The 6 Essential Tools For Any Mountain Biker

6 essential mountain bike tools
September 25th, 2014

Unless you've got the dough to take your bike to shop for every flat tire and squeaky chain, you'll need some basic tools to care for your trusty steed. It doesn't take much, and having these six essentials will surely save you running to a friend's house before a ride to get your bike running just the way you like it. Read on to build your base of tools, but beware– this collection will grow quickly!

1. The Floor Pump

The floor pump is an essential for your home shop– you can’t ride without air in your tires, right? Function, looks, and (of course) branding will play into how much you’ll drop on your new pump. Having one with a dual-head, that is – there’s no configuration change needed to switch from filling a Schrader to a Presta valve – is very handy. Many pumps come with a head that needs to be unscrewed, flipped, and tightened again, which means more time spent fiddling between filling yours and your buddy’s tires.
 
• What it does: fills your tires with air quickly and accurately.
• What to look for when buying: Presta and Schrader compatibility, foot-placement areas for stability, a gauge showing psi, what your mechanic uses (he does use them day in and day out, after all).
• What you should expect to pay: $45-$140 (CAD)
 
Our recommendation: The Topeak Joe Blow Series: A pump with the ease of dual- head functionality for both types of valve, an accurate gauge, and a build that feels like it will last more than a few seasons. The Max II is a sturdy entry-level option that can be found at a reasonable price at your local bike store.
 

2) The Hex Key Set

Your bike is held together by what might seem like a hundred different bolts. Some are large and some are small, and you’ll need a set that turns them all *ba-dum-tisss*
You can choose between a more portable set that come fixed together, multi-tool style, in a standard mechanic’s set, or even with handles for extra leverage.
 
• What they do: loosen or tighten the various Allen bolts on your bike.
• What to look for when buying: Metric or Imperial– most bikes are assembled with Metric (measured in millimeters) bolts. If you’re taking them on the go, the functionality of the multi-tool set will do you well. If you’re looking to ensemble a set that will last you forever, go with the handled variety. If you’re strapped for cash, head to your local hardware store’s sale rack.
• What you should expect to pay: $10 from the aforementioned sale rack / $80 for the best of the best.
 
Our Recommendation(s):
For the fellow or lady on a budget: they’re all made of metal– whatever you can find!
For the rider who wants to carry them around with him: Wrench Force’s Multi-tool- style hex key set (what a mouthful!) is small enough to stuff in your pack, and won’t break your budget.
For the rider who means business: a plastic molded P- or T-handled set from Park Tool (or similar) is for those looking for serious torque in a pretty package.
 

3) The Adjustable Wrench or Wrench Set

Whether you bought them, your friend left theirs on your workbench last year, or you inherited them... Wrenches almost seem to come with garages– you just don’t find a garage without a wrench in it. You already need a set for around the house, but especially if your bike doesn’t have quick-release wheels, you’ll definitely want to have an adjustable wrench around.
 
• What they do: tighten or loosen nuts.
• What to look for when buying: Similar to hex keys, you can pretty much spend
what you’d like on these. Just remember, the longer the wrench, the more
leverage you’ll get. The smaller it is, the more maneuverable it will be.
• What you should expect to pay: $5-$50, depending on size and bling-factor.
 
Our recommendation: Bigger is better when it comes to loosening pedals and axle- bolts, so anything in the 10”+ range that fits your price.
 

4) The Tire Lever

There’s nothing that will get you hot, sweaty, and flustered on a hot summer’s afternoon like ...fighting with a tire that you can’t get off your rim. With the right tire lever, you can take the frustration out of swapping your tube when you’re in a time crunch. Wedge the flat end between your tire and rim, push down to bring the bead over the tire, then use the second lever to slide the bead off one side of the rim all the way around the tire.
 
• What they do: Remove your tire from your rim without giving your thumbs rubber-burn.
• What to look for when buying: Sturdy-sized plastic levers. There are metal ones on the market, but in using them you risk scuffing your purdy black rims.
• What you should expect to pay: Well less than $20.
 
Our recommendation: Pedro’s Tire Levers or Park Tool Tire Levers. Both have been sitting in our toolboxes for years, and we can confidently reach for either without the fear of one busting in half.
 

5) The Chain Breaker

If you haven’t already experienced it, you will one day learn that major bike break- downs often seem to happen when you’re at the furthest possible point from your house, or trailhead, or any form of civilization at all. Here’s the tool that will save you from getting to the bottom of a descent and not being able to pedal back up again.
 
• What they do: Drive pins into, or push them out to repair or remove chains.
• What to look for when buying: You’ll have to decide between a breaker driven
by an Allen key or turned by hand, depending on if you’re carrying it in your pack or not. You’ll be grateful for your breaker having a replaceable pin (the part that drives the pin holding two chain links together), should you ever snap it.
• What you should expect to pay: $5-$60, depending on make and size.
 
Our recommendation: The Park Tool CT-5 is a lightweight chain breaker with a replaceable pin and hand-turned driver.
 

6) The Compact Scissors and Cable Cutters

Somewhere along the line, you’re going to need to cut a cable, or cable-housing, or zip- tie on (or off) your bike. That’s where these come in. Just for clarification, these are two different tools, but they’ll find themselves next to one another in your toolbox.
 
• What they do: Cut cables, cable housings, zip-ties, or free your kid’s new toy from the fifteen-ply plastic packaging they put them in.
• What to look for when buying: A good feel in your hand, and a spring between the handle, like a pair of garden shears.
• What you should expect to pay: As little as $15 for the Scissors, and as much as $65 for the Cutters (on the very high-end).
 
Our recommendation: A pair of Fiskars Micro-Tip (~$20) scissors, and Park Tool or Pedro’s cable cutters ($30-$55, depending on where you find them) will do you well.