I want to maintain my bike. There a number of tools which are very specific, which also cost a lot of money. I have an old road bike which uses a freewheel. The freewheel remover cost me something like 7$! This really seems overpriced.

It would be nice if we had some sort of tool translation thread. Like, "these are the generic tools you would use in place of each of these specific bike tools."

Personally, I'm looking for replacements for the following:

  1. The tools used to remove the bottom bracket.
  2. The cone wrench, or the necessary tools to clean the hubs. By the way, do they have adjustable versions of the cone wrench?
  3. The necessary tools for taking apart the headset. I've never done this. Maybe it can be done with generic parts?
  4. chaintool?
  5. anything else?

Maybe you really do need the bike specific tools for some of these. Oh well :(.

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    At least #1 and #3 depend very much on the kind of bike you have and the components it has.
    – cherouvim
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 18:46
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    A lot of places have bike co-ops that you can visit. They have tools that you can use for free, or a small fee, and people to help show you how to use them. I also recommend buying tools as you need them. Paying $7 for a freewheel tool is a lot cheaper than getting the bike shop to do the job for you. And it's a lot more palatable than spending $200 on an entire set of tools only to find that you never use half of them, or that it doesn't include the tool you need anyway.
    – Kibbee
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 19:33
  • although the majority of my tools are from random hardware stores (I have axle pegs that require an extension and a 19mm socket, but those and the ratchet are all from wherever), there are a few things that you just can't compromise on. Flat wrenches (cone wrenches) are one of these. If you buy the $5 set, you can use them 3 or 4 times before they blow out, the metal they use is just to soft. I have had my Parks Tool wrenches for years and used too many times to count. Same with chain tools. You CAN bust off a freewheel with a closed crescent wrench if you are in a pinch though.
    – BillyNair
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 10:47
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    IMHO: Quality tools last forever, and avoid damaging your bike. There are only a few worth building:headset crown race removal tool, headset press, chain whip.
    – Vorac
    Commented Aug 27, 2013 at 12:40
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    I have used a cheap $30 kit for decades. Respecting they are cheap tools and they get the job done without damage to the bike or the tool. If you need to go at a poorly maintained bike like a gorrila holding a spanner, you will be wanting workshop quality tools. If your working on a $10k custom carbon bike, you probably want to put the cheap tools down.
    – mattnz
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 6:47

2 Answers 2


You are in luck! There are tons of threads on many forums talking about this very thing. However, I'll give you a head start.

  1. You can use a vice-grip type wrench, but try to get something in between the wrench and the BB cup otherwise you risk damaging the exterior of the cup. I recommend ponying up the cash for a BB wrench, it's worth it.
  2. While cone wrenches are nice because of how narrow they are, you can usually get away with any type of open-ended wrench. I've used an adjustable crescent wrench to great success.
  3. This depends on the type of the headset, as noted in the comments. However, if you're looking to just pull bearings that's not too bad and you can probably tap them out with a screw driver, tire lever, etc. To pull the cups you can make your own tool from a piece of pipe by cutting some slits and bending it out. Might not be pretty, but it works.
  4. Chain tools are cheap, buy one. You could try to clamp the chain and drive out the rivet with an awl or punch but you probably risk damaging the chain enough to need to replace it.
  5. Here's where some searching will net you more. Check out BikeRadar, PinkBike, mtbforums, etc. for a lot of insight into homemade tools or alternatives. That's how I found out how to make my own headset press (granted I bent all the washers, but it worked and $15 of hardware is better than a $70 press).

It really comes down to your own cost/payoff evaluation. If you thought $7 for a lockring tool was expensive, you're probably not going to buy any bike specific tools. But you're also going to spend a lot more time cursing and nursing sore knuckles from having wrenches slip or tools break. Some tools will last a long time and won't need replacing (chain tool, wrenches) while some are only-if-you-want-it like a torque wrench.

  • 1
    Would add that home made tools have much more ability to damage the bike than using the proper tool. While I have made up some jury rigged tools, its not something I do lightly, and not on a bike I value.
    – mattnz
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 6:50
  • $7 seems to quite a lot to me as well. They cost here around 100 CZK ($4) in shops, some cheaper in eshops, and can be obtained even more cheaply from ebay or from China. Commented May 3, 2020 at 13:38

There are tools that simply can't be substituted for generics. These really must be either purchased, borrowed, or if you're lucky to have a cycling cooperative near you then they will have tools to use.

I'd not mess around - I'd buy the right tool, but only at the time I need it.

  • Spoke nipple key - its too easy to round off nipples with a spanner, and also pliers don't sit flat.
  • Chain tool - If I had to put a pin out AND I needed to reuse the chain, then a chain tool is the only thing that works. If you just need to remove a worn-out chain then boltcutters are fine. Use quicklinks in the future.
  • Cassette lockring tool, or freewheel removal tool. Nothing else works for this task - there is no substitute. 90% of freewheels use one tool, an 99% of cassettes use one tool. If you have something else, you will need that tool.
  • Cone spanners - while normal spanners/wrenches will generally work if you can get them in there, cone spanners are much thinner and work really well.
  • Pedal spanner - again if your pedal flats are too narrow for an 8" spanner, then you will need either a smaller spanner with insufficient leverage or a proper pedal spanner. Check if your pedals have hex sockets on the inside.
  • Cable cutters - Doing re-cabling is much better if you have the right bypass loppers for cutting cable inner and outers. That said, a small grinder can also do this job should you have one.

Generic tools that make it easier would include quality hex tools in metric (depends how old your bike is, you may need imperial) and some suitably sized combination spanners in 6mm, 8mm, 10mm. A JIS screwdriver can be useful for derailleurs because a common philips is a subtly different shape and will damage the screw eventually.

A common threadded headset can be taken apart with a big spanner/wrench large enough to go over the flats. I have a 12"(300mm) spanner that gets this job done. If you have threadless then that's a hex tool in 5mm or 6mm. If you wish to remove bearing races, then again you will need a brass drift, a soft hammer, and patience. To reinstall bearing cups you'll probably need a press, which can be fabricated from threadded rod (allthread) and some suitable nuts and washers.

So if you have to replace your pedals, you might get away with a generic hex tool or a spanner/wrench/crescent, but if it doesn't work then you can choose to obtain the tool, either by purchase or borrowing.

Buy the tool when/if you need it.

The other option is to look out for a cheap combo tool set - they can cover the basics well enough, and when a tool breaks you've used it enough to justify purchasing the good tool. That's how I ended up buying park nipple spanners and chain tool, but still have rubbishy pot-metal grade bottom bracket tools that don't fit my bikes.

  • 1
    For derailleur limit screws I normally use flat screwdrivers. I tried the PZ2 bit now and it works but the flat seems to have a better grip for me. And they are ubiquitous here. Commented May 3, 2020 at 13:23

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