If you’ve ever serviced a modern mountain bike suspension fork, you’ll know just how shallow and soft some of the aluminium top caps are. Chances are an appropriate sized automotive socket or cone spanner will loosen them – but may also make a mess of the cap’s edges, or worst, just strip them straight off.
For years suspension service hubs have overcome this by taking expensive six-point automotive sockets and grinding the chamfer (lead in edge) off for a flush fit on the shallow top caps. Not always the easiest thing to do cleanly.
Premium cycling tool company Abbey Bike Tools recently released a better option. Sold in a set of five, these green top-cap sockets are specific to the purpose and offer a few features that should make marred and stripped top caps a thing of the past.
Sets of five only, currently
Made in the USA, the set covers common sizes of 24, 26, 28, 30 and 32mm, each one made of billet aluminium and then anodized green. This material may seem like an unusual (weaker) choice for tools, but we can attest to them being perfectly up to repeated use, and at the same time, less likely to damage those dainty top caps.
Driving the sockets is done with your choice of 3/8 square drive tool, arguably the most common size. Leverage can be an issue with cheaper household ratchets, but automotive versions will provide more than enough length to break free the most stubborn top caps. Otherwise, long 3/8 breaker bars can be purchased cheaply.
Additionally, little finger grips are machined into each socket for quick tool-free spinning or when they’re covered in shock oil.
Shallower, precise, no beveled edge and sharp corners. That's the Abbey difference
Compared with a decent quality chromed 26mm 12-point socket we previously used for the task, the difference is night and day. The generic socket rattles around because of its looser tolerances on the top cap, something that always resulted in marginally rounded top cap edges. The Abbey sockets hardly move, giving a precise 'locked' feel to every FOX and RockShox top cap we tried.
The difference is again huge compared to using a Park Tool cone spanner. Although a decently tight fit, the cone spanner only touches the top cap from two points, whereas the Abbeys grab all six.
Normal sockets are typically far taller which makes it harder to keep 'square' with the fastener (or top cap) under torque
By keeping the sockets just 25mm high, there's very little chance of caming off shallow and delicate top caps. This fixes a big issue we've had in the past using automotive sockets. It’s also an issue that’s still present on Unior's suspension top cap sockets, which are effectively automotive sockets without a beveled edge.
Would we change anything? Frankly not to the product, but rather to the way they're sold.
Currently, you can only buy these sockets as a full set of five. This makes it an extremely expensive and unlikely purchase for anyone not working on a hoard of suspension products.
Unless you're a shop, there's a good chance you won't need the whole set
If you're like us, you’ll really only need one or two sizes to fill your personal suspension servicing needs. The ability to buy just the sizes you need would open these up to a far wider audience.
It’s this very fact for why these sockets don’t get a perfect score. (Although, based on the current pricing ($150), expect individual sockets to cost from $35 to $40 each if they ever do become available.) Still, that’s a lot better value than a new fork top cap.
In the meantime, there are more than enough professional mechanics and keen suspension tuners out there to sell complete sets to, and we suspect the guys at Abbey are currently plenty busy filling these orders alone.