6 essential tools that every mountain biker should own

Mountain biker must-haves

So you're a mountain biker (or own a mountain bike), you ride trails on the weekend and don't get your bike seen to as nearly as you should. Here's a list of basic tools that all mountain bikers should own at home to get them through the most common of repairs, maintenance and to get the best experience when out riding. This isn't an exhaustive list of things to carry on the trail, though – that's already been done.

1. Allen keys (AKA hex wrenches)

You can't fix a bike without a set of Allen keys
You can't fix a bike without a set of Allen keys

When it comes to fixing bikes, there are Allen keys and then everything else. With these you'll be able to get through most things. Remember, just like bikes, not all tools are created equal: get a good set and look after them, because cheap tools can do more harm than good.

I personally keep a selection at hand, with my chosen combo being a set of Park Tool P-handle and three-way keys as well as a standard set of L-shaped keys from Bondhus for tight access areas.

2. Torx keys

Torx head bolts are becoming more and more common on mountain bikes as they allow a lower profile bolt head with less chance of stripping. If your bike has Torx head bolts (most do on at least the brake rotors), then get a decent quality set
Torx head bolts are becoming more and more common on mountain bikes as they allow a lower profile bolt head with less chance of stripping. If your bike has Torx head bolts (most do on at least the brake rotors), then get a decent quality set

These are becoming more common, and are replacing the use of Allen keys where needed. Get some decent ones and spare your knuckles — the little ones included with your brakes can be painful. Common sizes are T10, T25 and T30. A set from Bondhus will do the job perfectly without spending a fortune, but options from Pedro's and Park Tool are also well worth a look.

3. Chain cleaner (or brush and bucket)

There are many ways to clean a bike chain, but the time-poor rider will likely benefit from a chain cleaning tool. This tool is filled with degreaser, clips on over the chain and then the chain is back-pedalled through it. It's quick and does a decent job of removing the worst grime
There are many ways to clean a bike chain, but the time-poor rider will likely benefit from a chain cleaning tool. This tool is filled with degreaser, clips on over the chain and then the chain is back-pedalled through it. It's quick and does a decent job of removing the worst grime

The best pro riders get their bikes cleaned after every ride. A clean bike will always outlast a dirty one. Get into the routine of regularly wiping down your chain before re-applying lube. Dirty/muddy rides should be followed with a proper chain clean before re-lubing. You'll be amazed at the long term durability you get from your chainrings, cassette and chain if you keep them clean and lightly lubed.

For ease of use, the simple clamp-on chain cleaners from Park Tool, Finish Line, Muc-Off and others allow you to keep the chain on the bike and avoid mess. 

4. Chain checker

A chain checker tool is a simple and cheap item that will keep a check on your drivetrain wear
A chain checker tool is a simple and cheap item that will keep a check on your drivetrain wear

Following keeping your chain clean, it’s good to know when your chain is becoming worn. Replacing a chain before it ‘stretches’ means you can continue using your current chainrings and cogs, in the long-run saving you from having to prematurely replace these more expensive parts.

A chain checker simply measures the inside distance between the rollers of the chain and gives you guidance on when its due for replacement. The simple drop-in style gauges from Park Tool, KMC and ProGold, are straightforward to use and cheap to buy. 

5. Shock pump

If your bike has air suspension, you should own a shock pump. Luckily most full-suspension bikes include a shock pump
If your bike has air suspension, you should own a shock pump. Luckily most full-suspension bikes include a shock pump

Most decent mountain bikes will have air suspension on at least the front fork. To adjust this, you’ll need a shock pump that allows for incredibly high pressure with minimal output volume. A shock pump with a max pressure of 300psi will suffice for most, but some bikes, such as older ones from Scott, will benefit from a pump with a max pressure of 400psi.

6. Accurate floor pump or pressure gauge

A digital pressure gauge will generally allow greater accuracy of pressure. Pictured is a Fox Digital shock pump, but we also use digital tyre pressure gauges
A digital pressure gauge will generally allow greater accuracy of pressure. Pictured is a Fox Digital shock pump, but we also use digital tyre pressure gauges

It’s been said before, but tyre pressure is one of the most critical aspects to how your bike behaves when off-road. Too little and you risk blowing a tyre; too much and you risk a nervous ride and a good chance of hitting the ground.

It’s important to play with your tyre pressures and see what works for you, and an accurate gauge is your only way to keep that consistency. A digital pressure gauge can be had cheaply and will be more accurate than many universal floor pumps.

David Rome

Editor, Australia
Having worked full-time within the cycling industry since 2006, Dave is a former editor of BikeRadar Australia. Riding and racing mountain, road and 'cross for over a decade, Dave's passion lies in the sport's technical aspects, and his tool collection is a true sign of that.
  • Discipline: Mountain, road and cyclocross
  • Preferred Terrain: Fast and flowing singletrack with the occasional air is the dream. Also happy chasing tarmac bends.
  • Current Bikes: Trek Fuel EX 27.5, SwiftCarbon Detritovore, Salsa Chilli Con Crosso
  • Dream Bike: Custom Independent Fabrications titanium, SRAM Etap and Enve wheels/cockpit
  • Beer of Choice: Gin & tonic
  • Location: Sydney, Australia

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