Tools of the Trade: 10 Hidden Treasures of Bike Workshops

November 14 2023 – Becky Frewing

Tools of the Trade: 10 Hidden Treasures of Bike Workshops
Tools of the Trade: 10 Hidden Treasures of Bike Workshops

Bike shops of yesteryear seemed more like Aladin’s caves than traditional high street retail establishments. Often dark and piled high with many years-worth of eclectic parts and accessories, they shunned ordered aisles in favour of nooks filled with niche trinkets and cabinets piled with difficult-to-identify components of undisclosed age. To the hardened enthusiast they were places of great interest, but to the uninitiated novice they could be intimidating and places to be weary of. Thankfully (depending on your opinion) most modern bike shops have been dragged into the modern retail era of high merchandising standards and crisp design. The workshop though is one area perhaps still shrouded in mystery and clinging on to the olde world values. Central to this is the array of elaborate tools displayed proudly on work benches – that only the most experienced mechanic has any idea what they are for or how to use them! There exists a world of lesser known, highly specialised tools that are essential for completing the jobs a home mechanic simply can’t. In this article, we'll look at 10 hidden gems of the workshop.

1. Derailleur Hanger Alignment Tool

Reminiscent of something that might be used during surgery for a particularly bad leg break – this is the tool of choice for sorting those niggling shifting issues. The mech hanger is the part of your bike frame that the rear derailleur bolts to and is designed to break away under impact primarily to save your frame in a crash. It makes this replaceable part prone to bending and more often than not a very slight bend is the cause of inconsistent shifting. Using this tool a mechanic can quickly determine how straight a hanger is and even re-align a slightly bent one. Invaluable and frequently used.

2. Headset Press

This meaty tool could either look like a large high-end wine bottle opener or some sort of medieval torture device! Used to install old-school headset cups by applying consistent pressure to drive cups evenly into the frame. They sometimes double as presses for press-fit bottom brackets, but whatever the application, the heft and precision of these tools makes bearing installation a breeze – and means they will run straight and true.

3. Headset Removal Tool

What goes in must come out (as the old saying goes). The pressure with which the above tool drives headset cups into the frame means a specific tool and a fair bit of force is needed to get them out. This tool is mention-worthy for a couple of reasons. Firstly it’s shape – not dissimilar to that of a banana skin. Secondly, it’s incredibly satisfying to use – clicking firmly into place and then receiving a huge whack with a hammer to dislodge the cup. Satisfying and fun!

4. Bottom Bracket Tool

The lowly bottom bracket is often forgotten and abused. It is the bearing system that connects the bike's cranks to the frame and has to deal with high loads and wet conditions. It’s a simple component with a simple tool to install and remove it – the issue here is the sheer number of different standards bike and component manufacturers have dreamt up to do essentially the same job. Each standard proclaims to be better than the last – but for a bike shop this means an ever increasing library of slightly different tools to keep on top of.

5. Chain Wear Indicator

Ok, so this is a tool much more likely to be used by the home mechanic, but is included here due to being so central to most bike servicing activity. The chain is one of the most critical components of a bike, and its condition has a significant impact on shifting and overall performance. A chain wear indicator, also known as a chain checker, is a simple tool that helps mechanics determine if a chain has stretched beyond its useful life. This will usually be the first tool a mechanic uses at the start of a service and immediately points to the condition of numerous other components. Invaluable.

6. Heavy Duty Chain Tool

A chain tool of sorts will also often feature in a home mechanic’s tool box, but here it is the quality of the tool that differentiates the bike shop version. The home mechanic’s chain tool is small and portable, but often difficult to use and generate the necessary force to split a chain. The bike workshop tool is heavy in the hand and with long levers to go about its work with ease. The overbuilt nature and replaceable pins means they’ll last indefinitely too

7. Spoke Tension Meter

Spoke tension is a critical factor in ensuring the strength and stability of a bicycle wheel. A spoke tension meter is a precision tool that measures the tension in each spoke. This allows mechanics to ensure the wheel is evenly tensioned and avoid potential spoke breakages or loss of tension. Riders might not be aware of the significance of spoke tension, but it's one of the key secrets behind a strong, stable, reliable wheelset.

8. Nipple Drivers

Wheel truing, the process of straightening and aligning a wheel is a dark art requiring small and precise adjustments to the spoke nipples to incrementally change the tension on individual spokes. Nipple drivers are specialist tools designed to turn these small, often hard-to-reach components with precision. They come in various shapes and sizes to accommodate different spoke sizes and angles, making the job of truing wheels much more efficient.

9. Air Compressor

The new breed of track pumps, with either high volume or a specific chamber for compressing air, are usually pretty good for sealing tubeless sets ups first time out. However, nothing compares to the reliability of a compressor for getting those tricky wheel and tyre combinations to pop. Time is money in the workshop, so mechanics can’t afford to be revisiting partially finished jobs.

10. Torque Wrenches

While torque wrenches aren't entirely unheard of, many cyclists may not realise the significance of using them during bike maintenance. They help mechanics apply the correct amount of force when tightening critical nuts and bolts, ensuring that nothing is over or under-tightened (which can lead to damage or failure). They are particularly important when dealing with fragile carbon fibre components – you’ll see a range of them hanging in most workshops to deal with all variety of applications.


For each of the 10 tools listed here, there are 10 more obscure workshop wonders. The sheer volume of different types and vintages of bikes out there requires an almost infinite number of tools to work on them. It is one of the key roles of a good workshop to have an array of specialist tools and to keep up to speed as technologies change and develop. While many cyclists may not need to invest in these tools themselves, understanding their purpose can foster a deeper appreciation for the expertise and precision required by the skilled mechanics who keep our bikes in top condition.

Are you a home mechanic who has bitten off more than you can chew, or maybe don’t have the correct tools to complete a job? Let Bike Hero help out from our fully-stocked state-of-the-art workshop. www.bike-hero.co.uk