While most home mechanic tools will eventually reduce your bill at the local bike shop, some cut that number more effectively than others. For example, a proper pair of cable cutters will allow you to refresh a few hundred drivetrains in their lifetime, and just a couple of those cable swaps would cost the same as the tool if you pay someone else to do the work. Conversely, a pro-level wheel truing stand can cost heaps of money, and the task of building and truing wheels requires a level of patience and precision that not everyone possesses. At an average cost of around $30 per wheel build, some of us might be better off paying a pro to lace spokes and make things round while saving money on most of the other bike fixes.
Below are some examples of tools that quickly pay for themselves, allowing you to save heaps of cash for more fun things.
As mentioned above, a precise cable cutter will undoubtedly save a purse-load of scrilla. The Park Cable and Housing Cutter above has been hard at work for more than a decade and it still creates a flawless snip. It’s great for cable and housing and I also use it to cut brake hoses, cleaning up the end with a razor if needed. There are a handful of great options for this tool from Pedros, Unior, and Pro, all for somewhere around $40.
Cable and housing swaps at a lot of bike shops cost roughly $20, so this purchase will pay for itself rather quickly.
On the expensive side, a bearing press and requisite drifts will pay for themselves in 1-2 uses if you’re swapping out pivot cartridges. They can be used to press bottom-bracket bearings and hub cartridges into place, keeping everything rolling smoothly without the massive shop bills. Sure you can press bearings with the right spacers and vice, but this tool will allow you to do so with far less chance of damaging that fancy carbon frame. If you ride full-suspension bikes or like to pedal in the wet, a press like this one from Enduro Bearings will pay for its roughly $224 cost lickety-split.
Some bearing press tools can be used to install headset cups, saving an additional $15 each time that need arises. Shops can charge over $100 to replace pivot and linkage bearings, $15-20 for wheel bearings, and another $30 for pressed BB bearing swaps, so a well-made bearing press is well worth the investment given the number of jobs it can handle.
Bike parts are going to break. It’s a simple fact of things that are made as lightweight as possible. When they do, it’s great to be able to get a warranty replacement, provided you followed all of the torque specs and didn’t throw the component in a microwave to “see what it could really take.” Purchasing a torque wrench with a wide range of force values is an easy way to satisfy your warranty. This one from Syncros has served me well to cinch things up without over-tightening on those precious carbon bars, and there are loads of less expensive options at your local automotive or hardware store. Just make sure yours is rated for the lower torque specs that bikes require and is properly calibrated.
This tool can be used on every fastener that’s included on your bike, and overtightening any of them may cause damage. In short, the value of owning a torque wrench is both immeasurable and worthwhile.
Any work you’re comfortable performing on suspension components will pay for itself almost immediately. For example, if you want to service a set of fork lowers you will need some flat-faced sockets like those above, some smaller sockets to knock the foot nuts loose, a seal driver, cleaning supplies, and some oil. All told those goods should cost less than a lower service at the shop, and they will take you through countless refresh sessions.
Dropping the lowers of your fork is something anyone can learn to do, and at roughly $50 a pop at the shop, you’ll save money fast with a few simple tools and specific lubes. If you dig in further and learn to rebuild the damper and air spring those savings multiply quickly.
Pipe cutter and facing tool
At some point, your alloy bars or fork steerer will need a trim and a classic plumbers pipe cutter like this one from Kobalt paired with a reaming and facing tool from Ridgid will provide a precise and clean-cut surface for under $100 all told. The cutter takes about two minutes to be hand-spun through alloy tubes, and the reaming and facing tool can clean that edge to as smooth a surface as you need. High-quality headsets like those from Chris King have tight seals inside the dust-cap to keep moisture and soil outside, and a poorly cut steerer will catch on that seal and damage it. This little cylinder from Ridgid takes care of that and a host of other issues.
While the bike shop will only charge a few dollars to cut the fork steerer or handlebar (or about $50 to completely install a new fork), these two tools will make your home bike shop more convenient by cutting down on trips to the LBS, especially if cutting the steerer is the only thing that’s keeping you from installing a new fork at home.
Bottom bracket wrench and channel locks
While several other tools could make this list, a BB tool that fits your bike’s bottom bracket and preferably also matches the splines of a centerlock rotor lockring is an ideal friend to have in the tool drawer. Like a cassette tool, these simple wrenches are used for a few different applications around the bike shop. Second up to that appropriately sized tool is a set of channel locks like the red-handled pair above. If you don’t have the right size instrument for your BB splines, this massive plier will likely take care of things. You’ll want to be careful when installing or extracting a BB with channel locks, as too much squeezing force could damage the bearing cup. A small amount of patience and some well-directed force will have those cups in or out in no time.
Like the pipe cutter, most shops will only charge a few bucks to swap a BB, but the good thing is the tools aren’t too pricey either, generally priced at less than $20 each.
Brake bleed kit
Learning to bleed your own brakes is a right of passage for any DIY home mechanic, and it’s one of the first tasks a lot of us dig into. Owning the correct bleed kit for your brakes will set you back $30-50 depending on the brand. Park Tool has some more generalized bleed kits that work with a range of brakes for around $100. If you ride often and hit a lot of long descents that can heat up the hydraulic fluid you can save a mountain of cash with a bleed kit. Most shops ask for around $30 per brake for a bleed, and in my case, that would amount to roughly 6x per season, or $360 total. If you ride often and let gravity push the speed, a bleed kit becomes an exceedingly necessary part of the toolbox.
Which tools or products have saved you heaps of cash in the workshop? Please share them with the Singletracks community in the comments below.