Bike

Ask a Gear Guru: What Are the Best Bike Tools for a Triathlete?

Working on your bike is hard. Having the wrong tool makes it worse. We look at the best bike tools that every triathlete should own.

As we start to look forward to the “outdoor season,” now’s the best time to start getting your bike in order. And while it’s great to have a local mechanic who can help you with the big things, as triathletes, we often find that the worst thing can happen at the worst time (the night before your “A” race, the morning of your big brick session with your training partners, and so on). Not only that, but no one knows your bike better than you, and triathletes are constantly tinkering with their positions, assembling and disassembling their bikes, and strapping new cool stuff to them (the bikes, not just you). As such, we need to know how to perform basic and sometimes not-so-basic maintenance—because a mechanic outside of a small town in Argentina might not know how to properly dial your position if something gets of out whack (trust me, from personal experience), but you and the best bike tools for a triathlete should. 

Just like your dad used to say, be sure the use the right tool for the job, it makes all the difference in the world. As someone who has cut corners in many areas of triathlon gear, I never cut corners when it comes to tools. When your mechanic skills are teetering on functional to begin with, having kind-of, sort-of the right tool will make the difference between a stripped bolt and a worry-free long ride. One of the biggest secrets that I’ve learned from behind the mechanic bench is that a good mechanic is only as great as his or her tools, so be sure you have the best bike tools a triathlete can buy.

What Are The Best Basic Bike Tools for Triathletes?

Yes, a full pro mechanic kit from Pedro’s, Park Tool, or another brand is obviously ideal, but unless you have $1,000 burning a hole in your pocket, it makes more sense to get just the essentials. Are you really going to adjust the bearings in your wheelset? Probably not. Are you going to press fit your new headset or bottom bracket? Unlikely. but you will need these things, basically no matter what:

  • A full, shop-grade set of hex wrenches (NOT just the little travel kit)
  • Tire levers
  • A shop-grade pump
  • A pedal wrench
  • A home-grade torque wrench (here it’s ok not to go full pro)
  • A chain whip 
  • A cassette tool that matches your cassette type (make sure you get this right…)

I Have A Home Toolkit from Home Depot/Ace Hardware/Autozone etc., Will That Work?

Nope. Those can work, but realize that there is a big difference in tooling precision between tools made for the home or auto (stuff that’s not necessarily delicate) and the tolerances required for tools made for bicycles (stuff that’s incredible delicate in the world of fittings). Home tools in particular aren’t always uniformly molded or have discrepancies in their sizings—particularly if you’re getting something that literally came from a bargain bin. 

Also—and this is a big one—MANY home or auto toolkits are made with American or “standard” size sockets and wrenches. There are basically NO bike components made today that use this system of measurement. You’ll know you have the wrong tools if you see inches anywhere on the socket or wrench. Nearly all bike components are made in the metric system, and while you can kind-of sort-of fit a standard socket or wrench around or in a metric fitting, it’s the fastest way to ruin that fitting. Again, bike parts are DELICATE and something that’s even a little off can make a huge difference—even if it says “metric,” if it’s not forged to the proper tolerance, it can be almost as bad as a standard measurement.

I Have A Set Of Tools In My Emergency Kit, Is That Good Enough?

Nope. That emergency kit is good for emergencies. For routine garage work, you won’t have enough leverage, angles, or sometimes even tool precision to do what you’ll need to on a regular basis. Not that travel tools can’t be good, it’s just that many aren’t. Even the most expensive handheld hex wrench multitool can easily strip a bolt if you don’t have the proper access angle or leverage and these small tools provide you with very few options of attack. You’ve spent X amount of dollars on your bike, spend a tiny percentage more to make sure you’re safe and secure while riding.

I Have No Interest In Working On My Bike, I Don’t Need Tools

A bike repair isn’t something that you choose, it’s something that chooses you. In the world of triathlon—early morning rides, post-work rides, races away from home—triathletes can’t afford to be without the best bike tools because The Thing You Want Least To Happen will happen At The Worst Possible Moment. If you don’t have great tools, you’ll never want to even try to work on your bike; if you never try to work on your bike, you’ll never be prepared for the inevitable. I never understood pros who would devote their entire lives to training for triathlon but couldn’t even adjust their brakes. Don’t be that triathlete.

Now that you have an idea of why you need the best bike tools as a triathlete, let’s look at specifically what you need to get:

The Best Bike Tools for Triathletes: Hex Wrenches

Park Tool PH-1.2 P-Handle Hex Wrench Set

$77, Competitivecyclist.com

This tool set is first for a reason. There are two types of triathletes, those who wish they had gotten this set of tools sooner, and those who don’t understand why it’s so essential. The PH-1.2 includes hex wrenches for all regular sizes (2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 10mm), which includes the wrench size for many modern pedals. Each wrench has a square-taper short end for max leverage and a long ball end for spinning in and out long bolts. You’ll be able to reach literally any type of bolt, and the rough steel coating gives an extra grip.

The Best Bike Tools for Triathletes: Tire Levers

Pedro’s Tire Levers

$5/pair, Rei.com

bike tools for triathletes

They’re cheap, they’re bright, they’re nimble enough to fit into a tight tire bead, but beefy enough not to snap. While there may be some metal-core tire levers out there, these plastic ones will never reach a point where they damage your precious carbon rims. 

The Best Bike Tools for Triathletes: A Shop-Grade Pump

SKS Rennkompressor

$56, Amazon.com

There is nothing high-tech about this floor pump, and that’s a good thing. It’s got a heavy steel base to keep it from tipping over, an accurate gauge, and you can treat it like basic garbage without worrying about it not clamping down on even the slickest tire valves. This design has been around for over 50 years for a reason: There are other pumps with more bells and whistles that cost more money, but few that are so reliable.

The Best Bike Tools for Triathletes: A Shop-Grade Pedal Wrench

Lezyne Classic Pedal Rod

$24, Competitivecyclist.com

Before you go and purchase this beautiful pedal wrench, first check and see if your pedals can be removed/installed with a 8mm hex wrench. If so, skip this and head back up to that Park Tool hex wrench set, buy that, and be happy. If instead your pedals require a 15mm open-ended wrench, then get this one from Lezyne. It has an asymmetrical double-opening head for ease of approach and angle, it has a chromoly head, and it has a pretty varnished wood handle. Not to mention the…soda…bottle opener.

The Best Bike Tools for Triathletes: Torque Wrench

Park Tool ATD-1.2 Adjustable Torque Driver

$68, Rei.com

bike tools for triathletes

Note here I didn’t say you needed “the best, most accurate torque wrench you can buy.” While the ATD-1.2 is not quite shop grade, a torque wrench is one of those things that only works if you use it. The simplicity behind this model ensures that you’ll be more likely to use it to tighten down those delicate (and easily pinchable) spots that hold carbon parts like your seatpost, your aerobar clamps, and more. Not only will this tool save you in broken parts, but it can also prevent catastrophic issues that can be caused sight unseen.

The Best Bike Tools for Triathletes: A Shop-Grade Chain Whip

Pedro’s Vise Whip

$65, Rei.com

bike tools for triathletes

If you own a pair of race or trainer wheels, then this tool and the next one are essential. If not, feel free to move along. This unique cassette tool actually isn’t a chain whip, but it acts like one. Using the same vise-grip style wrench that is a life saver for any contractor or homeowner, this cassette tool locks onto your cassette and doesn’t let go until your done. Way way easier than a standard chain whip.

The Best Bike Tools for Triathletes: Cassette Lockring Tool

Shimano TL-LR15 Lockring Tool w/ Axle Pin

$21, Rei.com

This is one of those tools where it pays to go with the manufacturer. Assuming you have a Shimano-compatible cassette (SRAM works too), and you’re not some type of Campy lunatic, this is a simple, but always effective, tool. The axle pin is super helpful for lining up the spines, and helps it from flying off axis while cranking down.