Anyone with the gumption to maintain their own bike knows the necessary tools for performing brake bleeds, cassette swaps, and bottom bracket rebuilds. But for every blue-wrapped niche tool meant for the machined grooves of a bicycle component, there are tools you’ll eventually find through trial and error that are made for something else entirely, but make for a game-changing experience on bike maintenance projects.
The Singletracks team spends a lot of time in the garage swapping parts and some of our most coveted tools are ones we found at Home Depot and Amazon instead of our LBS. To hopefully save readers some time and pain on your next maintenance project, we thought we’d compile our favorites and share them. Check them out and add your favorite non-bike-specific tools in the comments.
Some tires will mount up on a rim with the effort it takes to blow up a birthday balloon while others feel like you’re trying to blow up a river raft. An air compressor is a game changer because the time it takes to install a tire drops from several minutes with a floor pump to just a few seconds.
A smaller-capacity compressor can sell at a hardware store for under $150, and while they aren’t necessarily cheap or small if you’re on a budget and don’t have a lot of space, they can be found used on Craigslist or OfferUp for a reasonable price. The versatility of an air compressor usually proves its worth pretty quickly, maybe even after the first fresh tire install.
Some internal routing is easy, and some is just a complete pain to work with. There’s nothing more frustrating though than spending twenty minutes trying to get cable housing from the downtube through the headtube and watching it slide right past the little port.
The dental pick is the game changer here. Once the cable housing starts sliding into the picture, pop the dental pick through the cable port and insert the pointy end into the end of the housing to guide it through the outside of the port. This takes some practice and patience still, but usually makes the process much easier.
Dental picks can also be used for other jobs, like unclogging sealant in tubeless valves or working with small O-rings. Picks are easy to find on Amazon for under $10.
Heat gun / hairdryer
Concentrated blasts of heat, not completely unlike a laser, can be really helpful removing a set of decals from a frame or fork, or wrapping some heat shrink around cockpit cables for a neater look. A heat gun can also help you remove stuck seats post or other metal parts that become seized.
Be careful here if you’re working with decals on a carbon component as too much heat can ruin the epoxy and destroy carbon fiber.
Needle nose pliers
Most people have a set of needle nose pliers in their toolbox, but here’s a reminder just in case. Needle nose pliers come in handy whether you’re trying to torch some contaminants off a set of brake pads or need just a touch of grip screwing the lock ring on a tubeless valve. There’s really no end to the utility of a set of needle nose pliers and they are a cheap add for the toolbox. A good set of needle nose pliers can be found under $15, but some home mechanics might insist you spend a few extra bucks for a set of Knipex pliers.
If you’re a homeowner, you likely have a roll of this around somewhere and the thin, pliable tape can come in handy if you’re trying to seal up a stubborn tubeless valve or if you’ve punched too big a hole for the valve in the rim tape. Wrap the base of the valve in the plumber’s tape before popping it through the rim and seal up that open space.
You can also use plumber’s tape to wrap around headset bearings if poor tolerances between the frame and bearing are allowing the bearing to move. If your headset feels loose when it’s not, this might be the solution.
There aren’t a ton of different bike maintenance jobs where a power drill comes in handy, but they are a game-changer for swapping out brake rotors. Rather than spinning out all six bolts by hand, get them just loose by hand and spin them fully out with a drill and a torx bit. This will likely save at least a few minutes of time and some pumped forearms.
Next time you’re in the bathroom, grab a handful of Q-tips and throw them in a bin in your toolbox. Q-tips come in handy whether cleaning a set of brake caliper pistons or applying grease in tight spaces.
A soft hammer is useful on so many fronts that these should also be one of the first in your toolbox. On bike maintenance jobs a rubber mallet is handy tapping in a set of stubborn bar ends or tapping the drive side crank arm and spindle through your bottom bracket. The utility of the rubber mallet continues banging out flat spots in a rim or almost any other job that requires a bit of gentle force.
Yep, wood. 2x4s and 4x4s in particular come in handy trying to get a stubborn tire off of a rim. Lay a piece of 4×4 on the ground and rest the rim and tire on top of the block. With a piece of 2×4, and resting your toe on top of the adjacent piece of tire that’s resting on the ground so that the wheel doesn’t pop up, push the 2×4 into tire until it unseats from the rim bead.
Since wheels can be pricey, be mindful of where you’re applying pressure. You may also want to put a rug or a piece of cardboard under the wheel to prevent any scratches.
Your turn: Which everyday tools are game changers when it’s time for bike maintenance and repair?