats, but also notoriously difficult to install. As soon as I got close to seating the tire on one side, the bead would pop out on the other. Luckily I found a solution in my toolbox: a simple quick-grip clamp like this one from Irwin. I work both sides of the tire onto the rim until it starts getting more difficult. I apply the clamp to one side of the tire where the bead is seated. (Be sure to clamp it fully on the tire, not the rim.) Then, using a leverage tool, I inch the rest of the tire on until I hear that satisfying “pop” signifying it’s fully seated. Using this simple clamp has saved me hours of labor and countless curses when changing bike tires.
Air Compressor/Bike pump
If you’re running tubeless tires, an air compressor can be a godsend. Most high-end bike tubes have presta valves rather than the Schrader valves found on auto tires, so make sure you have an adapter or a specialized head and gauge that will work with both.
But, you can’t take your compressor with you everywhere. This Lezyne floor pump works great and is ideal for keeping in the back of your car or van, while the handheld Silca Impero can help you make quick work of any flats during an actual ride.
I’ve seen a few well-meaning garage mechanics try to use a Channellock tool or an adjustable wrench to remove pedals from crankarms, and it almost always ends with them rounding the thin spindle flats. A pedal wrench, like this one from Park Tool, not only fits perfectly, but it also has a long handle that provides additional leverage to loosen pedals that otherwise refuse to budge.
(For best results, be sure to grease the threads when installing new pedals and always remember that when loosening your left pedal, you should be turning the wrench clockwise.)
Chain Whip and Cassette Lockring Tool
If you ride a lot (or don’t do routine maintenance), you’ll probably have to replace your cassette every season or two. Although it’s one of the simplest repairs you’ll ever tackle, you need two specialized bike tools to do it; a chain whip and a lockring tool. Feedback Sports makes an excellent pair of chain pliers and a combination bottom bracket/lockring tool that make an easy job even easier.
Chain Tool/Master-Link Pliers
Likewise, expect to replace your chain every 2,000 to 3,000 miles. To do that, you need a chain tool, AKA a chain breaker, and master-link pliers. After removing the old chain, you’ll need to remove enough links from the new chain so that it loops perfectly around your biggest chainring and rear derailleur pullies. Using a master link allows you to remove the new chain more easily for cleaning and other maintenance.
Over many years of riding bicycles, I’ve saved countless rides (both mine and others’) with the small multitool stashed in my seatbag. I’ve tightened bolts and spokes, fixed chains, adjusted rubbing brakes and more. This year, I’ve been using a version of Topeak’s Alien tool. I’ve only had to break it out a couple of times this year, but just knowing it’s always with me gives me peace of mind on the trail.