Avoid frustration, foul language, strained eyes and bleeding hands by getting these indispensable items
1. Torque wrench
There’s a torque setting for nearly every fastener on your bike. In practice, you can use a bit of feel and discretion on non-critical fasteners, but for important bolts, and in the case of mechanical inexperience, defaulting to correct settings is the right thing to do. A wrench with a 3/8in drive will cover most fasteners, and choose one with a range of around 10-100ftlb for most general maintenance.
Cost: From £20
2. Socket and spanner toolkit
A good combination toolkit with somewhere between 100-200 components covers 90% of jobs most home mechanics will tackle. Typically you get a set of combination spanners, ¼in 3/8in and ½-inch drive ratchets with sockets to suit, plus hex and screwdriver bits, and extension bars.
Cost: From £80
3. Quality screwdriver set
It’s easy to moan about crap fasteners on bikes, but most damage to fasteners is done by ill-fitting tools used for the wrong job. Spend a few quid on a decent selection of sizes, and make sure you use the best one for the job each time. Back it up with an impact driver if you regularly encounter seized fasteners.
Cost: £30 upwards
4. Pressure gauge and decent pump
Look after your tyres because they look after you. Don’t use a cheapo gauge and a rusty footpump; make the job awkward and you won’t do it right, or at all. A decent gauge (digital or analogue – your preference) and a track pump make it easy to do the job right.
Cost: £10-£ 20 for a good tyre pressure gauge, track pumps from £15
5. Selection of 1/2in drive sockets
In addition to your main socket set, you may need specific sockets to fit large spindle nuts, front sprocket nuts and so on. When you buy a bike, measure up anything not covered by your general toolkit, and buy the ones you’ll need in readiness, rather than being halted mid-task.
Cost: From a few quid, up to £10 for large, unusual sizes.
6. Quality hex/torx key set
Hex and torx-head bolts are widely used, so you need tools for them. Like screwdrivers, it’s common for poor quality tools to cause grief. But also remember they’re prone to wear with use, which affects the fit. Buy reasonable quality items, but bank on replacing them when the corners wear.
Cost: £15 gets a good quality set with a range of sizes.
7. Fire extinguisher
A bike by its very nature is a fire hazard: flammable liquids, heat and ignition sources, so it’s not surprising an unlucky few end up inadvertently torching bikes, garages and even themselves. A powder extinguisher is messy, but it’s safe and effective on the chemical/electric files that are a potential hazard for you. Keep it somewhere easy to reach – tucked away is useless.
Cost: £20 for a 4kg powder extinguisher.
8. Chain-cleaning fluid and brushes
Chain care should be a priority in your cleaning regime. It’s easy, but highly critical and perversely satisfying. You can use paraffin, or a specialist chain degreaser product. Don’t use petrol or harsh solvents – they’ll damage the o-rings. Old toothbrushes and rags are ideal for getting the clag off, and free too.
Cost: Pence per chain clean.
9. LED work lights and head torches
Make sure your workspace has good permanent lighting overhead or on the walls, but also have torches or portable lamps for peering in and under parts of your bike. Straining to see into dark corners makes the job more difficult, and will fatigue you – making it harder to complete the job properly.
Cost: From £2 for basic mini-torches.
10. Locking fluid, lithium grease and copper grease
Some fasteners need to be prevented from moving, some need to be kept moving. Be prepared for everything. Have semi-permanent and permanent locking fluid ready, a tube or tin of copper grease (not aerosols – they’re too messy and imprecise for bike parts) and a pot of lithium grease for wheel spindles and so on.
Cost: £30 for a full stock that will last for years.
11. Gloves and hand cleaner
Skin complaints aren’t the most masculine of personal problems, but they’re no fun. Disposable or reusable gloves to prevent chemicals and dirt getting in to your skin are essential, and also make clean-up easier. Also, having a hand cleaner intended for workshop use is a good idea, and a spot of handcream will prevent the misery of split skin.
Cost: Box of gloves £5, handcare products from £3.50.
12. Penetrating fluid (the real stuff)
Don’t force that seized fastener – step back, and give it a soak with a decent penetrative spray. WD-40 is the classic go-to (and it still works in some cases) but more specialised fluids like Silkopen and Plus-Gas are used by seasoned mechanics for this particular job. Buy a tin, keep it on the shelf and hope you never have to use it.
Cost: From £7 per tin.
Photos: James Archibald