An inevitable progression for most cyclists is to start working on their bike at home. There are a number of quite simple tasks that can be worked through easily – check out my article ‘10 Simple Tasks That Will Keep Your Bike Healthy For Longer‘.
To do this, though, you will need some essential bike tools and other items. I have kept this list fairly simple. They will form the foundation of your home tool kit for years to come. Many of them you will have already, though a few are specific to cycling. My biggest tip would be buy the best you can afford. Consider it an investment. Bad tools not only break but can also cause damage to your bike. The amount of times I’ve rounded out bolts with a cheap hex key does not bear thinking about!
1. Microfibre Cloths
Microfibre cloths are probably the most used item in my garage. There is simply no way of escaping the fact that maintaining a bike is dirty work. I find microfibre cloths the best for the job as they are absorbent, but also get you a streak free frame.
They also last a lot longer than your average rag and I put mine through the wash just fine. I get mine from Amazon, which at 10 for just under £7 is great value considering they can be used more than once.
2. Cleaning Set
When I first started cycling I took a bike maintenance course and was blown away by how much of it starts with keeping a bike clean. Before my teacher did anything he started by cleaning up and then oiling the area before moving onto more complicated assessments.
If you want to prolong the life of your bike and give yourself a smoother ride then start here. Every time you head out on a mucky ride, take ten minutes after to clean your bike down so it’s ready for your next ride. I started off with the Muc Off Bicycle Essentials Kit, and have never needed anything else. I buy more cleaning spray once a year or so, plus have added in some paint brushes in to get to the places this brush doesn’t.
Getting into all the nooks and crannies whilst cleaning is hard so I would suggest buying some brushes. I use a basic set by SODIAL for cleaning out the cassette, and also a set of paintbrushes for getting into those hard to reach places. This 3 pack by Harris is expensive, but worth it. The bristles stay in place and don’t get caught up in all your components. The 3 different sizes also make it easier to get into different parts of your bike.
How do you get all of that oil and muck off? Simple. Degreaser. Bike lubricants are designed to be water resistant, which makes getting them off incredibly difficult. Degreaser is one of those must own products if you’re a cyclist, and will help you keep your bike/house/tools clean. My favourite is Muc Off Bio Degreaser, which cuts through the worst of it in no time.
5. Rubber Gloves/Swarfega
Looking after a bike is dirty work, and if you want to avoid hours of scrubbing up, these are the answer. I’ve experimented with cleaning products such as Swarfega, but much prefer just putting on a pair of gloves. Some people claim to not be able to work in them, but if they’re good enough for a heart surgeon they’re surely good enough for a bike mechanic! There are lots of them on Amazon for around £6 (hint: you can get more garish colours cheaper) and I think they are the perfect solution.
And for those of you who don’t want to wear gloves I would suggest getting some Swarfega to get the worst of the grease off of your hands.
6. Spray Lubricant
There are a lot of moving parts on a bike, and all of these need to be kept well oiled for them to work properly.
Whilst your dad may disagree, WD40 is not the answer. It is a very light lubricant, and simply not strong enough to stick to rapidly moving parts that are regularly exposed to bad weather. Step in Weldtite TF2. The Teflon in it resists the weather, so it is perfect for keeping your bike on the road. It also comes with one of those handy thin red rubes for directing the spray into those hard to reach areas.
There are parts of your bike which will need a thick grease to keep them moving, prevent water ingress and stop them seizing up e.g. your saddle post, bearings and the threads of any screws on your bike. Once again I turn to TF2, this time with their Teflon Grease. You can buy individual tubes but when starting out I would suggest buying the version with a gun to allow you to apply it more accurately and save getting it on your hands all the time.
8. Chain Lube
The third type of lubricant I would recommend when starting out is chain lube. This product is specifically designed to keep your chain running smoothly without picking up too much grit from the road. There are essentially two types – wet and dry – used for the relevant weather conditions. I have always used the Muc Off range. They do both types and I have never had a problem with them.
9. Track Pump
A track pump, also called a floor pump is one of the most important tools you can own for your garage. It is designed to get your tyres up to a high pressure quickly and accurately. Road bikes generally need high tyre pressures usually around 100 PSI. It makes such a difference to both the puncture resistance and rolling speed to have your tyres at the recommended pressure and a track pump will get you there fast.
My personal preference is the Beto Alloy Barrel Track Pump, which I have used for years now. It accepts both Schrader and Presta valves, and has a clear to read gauge for getting you to exactly the right pressure.
10. Hex Keys
You will find yourself reaching for hex key more than pretty much any other tools in your garage. There are lots of different Hex key sets out there, and as you progress to more complicated jobs you will find your needs change. So many of the mechanisms on a bike require a hex key that getting a decent set early on is a sound investment. I would recommend one of the three sets below to start with, but you will probably end up with all three in your toolkit fairly quickly.
My first purchase was the Stanley Fat Max Locking Hex Key Set. These are more like a multi tool than individual hex key sets but are really handy as a starting point. These are really sturdy, and never feel like they will buckle no matter how much pressure you put on them. I like the fact they lock out at 45, 90 and 180 degrees via the red button on the side. This also stops the other keys from moving whilst in use.
My second purchase was the Hex Wrench Set by Park Tools. With a 4mm, 5mm and 6mm key this will complete a lot of the jobs on your bike. Similar to the Stanley keys above this set will easily complete a number of jobs. Very convenient when you are dealing with a few sets of bolts at once and don’t want to have to continue swapping between different sets. The Park Tools Range are incredibly well made and are a sound long term investment.
My third purchase was the T Handle Hex Wrench Set by Silverline. After a while you find you need some wrenches that get into the hard to reach areas or have longer handles to give you a bit more leverage. A T handle set is what you will see in the workshop of most professional mechanics.
This set isn’t great; they don’t feel as well made as the Park Tools key I have above and they aren’t machined too well. I will eventually upgrade them to this Park Tools Set however the additional price felt too much for me to justify initially.
On the positive side they do get the job done and the stand is fantastic so I will probably continue to use this stand when I upgrade.
Screwdrivers are never going to be the most exciting of investments, but a quality set will be worth their weight in gold over the years. Bike manufacturers have a nasty habit of putting multiple different shapes and sizes of screw around the bike. You will probably have some lying around anyway, but if not, this set by Draper is a smart investment that you will never need to upgrade, and also they come with a cross angle screwdriver to help removing those over tightened screws.
Spanners are vital for maintaining a bike. You will find bolts of various types across the bike, especially on the wheels. I function with three adjustable spanners of different sizes, plus a set that work through the range of sizes.
Starting out, I would first go for adjustable wrenches. Even now these are what I reach for first. The ones I use are no longer in production, but you can find a list here of the best ones on Amazon. As a full starter set you can’t go too far wrong with this set by Silverline. For more sophisticated work such as adjusting wheels and removing pedals you will need specialist wrenches, but for everyday work this set will do perfectly.
13. Tyre Levers
You will not regret buying a decent set of tyre levers. You’ve probably got a load of cheap ones lying around from puncture repair kits but a decent set for the garage make a big difference. If there is one thing you will be doing a lot of as a cyclist it is changing tyres. So why not get yourself a set of levers that are going to make this most laborious of tasks a little easier?
These Schwalbe ones are a favourite of mine. Unlike most sets that contain two levers, these have three, which means you can wedge two under the tyre, whilst running the third one around the edge to free it from the rim. They have a cut on the side which allows you to secure them under a spoke, freeing up your hands to get the tyre off. The shape is also really helpful in preventing you causing further punctures by pinching the inner tube.
14. Wire Cutters
It may not seem like it to start off with, but changing over cables is one of the simplest maintenance jobs you can learn for your bike early on. It will save you money and time off the road where you bike would have been in the local workshop.
You quickly come to realise that a decent set of wire cutters makes a massive difference when dealing with bike cables. They can be quite thick, and the last thing you need having painstakingly threaded your cables through the housing is to fray the end when you cut it. Whilst these Draper Wire Cutters aren’t a specialist bike tool, they are well made, and do the job as well as any of the more specific tools. Another investment that you will never need to upgrade, and you will find yourself using again and again.
Pliers take over when your fingers run out of strength. I do not find myself using mine that often, but equally if you haven’t got a set there is really no substitute. Most will also have wire cutters or crimpers on them which are really helpful for securing the ends of cables. I would suggest getting some long nose pliers alongside a standard set for the smaller parts and places on your bike. A good set like these by Draper will last you a long time and never need upgrading.
16. Cable Puller
This may well be the only item on this list you’ve never heard of. Changing brake and gear cables is a relatively easy job, however it can be really difficult to get the tension right, especially when working by yourself. Cable pullers will hold the cable in place for you, thus allowing you to perfectly adjust your brakes and gears.
The Pedros Cable Puller strikes the balance between price and quality. You can get cheaper, but risk fraying cables, or for double the price you can go for the Park Tools version which, from reading the reviews, do not seem to achieve any more than these.
17. Chain Wear Tool
A chain wear tool will allow you to see whether or not your chain needs replacing. In the long run this could save you money on expensive components. A simple chain wear indicator will show you when your chain is 0.50% and 0.75% worn. Most companies recommend changing chains before they get 1% worn. They are very simple to use when you know how; even if you’re not confident in changing your chain just yet, at least it will tell you when to take your ride into the local bike shop. The Park Tool CC3.2 does the job very simply and will never need upgrading.
18. Bike Stand
A bike stand will transform your ability to make quick checks on your bike. No more turning it upside down or leaning it against a wall causing potential damage. You can pick up a bike stand for a relatively small amount of money now. I got my first after about a year of cycling, and still have the same one now.
I recommend the Oypla Heavy Duty Bike Maintenance Stand. It is sturdy, holds the bike well, has a competent tray and also a support for stopping the handlebars constantly spinning around. This stand made such a difference to working on my bike. I produced a review “Oypla Bike Maintenance Stand: Video Review” that you can watch to see some more details.