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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 years 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 (and either an air compressor or a “big-air” style pump for tubeless tires)
- 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…)
- A brake bleed kit if you have hydraulic disc brakes
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 instead of millimeters. 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 also 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 small, compact travel 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 tri training and racing 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
Pedro’s Master T-Handle II Wrench Set
This tool set is first for a reason. There are two types of triathletes: Those who have a shop-grade set of t-handle hex wrenches and those with stripped fittings. Pedro’s latest set is nothing short of a work of art. It comes with a nice roll-up bag that you can take with you to events, but that’s not the big draw. I love this set’s high-precision tolerances, sliding handle design (for those tough-to-reach parts), and color identification. This set of 10 wrenches (2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8/10mm hex wrenches, T10, T25, and T30 torx) works on every fitting under the sun and the design means you’ll be able to move quickly as you do something repetitive like disassemble or reassemble your bike for travel. Yes, it’s pricey, but this is an heirloom-level tool set.
The Best Bike Tools for Triathletes: Tire Levers
Pedro’s Tire Levers
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
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 and durable.
The Best Bike Tools For Triathletes with Tubeless Tires: A Big-Air Style Pump
Bontrager TLR Flash Charger Floor Pump
If you have tubeless tires, first congratulations for thinking outside the box, adopting new technology, and for being adventurous with your tire choices. Second, you probably know by now that you can’t just use a regular pump to install and seat your tires. While most mechanics will use the shop’s air compressor to deliver the required quick blast of air that quickly seats the tire bead on the rim’s hook, investing in a big (and super loud) compressor is not for everyone. The other (more practical) option is a floor pump that allows you to charge a separate air chamber and discharge the blast of air quickly. This version from Bontrager also features a backlit digital display for early morning pressure checks. Want to use your existing floor pump and save some cash? Check out Bontrager’s TLR Flash Can—a $70 accessory that can be charged with an existing Schrader-valved pump.
The Best Bike Tools for Triathletes: A Shop-Grade Pedal Wrench
Lezyne Classic Pedal Rod
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 (this is key), 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
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 Cassette Tool
Park Tool CP 1.2 Cassette Pliers
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 a plier mechanism, this tool lets you use one hand to hold your cassette in place while you loosen the cassette locking with the other (below).
The Best Bike Tools for Triathletes: Cassette Lockring Tool
Shimano TL-LR15 Lockring Tool w/ Axle Pin
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.
The Best Bike Tools for Triathletes: A Hydraulic Brake Bleed Kit
Park Tool BKM-1 Mineral Hydraulic Brake Bleed Kit
With hydraulic disk brakes becoming more and more common on tri bikes right now, there will come a time, like it or not, where you’ll need to bleed your disc brakes, refill them with fluid or otherwise adjust them. While this is something usually best done by a mechanic, if you are traveling to a race or like to be prepared for an early-morning brake emergency that could curtail your ride, you’ll need the gear to work on your brakes. This Park Tool kit includes everything you’d need—from the properly fitting tubes to a good set of injectors to the tools and easy-to-lose small parts—to work on your disc brakes. The only thing missing is a good YouTube video to help guide you and the actual mineral brake fluid that can be ordered here.