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£250 cycling workshop

26 Aug 2016

You don’t need to spend a fortune to kit yourself out like a pro bike mechanic.

There’s a certain satisfaction in life that only comes from fixing things. Taking something that’s not working, figuring out what’s wrong, correcting it and putting it back together, and it working better than ever before. Thankfully your bike offers endless opportunity to get that particular buzz if you if you’re prepared to learn some basic mechanics. And you don’t need to spend a fortune on a home workshop either –  you can get just about everything you need to repair it for close to £250.

For the most part, a bicycle is not a complicated machine. Sure, there are a few parts you need specific training and tools for, but the vast majority of stuff can be easily fixed. In fact, as manufacturing techniques have improved and manufacturers have realised a faster assembly line in Asia will save them money, it’s actually got easier to do it yourself, as more of the bicycle has become ‘fit and forget’ non-serviceable items – such as headset bearings.

So what we have here is a selection of the essential tools you need to ensure you keep rolling smoothly. To make sure you’re on safe ground, we’ve selected a range of commonly available ones, grouped according to the three main areas that you’re most likely to  regularly work on: cables, drivetrain and tyres. 

We’ve also included a selection of tools for intermediate and advanced level bike maintenance jobs for when you’re ready to up your DIY game – and when the budget allows you to expand your workshop.

Cable replacement

Topeak Flash stand £26.99,

Park Tool CN10C Pro Cable and housing cutter, £34.99,

Park Tool SD2 s Philips screwdriver £4.99,

Topeak Combo Torque Wrench set, £14.99,

The foundation of any cycling tool kit is a broad selection of loose Allen keys. They’re one item it’s worth spending plenty on as they’re the tools you’ll use most, so it makes sense to get a set that will last. Many people find different sizes and handles make specific jobs easier, so you may want several versions when you get used to grease under your fingernails. 

When it comes to replacing cables, always use proper cable cutters – avoid side cutters as they don’t cut cables cleanly and splay the ends. A good set will also include a crimper for the cable end cap. A ‘fourth hand’ tool (Park Tool Cable Stretcher BT2, £49.99, is useful when replacing cables, but not essential.

Once you can replace cables, you’ll find replacing and adjusting either mech is also an easy task. Most mechs still use a cross head screwdriver for adjustment, so you’ll need one of these, too.

Don’t get Torx and torque mixed up. Torx is an alternative to the six- sided Allen key and something more manufacturers are using since it’s a more durable solution for bolts. Torque, measured in Newton metres (NM), is the twisting force required to tighten a bolt correctly – a torque wrench will ensure you avoid damaging components by overtightening bolts. 

Lastly, if you are adjusting gears a stand is incredibly helpful. You can spend hundreds on a pro quality stand, but for our £250 budget, a basic one that just lifts the rear wheel off the ground will do the job.

Drivetrain tools

As we’ve talked about in the Buyer’s Guide to Chains on page 74, keeping your chain clean and lubricated, while monitoring wear is vital to keeping your machine running well. Being a relatively low-cost item that interacts with more expensive ones gives you every reason to do something about a worn chain before it becomes a much more costly problem.

Chain cleaning machines can be bought for as little as a tenner and often come as part of a package with the necessary degreasing fluids to do the job. The Cyclone from Park Tool costs a bit more but does the job better than most, and has replaceable internal parts, which will extend its lifespan.

When it comes to the chain checker, there are two different ways of measuring the wear and we’ve found both come up with the same answer, so either will do the job. A simple analogue tool such as this Shimano one is fine but if you want to be extra fancy, digital ones are available, too. 

When it comes to replacing your chain, you’ll need a chain breaker – this will both help you remove the old chain and remove links from the new chain to get it to the right length (replacement chains come in 114 or 116-link lengths). The Chain Drive from Lezyne is certainly home workshop quality but you could go cheaper in a more portable size or vastly more expensive for a pro quality tool. In our experience, either will do. 

Tyre change

One of the first things any new cyclist should invest in is a track pump. You should top up tyres at least once a week, and while a mini pump will do the job (and be very useful when out on the road), it can be laborious to use. You can pay anywhere from just over a tenner to several hundred pounds for a track pump. Most importantly, look for one with a clear gauge and a comfy handle. If you’re running tubeless tyres, a track pump that stores an air charge will help to quickly pop the tyre and make it seal.

Tyre levers are, like fire insurance, one of those things that you hope not to have to use but perhaps not for the obvious reason. Levers tend to trap the fragile inner tube and then pinch it against the rim, giving you another hole to fix, but sometimes there is no other choice. Look out for robust items, preferably with no sharp edges.

Instant patches are simply genius – and cheaper than buying new tubes every time you get a flat. Find the hole, rough it up and stick on the patch. Just make sure they’ll stretch enough to work with the inner tube.

Intermediate level

So far we’ve dealt with the basics of home bike maintenance, but now we’re moving on to less routine jobs. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean difficult. 

Changing your rear cassette is fairly straightforward – and something you might need to do more often than you’d think. It’s not just a case of replacing it once it’s worn out but fitting a greater spread of gears makes sense if you’re heading for some major climbing, for example. A chainwhip is essential to hold the cassette captive, stopping the freewheel spinning, so the lock ring can be released (using the cassette tool) and the sprockets removed.

Despite the rise in pressfit bottom brackets, external bearings are still the most common option on road bikes and all the major groupset manufacturers use the same standard of tool to fit them. This Park Tool version includes the internal spline tool to remove the cap found on Shimano cranks.

A spoke key is handy for straightening up wheels when they go out of true. Some wheels require a proprietary key, but this Pedro’s example fits the most common spoke nipple sizes of 3.2, 3.3 and 3.5mm.

Advanced level

Bicisupport XL Folding clamp stand £137.99,

Effetto Carbo cut Hacksaw £39.99,

Park Tool SG72 Oversize Adjustable saw guide £44.99,

Park Tool BBP1 Bottom Bracket Bearing Press £179.99, 

Avid Pro Bleed kit £44.99,

Finally, in our mechanical arsenal we get to the big ticket items. Sure, you could find much more expensive versions of most of what we’ve already selected if you wanted to, but in this category the sky really is the limit.

For starters, a nice workstand to support your bike and lift it off the ground could cost you as little as £50, or for £1,300 you can get a 70kg pneumatic version that really does lift your bike off the ground – oh yes! We’ll be looking at workstands in more depth in next month’s Cyclist.

If you have pressfit bottom brackets, an extraction tool and bearing press will be useful for staying on top of any creaks. See last month’s Cyclist for our expert guide to replacing pressfit BBs.

If you get serious about bike building, no workshop is complete without a saw guide to ensure straight cutting of fork steerer tubes and, of course, a suitable saw for use with carbon tubes.

With hydraulic disc brakes increasingly common on road bikes, you’ll already be wise to the need for a bleed kit to allow you to update the fluid and keep performance top notch. 

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