Some riders loathe having to tackle trailside fixes and adjustments, while for others it’s a chance to wield their trusty bike tools and enjoy the zen of bicycle maintenance and repair.
For more information keep reading the Best Bike Tools Buying Guide….
Why do I need bike tools?
Whichever camp you fall into, you are going to need quality bike tools that are up to the job. These can range from a simple tool kit, to a box or workshop packed with task-specific implements for every occasion.
When buying tools its worth noting cheap tools have a limited lifespan and their inferior materials can often break, or even damage your bike. Good-quality tools, built to last, can be expensive but are a long-term investment.
This guide includes some of the more widely-used tools and accessories for biking, some common tools for dealing with riding emergencies, as well as the foundations of a well-stocked workshop.
Commonly-required Allen keys and wrenches
• Adjustable spanner: Ideally with a decent-length handle for leverage. Rubber-coated handles help with comfort when trying to loosen stuck bolts. Choose a spanner with jaws that open to at least 32mm. A set of metric spanners (sizes 8, 9, 10, 15 and 17mm) is also a good idea as properly sized spanners are less likely to slip on a bolt than an adjustable one, but the latter should see you through most situations to start off with.
• Allen keys: A set of Allen keys (also known as hex wrenches) in different sizes – at least a range of 2., 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8mm sizes – is a must for a multitude of different parts on your bike. A multi-tool will feature a number of the most widely-used but it is advisable to get a separate set of individual keys for home repairs. These are longer, more comfortable to hold and use, and greater leverage can be exerted for tightening or loosening sticky bolts. A set of ball-ended Allen keys will make it easier to get at bolts in awkward positions.
• Pedal spanner: Most makes of pedals require a 15mm spanner. Pedal spanners are thinner than normal spanners so that they can slide in between the pedal and the crank (Time pedals are secured using a 6mm Allen key).
• Torque wrench: Nuts and bolts on many bike parts, especially the latest generation of external bottom bracket cranks, disc brakes, carbon fibre bars and stems etc, are engineered to specific tolerances. Under-tightening bolts risks having them work loose, while over-tightening can easily result in stripped threads or crushed carbon.
NOTE: Nowadays the owners' manuals for most new parts will feature a list of recommended torque settings (how much the manufacturer advises each bolt or nut be tightened, measured in Newtons [Nm] or pounds per inch [lbs]). A torque wrench is a nifty tool that allows you to set a specific torque level to which a bolt is tightened, alerting you audibly – usually by clicking – when that level is reached. These tools are not cheap but are a highly recommended addition to any workshop that regularly maintains or repairs precision parts, in order to prevent damage.
• Torx tool: The six bolts that attach your disc brake rotor to your hub normally have special ‘torx’ heads slightly different to normal Allen bolts, and you will need the appropriate tool to tighten or remove them. The exception is Shimano’s ‘Centre Lock’ rotor fitting, for which you need a splined lockring remover (the lockring removal tool for Shimano splined cassettes – see below – will also fit Centre Lock rotors).
Bearing kits are specific tools designed for the service and installation of the cartridge-type bearings used in hubs, bottom brackets and suspension pivots.
Cassette and Chain Tools
These are tools to remove, adjust and re-fit cassettes and chains. They include cassette removal tools, chain tools (or chain splitter), chain-wear measuring tools and chain whips.
• Cassette lockring removal tool: Fits into the splines at the centre of the cassette and allows you to loosen the cassette lockring. These either come as a small splined socket used in conjunction with a normal spanner, or as a complete tool You will also need a chain whip to remove a cassette (below).
• Chain tool: For splitting and rejoining chains, with a threaded screw that pops out the rivet connecting chain links. Link pliers are also available to help rejoin chains. NOTE: Shimano chains require a special rivet to be rejoined once they have been split, so it might be an idea to have a few spares if you are running a Shimano chain. SRAM chains, on the other hand, feature a special Powerlink that enables them to be split without a chain tool (however you will still need one to repair a SRAM chain if it breaks at any other link).
• Chain-wear measuring tool: This indicates how much your chain has stretched letting you know when it is time to replace it. Money-saving in the long run as it will prevent your chain from getting to the point where it begins to damage the other components of your drivetrain, requiring you to also replace your cassette and chainrings.
• Chain whip: A metal tool with a length of chain link, the purpose of which is to hold the cassette securely and prevent it from spinning as you undo the lockring (above). Not needed to refit the cassette.
• Crank extractor: For removing cranks (except on bikes using external bottom brackets – see below). The body of the tool screws into the crank, while a spanner is used to drive the internal part of the tool, pushing the crank off the axle. Check whether you need an extractor for a splined or square-taper (on older and budget bikes) bottom bracket.
Cranksets require specific tools for their removal – check the standard of your crankset/BB (splined, square taper, press-fit, or external BB for example, before buying.)
• Bottom bracket tools (ISIS and Shimano splined): Splined bottom brackets require the use of a small tool that fits into the splines, as well as an adjustable spanner, to remove them from the frame. Note there are two main types of splined bottom brackets – Shimano and ISIS (used by a number of manufacturers including Truvative and Raceface). Check which type of crankset you are running and buy accordingly.
• External bottom bracket tools: External bottom brackets such as the Shimano Hollowtech II type – where the bearings sit outside the ends of the bottom bracket shell, rather then in an internal cartridge – also require specialist tools for removal and installation. Firstly you will need a special external BB spanner to fit the bearing cups on either side of the BB shell (this spanner has notches that fit the splines on the cups, rather than normal spanner flats) and you will also need a small crank installation tool to finger-tighten a special nut when installing the cranks (finger-tightening prevents the bearings from being overloaded), before you tighten the crank bolts as normal.
The essential addition to every biker’s pocket or pack, a multi-tool will get you out of most emergency situations and allow for positioning adjustments on the fly.
Most will feature a set of Allen keys and a selection of screwdrivers at the very least, with the more elaborate also adding a host of other bits and bobs. However bulky is not always best – look for a compact and well-built tool with handle that is comfortable to hold when you need to exert pressure on a tricky bolt.
A multi-tool with a chain tool is a good idea as a snapped chain is a roadside repair that could have disastrous consequences, but make sure you also carry some spare links or (in the case of Shimano chains) joining rivets.
Everything you need in the workshop in one handy kit, with the added bonus of a carry case for easy transportation to trailhead or race start line.
Tool kits range from basic selections which will serve as the foundation for your bike-specific tool collection, to fully-stocked professional kits intended for bike mechanic use.
Miscellaneous tools that can be useful additions to your workshop including:
• Cable cutters: A good pair of wire cutters will cleanly snip gear and brake cable ends and cable outers, preventing fraying.
• Carbon hacksaw: For cutting carbon fibre handlebars, seatposts etc down to size and featuring specially-treated blades that won’t damage the material.
• Mallet: A rubber-coated mallet (not a normal metal hammer, it will damage your bike) is useful to dislodge stuck parts.
Wheel and Tyre Tools
Essential tools for maintenance of your wheels and tyres include cone spanners, tyre levers, spoke keys and a wheel jig or truing stand.
• Cone spanners: Specially-sized spanners to adjust the older style ‘cup and cone’ bearings on wheel hubs (many newer bikes and wheels now use cartridge bearings). They are thinner than normal spanners in order to fit the narrow cone nuts. You will need two, as the nuts must be tightened against each other once adjusted. Sizes vary, so check your hubs to determine if you are running these kind of bearings and to see what size spanners you need to service and adjust your hubs.
• Spoke key: Also known as a spoke wrench, this is a small tool to tighten or loosen spoke nipples and ‘true’ the wheel (adjust spoke tension so the wheel turns in a perfect circle without any ‘wobble’).
• Tyre levers: For levering the bead of the tyre off the rim when fixing a puncture or changing a tyre or tube (although the ability to do this using thumbs alone is a matter of pride for some cyclists). A simple tool, but look for good-quality examples – cheap plastic levers could snap under pressure while steel levers could damage your rims.
• Wheel jig/truing stand: If you wish to build or re-true your own wheels a wheel jig (a frame in which the wheel is mounted, with callipers to indicate whether the rim is in or out of true).
Aside from the above bike tool essentials, a well-stocked workshop will ensure you always have the right tool to hand, even for odd or unusual jobs. Meanwhile the professional mechanic will require specific tools for every job. Some of the things you may find you need are:
• Cleaners and lube: You will need a selection of cycle-specific cleaning fluids, lubes (wet and dry) and degreasers in order to remove grime from your bike and keep moving parts running smoothly (see our ‘Lubes & Cleaning buyers guide for an in-depth explanation). Penetrating oil (to help free up stuck bolts) and bike grease are also essential.
• Headset press: For the accurate and even installation of headset races and bearings. Other headset-specific tools include crown race setting and removal tools and star nut installers.
• Suspension pump: For adjusting the volume of air in air shocks and forks. These feature a pressure gauge – be sure the follow the suspension manufacturer’s instructions regarding the correct amount of pressure for your weight (see our ‘Pumps’ buyers guide for more information on suspension pumps).
• Screwdrivers: At least one flat-bladed ‘normal’ screwdriver and a Phillips-head screwdriver (ideally no. 2 size).
• Track pump: While a micro-pump in your backpack or a small pump that fits to the frame is fine for out on the trail, you will make life a lot easier for yourself with a proper floor-standing track pump in the garage. These pump a larger volume of air, making inflation much easier, and feature a built-in pressure gauge to accurately measure your tyre PSI and prevent over- or under-inflation. They are also essential for properly seating UST (tubeless) tyres (see our ‘Pumps’ buyers guide for more information on track pumps).
• Workstand: Any serious workshop will need a workstand to get the bike off the floor and allow easy adjustment of gears and other parts. As with all workshop equipment, investment in a sturdy piece of kit from a reputable maker will pay off in the long run. Look for a workstand with adjustable leg and height settings to enable it be set up for your preference, and a secure clamp with the protective padding necessary to prevent frame damage.
NOTE: The cycle industry uses an enormous variety of different standards in the design and fit of bike components, while several distinct standards are common for specific parts (such as bottom brackets and cranksets) as manufacturers bring new designs to market. Many parts therefore will require specific tools not only for the part, but also for the manufacturer’s standard used. For example, bicycle cranks require a specialist crank extractor tool to remove, with the different design standard used (Shimano splined, ISIS, square-taper, external BB, press-fit) determining the exact type of crank extractor you will need. When buying tools for specific jobs, make sure to check the standard used on your bike and any relevant measurements, and buy accordingly.