Maintaining a bike isn’t always fun. Let’s face it, the real fun comes from wheeling down the highway soaking in the local sights and getting away from a desk for a while.
Routine maintenance can feel more like brushing your teeth in that it is terribly important yet ultimately not the most engaging way to spend one’s time. On the upside, spending some time familiarizing yourself with bike maintenance and the best tools for different jobs can save you time and get you back on the road faster.
There’s also the added benefit of not ending up stranded at the side of the road with a small toolkit full of unwieldy tools that were never meant to handle the average bike emergency. Phillips head screwdrivers only go so far when half of the screws on your ride require a hex wrench.
If you’ve been putting off the assembly of a proper toolbox for your biking needs, start with these six vital tools made to keep you riding longer, happier and with fewer scraped knuckles or cable cuts to tend to.
1. BIKE PUMPS
Nothing can ruin a tire faster than riding your bike with low tire pressure. At best you might suffer decreased performance and imperfect cornering, but a worst-case scenario could lead to a punctured tube or a nasty spill. Knowing your tire’s optimal pressure and being able to keep your tires primed at that pressure are both equally important, so having a tire pump that fills a tire quickly and hosts an easy-to-read pressure gauge is paramount.
Portable bike pumps are just as important as having a stand pump at home. You never know when a roadside leak or a blown tube could happen to you. Replacing a tube is one thing, but not having and knowing how to use a portable pump makes that spare tube you carry about as useful as any other incomplete set of tools in your arsenal.
2. TIRE PATCH KITS
So, you’ve got your tire pump ready to go. What do you do if a roadside flat does happen? Some leaks are so severe that you may require an all-new tube to get back to riding, but many pinhole punctures in your tire can be sealed with self-adhesive patches that can act as temporary or permanent repairs to a variety of leaks.
3. TORX AND ALLEN / HEX KEYS
Bike manufacturers have shifted towards hex keys over the years for a variety of reasons and few tools in your workshop are going to get as hefty a workout with your bike as hex keys. Most adjustment and replacement jobs you take on will require one or more and there’s not much you can do with a flat head screwdriver when a special bolt or screw pops up. Save yourself the time later and snag a few sets before you need them.
4. CABLE CUTTERS
Though it may not seem like a regular job, good bike maintenance calls for the replacement of brake cables when they start to fray, wear or rust over time and you won’t be hacking through them with just any pair of scissors.
You can get by with a pair of bolt cutters but the overkill in using something that specialized just to snip a bit of cable you might have trouble getting to with such a large, specific tool isn’t often worth the hassle. Cable cutters are often the size of hand shears and make your cable-snipping duties less of a wrestling match.
Dry metal rubbing against dry metal isn’t good for the longevity of any solid component on your bike. Keeping your chain oiled and your gears greased means less friction and wear on parts that you shouldn’t have to replace on a monthly basis, but not just any oil or grease will do.
Chain lubes, for instance, are designed not to pick up as much debris from roadside conditions as you might get with other oils. WD-40 may seem sufficient but it dries into a sticky mass over time and isn’t suitable for most bike applications.
6. COMBINATION WRENCHES
Not every component uses a hex key. Most non-essential components and accessories use some sort of common bolt or nut that doesn’t require anything fancier than a small assortment of wrenches you might use for any household project. Ratchet sets are nice as well, but hardly necessary unless your bike has bolts in areas that won’t allow a traditional wrench to turn properly. Know your bike and what it requires!
While bike maintenance may not be a fun and exciting part of the week, chances are you can handle it with some know-how and a small assortment of tools you can pick up without a major financial hassle. A well-maintained bike is a bike you can ride for years to come and there’s nothing better than knowing you fixed it up yourself.
If you’re looking to build a truly budget-friendly bike toolkit, check out our article.