High Mileage Hero | Alex’s old and favorite tools
A person’s favorite and most used tools say a lot about them.
Highly polished, shiny instruments, perhaps better suited to the medical operating room than to the garage or workshop, can indicate that their owner or user is demanding on maintenance and paying close attention to detail.
Cheap and cheerful tools might tell you that their user is just beginning their journey to mechanical enlightenment.
And there are others who have well-used, yet highly functional items to help them with chores, but probably don’t want to spend a fortune on the latest and greatest.
My tools – and my character – do not fall directly into any of these categories (not exhaustive).
But, take a look at my favorite tools and you’ll notice a theme.
They are good at doing a few basic things:
- Hit something hard
- Hit something less hard
- Being touched to touch something else
- Hold something to make it easier to hit
- Protect something from being touched
- Act like a giant lever
While, again, this list is not exhaustive, it represents my most basic requirements and expectations for what the tools should be able to do.
You will also notice that the tools are old. Very old. And well used, especially those designed to hit or be hit by something else.
The High Mileage Heroes of BikeRadar
High-Mileage Heroes is a new series on BikeRadar showcasing the products that have stood the test of time and are part of our daily driving.
These aren’t reviews, but rather a chance to talk about the kit we depend on and the products we choose to use when not looking at new gear.
More from High-Mileage Heroes:
Maybe they say a lot about my character and my attitude towards mechanics (best described as impatient and carefree). And, to be honest, if you want to infer other characteristics of my tool selection, I don’t blame you.
So let’s move on to the tools. Let’s start with the less shy.
Soft Edged Fat Spanner Allen Wrench Set
I bought this wonderful set of Allen keys in 2008 from a bike shop I worked at called Alpine Sports in Morzine, France.
The owners at the time gave me a big discount and before I knew it I had exchanged € 10 for this set of delicious Allen keys with bolts.
Of course, when new each of the key heads were sharp and shiny and the writing on the plastic backing had not faded or worn away.
Having super sharp tools has been a revelation, especially for someone who likes to tighten bolts enough to make sure they never accidentally come apart.
Before I got my hands on this set, tightening the bolts until the veins in my arms were about to come out of my skin had a few minor drawbacks. One of them was full of rounded bolt heads.
Fortunately, these wrenches allowed me to set the bolts on my bike to the “correct” torque without worrying about tearing the carefully designed hex shape into a circle.
As an added bonus for someone who is an avid fan of saving money where possible, they have so far endured almost 14 years of use. This means they cost me € 0.71 per year or € 0.0019 per day. Now that’s a good deal.
Either way, those pretty square edges have since morphed into what can only be described as shadows of their own; the edges now rounded, their finish marred with use, and their shine completely disappeared.
That doesn’t stop me from picking them up to maintain my bikes, although I now enjoy using the Allen keys in the Topeak Prepbox that I reviewed in 2020.
Care should be taken when loosening or reinstalling bolts with Fat Spanner wrenches, but I like to think of this as a built-in torque wrench.
Oldest Park Tool SR-1 Chain Whip
This Park Tool SR-1 chain whip (SR is short of sprocket remover) has been used and not just as a chain whip.
Although it fulfills its primary function well (unless you are looking to gently remove a 12 speed cassette as the chain is only compatible with 8, 9 and 10 speed) despite the sticky links and rusty appearance , it was also used to increase the available power of my spaghetti shaped arms.
The open end slides perfectly over most 1/2 inch screwdrivers and provides a little extra oomph for stuck bolts or for tightening them to my favorite torque.
And because this is Park Tool quality, the grip has remained incredibly straight, despite being used as a giant lever.
Handfuls of moles fought and scarred
As I work my way through my list of favorite and most used tools, each one comes a little closer to facilitate my favorite way of doing mechanics.
The mole handles are the next step.
Their pretty orange color once covered their entire surface, but a lifetime of shaking in my toolbox – it’s been their home for as long as I can remember – certainly took its toll on the aesthetic.
But that’s not a comment on the functionality as they work just as well now as I guess they did when they were brand new.
Mole pliers are most often used to remove rounded nuts, serve as a portable vise, or even, if pressure is applied gently, as a “third hand.”
Their flawless grip is impressive and should be used to your advantage.
Mine mostly gets used to holding things that I try to hit with a hammer, be it a bolt, a screwdriver (see below), a helmet, a block of wood, a ring, something that is bent and shouldn’t be, or whatever else I might be able to open their jaws wide enough to hold onto.
Hitting objects is fine, but hitting the object while it’s held by those mole handles is even better.
I’m not able to date them, but my dad often asked me to make “his” mole pliers orange, suggesting that they are at least as old as I am.
They don’t make them like they used to.
The broken screwdriver
Getting closer and closer to the pinnacle of tools reveals more delights; the broken screwdriver being the next rung of the ladder.
I couldn’t tell you exactly how long this has been in my toolkit (but it’s been over 10 years), nor could I tell you if this was a version to flat head or Philips before she suffered a life-changing accident.
But none of that information is relevant now, as the end possesses indeed broken and that is now why i love it.
Its shaft diameter miraculously bridges the gap between the inner and outer rings on the bearings most commonly used in the mountain biking world.
Almost invariably, it gets used to removing and replacing bearings thanks to its clever physical build that prevents it from damaging fragile bearing balls.
Of course, disassembling bearings is not the only application of the broken screwdriver; its uses are widespread and impressive. I’m known to install headset bushings with it, create perfectly formed bumps on flat surfaces, remove and install interference-fit bottom brackets, and use them to remove loose but stuck bolts.
Obviously, it is the tool that is touched to strike something else.
An angled cork mallet
My mallet is a real survivor.
Not only was it operated so violently that the handle shaft bent (in multiple directions) on impact, it also served as a shock absorber between a hammer and whatever else I had on it. intention to strike with that hammer.
The “patina” on the rubber part of the grip is proof of the latter, while the less than true shaft illustrates the former well.
While it’s not perfect, despite being at the top of my list of favorite tools.
My main complaint about the cork based mallet is the debris left behind by its smooth striking surface, sometimes requiring a lengthy removal process. Personally, I don’t have time for this.
The second mallet-based whine simply focuses on its inability to be used with enough vigor without taking more damage.
But there is a solution to both of these problems. Keep reading …
My old hammer
This hammer with a wooden handle is a family heirloom. Not only has it stood the test of time in my possession – with just over 17 years of use – it was my father’s before me.
Granted, it’s not the biggest or most muscular punching device on the market, but the ferocity and efficiency with which I’m able to strike things invariably puts a smile on my face.
The handle is smooth to the touch and sports circular battle scars where it doubled – much like my trusty mallet – as an intermediary between another hammer and an object I hoped to protect.
It’s heavy enough to sway with conviction, but not so bulky that accuracy is compromised.
Arguably, its beauty centers on its simplicity. Hitting things with something else is nice, and it’s the perfect tool for the job.
Not only is this hammer a staple in the toolbox, it’s also my favorite tool, period.