A man uses a hex tool to adjust bicycle derailleur gear cable

How To Choose the Right Bike Tools

Photo: James Yet Ming Au

A proper set of tools makes bike maintenance a breeze

We all want to spend more time riding our bikes than tinkering with them. But the reality of riding your bike—especially if you ride it a lot—is that it will need adjustments and small fixes over the length of a season. Of course, you could take your bike to a local shop, though long turnaround times could have you bike-less for weeks at a time. Doing the work yourself will be faster and it will save you money (which you can spend on more cycling gear). If you’re interested in working on your bike, you're going to need the right bike tools. This guide will help you determine which essentials to buy. 

Ask Yourself These Questions

Before you spend hundreds filling out your toolbox, consider the kinds of jobs you can do and where you’ll work on your bike.

How mechanical am I?

While many cycling problems are easy to figure out, be honest with yourself about how handy you are. Maybe you’d be better off focusing on regular cleaning and basics like tire repair while leaving big fixes to the pros.

Do I know what I’m doing?

If you haven’t done much bike maintenance before, study up before you grab a wrench. Read up on bike care to get you started before searching for online videos to walk you through every step of a particular task.

How much room do I have? 

You will need a place to store your bike tools and a place to work on your bike. Make sure you have a space in mind before you buy tools, otherwise you may be forced to hand them off to a friend when you realize your garage or closet is already full. 

How much money am I willing to spend?

Bike companies make premium, bike-specific tools, but if you are light on funds, you may be able to use more general-purpose implements.

The Repair Stand

The first essential tool for bike maintenance is a repair stand. Rather than leaning your bike against a wall or chair, where it’s sure to get scuffed or fall over, a repair stand provides a comfortable setup for working on your bike. A stand—and there are many options ranging from the small and portable to the stout and permanent—secures your bike at an ideal height off the ground. That’ll make it much easier to access parts and perform maintenance tasks. 

Cleaning Materials

Many problems can be fixed, or avoided, with regular bike cleaning. It should be the first step in any maintenance plan. 

Brushes: Your bike has as many nooks and crannies as an English muffin. To clean them, buy a set of brushes capable of reaching into each crevice. Large brushes are good for all-over cleaning, tough and bristly ones work well for cleaning out a cassette, and small brushes allow you to reach less accessible areas of the bike, like derailleur parts. Together, these brushes help you remove grime that can slow you down and damage your bike over time. 

Chain Cleaning Tool: A clean chain is a happy chain. Buying a specific chain cleaning tool will make it easier to remove worn-in grime in the individual links of your chain. 

Wash: A bike-specific soap or water-free cleaning solution will help get dirt and grime like brake residue and chain lube off more delicate parts of your bicycle without damaging them. 

Degreaser: You can scrub a dirty chain or cassette as much as you want, but buying a bike-specific degreaser (that won’t damage your paint or other sensitive bike finishes) will make getting the muck off your drivetrain much easier.

Keep Things Moving

Many parts of a bike move and slide against one another. In order to keep everything moving along happily, you need to make sure that these parts are properly lubricated.

Chain Lube: Chain lube helps your chain shift smoothly and propel you forward without clanking, grinding, or jumping. Cleaning and lubing the chain is one of the most important regular maintenance tasks on any bike.

Grease: Many parts of your bike, like the pedals and some wheel components, use threaded metal-on-metal connections. Applying bike grease will prevent wear and keep them from getting stuck together so they last for many seasons. 

Carbon Paste: If your bike is made of carbon fiber, buy carbon paste to properly lubricate pieces that fit snugly together, like your seat post and seat tube. 

A male mountain biker fixing a flat tire making use of his tools organized in the  Integrated roll-out ToolWrap of the Osprey Zealot 15 bike backpack. Photo: Axel Brunst/TandemStock

Take Care of Your Tires

Some of the most common problems facing at-home mechanics have to do with the tires. With the right tools, these are also some of the easiest problems to fix.

Bike Pump: Properly inflated tires will resist punctures and give you a smoother, more comfortable ride. A bike pump makes it easy to keep them at the right pressure. A good pump will have a built-in air pressure gauge so you can inflate your tires to their recommended pressure (usually stamped on the tire’s sidewall) and get the perfect ride. 

Tire Levers: If you do get a flat, you’ll need to remove your tire to swap in a new tube (or install a new tire if you have a tubeless setup). As the name implies, tire levers give you extra leverage to help pull a tire off your rim without damaging either. 

Keep Things Tight

Modern bikes use a variety of fasteners, and having the right tool for each will ensure you don’t damage your steed.

Hex Keys: Also called Allen wrenches, they’re great for adjusting bolts all over your bike, from pedals to wheel axles. Get a set in both metric and imperial sizes to be ready for any problem on any bike brand.

Torx Wrenches: Are becoming more common on bicycles, though you may be surprised when you first see a star-like bolt head. Rather than mashing at it with an Allen wrench, get the right tool for the job. 

Screwdrivers: Phillips and flathead screwdrivers are essential for adjusting components like your derailleurs and attaching common accessories like bike lights. 

Pliers: Your fingers will get tired manipulating the small parts and pieces of a bicycle—give them a boost with a pair of needle-nose pliers. 

Torque Wrench: Many bike manufacturers require bolts to be tightened to a specific torque rating. Rather than guessing and risking damage, buy a torque wrench that can tell you exactly how tight each bolt is. Many will come with a set of interchangeable bits so you can use them all over your bike regardless of bolt style. 

Chain Maintenance

Your chain keeps you moving forward; keep it happy with these tools.

Chain Wear Tool: A chain wear tool does exactly what its name says: It tells you how worn your chain is. Checking your chain for wear, and replacing it when it is worn out, will add longevity to the rest of your drivetrain, like your crankset and cassette. 

Chain Tool or Chain Breaker: When it comes time to replace a chain, remove a chain, or change a link, you’ll be glad to have a chain tool that can easily remove the pin, pop a link out of your chain, or put a chain back together.

For the Cables

If you’re going to dive into brake adjustment, shifter adjustment, and cable replacement, you’re going to need a few tools for your bike’s cables.

Wire Cutter: The first step to replacing a cable is getting rid of the old one. A pair of wire cutters makes it easy to snip the metal cable and remove it. It’s also essential for trimming new cables once you’ve installed them. 

Cable Puller: When you’re installing a new cable, having the ability to keep the cable taut while you secure it to your brake or derailleur will make the job a lot easier—and that’s exactly what a cable puller does.

Pedal Wrench: When you’re changing pedals, your adjustable wrench usually won’t fit between the pedal and the crank arm. A pedal wrench is narrow enough to slide in between these parts and firmly grip your pedal so you can loosen or tighten it. 

Important Extras

While they might not be essential for at-home maintenance, these items will make caring for your bike a lot easier.

Rags: Don’t overlook this obvious item that keeps you and your bike from getting covered in dirt and grease as you work. Keep a few rags nearby to clean parts and wipe your hands while performing bike maintenance tasks. 

Portable Tools: You never know when an issue might arise mid-ride, so it’s a smart idea to bring a set of tools on the bike, too. For that, select tools that are small and light, like a multitool that has a variety of wrenches, a spare tube, tire levers, and a small hand pump. With these repair-kit items, you can fix common issues like a flat tire and keep on riding. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.