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How to build a home bicycle workshop

park tool employee
Cyclist magazine
13 Apr 2021

Doing it yourself won’t just give you a sense of smug satisfaction, it’ll save you time and cash too

Take a peek in the workshop of your local bike shop and you may be left dumbstruck. There’ll be strange-looking tools hanging from walls, bikes stripped down and hanging from stands, pots of brightly coloured fluids sitting on worktops, oily rags, latex gloves…

To the untrained eye, it may look like there’s serious alchemy at work, but the truth is if you can assemble a flat-packed Ikea wardrobe, with a little know-how you can keep your bike in fine fettle too.

In fact, the business of bicycle maintenance has never been simpler, thanks to manufacturers making components easier than ever to service and install. The only limiting factor will be the time it takes to do the job yourself.

But seeing as any decent bike shop will have a long waiting list of poorly bikes to see to, doing it yourself could even save you valuable riding time in the long run.

 

The main difference between your shed and your local bike shop is that they’ll have a well-equipped workshop. However, if you’ve bought your first multi-tool or set of Allen keys, you already have the beginnings of your own bike workshop.

It’s the next purchases and the complexity of the jobs you intend to do with them that will take your skillset as a mechanic from newbie to impressive.

Below we’ve rounded up all the equipment you’ll need to build a home workshop. It is divided between essentials, basics and extras: as you add more items you’ll be able to tackle more complex jobs. In so doing you can grow your expertise alongside your tool collection, read to the end for tips on how to organise your space and build kits ready for any kind of job.

Essentials: Key kit that you’ll need to change brake pads and pedals, and keep your bike clean

Grease and degreaser

Cleaning and rebuilding sensitive parts requires the right cleaning power and lubricant. The modern bicycle has some high-tech materials that require care and regular check-ups to ensure safe use.

Slipping and creaking can often be a problem with the interface between materials. Your bike shouldn’t make a sound – if it does, it’s trying to tell you something’s wrong with it.

Some parts want greasing, some do better with anti-seize, and some need even more exotic preparations. Still a tube of basic grease is a good first step. 

Allen/hex keys

Check out what sizes your bike uses, as some cranks use up to 15mm bolts and that’s not a size you find often. Cheap Allen keys won’t last and can cause damage to bolt heads.

Budget bike stand

Most budget work stands will hold the bike off the ground, but will never be as solid as a pro-shop stand. Materials will be cheaper, the working height may be compromised and they have a habit of tipping up when least expected.

That said, we've always had good experiences using this relatively cheap stand from Lifeline. 

Chain cleaner

If you use a chain cleaner regularly – once a week – it can extend the chain’s life considerably. Having a place to clean the chain is essential as it’s a messy business. Use a bio-degreaser and wash the chain near a drain – if this is outside on the road, make sure to clean up properly afterwards and don’t leave any residue on walkways or pavements.

Adjustable spanner

Make sure that you get one with jaws that open wide enough for use with cassette tools and bottom-bracket removal tools.

Basics: Tools to fix punctures, adjust saddles/handlebars and to clean with

Track Pump

Essential for home and travel. Makes light work of pumping tyres. Be aware that some cheaper pumps either have an inaccurate gauge or no gauge at all. It’s worth buying a digital gauge to get the tyre pressure accurate.

Cleaning items

Every mechanic has their own favourite degreasers and cleaning products. Old cotton T-shirts, tea towels and bedsheets make great rags as they tend to be soft and absorbent. Degreasers by Fenwick’s are especially good, as are their lubricants because they’re formulated specifically for use with bicycles.

Multitool

The multitool should cover all of the Allen key sizes on your bike. It should also have screwdrivers and Torx drivers too. Some come with emergency chain tools but be aware that their size and quality can mean that they are for emergencies only.

Extras: Ideal for jobs such as replacing your chain, or changing your cassette…

Chain tool

Essential for removing a chain for replacement or cleaning, or for removing links from a new chain to make it the right length. Make sure your tool is compatible with your bike – 8, 9, 10 and 11-speed chains are different widths.

When choosing a tool, experience tells us you get what you pay for, and make sure you buy one with a replaceable pin – Shimano’s HG workshop tool seem to last forever and Campagnolo tools are a pleasure to use. The diminutive Park Tool CT-5 is our favourite though.

Chain whip and cassette lockring tool

A chain whip and cassette tool are essential for removing and replacing sprockets. Be careful to get the right cassette tool for your bike as Campagnolo and Shimano cassettes have different pattern lock rings.

Quick link remover

Depending on the manufacturer, modern 10 and 11-speed chains need a special link of some description to join them once they are cut to the right length. The best and easiest to use are the SRAM PowerLink or KMC Missing Link (SRAM and KMC also make versions for Shimano and Campagnolo chains).

They allow you to remove the chain and replace it without complicated procedures – a spare is always worth carrying in your on-the-bike repair kit in case of emergencies. The pliers to remove the link are a good investment.

Pro-level bike stand

Buy now from Leisure Lakes Bikes for £295

Most budget work stands will hold the bike off the ground, but will never be as solid as a pro-quality stand. Materials will be cheaper, the working height may be compromised and they have a habit of tipping over. The rule of thumb is that the more you spend, the better the stand; the best ones have a heavy base and a good working height.

The Feedback Sports Pro Elite Repair Stand is stable and practical with a tripod base configuration that’s hard to tip over even on rough ground.

Cool tools: Three pre-assembled kits to consider 

Exhaustive and good value - LifeLine Performance 39 Piece Tool Kit

Arriving in a solid toolbox, this excellent value set includes almost everything you need for most bike repair and maintenance tasks. Also including brushes and a chain cleaning device, the quality of the 39 tools is easily enough for regular use, if not quite of pro-quality.

One for wanderers - Pedros Burrito Tool Kit

Pro-quality tools wrapped and ready to go. This compact travel kit comes in a holster that can be hung in a hurry for easy access. Filled with a concise set of essentials tools, these include a wrench, pro chain whip, cable cutter, quick link pliers, disc wrench, along with full hex set and torx sets.

Almost the works - Park Tool Pk-5 - Professional Tool Kit

Buy now from Freewheel for £800

Fallen out with your local bike shop? Recreate their workshop at home with this wide selection of full-size, pro-quality tools. Not quite as extensive as the almost £7,000 Master Mechanic’s set, it still provides the core tools any mechanic needs, and in a form that should last a lifetime if looked after properly. It even arrives with a bottle opener. 

Tip and advice on how to build your own workshop

Go into any professional workshop and you’ll see a tidy space with a full tool board and all the essential items close to hand. Fortunately, most bike maintenance requires fewer tools these days, so if you’re stuck for space, don’t despair.

A portable workstation can be wheeled into a corner and should be stable and secure enough to mount a vice onto, saving space and solving tool storage problems in one go. Bear in mind, though, they can get heavy when filled with tools, so may not be the best option if you live in a top-floor flat.

That said, a sturdy workbench must be the foundation of your workshop planning – lightweight ones just won’t do, while a secure vice will make life much easier.

If possible, mount your tools on the wall. This will save space as well as help speed up repair time, as you won’t be rummaging in a toolbox, particularly if you make sure the tool has its own personal place. Colour-coding tools for quick identification is now popular with toolmakers and many mechanics engrave their tools with their initials so they don’t get permanently ‘borrowed’.

For seasoned mechanics who have been plying their trade for a while, their tool collection charts their career with some bits kept more for sentimental than practical reasons. When assembling a home workshop, though, buying a complete tool kit is a great idea, as long as you keep in mind the type of work you want to be doing.

Buy wisely

While a complete tool kit can provide value, it may also include some tools that you may never use, as well as lack ones you need, depending on your ambitions.

If you want to learn how to bleed disc brakes or fit electronic gears, for example, it’s unlikely that your off-the-peg kit will include tools that can do those jobs. But it’s also worth bearing in mind how often you plan on carrying out those particular repairs.

A professional mechanic will have to fix bikes from a variety of eras and so will invest in a wide range of tools. For the enthusiast, buying a bottom bracket or headset tool is a bit of an extravagance, especially when most new bikes have press-fit systems.

If you’ve just bought a new bike, ask your dealer what tools are required, especially if your new bike uses components from a different manufacturer. Also, check the manufacturer’s technical websites as they often have recommendations and sometimes video clips of how to fix problems and what tools to buy.

Professional team mechanics usually have more than one tool kit, including a smaller one that they’ll take on race days. So why not follow their lead and put together a smaller kit that you can pack in the car when you go off to an event? You could also keep it near the front door for any last-minute tweaks before heading out for a ride.

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