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by Dave Rome
February 9, 2017
Photography by David Rome
Bicycles are strange beasts. They’re often so simple in function, yet require an excessive number of tools to put together and service. Where car mechanics can get extremely far in their job with a standard set of spanners, sockets and pliers, bicycle mechanics are forced into multiple single purpose tools in order to perform relatively basic tasks.
With such specific requirements, the cycling tool market is somewhat protected and is dominated by only a small handful of players. Shimano’s component brand, PRO, clearly sees space in the consumer and home mechanic cycling tool market and has been steadily growing its range over the past few years. For 2017, that tool range near doubles in size and the Toolbox XL is a product that puts together many of the Japanese brand’s individually available hand tools.
Our content strategist, tech writer and self-confessed tool nerd, David Rome, has been spinning the wrenches of this new tool kit for just over a month.
As the largest tool kit in PRO’s range, the XL is fairly comprehensive; there are 38 tools included (depending on how you count them), plus an easy-to-carry plastic blow-molded case to house all the contents. This kit has clearly been built as a ‘one-stop’ option to doing basic assembly and repair work on a majority of modern bikes – whether that’s road, mountain, kids or utility.
For those in the USA, it’s unlikely you’ll find this kit or other PRO tools for sale. Much like the issues Unior ran into recently, Park Tool owns the Trademark on blue-coloured cycling tools. If PRO tools were ever to be made available in the US, expect them to be a different colour.
While the tools aren’t marked for country of origin, I’ve been told they originate from tool manufacturing specialists in Taiwan. Taiwanese tools, much like bicycle frames, typically represent higher quality than often-cheaper Chinese- or Indian-made tools. I’d say the quality is closely comparable to that of Park Tool and Unior’s home mechanic’s tool ranges – something that is likely to last a lifetime under occasional use.
Given PRO’s roots, it shouldn’t be too surprising that this kit is Shimano biased, and includes a few small tools unique to servicing the Japanese products. Though, there are also a handful of tools that likely aren’t needed by Shimano owners.
Lovers of Campagnolo likely need to look elsewhere, but otherwise this kit is one well suited to the enthusiast home mechanic looking to set up a capable tool collection from scratch.
Looking to the cycling-specific items of this kit, PRO has done a respectable job at providing the most commonly used items. These include a set of hex keys, Torx keys, cassette lockring tool and chainwhip, various bottom bracket tools, a chainring nut wrench, disc brake tools, chain breaker, masterlink pliers, crank puller, cone wrenches and spoke wrenches.
Working with 8 to 11-speed chains, the included chain breaker is a good example of the general quality on offer. This chain breaker features composites handles and a sturdy metal chain bridge, with the tool’s pin rotating on a ball bearing, it’s a feature seen in Park Tool’s professional chain tool that helps reduce the risk of damaging the chain pin and helps to reduce the force required at the handles.
Unlike many other cheaper chain breaker tools, the pin is replaceable and a spare is given inside its handle.
There are three disc-brake specific tools given. These include a rotor-straightening fork, a disc pad spreader (a wedge to push the pistons back) and a rotor alignment tool (gap tool). The latter is pretty cool — it works by slotting over the rotor then into the disc brake caliper. From here, the brake lever is squeezed and the brake caliper bolts tightened. The buffer provided by the shims should ensure an equal gap to the rotor on both sides of the caliper.
Such a tool has been available from disc-brake specialist Hayes for sometime, but PRO’s version is far more compact and works just as well.
Sadly the compact nature of the pad alignment tool doesn’t carry over into the pad spreader tool. This features the same comfortable hard-rubber handle as the pedal wrench and in many ways, is overkill for its intended task. While it works perfectly, I can’t help but feel that this tool could have been combined with the disc rotor-straightening fork.
The included bottom bracket press is really just some threaded rod, a handle and some specific bearing drifts. That said, it’s still more than what most tool sets offer and it works exactly as it needs to.
Perhaps the most notable inclusions in this kit are the press-fit bottom bracket tools. Despite this type of component being so common in modern bikes, the tools remain a rarity in home mechanic kits.
The bottom bracket press uses a steel threaded rod with a hex head welded to one end to suit a 8mm hex key. A rubber-coated handle threads onto the end, but not before sliding on the bearing pilot bushings. These bushings are double-sided, working with both 24 and 30mm bottom bracket standards. The latter sizing is refreshing to see given Shimano doesn’t offer the standard itself.
For bearing removal, a special 24mm bearing press is given which is used with the supplied dead blow mallet. Those seeking to remove a 30mm-type bottom bracket are likely going to need a punch or similar.
That dead blow mallet features shot inside its head, which stops rebound after striking. It’s not only safer and easier on fatigue, but means your forces don’t go to waste.
The mallet is just one example of a non-cycling specific tool provided in the set. Further examples include the needle nose pliers, side cutters, phillips and flat head screwdrivers, small adjustable wrench, tape measure and hand file.
Some of these tools are certainly a little generic, but the overall quality remains high. For example, the tape measure is near identical to the Park Tool version I have sitting on my desk. And the pliers are a fair few notches above the cheapest stuff you’ll find in a hardware store.
Similar ‘generic’ comments may be made with the multi-size cone wrenches (thin wrenches for adjusting cup and cone-type hubs) that share aesthetics to those found in the $40 toolkits found on Ebay, but PRO’s are certainly made with better steel and to more exacting standards.
In the quest for the ultimate home workshop, one thing will always remain true – you’ll never have enough tools. This XL toolbox handles a lot of tasks, but it does have its limitations.
Most notable is that as your experience in repair and subsequent tool collection grows, you’ll be forced into other means of storage. The provided blow moulded case is pretty nice, it doesn’t rattle in transport, is easy to carry and makes it obvious when something is missing. However, it offers no room for additions – not even a bottle of chain lube. It also holds some tools a little too tight when new.
The tool I was most surprised to see missing in a kit this expansive is a simple chain wear checker. These are typically cheap tools that are extremely valuable in indicating the right time for chain replacement. Interestingly, while Shimano makes such a tool, PRO doesn’t.
Another aspect that I feel is lacking is leverage on the regular-use tools. The pedal wrench and 1/2in socket drive tool (for use with the bottom bracket and cassette sockets) are roughly half the length of professional tools you’d find being used in a bike shop. This may prove a problem on stubborn or previously over-tightened components.
A quick comparison to show the lack of leverage afforded by the included hex key set. In the middle sits the included 8mm hex key, on the right is the 8mm from PRO’s not-included T-Wrench set (AU$120) and on the left is a popular Park Tool 8mm P-handle.
The same can be said for the 8 and 10mm hex keys, which may not be enough to break free stubborn cranks or pedals. Annoyingly, PRO does offer a long-handled 8mm hex ‘pedal wrench’, but hasn’t included it in this premium kit.
The choice of spoke key sizes provided is damning evidence of the Shimano-biased nature of this kit. In my wrenching experience, it’s the 3.23mm and 3.45mm spoke wrenches (Park Tool Black and Red keys respectively) that see the most use; neither of these sizes are given in this PRO kit. Instead, the four spoke wrenches provided are best suited to Shimano’s factory built wheel.
Those looking to build a bike from the frame up may run into issues with items such as a hacksaw, saw guide (for sizing a fork steerer tube) and derailleur hanger alignment gauge not given. These tools aren’t expected at the price of this kit, but it’s worth noting the limitations nonetheless.
Lastly, there’s no torque wrench given. It’s another tool PRO offers, and it’s likely been overlooked due to cost, but it remains one of the key tools that most home mechanics should own.
Given every tool kit on the market is different in its contents, it’s always going to be tough to compare. That said, the quality and general value for money of the PRO tools has impressed me and I’d happily put it on a similar level to the tools I’ve used from Birzman along with the home mechanic stuff from Park Tool and Unior. It’s finished better, more durable and with higher tolerances than the generic tools you’ll find all over the net from various cheaper house brands too.
PRO offers a standard ‘Toolbox’ with fewer tools (CyclingTips took a quick look at this a few years back) and a newer ‘Starter Kit’ (AU$199) with just cycling-specific items. Interestingly, it’s mainly the press-fit bottom bracket tools and the more hardware-store type items that are missing in these smaller kits. If you don’t have a need for press-fit bottom bracket tools, then the smaller Toolbox kit likely represents better value for money, while a trip to the hardware store will fill in many of the other gaps between the two kits.
This kit has a suggested retail of AU$739 AU$549 (Australian retail price lowered as of 14/12/2017). Indeed, it’s a price that is likely to turn many home users away, especially considering that you’ll need to factor in the cost of a few other tools. And unless you’re loyal to Shimano components, you may also be paying for a small number of tools you don’t need. This sort of money goes a long way toward individually piecing together a tool-kit that’s perfectly suited to your specific needs, but a complete kit such as this, that awaits your expanding ability is valuable in itself.
Nonetheless, for me, the included press-fit bottom bracket tools impressed me as they aren’t something I’ve seen included in such a kit before and they work exactly as intended. Assuming you want a kit that gives you nearly everything in one shot, the PRO Toolbox XL kit represents a solid base to form a well-stoked and long-lasting home workshop with.
Note: PRO sell many (not all) of the included tools, and a few others, individually. See the full range at pro-bikegear.com.
A view inside. The blow-moulded case offers secure holding for all included tools. Space for additional tools is an issue though.
With exception of the pedal wrench and screwdrivers, the top section of the case holds tools that are likely to see less use than those kept in the bottom section.
The bottom section cleanly displays all tools for easy grabbing.
The included bottom bracket press is really just some threaded rod, a handle and some specific bearing drifts, however, it’s still more than what most tool sets offer and it works exactly as it needs to.
High quality disc brake-specific tools are given. The pad press is somewhat overbuilt for the task, but it works perfectly.
This clever little tool slips over your disc brake rotor for easy and accurate brake pad alignment. I’ve used a similar item from Hayes for years, and this one is an elegant alternative.
Another angle of that disc brake pad alignment tool. PRO also offer this tool outside of the kit with the Disc Rotor truing fork (AU$35).
Despite its plastic handles, I quite liked the PRO chain breaker. It’s pin spins smoothly on an internal ball bearing, and an additional pin is housed within its comfortable handle.
This is where that big dead-blow mallet comes in, the press-fit bottom bracket removal tool is designed to work with Shimano-type 24mm bottom brackets only. You’ll need another tool to do 30mm bottom brackets.
Pictured are three tools – the chain whip, cassette removal tool and 1/2in square drive handle. They remove and install cassettes without issue. A similar set is sold by PRO separately.
A quick comparison to show the lack of leverage afforded by the included hex key set. In the middle sits the included 8mm hex key, on the right is the 8mm from PRO’s not included T-Wrench set (AU$120) and on the left is a popular Park Tool 8mm P-handle.
A chain wear checker is such a simple tool. It’s a shame one isn’t included in the PRO Toolbox XL.
The included Hex and Torx key sets are fine quality with reasonable tolerances. However, I just wish the larger hex keys were longer for greater leverage.
The Toolbox XL’s case is made of a strong plastic with four closing clips. It’s sized like a briefcase, has one carry handle and stands upright when closed without issue.