Fix it Dammit
Tools of the Trade: The Path to Bike Maintenance Nirvana
So your gleaming new bike is sitting in the garage, everything’s working just like you’d want and your happiness is approaching “clam”. Best enjoy the moment, because sooner or later your trusty steed is going to need some kind of maintenance. When it does, you’ll hit a fork in the bike ownership road — a choose your own adventure if that’s more comforting — where you’ll need to decide how to fix this and the other problems that will surely arise.
As the GP Bike Maintenance Division sees it, you have three basic choices: (1) you can do your own basic adjustments and take it to a bike shop for everything else; (2) you can go full-gusto and buy every tool for every eventuality; or (3) you can split the difference. This guide won’t go into specific repairs — you’ll need a good maintenance book for that — but it will help you choose an approach to bike maintenance that suits you best.
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Option 1: The Adam Smith
This guy from the 18th century wrote about a pin factory in a book called The Wealth of Nations. Among a lot of interesting other stuff was the idea that by specializing, everyone comes out ahead. Therefore, you — whether you’re an international superspy or Jeff from accounts — should stick to whatever you do best and leave the bike repair to the pros. Adam had a bit of a point. By paying a bike shop to do everything you save yourself time and grease stains while getting reputable work done and having recourse if something doesn’t work as advertised. The downsides? Long repair queues can mean days or weeks off your bike, simple repairs can cost more than you’d think (expect to be charged about $50/hour plus parts) and you don’t get that satisfied feeling of fixing something.
If you’re going to go down this road it’s still a good idea to have a small multitool like the Lezyne RAP6 ($15), a pump and a flat kit like the Park Tool TR1 ($6). A good multitool with an assortment of allen keys and screwdrivers will help you conquer most everyday maintenance work, like adjusting seat height, brake tension and shifting, among other things; the flat kit will get you home should your tire blow out. Even a minimal multitool will be able to perform a variety of fixes, but there are going to be some repairs where a full set of tools will save you time, frustration and a broken bike. For that you’ll need to head to your local bike shop or consider Option 2.
Option 2: The John Hancock
Go big or go home. Who’s anyone to tell you that you can’t fix it? You are infallible, willing to learn how to do things if it means independence and sheer badassery. Those jokers at the bike shop aren’t gonna hold your bike hostage for two weeks, no matter if it’s a flat tire or a broken axle. However, you’ll need one hell of a setup to get the most out of your new-found bike repair knowledge. We used Pedro’s MTK 3.0 ($750) and the Feedback Sports Sprint Stand ($230) to create a shop at our office and found that the combo, while costing nearly a grand in total, was capable of nearly every repair that could be done at your local bike shop (save for specialty things like truing wheels and cutting parts).
One incredibly simple way to keep your bike running smoothly is lubricating your chain. Whats even better is that it requires exactly zero tools. Here’s a quick rundown:
Clean Your Chain
Just wipe the chain down with a rag and a bit of soapy water, followed by a dry rag, to clean as much existing grit off the chain as possible.
Drip a quality chain lube like WD-40′s new-ish bike line over every section of the chain. Don’t go too crazy — just aim for the rollers (the spots where the chain articulates).
This is the bit that most people ignore and it results in a grimy chain and stained legs. Wipe off the chain to get rid of all excess lube. We’re only concerned with the stuff that gets inside the chain.
Et Voila. An easy way to a happier bike.
The MTK 3.0 includes 64 tools packed inside an ultra-durable waterproof case: no fewer than four sets of different shaped allen wrenches for different angles and situations, a bevy of bottom bracket and crank tools and the ever-important beverage wrench. We found the kit more than suitable for our bike build, not to mention that it should last forever, something that makes the price tag a little more bearable. The reality of the MTK 3.0 is that it’s an incredibly comprehensive kit that’s able to do much more than a multitool or a smaller toolkit. The pro chain tool makes cleaning or changing your chain a breeze; the ratcheting wrench set makes easy work of the wheel-nuts keeping your fixie together; and a screwdriver set will help you fine-tune shifting. As you’d expect with such a comprehensive kit, there are some tools, like the cone wrench set or Campagnolo bottom bracket tool, that may only see the light of day once or twice over the life of the toolkit, but you’ll sure be glad to see them when trying to avoid being left with an expensive Italian paperweight.
The Euro-style Feedback Sprint stand won’t look like any bike stand you’ve used, but that’s ultimately a good thing. The feedback stand mounts to the bike through the fork (instead of clamping to the seatpost like most other stands) for increased stability, easy access to drivetrain components and ease of cleaning whenever the mood strikes. While there’s a small learning curve, the Feedback Sprint is definitely worth considering. There’s a reason that pro teams use them almost exclusively.
Regardless of whether you decide to buy every tool you’ll ever need or go to a bike shop for most repairs, a pump is an absolute essential to have both at home and on the road.
Lezyne CNC Floor Drive
The CNC is about as much pump as you’ll ever need. It’s a bit expensive at $100, but you’re paying for machined aluminum strength and looks. Lezyne’s signature threaded chuck (the bit that goes onto the valve) is hyper-intuitive and makes sure you won’t have any trouble filling up.
Lezyne Sport Floor Drive
The Sport packs the same threaded chuck and internals as the more expensive CNC but uses a combination of steel and plastic instead of polished aluminum. The upside is that it’s half the price; the downside is that it may not last as long.
Portland Design Works Shiny Object
This C02 inflator from Portland Design Works uses standard threaded Co2 cartridges to quickly and effortlessly inflate your tires up to pressure after a flat tire. It’s lighter and and simpler than a hand pump. Just be sure you know how to use it when the time comes.
Option 3: The Thomas Jefferson
And so, after bouncing off both extremes, we arrive squarely at the middle ground. It’s a nice place to be for those of us who don’t feel like going straight to the deep end but consider ourselves at least mildly self sufficient. We are the gentleman farmers; while we enjoy getting our hands dirty every now and again, we’ll recruit others to tend to the heavy lifting. If this sounds like you then you’ll want to spend enough on tools to be able to do the most basic repairs like fixing flat tires and changing cassettes without bankrupting yourself on cone wrenches and truing stands.
If you’re looking for a truly pared down kit, buying tools a la carte can make the most sense. Get the essentials — a set of allen and torx keys, a pedal wrench, tire levers — and then buy more tools as you need them. However, if you a need a tool and have a ride the next morning this will immediately be revealed as a poor strategy. If you’re willing to stomach the upfront cost, a small kit like Pedro’s Apprentice Kit ($285) is an ideal choice. The 22-piece kit is essentially the little brother of the big MTK 3.0 that we used to build a bike and has only the essentials (which you may have to add to over time). Though it will have everything you need for nearly all common repairs and adjustments, you’ll lose many of those “just in case” tools that come with the bigger kits. For more difficult (and more rare) repairs like removing cranks and adjusting wheel hubs, you’ll probably need to go to a bike shop, but because these fixes will be rare you may still come out ahead.
As far as the stand goes, you’ll likely want something straightforward and easy to use, so forego the intriguing Euro-style stands and look for a traditional one like the Feedback Sports Pro Elite ($265) or Recreational Work Stand ($129). With half the initial investment of the John Hancock Delux Package and a reference book like Zinn’s you’ll be able to do enough of your own labor that the whole kit should pay for itself after a couple years.
Whether you’re willing to dive straight into the world of bike maintenance or plan to leave it to the professionals, proper care is essential to a healthy relationship between you and your ride. Take care of your bike, don’t wait too long to replace things, clean it regularly and it’ll last much longer than your ability to stifle the urge to upgrade.