THE IMPORTANT STUFF
- Multitool to fit all fasteners on your bikes
- Individual hex keys and screwdriver
- Torque tool
- Tire levers
- Cable cutters
- Chain lube, degreaser, shop towels and gloves
- Spare cables and cable ends
- Specialty tools for disc brakes and tubeless tires/wheels
Home and Travel Tool Kit Necessities
Your bikes are going to need maintenance from time to time and knowing the basics will save you time and money. Sure, you can take your bike to the shop for every little thing that needs adjustment.
Here are my thoughts on a basic tool kit that will get you through the basics at home. This collection will also serve you well as an on the road kit to throw in your vehicle.
At a minimum you should have a multitool that fits all of the fasteners on each of your bikes. Depending on your bike that can mean hex keys (allen wrenches) in the 2-6mm range and possibly a Torx key. A Phillips head screwdriver is helpful too. That multitool should get you through nearly every small adjustment you need to make on your bike.
Beyond a multitool you may want to have individual hex keys, Torx keys and screwdrivers. Sometimes a multitool is a little clunky and the individual tools may make your work a bit easier.
Also, it may seem like a Phillips head screwdriver is what you need to do derailleur adjustments. When you look at the set screws on your derailleurs those screws certainly look like they’re Phillips head, right? On most derailleurs those are actually JIS head screw and those are just a little different than a Phillips head. You can find inexpensive JIS screwdrivers online. I have a Vessel JIS screwdriver and that fits things well.
Another critical tool nowadays is a torque wrench of some type. Most fasteners on your bike have a torque specification that should be followed. If you don’t tighten bolts enough things tend to slip. Under-tightening isn’t your biggest problem though – over-tightening is. This can lead to stripped fasteners in things like stems, seat posts, seat clamps, etc. If you think a torque tool is expensive think about the price of a new stem… If you’ve got carbon components like handlebars on your bike the danger in over-tightening includes crushing the carbon part. Again, look at the price of carbon bars and a torque wrench seems cheap.
While I have a ratchet type torque wrench I’d suggest something like the Park Adjustable Torque Driver (ATD-1.2). The tool adjusts from 4 to 6 nm in 1/2 nm increments. It has 3, 4, 5mm and T25 bits stored in the handle. At about $70 the tool is a good deal. This is my go-to tool for most quick jobs on the bike.
Individual torque keys are another option. These are available at a specified torque – 5nm for example – and are in the $25 range.
OK, so those are the real basics. Here are a few more things that you should have in your tool kit to make life easier:
Pedal Wrench – This used to be simple as most pedals required a 15mm open ended wrench. More recently pedals have needed an 8mm hex key. Look for a hex key with a reasonably long handle so you have the leverage you need to get the pedals off. (And don’t over-tighten your pedals when you install them. The threads on the pedal turn in the direction that you turn your pedals. There’s no need to put all of your might into tightening pedals. That will just make them harder to get off when you need to.)
Tire Levers – You already have them in your seat bag, right? Probably but they’re cheap so buy another set and keep them with your bike tools. You don’t want to get a flat on the road only to remember that you left your tire levers in your tool box.
Cable Cutters – Get a good set and forget trying to use the side cutters that you already have. I have a set of Shimano cable cutters that are about 25 years old. They’re a little dull but they’ve served me well. I have a newer set of Feedback Sports cutters that I love. The cable end crimper is really nice on these and they cut cables without fraying. Speaking of cable ends, buy a few of these from your local bike shop and keep them in your tool kits. Cable ends will help to keep your cables from fraying and poking you…
A couple of specialty tools that you might need…
If you have disc brakes you should have a pad spreading tool and a rotor truing tool. Yes, you can spread pads with a straight bladed screwdriver but that’s not a great idea. Screwdrivers can mar the pads and, if they have grease on them, contaminate your brake pads. Use a proper pad spreader and keep it clean. The rotor truing tool comes in handy if you wind up bending your brake rotors. For some reason most tool manufacturers make these as separate tools. Unior came out with a combo tool in their 2-in1 Disc Brake Tool. (pictured below) I picked one of those up and keep it in my travel tool roll. Seriously, why hadn’t anyone combined these before? (Maybe another manufacturer has and I don’t know about it…)
If you have tubeless tires on your bike then a valve core removal tool should be in your kit. Yes, you can remove valve cores with needlenose pliers (throw a set in your tool box for other tasks) but a proper tool isn’t going a mar your valve core like pliers can. If you run tubeless tires you’re going to want to check and top up your sealant occasionally and you’ll need to remove your valve cores to do that. Feedback Sports’ Valve Core Wrench is shown above with their cable cutters.
Here are a few spare parts that you’ll need from time to time. Having spares around saves a trip to the shop…not that there’s anything wrong with a trip to the bike shop.
Spare brake and derailleur cables – Changing cables out is pretty simple so have one or two of each in your tool box. Remember to keep some cable ends around too.
Chain lube – Here’s a tip: You’re lubing the little rollers in the links of the chain. Apply lube to the chain, back pedal a few times and then wipe the chain off. Your chain shouldn’t be an oily mess. Keep things clean and your bike will be happier.
Degreaser – Even if you apply lube properly your drivetrain is going to pick up road grit. If things are looking a little gummed up spray some degreaser on your chain, derailleurs and chainrings and give everything a nice wipe down. Make sure you reapply chain lube after you’ve cleaned up. More on cleaning your bike will be in a future article.
Keep a couple pairs of disposable gloves for maintenance tasks. These are especially helpful if you wind up having to do some parking lot maintenance on a dirty bike. Keep some shop towels in your tool kit, too.
A couple more items will save you some time and hassle. A roll of electrical tape for securing handlebar tape is good to have. A few zip ties may get you out of a bind too. A pair of scissors to cut tape and snip off zip ties is another nice item to have.
Have anything to add to a basic tool kit? Leave a comment and let me know if I missed something.
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