This is a guest post from bike blogger Bek Maples, creator of SLO Cyclist. Check out more of Bek's musings on cycling at SloCyclist.com. Over the years, I’ve come across plenty of articles that claim to tell you how to build up your cycling toolkit for cheap. Somehow the word “cheap” stops recurring in the long list of “essential” bike repair bits and pieces. The truth is, there is no real way to build a whole shop of tools all at once without plopping down a few hundred bucks. But in an attempt to show everyone that not all of us truly need a full complement of bike tools, I present the truest, most budget-conscious, and barest of bones options to you.
OK, that was a good hook, right?
But before I get started, let me share with you a few tips. OK, one tip: Get a work stand. Because putting your bike upside down isn’t good for it—yes, I said it. When I first started fixing my own bikes, I couldn’t afford a fancy $300, folding, magnetic, fixes-the-bike-for-you stand. I tried piecing together a “DIY $30 Stand.” I followed all the directions that the Internet demanded, and once I’d bought all the clamps and pipes, this thing cost really more in the neighborhood of $60—but it only stayed upright with a rope tied to something sturdy in the garage. It was one word: junk. So I bit the veritable chainring and charged a decent stand on my credit card (I hate debt, folks).
Since then, I’ve found a few decent alternatives to my dilemma: The Venzo Pro Mechanic Stand that runs at about $88, and the Cave Competitor Service Post for $59. While there are other alternatives out there—sometimes cheaper ones—these are the two that I think are actually worth the price. I can’t really vouch for any others out there. But there just ain’t getting around this one. You’ll need something to hold your bike while you work on it.
So you’ve got some way to stand your bike up. Now what?
The Bare Bones Repair Kit
The majority of home wrenchers will perform general maintenance like replacing chains and cassettes, fiddling with brakes, and adjusting derailleures. Having tools that will allow you to do most of these at home repairs will take you a long way.
I may make a few enemies when I list out my tools here, but do remember that we’re talking budget and starter here. These might not be the easiest tools to use, but they’re a fantastic bang for their buck. So, here goes. Every new mechanic needs a great multi-tool, a chain whip, and a lockring remover.
Boom. That’s it.
You can do plenty of fixes with those three things. So let’s price that out, and let me offer you some recommendations from my own toolbox.
1. Multi Tool
All multi-tools are not created equal, but most with a plethora of features will get plenty of the jobs done. I personally like, and use often, the Lezyne RAP-21 LED tool, which will run you around $30. I like it because not only is it a high quality construction, but it has just about everything you’ll need, plus a sweet mini light. This will give you a chain breaker, spoke wrench, disc brake wedge, and all the most often used Allen keys and drivers. We’re talking a decent number of tools for 1/4 of what they would cost buying them separately.
If you don’t go with this one, just make sure the one you choose has extra things like the chain breaker and a nice range of 3-6mm Allen keys.
2. Chain Whip
I own the Lezyne CNC Chain Rod, which I’m a big fan of (yes, I know I’m partial to Lezyne here–they’re a local-to-me, San Luis Obispo company and they sponsored my collegiate team, so I got tons of gear) and it costs right around $30. But the truth is that even the cheapest of chain whips will likely do the job. In fact, I’ve found a dude who knows his stuff and shows you how to make this tool all by yourself. I would even go so far as to say that you probably have enough materials laying about your garage (if not, try your parents’ garage 😉 ) to put this together without spending anything. Check out the video below:
3. A Lockring Removal Tool If you’re going to use the chain whip you just made, you’ll also need a way to get that cassette off. A lockring remover is a must-have; unless you use one of the shady removal methods I’ve seen on the internet—which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend unless you don’t care much about the condition of the wheel after you use them. I recommend Park Tool’s iterations here that cost about $6, but you’ll need to buy the specific one for your brand/type of cassette. (By the way, I’m assuming you already have an adjustable wrench laying around somewhere to use with this tool. If you don’t, well, you’ll need one of those too.)
Hey, that’s it. Yup. That’s the most budget-conscious setup I can think of. If my calculations are correct, all of these tools will cost you a total of maybe $30-70 (sans bike stand)—depending on what kind of a bargain shopper you are.
As I said in the beginning, this is by no means the most shop-worthy list of tools, but these will get you through 90% of the regular maintenance jobs you’ll encounter.
But if you want to flesh out your collection of tools, I’d also recommend a few more things that are just super nice to have:
- Chain Wear Indicator, $10: This simple tool will show you just when it’s time to replace that stretched out chain, so you can avoid excess wear and tear on your cassette.
- Torque Wrench, $15-20: If you’re working with carbon, you should definitely consider a 4nm or 5nm torque wrench. Basically, this wrench “snaps” before your expensive carbon does.
- Wire Cutters, $10: A basic pair of clean-cutting wire cutters will make replacing brake and shifter cables and housing a pretty easy task. Just make sure to replace or sharpen them when your cuts are leaving frayed bits behind.
- Grease, $8-20: Trust me, you’ll need it. Everyone has their own favorite type, but plenty of bike-specific brands will do you just fine. And you might want to invest in a box of disposable gloves while you’re at it–getting your hands to stop smelling of Pedro's can really be a nightmare.
Know of something else that belongs in every budget bike repair kit? Tell us about them in the comments. And be sure to check out SLO Cyclist for more tutorials and tips.