With the holiday season fast approaching, I thought it appropriate to skip the handy tips and tricks for one column and do a (hopefully) non-cliché Christmas gift list.
Rather than focusing solely on the obvious things you’ll find in your local bike store, I reasoned, why not mix it up and include items you may not have considered?
Below are some fine examples of items I’d happily receive myself (hint, hint, Home Wrench fans!).
Hex keys like no other
While you may already own a nice set of hex keys, you can probably do with another – even if it just means you end up with a ‘car set’. I haven’t shied away from admitting my unhealthy buying obsession of quality hex keys, and with this, I can strongly recommend the following.
Made in the USA, Bondhus is a safe choice
If on a budget, it’s hard to beat a set of Bondhus BriteGuard Extra-Long keys. The fit tolerances and overall durability are superb – so much so that the likes of Snap-On tools rebrand these.
Stepping up from that, PB Swiss rainbow keys are commonly regarded as the very finest and most durable hex wrench. I’ve found them to be slightly undersized, but brilliant in every other regard and so have become my go-to L-shaped key. For the best deals, check German eBay. 212 LH-10 RB are the ones you want.
Based closely on PB Swiss, the Silca HX-One is a complete set with a box like no other. Given that the set includes Torx bits too, these are truly a brilliant gift idea and the tools are built to be as close to what PB Swiss offers.
Beta (left) and PB Swiss (right) are perhaps the pinnacle
And lastly, the Beta 951 T-handle hex wrenches are super expensive, shiny and absolutely top quality. The tool design features a forged head and a sliding T-handle provides access into tight spots.
Knipex Pliers Wrench
Knipex Pliers wrench comes in a range of lengths
The Knipex Pliers wrench is like an adjustable wrench, but actually good. Taking a peek inside the tool box of a mountain bike suspension technician or travelling race mechanic, you’re near guaranteed to find at least one Knipex Pliers wrench.
This relatively new tool offers parallel closing jaws that quickly and solidly lock onto the nut you’re trying to free. The downside? They’re really pricey for what’s effectively a set of pliers.
Another Knipex tool I’ve recently fallen in love with are its Wire Rope Cutters (code: 95 62 190). They are the cleanest and smoothest-cutting cable cutter I’ve ever used. Felco C7s are also good.
This is a cheap gift idea that will likely be put to good use. A little known fact is that the limit screws in Shimano derailleurs are made to Japanese International Standard (JIS), something that’s ever so slightly different to Phillips.
Sure a Phillips does work in a pinch, but it’s also likely to strip (no, it’s not just you). Sadly, there aren’t too many choices when it comes to JIS screwdrivers. Looking on Amazon, you’ll likely need to decide between Vessel and Hozan.
Personally, I use the Vessel Megadora #2, which costs about $9
Park Tool adjustable torque driver
Okay, so your local bike store probably does sell this, but it’s a good one. Prior to the release of this, my go-tos were CDI's preset torque drivers, something that I still trust plenty.
It's new and nice
What the Park does better though is in its complete metal internal construction, which really provides a click of security. Add in the interchangeable bits that neatly sit within the handle and it’s a solid tool for when a light touch is needed.
That said, I’m in the middle of a large torque wrench shootout (someone on Earth has to be, right?), and so my opinion on this matter may change yet again once my testing equipment turns up.
Finish Line Mechanics Gloves
This one is even cheaper than a JIS screwdriver. To be honest, I was never much of a glove person when working on bikes – I hated the loss in dexterity and would only put them on when working with known dangerous chemicals (degreaser, DOT brake fluid, etc).
That changed when I got a pair of decent material gloves, and the Finish Line Mechanics gloves are such an example. They offer reasonable dexterity, improved grip and keep your hands clean and cut free. They breathe okay, and are reusable and affordable.
Quality workshop apron
Aprons are another item I never wore much in the past, but now wear plenty, as I don’t want to get changed into rags to quickly work on my bike. There are plenty of decent apron options out there, and this gift can double for BBQ duty too.
If this is a gift, look for a bike-related brand, tear resistant material and something that offers a few pockets. Safe bets are those from Park Tool.
Abbey Bike Tools Crombie tool
Anything from Abbey Bike Tools is likely to be a much-loved gift
This cassette lockring tool hasn’t been on the market for that long, but is already a true classic. After a set of PB Swiss hex keys, it’s likely no other tool hides within more WorldTour mechanic toolboxes.
Its design is so simple and elegant, you'll be frustrated that you did it differently for so many years.
RockShox (or Fox) digital shock pump
Suspension setup is forever becoming more tuneable, and with this, a shock pump is commonly needed. Where the pumps supplied with your bike probably work just fine, a digital gauge will give that extra accuracy for dialling in your setup.
Interestingly, the digital pumps now sold by Fox and RockShox are the same, so go with whatever logo you prefer
A quality compressor, or tubeless tyre pump
If you’ve ever tried to do your own tubeless tyres, you’ll know that a quick burst of air is the single most important ‘tool’. For this, an air compressor will replenish that air supply for tricky tyres, help to blow crud off your bike and even power other tools.
Many BikeRadar staff use the Bontrager Flash Charger TLR
However, perhaps it’s a space issue or the noise, but sometimes an air compressor just isn’t practical. For this, a new wave of tubeless-focused floor pump fills the void. Both the Bontrager Flash Charger TLR and the brand-new Topeak JoeBlow Booster will let you fill up a chamber, and then release it in one big hit.
The downside to such pumps is typically price – and it's worth noting that a cheap air compressor can commonly be bought for a comparable amount.
Bike mechanic course
Whether you want to learn how to adjust a limit screw, true a wheel or braze a steel frame, there’s likely a course catered to you.
For the more basic stuff, many local bike stores hold night classes to get you comfortable with the basics. Some stores also offer the more detailed stuff too, but for anything major, you’ll want to look at a specialist bicycling training institute (such as this) or frame builder that offers lessons. Getting hands on with a frame builder, and making a bike to keep from scratch is surely a gift that won't soon be forgotten.
Super duper workstand
So the things I listed above have been rather sensible and attainable – that ends here. Assuming you have a dedicated space for working on bikes and there isn’t really any gift buying budget limit, then a professional work stand is an item that’ll be enjoyed for ever.
For sure, the Park Tool PRS-3.2 shop stand works just fine in the vast majority of bike shops across the world (and in my garage), but it can be improved. With this, an easily height adjustable stand is the ticket and opens up many wrenching possibilities – and there are two standout options, both from the USA.
The first is the Park Tool PRS-33 Power Lift Stand which will lift up to 54kg via its electric motor. This is the closest thing your bicycle will get to a hydraulic lift like they use in car workshops. However, unless you’re working on e-bikes, this is overkill.
It may look industrial, and it is
The EVT EZ-Lift, meanwhile, is built to exacting standards, and uses precise tolerances and internal weights to allow for near-seamless height adjustments. Every single bolt and bend on this entire stand has been scrutinized in detail – and the fact that its height adjustment relies on air pressure is evidence of that. Price? Best not to ask.
So what would you like to add to your workshop this Christmas? Let us know via the comments below.
Our Australian editor, Dave Rome, is a self-confessed tool nerd. This column exists as a shout-out to his fellow eager garage dwellers. Before turning to the media, Dave worked in numerous shops and as tech support in wholesale. With a personal cycle-focused tool collection accumulated over more than a decade, and having found other likeminded tinkerers along the way, he's got plenty of little tricks and tips to share. You can follow Dave on Twitter at @dave_rome.