Tool Time

Custom Disc adapterby Ric Hjertberg Wheelsmith, Inc. Circa 98

In the same way as a bicycle is to a competitor, tools are to a mechanic. These deceptively simple extensions of the human form enable us to work miracles. Any racer can recognize the bonding between a mechanic and his/her tools. Without them all the knowledge in the world leaves us helpless. With the correct use of the right ones, crowds are left applauding and tales begin that are passed down the generations. This all got started long before Tim Allen.

For bicycle work, what are some of our favorites? I don’t mean what should we take to the races, but what individual tools have endeared themselves to us? In my own case a couple are prime examples. The little hexagonal Cyclo T-spoke wrench is hardened and minimal. If you saw it shorter with an abrasive cut off wheel it becomes the definition of puny usefulness. It’s hardly bigger than a nipple but with it I can build wheels at full speed. Another of my personal favorites is, again, a wheel building item: the adjustable Park spoke wrench (AW-10). Grab a damaged or seized nipple with this puppy and it usually turns. Without the little miracle a spoke may need to be cut, cassette removed, and a 3 minute nipple replacement becomes a 20 minute ordeal.

Listen to a few favorites from some of my fellow mechanics:

“The BIG 32 (Craftsman 32mm box/open end wrench, #V V-42936) – The first race the BIG 32 attended was the Collegiate Ants at SLAW (’96). A rider comes up during the crit asking for his headset to be adjusted. Out comes the Park 32 and the BIG 32. As the BIG 32 came out his eyes got really big. As I reached for his bike he replied, “ah, it’s really auk. ..I can do it myself.” At this point I assured him that I was a trained, licensed mechanic and proceeded to successfully adjust his headset. Following that incident, I have allowed all the other Shimano mechanics the opportunity to have the BIG 32 experience.”
Andy Stone, Shimano Technical Support

“My favorite tools are my Swiss army Knife and the Snap-On JS-24A mechanics stool!”
Hank Williams, Navigators Team Mechanic

“At the top of my list is my Makita cordless drill/driver with a keyless chuck. I’ve taken it on almost every trip I’ve done, and the scant few where I haven’t, I’ve slapped myself over and over again for leaving it at home. With a high-quality bit set and a range of E-Z Outs broken water bottle cage bolts cease to be frightening. Stripped seat binder collars can be fixed in minutes. A de-epoxied Dura-Ace seat post head can be screwed in place. And on one or two occasions, I’ve even stuck a rattail file in the drill and turned it into a tiny mill. When I first started as a traveling team mechanic, I was always told to leave such heavy, bulky tools behind But now, once others know I have it, invariably I become that mechanic to borrow things from. There is nothing more ego-gratifying to have the German National Team Mechanic come to *YOU* to borrow a tool!”
Ian Sherburne, US National Team Mechanic

“For me, of course, the Campy tools have gotten much use. I never did use the peanut butter wrench to spread the sauce but the H tool has come in handy many times. I also like the Park tool used to straighten frames (FFS1), the one that hooks into a stay, and then lower on the stay pull is applied to straighten it. I have a story or two about that tool at the track Worlds.”
Jim Ingram, former Campagnolo (and other) Tech Support veteran

“I prefer the VAR head tube reamer/facer. It has good facial and internal contact.”
Anonymous licensed mechanic

“In the days of the Campagnolo Nuovo Record Groups, my favorite tool was Campy’s T-wrench. It had an 8 mm socket and a 6 mm allen key, and would fit nearly everything on the bikes at the time. The tool had a nice finish and it fit nicely in the hand. I suppose it is still my favorite tool despite its limited usefulness in these days of 5 mm Allen fittings. At every race my trusty old T-wrench finds its way into my pack waiting for a chance to be put into service – perhaps a loose stem binder, a seat in need of adjustment, or maybe even an aging Campy derailleur with a loose cable anchor.”
David Hunter, Echelon Tech Support

“Favorite tool in my box: die grinder w/ jacobs chuck. Favorite accessory for die grinder: cut off wheel. Reason: makes metal removal fun.”
Calvin Jones, NORBA World’s Tech Support and Park Tool Special Projects Director

“I have to heartily endorse my Sears Robo-Grips despite the corny name and the ads with Bob Vila. Great tool though and much lighter than 3 pr of vice grips and more useful on bikes. Second would have to be my small needle nose, great for getting around linkage parts. Third is my dental probe for widening Gore, or any, cable housing. And my sentimental favorite is my 24 mm offset box wrench with a cassette tool and Qucik Release skewer welded into it.”
Steve Richardson, GT Team Mechanic

“I’ve always been fond of my metric and English adjustable wrenches. Metric is on the right side of my box and English on the left. Amazingly, either one fits any bolt I put it on.”
Dave Arnauckas, US National Team Mechanic

“My real favorite tool — the Wheelsmith Tensiometer. I am not fooling. First, it appeals to my engineering sense. It is a tool that is used to make a measurement of stress. It can be calibrated to be accurate. With practice, it can be precise. The parts are visual which eliminates mystery and promotes understanding. It appeals to my artistic nature. I can create art as I true a wheel, certainly in the extrinsic sense in that I can produce a wheel which has no swing, has no hop and is dished perfectly. As it runs true in the stand or in the frame, it provides aesthetic pleasure.”
Chip Howat, NORBA World’s Mechanic and engineering professor


Owner of and long time professional race mechanic.