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by David Rome
March 9, 2018
Photography by David Rome
TECH NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BIKEEXCHANGE
As the engineering boundaries of bicycles are forever pushed, the need for measured bolt tightening has only increased. No longer is “tight” an adequate measure, and instead, you really should use a specific torque number, at least where carbon fibre or lightweight aluminium is involved. Silca claims 70 percent of all tool-induced damage to delicate bolts and components happens not at home, but on the road or trail, when you don’t typically have a proper torque wrench at hand.
Options for torque wrenches are numerous, but only recently have portable versions become available, including the clever T-Ratchet and Ti-Torque that Silca launched on Kickstarter in 2016 that both CyclingTips tech writer David Rome and CyclingTips US technical editor James Huang backed on their own accord. Silca has been steadily refining the product since then, and the latest version is arguably the best portable solution available.
Held in a classy duck waxed canvas case with magnetic clasps, the T-Ratchet and Ti-Torque is a modular tool kit with standard 1/4in interchangeable bits to tackle common repairs and adjustments on a modern bicycle (or even around the house). The T-Ratchet’s 72-tooth reversible ratchet is unusually fine, especially for a portable tool, but it’s the tool’s neat mix-and-match design that really makes it unique. The bits can be inserted directly into the ratchet drive, at the end of the handle, or on an included 50mm-long extension. All of the parts are interchangeable, too, so if one setup doesn’t work for a particular application, chances are good that another one will. With the exception of the drive ratchet, which uses a friction fit, everything else connects with magnetic inserts.
The bits themselves are high-quality as well. Silca has them made from the same S2 tool steel as on its premium HX-One home hex wrench kit, and each bit is marked with a little red identification ring for easier selection.
The T-Ratchet offers multiple setup options.
The torque measurement comes from the Ti-Torque rod (which is also available separately), which operates on a similar principle as inexpensive beam-type torque wrenches, but in torsion instead of bending. The titanium rod inside the red-anodized aluminium housing is basically a torsion spring, and requires a known amount of force to twist. Laser-etched markers indicate exactly how much force is applied. The design is simple, but effective.
The Ti-Torque rod is tuned to a range of 2-8Nm. With most carbon handlebar and stem combos calling for 4-6Nm, and many seatpost frame clamps in the region of 5-8Nm, most delicate areas of the bike that might require roadside adjustment are covered.
Pocket-sized kit wrapped in a durable case.
All folded up, the Silca case measures 120mm x 70mm x 30mm. A full kit, including case, weighs 232g. Like most things from Silca, the asking price (US$99 / AU$180 / £100) is at the upper end, but arguably well justified given what’s included.
There’s no denying that plenty of thought has gone into this toolset. Modular tools are not new, but combining them with a ratchet and torque measurement remains a unique proposition.
The T-Ratchet tool is a quality item, and I suspect it shares a Taiwanese manufacturer with the likes of Wera, Facom, and many other high quality ratchets. While the ratchet internals may be the same, the exterior design is clearly Silca’s own.
Thirteen pieces make up the kit, and users can replace bits as needed for their specific needs.
The modular aspect really opens up the tool’s usability across the bike. Pieces can be added for extra leverage or length when necessary, for example, and the fine-toothed ratchet helps in tight spaces where there is limited tool access. The modular design does leave a nub protruding 25mm above the centre of the ratchet mechanism, however, which occasionally reduces the swing angle of the tool.
Either way, the tool is extremely comfortable and generally quick to use, too, with its smooth edges and knurled handles.
The T-Ratchet head’s small protrusion can cause clearance issues. Thankfully, the fine-tooth ratchet mechanism provides a workable, albeit slower, solution.
The magnetic attachment system is clearly geared more toward ease-of-use, which is welcomed in most situations, and generally preferred to modular designs that hold on to bits too stubbornly. That said, the bits can get stuck in soft bolt heads sometimes, and the handle occasionally pulls out depending on how you grab the tool. If only for this reason, I recommend the T-Ratchet and Ti-Torque kit more for portable, not home, use.
When first released after its hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, the T-Ratchet and Ti-Torque offered plenty to like and it certainly found many fans. However, I wasn’t one of them. The individual markings were hard to pick out, which made it far too easy to over- or undertighten a fastener. Silca does plenty of things right, but that specific element was not one of them.
The latest version, however, now uses three separate scales (2-6Nm, 3-5Nm, and 4-8Nm) spread around the entire circumference of the outer tube. It’s thankfully much more legible, and also now offers finer 1Nm, instead of 2Nm, marking increments.
The markings on the original Ti-Torque tube shown here were hard to read. The new one uses the entire circumference of the housing and is much easier to use.
Unlike clutch-limited torque wrenches that are far more foolproof, even the improved Ti-Torque requires a careful hand and a watchful eye. Tightening to your desired torque requires you to perfectly match two lines, and beyond visual cues, there’s nothing to stop you over (or under) cooking it. But even so, it’s pretty accurate given its simplicity, measured against a bench-top digital torque wrench tester.
I was able to get a 2-3% torque accuracy with the new version, but only with careful attention. More often, just missing the line by a hair would result in a greater variance. In reality, close enough is good enough for most applications – and, more importantly, far better than guessing – and while it takes some level of patience, the Ti-Torque is capable of being extremely accurate.
So is the newly updated T-Ratchet and Ti-Torque tool the ultimate all-in-one? Well, sort of. For an extremely compact kit to leave in the car or gear bag, or to take with you on a cycling trip, it’s very impressive and will allow quick assembly and adjustments. Especially in a travel situation, where space and weight is a concern, I’m completely sold.
For home use, many casual DIYers will find great use in this kit, and it’s perfectly ample. I would suggest owning long-leverage 6, 8, and 10mm hex keys in addition to this for things like pedals and crank bolts, but the Silca kit will cover you for just about everything else.
The tools and wallet are sized to fit inside a jersey pocket, but I still feel it’s a little overkill to carry around as an emergency multi-tool (and after all, Silca makes one of those, too). It is a handy kit to have when riding a new bike, where frequent fine adjustments are expected, but for the rest of my riding, I prefer to keep what I carry at a minimum.
However, for the person that considers themselves a home mechanic, or even professional, this kit is just too compromised for daily use. The torque wrench is trustworthy, but it’s only as accurate as you are. Add in that little annoying nub at the ratchet end, and the handles that pull out when you don’t want them to, and you’ll find more wrenching joy in tools that permanently serve single functions.
The T-Ratchet + Ti-Torque therefore sits in an unusual middle ground. It has its place, but it’s not quite the best of both worlds.
The tool is compact, but not so small to be uncomfortable in the hand. The ergonomics are good.
New versus old. The only element that’s changed since this tool’s initial launch is the Ti-Torque rod.
A look inside the duck waxed canvas case. It’s a high-quality item that will withstand regular use.
Ten S2 steel tool bits are included: 2-6mm hex; T10, T20, and T25 Torx; and a #2 Phillips.
A knurled thumb wheel eases doing up bolts in tight spots.