The idea of a dual-sided cassette lockring tool with an integrated handle and a hollow centre big enough to fit over quick-release nuts seems obvious enough today but that’s only because of Jason Quade. Four years later, his original ‘Crombie’ tool has been copied but never matched, and the philosophy behind its design has since completely changed how many of us look at bicycle tools.
Tools aren’t supposed to be toys
It wasn’t long ago that most of us didn’t think much about the tools we buy when working on our bikes. If it got the job done and lasted a reasonably long time, the only other thing that mattered was how much it cost — or preferably, how little. In a remarkably short period of time, Jason Quade of Abbey Bike Tools has almost singlehandedly turned that perception around.
He certainly didn’t set out to do so, though, and in fact, that he’s even still in the bike industry at all is largely due to chance.
“I had a background in industrial manufacturing and heavy industry, mostly welding,” Quade told CyclingTips. “That was my best try at running away from the bike industry.”
A job opportunity for his wife brought the pair from Oklahoma to Bend, Oregon, and a budding career in aviation welding and fabrication promised an end to his life as a bike shop mechanic but it wasn’t meant to be. Quade ended up back in a bike shop but this time, one owned by long-time industry veteran Beverly Lucas (currently the CEO of carbon wheel specialist Knight Composites). And he wasn’t in Oklahoma anymore.
“That industry is pretty flighty — pun fully intended — and I wound up back at a bike shop. This was kind of a new thing for me this time in some regards, though, because out west, bikes weren’t really toys anymore like they were back in the Midwest. That’s when I started doing more racing, and with [Beverly’s] deep involvement in the bike industry, the feel in there was a lot different from other shops. At the same time, there were all these national championships and big road races that were being held in central Oregon so I started doing more race support stuff.”
Quade soon found himself at the annual Bill Woodul Race Mechanics Clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he met fellow aspiring race mechanic Jeff Crombie. As it turned out, Crombie’s background was also in the aviation industry and the two stayed in touch after the clinic concluded and all the attendees scattered to the winds.
The tool that started it all
“[Jeff] got his first full-time gig with SpiderTech and called me one day,” Quade said. “It seems like there are two [cassette] lockrings ever that had rattled loose but he being a former A&P [insider shorthand for airframe and power plant mechanic], he was kind of paranoid about it so he wanted to check them everyday. Obviously, to pull the quick-release skewer out to do that on so many bikes turns into a big time suck.
“So he called me up and we’re in our respective garages and was like, ‘hey, can you make this happen?’ and I was like, ‘yeah, that’ll work’. So the next day, I took the one spare lockring tool that I had, chucked it in the lathe and bored a hole through it, and then welded a handle to it. That was literally the first one — a 10-minute phone call and 15 minutes worth of work.”
Quade admits that he didn’t think much of the ‘Crombie’ at the time.
“Originally I thought this would be a flash in the pan. I thought I’d sell a hundred lockring tools to every race mechanic in the country, 20 or 30 a year after that, and that would be it because it was such a niche little item. But when I got that first random phone call from some guy I’d never met before, I was like, ‘huh, there might be something here’.
“We went to production and had a local machine shop help us make our own splined ends for the cassette tools, did the first run of maybe a hundred pieces, and sent the last two I had as press samples. People were excited about it.”
Quade still wasn’t looking much further ahead but says that the decision was ultimately made for him.
“The one thing people kept asking — probably a third of the people that got those tools — was what else we had. I was kind of scratching my head because I hadn’t gotten that far. And so, we got a handle on production of the Crombie tool and it was like, alright, what else can we do?”
Four years later, Abbey Bike Tools’ catalog is still remarkably small with less than two dozen items in total, none of which are remote inexpensive and many with functionality that can be replicated for a fraction of the cost from another brand. And yet every item is backed with glowingly positive reviews — even the US$180 (~AU$240) titanium hammer. Although many are designed with professional race mechanics in mind — hence the frequent focus on low weight and compactness — it turns out that more than a few everyday home mechanics also appreciate a well-made tool.
“If you look at everyone else in the industry, whether it’s a component manufacturer like Campagnolo or Shimano or even the small guys like Paul Components, or the boutique frame builders, or even the big guys, all those guys have really just upped their games in the last 10 or 15 years,” Quade said. “A lot of consumers that buy my stuff — the ones that have that S-Works, or that Soulcraft, or that custom Argonaut — they want to be able to do some of their own maintenance and they want tools that are on the level of their bikes.”
“The company started with a hole in a lockring tool and a handle but it was really the level of quality in the execution that built the company. It just seemed like people were ready for it.”