Category Archives: Tool Series

The 4th Hand Tool

Sounds out of this world from the fourth dimension, doesn’t it?


In many circles, this tool is also called the Cable Stretcher but “4th Hand Tool” is its more common moniker. This tool handily pulls the cables for the derailleurs (the shifters) and brakes in order to free up a hand of your own to tighten nuts and bolts. As one reviewer on Amazon writes, “When your bro’s paw is wrapped around a cold one and you need another hand…,” essentially this tool gives you the extra hand you need when you need to tighten a cable. I especially find that this tool offers me the strength that my simple tug won’t deliver to make my brake tension that much more responsive.

While the handle is loose, slide the cable through the grooves at the top with the flattened arm butted against the brake or derailleur (the part that shift your chain). When you clamp the handles, the tool grabs the cable and pushes off the brake or derailleur, pulling the cable taut. While one hand holds that tool, the other is then free to tighten the nuts or bolts to lock the cable down. There is a handy little video where you can see the clamping and pulling action of the tool on eHow.


Combination Wrenches


A set of chrome-vanadium metric wrenches, open at one end, box/ring at the other. This type is commonly known as a “combination” wrench.

Fixed Wrenches are made of a single piece of metal, and only fit specific sizes of fasteners.

Combination wrenches, like the picture above, are chrome double-ended wrenches with an open end and a box end that are the same size bolt on each end. This is the most useful and most common general-purpose wrench style. The box end tends to be stronger that the open end and are the best side to use for high torque uses, because it can contact more than two or three corners of the bolt. They are sized by metric millimeters.

Nuts and bolts have a six-sided shape which is usually spoken of as a hexagon. Stripping of the sides will occur if you do not use a tightly fitting wrench. The length of each wrench is related to the amount of force needed to tighten each size nut, so the force needed on your part should be the pull of three fingers. If the amount of effort required to tighten a nut or bolt increases, stop immediately as either you will break something or you are pulling the thread out.

Common uses of these wrenches are a size 15 open-end for pedals or a size 15 box-end for axel bolts (instead of a quick release skewer) to remove tires (commonly on fixed gear or mountain bikes). Sizes 8 and 10 are also the most common for various bolts and nuts on the bicycle.

Build a Bike Repair Kit

Having a bicycle repair kit with you on the road can make the difference between a short stop and a long sit on the side of the road waiting for a friend to pick you up. It’s a small bag or roll you can carry in your messenger bag, pannier bag or attached to the frame that will carry a small set of tools needed for most minor repairs on the go. You’ll find your personal preference for how you like to carry it with you, but let’s start with the basic tools you need that comprise a good repair kit.


Tire Levers

Patch Kit

CO2 & Pump or Mini Tire Pump

Spare $20


1) Multi-Tool – If you need to adjust any nut, bolt or screw on the bike. A basic one shouldn’t be more than $10 or $15 and will have the most common sized hex wrenches, socket wrenches and screwdrivers. You can go up in tool count from there, but beware it gets heavier too. Two of the best brands are Park Tool and crankbrothers.


2) Tire Levers – Carrying a set (typically 2, sometimes they are sold as 3) will help you remove the tire from the rim to change a flat. If you have the room, carry 2 so that one can hook around the spoke while you use the other to slide under the beading of the tire all the way around. They are made out of nylon or steel. You can guess that one is slightly more expensive, but another thing to consider is size. The steel levers are usually longer and this may affect how you have to cart them around while on the bike. You can find these at any bike co-op or your local bike shop.


3) Patch Kit – Ideally, you want to find one that has several patches, a small square of sandpaper and glue. Glues can widely vary in quality but make sure it at least says self-vulcanizing. You can also find self-adhesive tube patches, but I still prefer the classic system of glue and patch. The self-adhesive tube patches are lighter to carry because there are simply less pieces, but I doubt that it would last as long as a glue-patch system so I would ride to a bike shop within a day or so to check out the tube.


4) Air – Can’t use a tube with no air in it! There are two ways to solve that problem. One is carrying a mini-pump that you can attach to your frame or throw in a bag. The other is to use CO2 cartridges and an inflator trigger pump. “Roadies” tend toward the CO2, as do triathletes and anyone else whose motto in life is ‘lighter is faster’. A pump can attach to your frame and be just as easy for everyday cycling. I have both – the CO2 in my small saddle bag for faster club riding and training, the pump on my commuter bikes. Be sure to practice with the CO2 before you encounter a problem on the road! Make sure the mini-pump has the ability to fit both schrader and presta valves.


5) Money – If you are close to a bike shop, you can buy a spare tube. If you’re near a pay phone, you can cash in to get a quarter or two. You can call a cab. You can rent a car. Kidding, just wanted to see if you were still reading. Point is, Mom always told you to have an emergency fund. This almost counts.

6) Tubes! The key element to making a tire a complete wheel. A tube should really never cost more than $5 anywhere. When I have a busted tube and I use the one from my kit, I buy two at a shop as soon as possible. One for home and the other to replace the kit spare. Maybe that math doesn’t work out so well, because I have 7 tubes at home. OK, don’t follow me word for word. But I will say that the fastest and easiest thing to do when you get a flat is to just throw a new tube in, patch the old one at home, then use the old one as a spare in your kit. So I always have a new tube somewhere, even in the car. Man, I am really not making sense. No one’s going to follow my advice now!

Finally, consider the different options that are out there to carry your repair kit. A small bag that wraps around your seat stem and tucks neatly under your saddle like this, or a tool roll (like Mopha or Burrito Roll) that can do that but also be tossed in a pannier or messenger bag. Lots of styles abound so have fun choosing something that makes you happy! And safe riding!