Garage essentials for a basic motorcycle toolkit

Garage essentials
Garage essentials
8

Whether you strip and rebuild bikes from spindle to spindle, dabble in home servicing, or simply adjust your bike’s chain, garage essentials like a basic motorcycle toolkit will be your best friend.

But not those bits of cheap tat laughingly known as ‘the standard toolkit’ kept in a plastic pouch under the seat. Quite simply, these are mass-produced, cheap, easy-to-bend/break bits of nastiness made of soft metal – with the exception of BMW toolkits.

The best at a glance

Most of the spanners are open-ended and prone to ‘opening out’ where the jaws don’t grip precisely and round off the fastener heads. If they have to be used, make sure it’s only in an emergency.

For those whose idea of heaven is a bank holiday weekend of fettling a classic or rebuilding your latest tipsy eBay purchase, you might want to opt for a more advanced motorcycle toolkit.

Socket sets

A socket set is a basic motorcycle toolkit essential, and for most jobs on a bike, a 3/8in drive set will suffice. However, there are larger jobs that will require a meatier 1/2in drive set, such as removing and replacing wheels, for example.

Do everything combined imperial and metric 384-piece socket sets for £30 look attractive, but will you use it all? Only Harleys have a smattering of old imperial nuts and bolts. A recognised brand of 3/8in drive ratchet (the size of drive-to-socket union), with 8-19mm sockets and a couple of extension bars, will tackle most tasks. The Draper set below, for example.

Best socket starter set

Price: $70.00

Six-point sockets (8-22mm), 72-tooth reversible ratchet and extension bars, chrome vanadium steel.

For anything over 19mm, such as swingarm spindle nuts or even smaller engine and suspension mounting bolts but which require a high torque-tightening figure, a heftier 1/2in drive ratchet should be used. Cost can be kept to a minimum by buying specific-sized individual sockets. Alternatively, you can get your 3/8-in and 1/2-in sockets in one with a bigger set.

Pros

  • Trusted brand
  • Comes in a case
  • Great starter set

Cons

  • Not the biggest range of sizes
  • Only metric

Best advanced socket set

Price: $174.95

It may seem expensive but bear in mind that this set from Gedore is all the socket-based tools you're likely to need. It has a huge 172 components, covering 1/4in, 3/8in and 1/2in drive sets to cover every need and eventuality and comes with a selection of traditional six-point sockets as well as deep sockets, sparkplug sockets and a host of drive bits, including hexagonal, torx and E-drive.

You also get three ratchet handles with quick-change thumb direction levers and several tools, including universal-joint drives and extension bars. It all comes in a plastic case with metal clips for storage and transport. I've used this, and it's a seriously impressive garage essential.

Seal of Approval - MCN tried and tested

Pros

  • Large set with plenty of tools
  • Includes sparkplug tools
  • Allen keys
  • Multiple driver sizes
  • Comes with a case

Cons

  • None

Spanners

A good set of spanners is also a garage essential, and combination style – with a ring at one end and open-ended at the other – offers great flexibility.

Spanners are used when there’s no room to fit a socket. Combination spanners – open-ended one end and a ring spanner (like a flat socket) on the other – are the best bet. After buying a quality 8-19mm set, bolster your basic toolkit with a cheaper set of the commonly used sizes on a motorcycle, as it’s often necessary to hold a bolt as you undo the nut.

Best starter spanner set

This set of metric combination spanners from Werx gets good reviews online and is Amazon's Choice for 'Spanner set'. It features 15 spanners in metric sizes for almost all modern motorcycles (though you may need imperial for older or classic machines) from 6mm to 21mm and comes in a storage roll.

Formed in chrome vanadium steel for durability and strength, they are drop-forged and are a combination design, with open-ended jaws at one end and a 12-point ring design at the other.

Pros

  • Comes in a roll
  • 12-point ring end and open end
  • Large range

Cons

  • Only metric

Best cheap spanner set

Price: $27.82

Reliable and affordable nickel chrome plated spanner set featuring sizes from 6-19mm. Comes in plastic holder that can be used to make sure you don't lose them.

Pros

  • 12-point ring end and open end
  • Large range

Cons

  • No case, just a holder

Screwdrivers and allen keys

It’s necessary to use the right type of screwdriver in the correct size. The type you’re looking for will have hardened tips to prevent premature wear (screw heads soon chew up) with large rubber, easy grip handles. Pozidrive (crosshead) sizes #1, #2, and #3 are the minimum required, plus varying sizes of slotted (flat-bladed) drivers.

Recessed (Allen) bolts for bodywork etc., are easily damaged by worn, cheap or ill-fitting Allen keys. Quality keys fit better, and last longer, and T-handle keys are easier to use and better for stubborn bolts. Over 10mm, or with a high torque figure, it’s best to use a 3/8in drive ratchet with Allen socket attachments, such as those in the Gedore socket set. A basic toolkit for your motorcycle should feature most, if not all, of these.

Best overall range screwdriver set

Price: $28.00

Consisting of 17 screwdrivers, bit driver, 10 insert bits and 16 hex keys, you can get it all in one with this garage essential. Made from chrome vanadium steel with the screwdrivers having a grippy handle and a sand-blasted tip.

Pros

  • Huge range of tools, including Allen keys
  • Storage stand
  • Great value

Cons

  • No stubby screwdrivers for awkward jobs

Best T-handle hex keys

Price: $27.39

A set of T-handle hex keys backed up by the Sealey name you can trust for quality but a an affordable price. Includes sizes from 2 - 10mm. Made from chrome vanadium steel.

Pros

  • Backed by Sealey
  • Good range
  • Ergonomic handle

Cons

  • Only metric

Best T-handle Torx wrenches

Alternative Retailers
Walmart
$21.95

Amazon's Choice, this set contains a selection of hexagonal and Torx drive bits, all with a T-handle, making use both comfortable and easy. The long ends of the hex drive bits have rounded heads so you can use them at an angle, and both the hex and torx drives have long and short handles for reach or additional torque.

This is a garage essential for removing a bike's bodywork, for example, and will cover fasteners with hex or torx bolts (some bikes use both on the same bike).

Pros

  • Low price
  • Handy case
  • Torx and hex heads included

Cons

  • Lesser-known brand

Pliers

There are few jobs on a bike that invite the use of pliers these days, but they’ll always be handy (freeing off stuck clutch adjusters, removing fuel pipe clips etc.). Look for the type with rubber handles so you can hold them with greasy hands. Long-nose pliers are good for inaccessible areas (dropped nuts are a speciality); flat-nose offer good grip.

Best starter pliers set

Price: $30.48
A set of pliers will always be useful, and this basic threesome from Draper has all you need to get you going. You get a pair of standard square-jaw pliers with serrated grips, a pair of long-nose versions for more delicate or inaccessible jobs and a pair of side cutters for wires.

Find the right pliers for any job here

Pros

  • Known brand
  • Wire cutting feature

Cons

  • Not sprung

Torque wrench

A torque wrench is one of the most frequently used and most important tools you can get. In a nutshell, it’s a ratchet-like device with an adjustable clutch that stops turning the nut/bolt when a predetermined torque figure has been reached. This prevents nut and bolt threads from being over-stretched or breaking off.

Tested by Richard Newland for seven years

Price: $77.56
If you do any work on your bike (or other vehicles) you really must have a torque wrench. I’ve got one for high-torque jobs, and a smaller one for more delicate tasks. This Draper item is the meaty one. Rated to cope with torques from 20-210Nm (22.1 – 154.9lb.ft), it’ll cover the vast majority of common tasks that use large nuts, like wheel spindle nuts, swingarm pivot bolts, headstock nuts etc. And these are all things you don’t want to under- or over-tighten – the consequences of both are dire, and potentially very dangerous. To use it, you simply add the relevant socket to the 1/2in square drive (like any other ratchet), set the torque rating on the marked handle, and tighten the nut or bolt in question. Once the right torque is reached, there’s an audible ‘click’ and it feels momentarily like you’ve broken something as the tension goes slack. Couldn’t be simpler.
  • Quality
    4.0
  • Value
    5.0

Best cheap torque wrench

Price: $49.19
The most common fasteners that need torquing up are rear-wheel spindle mounts after chain tension has been adjusted, for example. These are generally fairly high figures, and this 1/2-in-drive torque wrench from Silverline is just the job, reading up to 210Nm, which should be plenty.

Pros

  • Mechanical mechanism
  • Simple to use

Cons

  • Lesser-known brand

Oil filter tool

Oil is an engine’s blood, just as important is the oil filter to strain the oil to capture particles generated by internal wear. To remove a filter when there’s limited room (eg. if you have exhaust pipes in the way) and to install a new one correctly, a chain wrench or filter socket is a must.

Best for occasional use

Despite looking like something from a film adaptation of an HG Wells novel, this set of two three-pronged oil filter wrenches could prove invaluable come oil-change time. The three legs tighten on the filter body and grip it to undo the filter so you can change it.

There are other versions available, using straps or chains, but these two will cope with filter sizes from 68mm to 130mm and make whipping that old filter off a doddle.

Pros

  • Two sizes for big fitment range
  • You can use a big spanner or socket for leverage

Cons

  • Fiddly in tight spaces

Best for awkward filters

A chain wrench that can be used to fit or remove oil filters from 60-140mm. Constructed from chrome vanadium with a satin finish and a hanging hole for easy storage.
 

Pros

  • Simple design
  • Easy adjustability
  • Trusted brand

Cons

  • Won't be used very often in most home garages

Ruler

One of the best universal tools ever is a steel ruler. Available in various lengths, use it to accurately measure any pre-load adjustment on the rear shock, amount of slack in the drive chain, the tops of the fork legs protruding through the top yoke, the chain adjuster blocks’ position in the swingarm. Or as a guide to cut a line.

Best for accuracy

Price: $22.83

Stainless steel ruler made by a reputable brand. Permanent etched measurements in both metric (mm) and imperial (in) 300mm (12in) long with hanging hole for easy storage.

Pros

  • Simple
  • Well-made
  • Etched markings

Cons

  • Not flexible
  • Single sided

C spanner (hooked spanner)

C-spanners are used for adjusting pre-load on rear shock absorbers, whose adjustment is via threaded locking rings. Standard C-spanners are prone to wear, and there’s only ever one in the toolkit when you need two to lock them after adjustment. Match the original to a quality aftermarket item with a hinged lever for better purchase.

Best for adaptability

Hardened chrome vanadium steel-bodied hinged hook spanner with capacity from 19-51mm. Bright chrome finish and hanging hole for easy storage. Backed by trusted brand Facom.

Pros

  • Hinged for better purchase
  • Much sturdier than standard items

Cons

  • Too bulky to carry in bike toolkit

Other useful items

Tested by Richard Newland for eight years

Price: £34.92 (incl VAT)
"With six bikes, three cars and a petrol lawnmower in my garage all burning only the finest dinosaur juice, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve needed to press this pump into action to solve a localised fuel crisis. Simply pop one end of the kit into the container/vehicular victim you’re siphoning from, and the other into a petrol can – or direct into the thing that needs fuel – paying attention to the flow arrow on the pump body, then give the bladder a few quick squeezes ‘et voila!’ you’re pumping gas… The flow rate is decent, and if the giving end drifts free of the life juice, simply pop it back in and give the bladder a few more squeezes.

There’s no release valve to stop the flow, so simply lift the donor end free of the liquid when you’re close to your target level, and let the pipe-full run through. You can pump any liquid with it, but I probably wouldn’t use the same pump for multiple liquid types. I can’t really imagine how I used to manage without one."

Pros

  • Quality
    4.0
  • Value
    4.0

Tested by Simon Relph for eight months

If, like me, you own old bikes, you will be used to the occasional bouts of incontinence when an engine decides to off-load some of its oil all over the workshop floor. This is a real pain to clear up, so I got hold of these Oxford Drip Pads. I simply side it under the bike after I have been out for a ride. The pads come in packs of eight, four are 2mm thick with a plastic backing, the other four are 5mm thick with no backing. They are both 39cm x 48cm and can absorb and retain up to half-a-litre of most oil-based fluids that may leak out. Also, they can be used to soak up the odd spillage, even if it’s just water. 
  • Quality
    4.0
  • Value
    4.0

Tested by Richard Newland for 2 years

If you can't put matting down throughout your garage, you can at least give your bike a bed to sleep on. This Zero-G mat from Oxford measures 250 x 100cm, making it big enough to park even the largest bikes atop, and is made from a 5mm deep polyester pile carpet that’s mounted on a fluid-resistant TPR rubber backing, complete with sewn edges. As well as reducing the amount of concrete dust, it helps keep tyres healthier for being insulated from the cold concrete, prevents floor staining from dirty, wet, or fluid-leaking bikes, and if you use a centre stand, it also stops you gouging your floor. I park my daily rider on it every day.
  • Quality
    5.0
  • Value
    4.0

Tested by Richard Newland for six months

I’ve been squinting like Mr Magoo at an ancient version of this that only boasts markings for years, and finally conceded that a new caliper with a digi readout would be a massive improvement. And it really is. This dual-reading tool displays both types of readout, and also measures inbound and outbound, allowing a wide range of measuring applications – with complete accuracy. The measurement range is from zero to 150mm/6in, in 0.01mm and 0.005in increments, which covers the vast majority of measuring need for workshop jobs. The slider has a thumb-wheel and a lock. The tool is made from hardened steel, so it’s super-sturdy and should last a lifetime. The battery is an easily-available SR44 (included), and the auto-off feature means you won’t need a new one every time you use it! It’s also supplied in its own hard case, meaning you can store it safely in your tool chest without fear of damage. While Draper’s RRP is over £50, I bought mine on Amazon and paid £23.89.
  • Quality
    5.0
  • Value
    5.0

Tested by Richard Newland for five months

Alternative Retailers
Walmart
$184.68
I’ve had a pencil-style depth gauge for about 40 years, but never really trusted it was accurate, so I’ve embraced the digital era and bought this Draper digital unit so I can be accurate to an unnecessarily detailed ±0.01mm (or 0.00039”). There is a ‘Pro’ version in Draper’s range, but this one is all you really need, and it’s superbly simple to use. Supplied with a battery (it uses the easily available SR44) all you need to do is turn it on, ideally calibrate it each time on a flat surface by pressing the ‘Zero’ button, then extend the probe and located it at the lowest point in the tread, then push main body down until it’s flat on the raised tread. Et voila, one digital read-out (in metric or imperial) of the depth of tread available. While the RRP is over £15, I bought mine on I paid £7.50 on Amazon.
  • Quality
    4.0
  • Value
    4.0

Best for stubborn nuts and bolts

Penetrates and loosens seized nuts, bolts and metal and prevents new corrosion. Well-established and trusted brand, 500ml tin that should last a lifetime in a typical home workshop.

Tested by Simon Relph for over 30 years - Quality 5 stars, value 5 Stars

Simon said: "I have used PlusGas on most of my (many) restorations, whether removing a rusted spindle from a wheel or some tiny screws holding a horn together. Most jobs don't need days of soaking, only in extremes. If there is ever a rusty, suspicious-looking screw or bolt that looks like it might sheer off at the slightest touch, a drop of PlusGas almost guarantees it will come undone. How it finds its way along threads and into the most stubbornly corroded areas is amazing. Then it lubricates to aid taking things apart. On top of all that, it also protects the surface it is applied to. For me, PlusGas is an all-round best friend in the workshop."

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Saves stress and stripped threads/shoulders

Cons

  • Once you start using it you can never stop

Best paddock stand

Price: £61.64 (rear), £64.98 (front)

At some point, you will need to raise the bike off the ground to carry out some work, removing the wheels for new tyres, for example, or even just changing the oil, and you need the bike upright, and you don't have a centre stand.

These Premium paddock stands from Oxford get great reviews and won a Best Buy triangle from sister magazine RiDE when it tested paddock stands in the past. Basic but well-made and do the job they are meant to do.

Find more paddock stands here

Pros

  • Swingarm block design means no need for bobbins
  • Trusted brand
  • Sturdy design

Cons

  • Not compatible with single-sided swingarms

Best tool chest

Price: $86.65

Once you've assembled your toolkit, you need to keep your tools safe and sound. While many here come in storage cases, you may prefer to decant them into a toolbox or chest to keep them handy in one location.

This top box from Hilka has numerous roller-bearing drawers to house all your tools reliably and smoothly and comes with lifting handles, so as long as it's not too heavy, you can transport it around easily.

Pros

  • Professional layout
  • Easy to be organised

Cons

  • Bulky and heavy when filled

Emergency tools to get you out of anything

9-emergency-bike-tools

Best chain tool

This is an important bit of kit when you are far from assistance. This chain breaker tool is small and compact - opt for one of these as most breakers on the market are big, heavy and chunky things best suited for your garage, not your bike's tool roll. It also pays to carry two spare chain links.

Pros

  • Lightweight and compact design
  • Can be a life-saver in the wilderness

Cons

  • Takes a lot of strength

Best tyre tool

Price: $39.99

You only need one lever because you can use something else, such as a ratchet, to hold the tyre in place while you lever it off with this. Practise changing tyres with one lever and a ratchet, once you've done a few, you'll realise you don't need 20 tyre levers under the rim. My lever also doubles up as my rear spindle spanner. This Motion Pro lever is alloy and super light. It's not going to be as strong as steel, so make sure you're the one to do up the spindle bolt before you set off.

Pros

  • Two tools in one
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Not the strongest

Best for fixing

Rrp: $15.86

Price: $14.09

You can just about fix anything metal with this little syringe of magic. Two-part epoxy is a life-saver if you need to fix cracked metal, especially if it's something containing fluid and you have an oil or coolant leak. We once patched up a smashed clutch with this and a couple of zip ties in an emergency repair. It is fantastic stuff, and we'd never leave it out of the on-board toolkit. Mix it up, and you'll soon get yourself out of trouble when you are a long way from base.

Pros

  • Can be a life-saver in the wilderness
  • Easy to use

Cons

  • Highly toxic

Best multitool

Price: $100.54

You could get away with just a pair of pliers instead of one of these if you want to be really strict. These really are just boy's toys, but they do come in handy and can save you taking extra and unnecessary tools. If you're going to use one, then just make sure it's not overflowing with superfluous stuff.

We particularly like this one from Leatherman as it's light, and there's not too much on it. It pays to keep it closer to hand than the full toolkit, as it saves getting the whole set out if something minor breaks. It comes with a bit driver, a knife, wire cutters, and pliers. Oh, and the most important part is a bottle opener… for the end of the ride, of course.

Pros

  • Many tools in one
  • Trusted brand
  • Keep it in an easy-to-access place, and you might not need your toolkit at all

Cons

  • Not the perfect tool for anything

Best in an emergency

Very handy items that can fix a multitude of problems at home or out on a ride - as many of us can testify. It's also very useful to carry a pair of stronger tie downs too.

Pros

  • Light
  • Cheap
  • Strong
  • Easy to use for many purposes

Cons

  • You may get lazy and stop fixing things properly

Other useful items

Duct tape is also handy. But to save space, and instead of a big, wide roll of duct tape, wrap some round your tyre lever. But you can wrap it around anything, it could even be a pencil, just to keep the size down. The key is packing small.

What tools should I be looking for?

To keep your bike’s nuts, bolts and other fasteners in good condition and to ensure they can be undone and removed with ease, nothing but decent tools will do. The temptation to spend a fiver on a big shiny do-everything toolkit is huge, but this is likely to prove a false economy.

Cheap tools, although better by being tougher and more precise than the stock crap under your seat, aren’t that precisely made, can deteriorate fast and will eventually damage fasteners, eating into the value of your machine. And what’s the point in paying for tools you’ll never use?

If your motorcycle has metric fasteners, then buy a basic metric-only toolkit. Better still, build a kit specific to your bike, and go for reputable top quality brand names that won’t cost the earth, like Teng, Draper or Halfords.

Is it seriously worth paying that much more?

Yes. Apart from making home mechanics a damn sight easier, there’s also the delight in handling something so precise and perfect. Having splashed proper cash on a toolkit fit for a GP pit crew, don’t then ruin it. Using screwdrivers as chisels or spanners for hammering will knacker them. Either buy the proper stuff or buy some cheapies you don’t mind blunting and bending.

After use on your motorcycle, give your toolkit a basic clean with an oil-tainted cloth to remove grit and corrosive fluids before storing. And don’t lend them out – more friendships have been ended over the ‘loss’ and damage of tools than poker games or loose women.

Once you’re set up, you can start investing in more luxurious garage items, such as a compressor, but first, here’s some of the essential kit we reckon will get you going in your garage at home.

How MCN tests products

At MCN, our team of expert journalists have decades of experience gained over hundreds of thousands of miles. We don’t test our kit to destruction; we use it exactly how you do, in the real world and in all conditions. That means we can deliver impartial buying advice you can rely on.

Each of our writers has an in-depth understanding of the needs of today’s biker… because they are one.

If you can’t see a review against an item on this page, it’s because we haven’t tested it yet. These items will only be included if we think they’re important and relevant in the market, and rest assured, we will be working on bringing you a review as soon as we’ve done the miles.

To find out more, head to our dedicated page explaining how we test motorcycle products.

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