The Home Mechanic's Most Important Tools

At some stage or another we all begin to repair "thing that go wrong" on our bikes.
The hassle of putting the bike on the car, driving to the bike shop, parking, waiting and generally spending a lot of our valuable time means that we often don't do that little repair when we should and we end up paying expensive for something which we could have done by ourselves.
This article is about the tools I find are most useful for home mechanics.

tyre levers

Tyre levers

An obvious tool but often the wrong ones cause more hardship than they help. Basically I prefer a set of strong tire levers (like the Maxxis or Park ones). I prefer thinner to wider as they seem to be easier to get into "tough to remove tyres".

floor pump

Floor Pump

Another obvious item but buying the correct one will make all the difference. Firstly, buy one with an automatic Shraeder to Presta changeover and secondly, buy a pump with a good, easily readable and accurate gauge. Presta valves are slimmer and have less impact on the overall strength of the rim and allow easier filling of the inner tube as there is no "spring" resistance to overcome as in the Shraeder valve. For these reasons more and more top end bikes are being sold with the Presta valve.

repair stand

Bike Repair Stand

A Bike Repair Stand is quite an expense (between 150$ to 250$ for a good one. Without this it becomes very inconvenient to do repairs on the bike. However, if you are going to start repairing your bike by yourself then this is a very worthwhile expense.
You can do some jobs with the bike upside down on the floor, but with a stand, holding the bike at shoulder height, all the repairs can be done properly and much faster and more importantly, calibrating the derailleurs when you can turn the pedals in the air is a must to do this job properly..

hex wrench set

Hex Wrench Set

Most of the bolts on the bike will have hex heads so a good set of long arm Hex wrenches is a must. While the famous Y Hex wrench is still very popular as a "take with you" tool, I find it sometimes inconvenient and often a long armed Hex wrench allows you better access in those awkward to get to, places, especially on the rear triangle of the bike.

chain tool

Chain Tool

A chain repair tool is something we need with us on every ride. It also is a requirement for home mechanics.
Most multi tools have one as part of the set but from experience (of others) a better way to go is to buy a dedicated chain repair tool, stronger and better able to open those really stuck hard chain links.

chain whip

Chain Whip

A chain whip is the tool we need to hold fast the rear cog set while we undo the lock ring bolt.
One of the easiest and quickest jobs is the removal of the rear cog set. This is required for a complete cleaning or replacement of the cogs.

lockring tool

Lock Ring Removal Tool

This is the tool which will undo the lock ring holding the rear cog set onto the freewheel. By using the chain whip to hold the cog set steady, the Lock Ring Removal tool is inserted into the lock ring and then by using an adjustable wrench the lock ring is unscrewed and removed and then the cog set will slide out.

cable cutters

Cable Cutters

A good set of Cable cutters are a prerequisite for any home mechanic who knows that replacing the steel cable of the derailleurs at least once a year will allow a smoother gear change every time.
While we ride, sand, dirt, mud, and any other trail debris will coat our cable and will enter the cable housing, causing a stiffer gear change over time.
You can do this with a normal cutter but then you squash the cable housing or the cable itself will not cut perfectly so to insure a good straight cut...use a good set of cable cutters.

bottom bracket tool

Bottom bracket Tool

Nearly all bikes today come with external crank bearings called the Bottom brackets. There is one on each side of the crank housing and these can easily be replaced using this tool. These Bottom brackets receive a lot of punishment, either from the normal dirt kicked up from the trails, or immersion in water as we cross the riverbeds that we love, or even by the fact of cleaning the bike with too much water pressure. The cranks themselves are easily removed after loosening the hex bolts and then a sharp tap with a plastic hammer will slide them out of the Bottom Brackets which can then be removed for replacement.

pedal wrench

Pedal Wrench

A chain repair tool is something we need with us on every ride. It also is a requirement for home mechanics.
Most multi tools have one as part of the set but from experience (of others) a better way to go is to buy a dedicated chain repair tool, stronger and better able to open those really stuck hard chain links.

shock pump

Shocks Pump

Nearly all rear (back suspension) and front shocks are air suspension. You need this specialised pump to control the air pressure in the shocks which need to be checked regularly and adjusted where required.

We will soon start again with our basic mechanics courses. The first one will be on how to replace and adjust the Rear Derailleur.

What do we do when we see that big stony climb ahead of us?

Obvious isn't it.....we get off the bike say shit and then start pushing the bike up the hill.
The fact that it is boiling hot and the sweat is pouring off us does not add to the enjoyment either.
So maybe there's another way.

First of all the 5 main "don'ts".

1. Don't give up before even prepared....change gears before you start the climb and make a decision that you will get to the top. Speed is not the essence here, take your time, pedal at an easy cadence and ride for the top. 2. Don't grip on for dear life.........Relax....Loosen your hands on the handlebars........we need all the energy we have to go into our legs.
3. Don't sway from side to side (unless you're Alberto Contador ..the 2010 winner of the Tour de France.. standing while pedaling)....again it wastes energy.
4. Don't look at the top of the can be really depressing.........look about 5-10 meters in front of you and look for the best path through the stones.
5. Don't look down at the front wheel....this will throw you off balance as soon as you hit a stone and will stop your best efforts of getting to the top.

Now the main "Do's".....

1. Put your weight slightly further forward than you normally ride and then lean as far forward as you can.
Find the balance between not letting any wheel spin on the rear tire and not letting the front wheel lift up. If the hill is so steep that you are still lifting the front wheel up then move forward to the nose of the seat... this is not so comfortable and it takes a bit of getting used to but I use this all the time and it really helps me to climb those impossible hills.

2. Keep thinking that you are going to do this hill, you will always find that you have just a bit more energy reserves to use.

3. If you are using clipless pedals than now is the time to practice pulling up on the pedals. This will give you another 20-30% power into the pedals and allows you to rest some muscles while exerting others.

4. If you have to ride using the smallest plate (1 - the "granny" cog) and the biggest rear cassette cog (1) then keep pedaling....the instant you stop, the bike will stop.....there is no momentum left in the bike's movement.

5. Relax the top half of the body, put your elbows out (this opens the lungs more) and think legs....and legs only.

6.In really steep climbs use the width of the path to ride in a zig zag.....this will decrease (slightly) the gradient.

Pace yourself. This means finding the easiest gear that will allow you to keep a good cadence of between 65 to 85 rpm without loosing traction, which would mean loosing momentum. Then settling down to a long slow climb. Breath evenly even with a fast heart beat.

Never over exert. Listen to your body. If you need to, then stop, relax and when you're ready, find the next point where you can get back on your bike safely and continue the climb.

When you get to the top of the climb, totally finished, take a breather. Get off your bike, walk around and let your heartbeat come down to normal levels before continuing the ride.

What most riders say (and I agree with them) is that the way to get better at riding up hills is to ride up hills, ride up hills, ride up hills, ride up hills....

What to Carry with me on a Ride

Most of what I will write is pretty obvious, but amazingly enough I meet many riders who do not bring with them, those small items that can make or break a good ride. So here is a comprehensive list of the items I think we should always have with us.

Hydration Pack - Most of us carry a good Hydration Pack already. What I find important is that the liquid pack should be at least a 3 litre one and even that sometimes is not enough. The rest of the pack should be big enough to carry the rest of the equipment that we need.
Spare Tube - The worst situation we can find ourselves in, is being out there alone with a flat tire and a long walk home. I have seen this many times on my rides. Even if you are tubeless, a spare tube will help when you have a flat. So bring a spare tube on every ride.
Tire levers - Stupid isn't bring the spare tube but forget the tire levers.
Mini Pump - Buy one with a pressure gauge on it so you know when the tire is pumped up correctly.
Power Link - Having learnt from experience, the best way to deal with a broken chain, is to replace a link with a SRAM PowerLink which takes about 10 mins to replace. You need a special chain tool for this. Chains break and this is one of the most important items that you should have with you on a ride.
Nutrition - We burn calories when we ride and we need to replace these calories. There are many alternatives out there, including energy bars etc, but a good option is a peanut butter and honey sandwich. Salt on Dates is another interesting option.
Spare Derailleur Hanger - All bikes have derailleur hangers, on which the rear gear shifters (derailleur) are seated. When we hit a rock, these should break or bend before the derailleur does and a spare one of these means being able to save a ride or not. It takes 5 minutes to replace a derailleur hanger.
ID Card - Always carry an ID card, especially when you ride alone. If you are involved in a serious wreck, other people may need to know who you are and where you live.
Multi Tool - This tool will enable you do most trail repairs. Make sure you buy a good make which includes a good chain tool.
First Aid kit - I always carry a small first aid kit and having used it many times in the past I am convinced that it is one of the "MOST IMPORTANT" items that we should carry with us.

I carry all the above with me on every ride I do. It looks a lot on paper but in fact is not much at all and is easily carried by all riders.

To clean my bike or not to clean my bike…..?? That is the question……………….

When I first started riding mountain bikes, it was obvious that after a day’s riding, in the sand, mud, rain, dust etc the bike needed to be cleaned and oiled.
I would hose down the bike, all over, degrease it with good degreasing agents, then wash again, regardless of which parts and then dry it with a rag, and lastly oil the chain, and every other moving part on the bike.

The result was …disastrous.

Now I know different. Bikes do not like water or excess oil.
None of the bearings, in the bottom bracket or the wheels or the handlebar stem are 100% water proof and most of the degreasers seem to take infinite pleasure in removing all the grease in those parts where grease is required to be, for example the free wheeling hub.

So what are we, of the “I want to keep my bike clean” community, supposed to do.
So I compiled a “How to keep my bike clean and in good running condition" guide list.

1. Never use a high pressure water system.

2. If you do need to hose your bike down then open the water tap slightly and use a soft brush to brush the dirt off the bike. This works for mud as well. Never aim the water jet (under any pressure) at the Bottom Bracket bearings, or at the wheel bearings, or at the rear cassette or at the top of the handlebar stem, or at the top of the front shocks, or at the cassette.

3. I use an old squeezy bottle which I fill with water and squirt on the bike frame, using a brush to remove the dirt.

4. Chain cleaning can be done with the chain on the bike, using a tooth brush and a good citrus degreaser. Squirt some degreaser into a small container and use the tooth brush, to work the degreaser into the bearings of the chain (and on the cassette if required). This won’t take long and after a wash down, using the same squeezy bottle, the chain will look like new.

5. Let the bike dry out either in the sun or by using a dry rag. Then oil the chain very sparingly on the inner part of the chain only. Then wipe off any excess oil on the chain with a clean rag and that is it.

6. While cleaning your bike using the above prceedure, take a minute to check out the frame and the other parts for cracks or any damage which might require repairs.

7. One last bit of advice. Before every ride check your brakes and air pressure.

How do you clean your bike??

The Advantages of using Clipless mountain Bike Shoes


The primary advantage offered by clipless mountain bike shoes/pedals is that they allow for increased pedaling efficiency. Since your feet are secured to the pedals via the clipless shoe interface, you are able to pull the pedals upward and get more power out of the upstroke. Whereas with platform pedals, you are only getting full pedal power on the downstroke and allowing the momentum of the cranks to pull the pedals upward. Because you're able to spin in more continuous circles, you'll experience a higher cadence with clipless pedals.


Since clipless mountain bike shoes essentially make you one with the bike, you'll have tighter control of the bike and enhanced maneuvering. The clipless pedals also keep your feet in the prime pedaling position, so that you don't fumble around and lose energy and time with foot slippage and poor positioning.


Another advantage of clipless mountain bike shoes and pedals is that they offer increased stability and safety. Since your feet are unable to simply bounce or slide off the pedals, as is the case with a platform pedal, you don't risk having your foot suddenly fall off and hit the ground causing a crash or injury. Another painful injury that is avoided with a clipless system is having the pedal spin around and hit your shin.


While clipless systems offer distinct advantages, there are also some disadvantages. First, they are more expensive than a simple platform system. Unless your bike comes with clipless pedals, you'll need to purchase and install them separately and also purchase clipless shoes. Though you can learn to use clipless pedals effectively, they offer the problem of a more difficult dismount. If you crash or come to a sudden stop, you may be unable to release your shoes from the pedal and may suffer injury this way. Many clipless shoes are also stiff and uncomfortable to walk in.

Level of Difficulty - How should we grade our rides??

Firstly, remember that route grading is quite subjective. This means that an easy route for some may be very hard for others. Good fitness and technical skill will help us tackle harder routes, but the time of the year and weather conditions can turn an easy route into a long ride. For this reason, it is very difficult to estimate how long each route should take, as there are so many variables to take into account. For example, a ride that would take a fit rider an hour and a half to complete in spring or Autumn, may take four hours for an unprepared rider in the depths of winter or in the heights of Summer.

Why grade routes?
I grade the routes so that riders can have some idea of what challenges to expect. Harder routes are more suitable for experienced riders who have good levels of fitness, and good riding ability. Medium routes allow most riders with technical skills and a reasonable level of fitness to enjoy the route. Easy routes will be more suitable for beginners, or more experienced riders with limited time.

What makes a route hard or easy?
There are many things which make a route hard or easy, amongst them are:
Distance. Longer routes will take longer to ride and more effort to get around.
Height Gain. More climbing will take longer, as inevitably going uphill takes longer than the same distance on the flat.
Technical difficulty. Technically difficult obstacles will take more skill and effort to traverse. Sections which require you to push or even carry your bike will require even more time and effort.

What to expect

Difficulty rating: Easy Routes Distances will be short, typically less than 25 km. The amount of climbing will be limited, and less than 400 metres. Surfaces will be a mixture of forest tracks and some easy single track. Descents may be steep but will lack the technical difficulties of higher grades. These routes are suitable for beginners who are confident of their abilities.

Difficulty rating: Medium Routes
Distances will be longer, and can range from 25 to 45 km (sometimes longer). Climbs will be longer. Surfaces will include more stony tracks, forest tracks and a minimum use of roads. Technical difficulties such as rocky sections and small drop-offs may be encountered. Descents may be steep and include some trickier surfaces. These routes are suitable for riders who have been riding for some time, have a good level of fitness and want a ride which will provide a full morning of riding 4 – 6 hours.

Difficulty rating: Hard Routes
Distances vary but will be often longer than lower grades. There will be frequent and hard climbs which may require pushing or even carrying the bike. The routes will feature extensive sections of stony trails with technical obstacles such as rocks and drop-offs (can be walked). Descents can be very tricky in places, demanding excellent bike handling skills. These routes are suitable for experienced riders, with excellent fitness and technical skills. Most hard routes can be graded as medium if walking and pushing the bikes is accepted as part of the ride, where the distance is kept below 50 kms.

Most of this article is based on MBA guidelines.....I have added several points which adapt this article better to the conditions we have in Israel.

An easy ride can be classified by asking at the end of the ride…..”When does the ride begin?”
A medium ride can be classified by asking …….”When does this ride end?”
A hard ride can be classified by asking (after the 5th enormous climb)……WOT?? … we’re not going up there are we ???

How do you think we should grade our rides…. Your comments are welcome…..