I’ve been telling myself for years that I didn’t need new bike tools. How wrong I was.
I've called myself a cyclist for nearly three decades, and the assortment of tools that I use to work on my bikes has accrued over that duration. Longevity and thriftiness notwithstanding, that is not a good thing.
That collection became, quite frankly, a motley mishmash of bent wrenches, screwdrivers with chipped blades, dull cable cutters, pullers for obsolete crank standards, and lube-sticky hexes, valve stems, tube caps, and other detritus. I smashed it all into a shoebox-size metal case, whose size was so woefully inadequate that I sometimes had to stand on the lid to latch it. (My previous box, which was smaller and had a rickety handle, gave out while I was carrying it, imploding at my side with a crash like a car in a compactor.) And when I needed any tool, I’d have to remove every single item to find it, spreading them out like a deranged surgeon.
But it did the job. I kept my bikes running, though admittedly I had to swing by the local bike shop on a fairly regular basis for help or to borrow something I didn’t have. But that was a small inconvenience, I told myself. I didn’t need anything.
Others begged to differ. A couple of years ago, a friend and mechanic, Brian, agreed to wrench for me at 24 Hours of the Old Pueblo and I told him I’d bring the tools. When he arrived, he’d brought his own. “I know how sad your setup is,” he said. “I couldn’t have gotten you through the first hour.” At last year’s bike test, after watching me lay out my tools in the dirt one afternoon, another friend and bike shop owner, Mike, stood over me shaking his head with such sad, pitying eyes that I felt like I’d told him I lost my house to a fire. Finally, this year, my wife, Jen, who has heard me complain that I can’t find my #4 torque wrench probably once a week for the past five years, reached her limit. “Either get a new tool kit or sell your bikes!” she commanded. “One way or the other, I don’t want to hear it anymore.”
I ordered a Park Tool Professional Travel and Event Kit the next day, but I was still reluctant. How much better could some fancy new tools be?
Well, now that I've spent several months using this incredibly deep and well-conceived set, I realize that was the wrong question. What I should have been asking is: how much worse could my old tools have been? This upgrade is like trading in your original Motorola DynaTAC mobile phone, circa 1983, for a brand new iPhone X.
With 45 shop-quality tools, this set is so complete that I could have deposited my entire old kit in the trash and never missed a thing. (Call me sentimental, but I did not dump them.) Not only are there complete hex and Torx wrench sets, but they are housed in handy plastic keepers so that it’s virtually impossible to lose one. There’s a hex three-way—numbers 4, 5, and 6, the Holy Grail of tools—which I have been lusting after for years but never allowed myself to purchase. And the torque driver, with four bits and the ability to adjust from 4 to 6 nM, not only makes my old wrench obsolete, but also replaces my whole mismatched herd. The pair of bottom bracket tools fit all of my bikes, the rubber handles on the pro pedal wrench and 8mm hex means no more hernias trying to remove pedals with a multi-tool, and I’m pretty sure the cable cutters are sharp enough to take off my finger.
It’s not only about new either. Some of these tools offer vast design improvements over what I previously owned. For instance, the Chain Whip Pliers are so simple and convenient to use that my old chain whip now seems like a knuckle-bashing torture device. And the Cassette Lockring Tool not only fits three brands, but it has a built-in hefty metal handle to avoid the fiddling about and slipping with a wrench. And the Shop Hammer, with one composite head, means I’ll hopefully no longer mar up aluminum and carbon bits trying to gently tap something with my old metal claw-head monstrosity.
I can already hear the indignation over this kit’s $750 price tag. I was taken aback myself. But if you bought the whole set individually, it would cost 20 percent more, or $915. Besides, it’s pretty amazing to have a hand-curated kit of all the tools you need and none you don’t. And the lockable hard case, which goes for $276, is a significant part of the kits’ value. Not only are there organizer panels to keep it all clean and straight, but the sturdy construction and burly handle means I’ll never again have to worry about dumping 50 pounds of metal on my toes. More importantly, I haven’t lost or misplaced a tool since I got this two months ago, meaning Jen is much relieved.
When this kit arrived, I pored over my old beater set and added a few of my favorites to this new box, which has plenty of room for additions. Most notably, I transferred my shock pump (an awesome Syncros Digital model, incidentally), a glaring, but explicable omission given that Park Tool doesn’t make one. I haven’t been able to quite let go of the leftovers from that old set, which are stuffed in a plastic sack in my garage. If you know anyone in search of an eclectic, well-loved collection, I’m willing to cut a deal.