These are my favorites.
I love bikes as much as I love cycling. To me, a bike is moving sculpture, perfected technology, and gorgeous industrial design. In these lock-down days, I am out in the garage fiddling with my bikes. Tuning them up, and overhauling one or two.
Which got me thinking of bike tools. And the ones I really like and treasure almost as much as the bicycles themselves.
Here are my Top Ten.
#10 Hirame Floor Pump Chuck / Campagnolo Pump Chucks
Pumps are great (and a few make this list below), but a good pump chuck can turn a good pump into a great one (or in the case of a vintage Silca frame pump, can turn a lousy pump into a usable one).
First is the Hirame HP-20 pump head, the original ‘Super Chuck.” I don’t remember when and where I got mine, but they are currently available on Amazon. If you have a presta-only floor pump that you like (for example, an old Silca floor pump), cut out the OEM chuck and install the Hirame. You’re welcome.
Tie at #10 is the classic Campagnolo #1030 upgrade for the then ubiquitous, plastic Silca frame pump (see below at #3). No words needed. Pretty easy to find on the used market because for reasons that baffle me, cyclists have moved away from the frame pump to use vaguely sinister C02 canisters.
#9 Spokey Spoke Wrench
I don’t mess with wheels often (leaving that task to my pro-mechanic friends), but when I do need to touch up the true of a wheel (usually on my vintage bikes), I am always happy with the results, and when I do, I always use this wrench. Mostly because it is an example of fun, gorgeous design.
You may find a spoke wrench (at a higher price) that works as well (or slightly better) but nothing that looks this great.
#8 Phil Wood Grease Gun / Felco Cable Cutters
Number 8 is a tie between a grease gun and cutters.
The grease gun: I have no recollection of where and when I got this, but I remember needing it the moment I learned of its existence. An after-market add-on that threads onto the tube of Phil grease. Turning a simple tube into a bona fide shop tool. It makes using grease a treat. I never have a problem with under-greased components, because this little wonder is always at hand.
And then, there’s the Felcos. Imagine cutting cables cleanly with no split ends. Now imagine it cutting cleanly every time. Now wake up and buy a pair of these:
#7 Y Wrenches
Number 7 is a tie between two Y wrenches: the Park AWS 8 ball-end hex set, and the 8-9-10 socket Y. The Y configuration provides just the right amount of leverage to the tool; they both feel great in hand. I invariably reach for them, rather than a long-end single hex or socket tool.
#6 SKS Rennkompressor
Floor pumps. I lusted after a Silca Pista pump the moment I saw one in the parking lot of a race in College Park, Maryland in 1983.
I bought one and stuck with the classic for decades, rebuilding it and upgrading it over the years.
I still have it, and I have replacement parts ready, but I’ve got to admit that a few years ago, I moved on to another European, wood-handled beauty: the SKS Rennkompressor. Every bit as elegant as the Silca, every bit as rebuildable, but for me, a better pump. And the OEM chuck is good enough to resist upgrade.
Note: I am aware that the resurrected Silca company produces a range of Pista models. I am a HUGE fan of what Silca is currently doing (see #2 below). My advice is to get one of the new Silca Pistas or an SKS. These two models are the classics and have been in production for decades and will last a lifetime. Stay away from the plastic pumps available at most shops. Life’s too short for crappy, unrepairable pumps with stupid names.
#5 Grand Bois Rinko Tool
Number 5 hails from my favorite bike shop in the world, I’s Bikes / Grand Bois in Kyoto, Japan. This tool is made for my favorite bicycle (Grand Bois) and for my favorite style of riding (Rinko, in which bikes are partially disassembled and covered to be allowed on Japanese trains). Imagine riding tiny forest roads through the mountains outside of Kyoto to a small inn for lunch to a distant train station to complete the day’s point-to-point adventure. Heaven. This tool combines a headset wrench and a pedal wrench. You can’t rinko without it.
#4 Topeak Ratchet Rocket Lite DX
I learned of this tool perusing the Grand Bois website. Then I got one. It is the perfect travel companion and by far my favorite on-the-bike tool set. This little ratchet wrench is a miracle. It folds up in its own case. I have another version with more tools, but this is the one I ride with.
#3 Frame Pumps
I wish more people used frame pumps. They work. They look great. You can loan them to others on a ride. They provide a much-needed upper body work out. They are not thrown away after a single use. You can fly with them. They cannot be used to make seltzer.
I love them all.
Top: the middle weight contender, the Topeak Masterblaster Road. I like Topeak stuff, and this pump is readily available and works fine.
Middle: the lightweight legend, the Silca Impero. The vintage, classic, plastic Silca. It is finiky, can and will bend presta valves, and can and will break with misuse. It takes a little experience and care, and it’s cool. [Silca has come out with a modern Impero, and I hear that it is amazing.]
Bottom: the heavyweight champ, the Zefal HPX. My favorite French-made bike part. It is THE best frame pump ever made, works perfectly, is tough as hell, and is rebuildable. And in that Legnano livery painted to match a bike of mine, it is drool-worthy.
#2 Silca HX-One / Bike Law Edition
I have nothing but praise for the relaunch of the Silca brand. They are creating great stuff with everything they do these days. The HX-One is a great example. I use this tool set all of the time, and not just for bike projects. The quality, look and feel, and precision are unmatched. And it says Bike Law on it. Yes, all the way around.
Reward for anyone who can find the missing 2.5 hex.
#1 Brompton Tool Set
My number one bike tool is from my number one bike company and my go-to bike: the Brompton folding bike. This tool set has it all: ratchet, 15 mm wrench, tire irons, hexes and heads, and patch kit.
But there’s more. Hold on to your socks, folks, because the kit fits into the unfolded bike tube and attaches with a reassuring magnetic clunk. Just like the bike itself, it is ever-present and ever-useful and ever-ready.
Submit your favorite tool below (or on social media). My favorite submission wins a Silca / Bike Law HX-One.
If nothing else, get out in the garage and work on your bike.