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The kit you need to do your own basic bike maintenance

Save money and keep your bike running better by doing your own maintenance; here’s what you need.

You don’t need a vast array of specialist tools to work on your bike. Most essential jobs can be done with a few good quality standard tools and a handful of bike-specific ones.

If there’s an area where the adage ‘buy quality, buy once’ applies, it’s tools. Good tools work better, last longer and are less likely to damage the parts you’re working on. Think of them as an investment, not a cost.

Each bike’s different, but there are many tools common to almost all bikes. Here’s what you need for straightforward jobs such as changing cables, adjusting brakes and gears, tweaking saddle position and angle, setting up handlebars, changing and inflating tyres and changing your chain and sprockets.

Bonhus allen keys.jpg

Ball-end Allen keys. Don’t skimp on these; you’ll be using them a lot. Ball-end keys allow you to turn a bolt from an angle, which speeds up many jobs. As well as being harder and more accurately made, and therefore less likely to mash the bolts you tighten with them, high-quality keys have a narrower neck for the ball, and therefore work at steeper angles, making them more versatile.

Recommended: Bondhus 1.5 - 10mm Hex Key Set — £11.95 | Park Tool PH1 P Handled Hex Wrench Set — £55

Stanley screwdriver set.jpg

Screwdrivers. You want a couple of flat-blade screwdrivers and Phillips (cross-head) No 1 and 2, and possibly a size 0 too. A more extensive set will include sizes that are useful round the house too.

Recommended: Stanley Cushion Grip 8-piece Screwdriver Set — £19.09 | Draper 43371 16-Piece Screwdriver Set — £39.90

Combination spanners.jpg

Combination spanners. I almost hesitate to include these because bolts with spanner flats are now rare on good quality bikes. You will almost certainly never need more than 8, 9 and 10mm, plus a 13mm if you have bolt-up hubs. If you need spanners for other jobs, then the sets we've suggested have everything you need for the bike too, but if bike fettling is your only need, then it'll be cheaper to buy individual spanners.

Recommended: Draper 11-Piece Metric Combination Spanner Set — £21.99 | Bahco 12-piece Metric Combination Spanner Set of 12 — £39.00

Pliers set.jpg

Pliers. A set of combination pliers has lots of uses, from generally holding and pulling parts to crimping cable ends.You'll also find lots of uses for long-nose pliers, so a set of three with side cutters is good value.

Recommended: Draper 09405 160mm DIY Plier Set — £20.68 | Stanley Tools FatMax Compound Action Plier Set of 3 — £30.49

Wera Torx keys

Torx keys. Torx fittings are becoming increasingly common. Like Allen keys, you can get them with plain or ball ends.

Recommended: X-Tools Torx Star Key Set — £6.99 | Wera Multicolour Tamper-proof/Ballend Torx Key Set — £21.95

Bike-specific tools

Lezyne Power Lever XL - open

Tyre levers. You need a couple of sets, one for your home toolbox and one for your on-bike toolbag.

Recommended: Lezyne Power Tyre Lever — £2.99/pr | Park Tool TL-5 Heavy Duty Steel Tyre Levers — £23.07

Birzman Maha Apogee Ⅲ floor pump

Floor pump. It’s much easier to keep your tyre pressures up to snuff with a floor pump (aka a track pump) than any portable pump.

Recommended: Topeak Joe Blow Sport III — £32.99 | Beto Surge — £45

For more options see our Buyer's Guide to track pumps

Lezyne Classic Pedal Spanner

Pedal spanner. If your pedals have 15mm flats, then you'll need a 15mm spanner to take them on and off. A standard 15mm spanner will fit some pedals, but others need the thinner jaws of a specific pedal spanner.

Recommended: Lezyne Classic Pedal Spanner — £16.81 | X-Tools 15mm Pedal Spanner — £3.99

Park Tool cable puller.jpg

Cable puller. Owners of hydraulic-braked bikes with electronic shifting can ignore this. The rest of us will find fitting and adjusting brake and gear cables a lot easier with a tool that pulls the cable snug and holds it in place while you tighten the clamp bolt.

Recommended: Draper 31043 Cable Tensioner — £12.49 | Park Tool BT-2 cable puller — £39.59

20416_shimano_sis_cable_cutters.jpg

Cable cutter. Do not try and cut cables with pliers, sidecutters, tin snips or any other vaguely sharp snippity-chop tool you have kicking around; you’ll just make a mess of them. Get yourself a proper set of cable cutters with blades shaped to keep the cable strands together.

Recommended: Draper Expert 57768 Cutters — £9.89 | Shimano TL-CT12 — ~£32

Park Tool CC-3.2_001.jpg

Chain wear gauge. You can keep an eye on the wear of your chain by measuring its length over 12 full links with a good quality ruler. If it’s 12 1/16in long, then it’s time to replace it and if it’s reached 12 1/8in you will probably have to replace the sprockets too. A wear gauge makes this easier by telling you when your chain needs ditching.

Recommended: Park Tool Chain Wear Indicator CC3.2 — £5.99 | Park Tool CC-2 chain checker — £19.75

Park CT-4.3_003.jpg

Chain tool. Essential if you want to replace your own chain. If you've a Campagnolo 11-speed transmission you'll need a tool with a peening anvil like Campagnolo's, which has a wallet-clenching £153 RRP. Fortunately, Park Tool and Lezyne, among others, have cheaper alternatives that will tackle other chains too.

Recommended: Lezyne Chain Drive Tool - 11 Speed — £20.99 | Park Tool Master Chain Tool — £52.93

shimano tl-cn10 quick-link pliers

Chain joining link pliers. Almost all chains now come with a joining link. SRAM calls it a Powerlink, KMC a Missing Link and Shimano a Quick-Link, but they're all basically the same thing: a pair of outer link plates with a permanently mounted pin in each that fits into a slot in the other. Once upon a time, joining links like this could be opened by hand, but for 10-speed and 11-speed chains there's just not enough room to leave slack for hand operation, and they have to connect tightly enough that you need these pliers to separate them. Shimano's 11-speed master links are an extremely tight fit and need force to join them too, which is why these pliers have an extra set of jaws.

Recommended: Shimano TL-CN10 Master Link Pliers — £21.74 | SuperB_ToBe 2 in 1 Master Link Pliers — £9.33

Feedback Ultralight.jpg

Workstand. On the one hand, this is a bit of a luxury; on the other being able to hold your bike steady and well clear of the floor makes any job easier. Your back will thank you for not leaning over a bike for hours on end too.

Recommended: FWE Compact Folding Workstand — £49.99 | Feedback Sports Pro Ultralight — £154.49

Effetto Mariposa Giustaforza torque wrench

Torque wrench. Expensive, but essential to prevent damage if you're wrenching carbon fibre or other super-light components.

Recommended: Effetto Mariposa Giustaforza II — £149.99

lifeline-professional-cassette-tool-bundle.jpg

Sprocket tools. To change your sprockets you’ll need a chain whip — to hold the sprockets in place — and a lockring tool to undo the nut that holds them in place.

X-Tools Pro Chain Whip BTL11 — £14.99 | Acor Cassette Lockring Remover — £11.24

Find stockists

Lezyne
Park Tool
Birzman
Shimano
BBB

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Road.cc buyer's guides are maintained and updated by John Stevenson. Email John with comments, corrections or queries.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

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Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

53 comments

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IanEdward [306 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Actually I quite like the look of the Tacx brake pad aligner, it looks as if it would stop the pads rotating as I tightened them. Not that this has ever been a massive problem, but it does mean I have to undo and retighten occassionally.

Never seem to need to toe in the pads on my Ultegra callipers, but them front pads on my mini-vs seem to benefit, it's the difference between silent braking and faint high pitched squeel it seems.

 

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ktache [1703 posts] 1 year ago
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I was quite excited about the Tacx brake pad aligner, but I've tried it a few times now and it seems that using it with my Curve cantis on my getting to work bike with 2.1 knobblies is more trouble than doing it by eye.  Shame.  Nice idea though and it would probably work better with other setups.

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dreamlx10 [311 posts] 1 year ago
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PaulBox wrote:

I thought this was going to be a series of photos of beardy people wearing Rapha... 

.....on bikes with disc brakes.....

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horizontal dropout [301 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

I absolutely recommend the B'twin cassette holder tool instead of a chain whip. https://www.decathlon.co.uk/chain-whip-cassette-remover-id_8309913.html. One of the best , and best value, bike tools I ever bought.

 

How come there are comments from 11 months ago when this article was published a couple of days ago?

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fukawitribe [2829 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
horizontal dropout wrote:

How come there are comments from 11 months ago when this article was published a couple of days ago?

.. probably because it's another zombie article which has resurfaced. There has been quite some flush of them recently, some understandable, some quite odd. Holidays perhaps ?

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Doug.F. [36 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

Here's a great ghetto tip for when you lose your quick-link pliers (that would be me, then) that works perfectly is feed a gear inner through the chain on one side of the quick link and back up through the chain on the other side and then cross over the end of the cable and pull hard. It pops the chain apart perfectly with virtually no effort smiley.

Splendid idea,thank you for the tip.

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Doug.F. [36 posts] 1 year ago
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<p>[quote=StraelGuy]</p>

<p>Here's a great ghetto tip for when you lose your quick-link pliers (that would be me, then) that works perfectly is feed a gear inner through the chain on one side of&nbsp;the quick link&nbsp;and back up through the chain on the other side and then cross over the end of the cable and pull hard. It pops the chain apart perfectly with virtually no effort <img alt="smiley" height="18" src="/sites/all/themes/rcc/images/smilies/16.gif" title="smiley" width="18" />.</p>

<p>[/quote]</p>

<p>&nbsp;</p>

<p>&nbsp;</p>

<p>&nbsp; Spendid idea,thank you .</p>

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nbrus [585 posts] 1 year ago
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. . wrote:
Toast wrote:

How much of a difference do cable pullers make?

I'm sure they're a "nice to have", but I've successfully replaced plenty of gear cables without.  I just push against the derailleur spring slightly when tightening the pinch bolt to add a bit of extra tension to the cable.

Cable pullers are really useful for tensioning cable ties, which is mostly what mine are used for.

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StraelGuy [1699 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes

I really wish you hadn't said that, I now have a cable tie death-gripped around my finger yes...

 

Edit: ouch, thank you Pedro's cable cutters.

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srchar [1405 posts] 9 months ago
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Those of you who toe in your brake pads - what do you do when they've worn a bit and their faces are once more parallel to the rim?  Toe them in again?  And again, and again, until you've got no meat on the front of the pad, while the rear is pristine?

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janusz0 [343 posts] 9 months ago
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srchar wrote:

Those of you who toe in your brake pads - what do you do when they've worn a bit and their faces are once more parallel to the rim?  Toe them in again?  And again, and again, until you've got no meat on the front of the pad, while the rear is pristine?

It doesn't really work like that.  You only need to toe them in a little and although they may wear more at the front, they wear nearly as much along the whole length, so you won't need to adjust them many times before the whole block is ready for replacement.  The real worry is people who toe in their brakes by bending the caliper ends instead of using brake shoes with adjusters!

* technical term, sorry.

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EK Spinner [187 posts] 9 months ago
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I admit to using both the cable puller and the pad alignment tools.

The cable puller is also known as a third hand, I find it useful not so much for pulling the cable but more for locking it in place while I then fasten the cable in place

I lick the pad adjuster mostly because I am really bad at getting the brakes setup consistant but using this I have similar brake feel across all my bikes

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hawkinspeter [3741 posts] 9 months ago
1 like
EK Spinner wrote:

I admit to using both the cable puller and the pad alignment tools.

The cable puller is also known as a third hand, I find it useful not so much for pulling the cable but more for locking it in place while I then fasten the cable in place

I lick the pad adjuster mostly because I am really bad at getting the brakes setup consistant but using this I have similar brake feel across all my bikes

I've tried using both the third hand tool and a pad alignment tool (I didn't try licking it though) and found them both more fiddly than just working directly with the cable and/or pads.

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Cugel [76 posts] 7 months ago
2 likes

If you have Shimano, you want JIS screwdrivers not Philips. They look similar but aren't. Philips tend to cam-out of wee bolts like those used to adjust derailleur throw. The JIS screwdrivers (of the right size) fit perfectly. (JIS = Japanese Industrial Standard).

You don't need a standard set of spanners of all sizes for a bike. You need one or three very specific spanners for limited tasks. For example, very thin ones of the right sizes to apply to hub locknuts and cones; a 7mm open/ring spanner for disc brake caliper bleed nuts; a two-pronged thingy to hold the back-side nuts of chainring bolts; and so forth. Ordinary spanners are rarely of any use. You'r often better off with a socket set anyway, for those odd bike things with standard nuts, such as mudguards or nuts on cantilever brakes.

There are some special tools for some kinds of bikes. For example: BB tighteners and removers of various kinds, depending on the BB. Various presses for putting in things like wheel bearings, headset bearings and BB bearings of the press-fit kind. (And perhaps a special tool for knocking the old bearings out).

Bikes with internal cables may need a special kit to help thread the things if they ever need removing and replacing. A lot of current bikes have the dreaded internal cables.

Hydraulic disk brakes will need to be bled at some point so a special kit and fluid for the brake types will be necessary.

And so on. It's no longer as simple as it used to be. On the other hand, you may not need a BB facing tool or various other major items once needed for the bikes of yesteryear (unless you still have a bike of yesteryear).

Cugel

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CXR94Di2 [2625 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes

I have all the tools I need to do everything on a push bike.  I have made or used simple parts to make items like bearing press or pullers.  A good set of Allen keys, Torque wrench, and a few basic chain/cassette tools will see you sort most jobs

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Woldsman [322 posts] 7 months ago
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Cugel wrote:

If you have Shimano, you want JIS screwdrivers not Philips ... (JIS = Japanese Industrial Standard).

Agreed.  I have no Phillips fasteners on any of my bikes, so there isn't a Phillips screwdriver in my bicycle toolbox. 

Cugel wrote:

You don't need a standard set of spanners of all sizes for a bike...You're often better off with a socket set anyway, for those odd bike things with standard nuts, such as mudguards or nuts on cantilever brakes.

I have a full set of 12 Halfords ratcheting spanners, partly because it wasn't much more expensive than picking out individual ones; I hate finding that I could do with a specific tool when I'm part way through any job. From memory I needed three separate ring spanners when working on the cantilever brakes of my old touring bike last summer.  I've never found the need for a fourth hand tool (such as the Park Tool one above) on my more modern bikes, but the third hand tool below got a rare outing on those cantis so it still earns its place in the toolbox. 

To the list above I might add a pair of flush cutters (those pictured below can be bought from Hobby Craft), fairly cheap and much more effective than side cutters that leave a sharp end to a cut zip tie; a pick to remove splinters of metal and other crud from rim brake blocks; and after all that expense a simple DIY chain hook (mine is made from a dry cleaner's wire coat hanger) that takes out some of the faff when cutting or reconnecting a chain...

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RMurphy195 [166 posts] 7 months ago
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Pad alignment tool - Free -I just get a strip of the cardboard the pads are attached to, make a fold in it and hook it over the rear end of the pads.

Ball end allen keys - I use the halfords Bikehut set, good quality and comes in a handy round holder.

Low-end torque wrench - I can recommend the Topeak Combo wrench, comes with bits in the handle, very handy to use.

High-end torque wrench - Free (well, not quite, I have a pair for the car so I use one of those!)

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bigbiker101 [65 posts] 7 months ago
1 like

Over the years I have accumulated many many many tools, last year I decided to buy a Cable Puller (Third hand or whatever you call it), to start with it is a little fiddily to get used to, but now I wouldn't work without one, it is one of the best tools I have, especially getting the tension right on the front mech, I didn't buy the stupidly expensive Park version, I got an unbranded one from eBay for just a few pounds.

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workhard [444 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes
Toast wrote:

I didn't even know a brake pad alignment tool was a thing you could get!! May be handy but you can align the pads without a tool, you can't bodge chains off & on so readily. How much of a difference do cable pullers make? They're something I've been aware of for a while, but not invested in a set yet. I'm getting fairly close to new shifter cable time  7

 

Cable pullers do away with the need to grow a third hand. Trust me, if you work on mechs, front or rear, a "third hand tool" as cable pullers are called in some workshops, is a sound investment.

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workhard [444 posts] 2 months ago
1 like
dafyddp wrote:

Master link remover pliers are ace, too - save lots of faff when removing a chain.

Wolf Tooth do a gorgeous one to slip in a jersey pocker or on the road tool kit.

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quiff [95 posts] 2 months ago
2 likes

To be fair, I don't think I've read this particular resurrected article before, and at least road.cc does now flag in the article when its an update of a previous one (current edition, May 2019!). Nonetheless, I was amused to find the following comment on it, made 11 months ago...      

horizontal dropout wrote:

How come there are comments from 11 months ago when this article was published a couple of days ago?

Goodbye beginner's guide to bike tools; see you again in 11 months.

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Kesa [2 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
Grahamd wrote:

Would add a brake pad alignment tool, which you're likely to use more frequently than a chain tool IMHO.

What century are you in? Brake pads are obsolete!

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Dingaling [102 posts] 1 month ago
1 like
Kesa wrote:
Grahamd wrote:

Would add a brake pad alignment tool, which you're likely to use more frequently than a chain tool IMHO.

What century are you in? Brake pads are obsolete!

I think the more relevant question is what PLANET are you on? All my bikes have brake pads. I find them a lot cheaper and less painful than sitting on the cross bar and using my shoes!

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