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Performance-minded riders are often hyper-mindful of weight: the weight of their bikes, the weight of their own bodies, and even the weight of what they wear, such as shoes and helmets. But have you ever put much thought into the repair items you put in your jersey pockets or saddle bag, or the tools you stuff into your travel case? Whether it’s an epic bike packing adventure, your next flight with a bike, or even just a long ride with lots of climbing, it’s rare in cycling that more mass is a good thing.
Wolf Tooth Components have done just this with the new Pack Tool range, which includes ultralight master link pliers, an aluminum wrench with interchangeable inserts, and an aluminum chain whip. CyclingTips’ in-house tool geek Dave Rome weighs in.
Review updated: 20/11/2018 due to revised Pack Wrench and new bottom bracket tools.
The piece of the collection generating the most attention is the Pack Pliers. CNC machined of aluminium in the USA, these function as chain master link pliers, a valve core tool, valve nut pliers, and a tyre lever, while also including storage for two magnetically captured quick links, all in a 8mm-thick tool that weighs just 39g.
As a bonus, the anodised aluminium bolt that forms the pivot for the two halves of the Pack Pliers is actually a chainring bolt that can be used on your crankset in a pinch. The bolt also provides a splash of colour to the black anodised tool, with various options available to match a number of other Wolf Tooth products. Retail price for the standard black version is US$30; the red version costs an additional US$3.
The Pack Pliers absolutely work as advertised, removing any common 10, 11 or 12-speed master link on the market. Likewise, the magnetic storage within the tool is effective and ensures you’re never left with half a master link when you need it most.
The rest of the features do the trick, too. The Presta valve core tool in the handle is convenient if you need to add sealant on the road or trail, and the valve nut pliers make quick work of valve nuts that have corroded over time. Likewise, I was able to undo a stuck Presta valve with the pliers, too.
Positioned at the end of the tool, the thin aluminium tyre lever has a smoothly rounded back and thin tip that do a decent job of prying off stubborn tyres. The bare metal construction is best restricted to metal rims, though, and even then, it’s important to be mindful of anodised surfaces to prevent marring.
The Pack Pliers’ thin form factor makes them compact and light, but they’re not particularly comfortable to hold in your hand, nor is there a lot of leverage available. This is most noticeable when removing a new non-reusable master link, and using the tool to install a master link is wasted energy (instead, use the crank and a locked rear wheel to pull the link closed). The high-quality construction is built to last, but the awkward shape still means the Pack Pliers are best reserved as an emergency or travel option. I’m sure a number of home mechanics will find success in using this tool on occasion, but given the choice, I’d rather have a dedicated tool in the workshop.
By comparison, the only other portable master link plier on the market, from Clever Standard, is heavier at 61g, offers fewer features, and is more cumbersome to use. It offers more leverage for undoing master links, though, along with a more comfortable grip. Likewise, its plastic construction means it’s safe to use on carbon rims. Still, the Wolf Tooth gets my pick as something to carry on an epic ride, in a compact tool kit or when traveling.
Pack Wrench and Inserts
During my recent review of the Ritchey Outback Break-Away, I found myself searching for lightweight accessories to reduce the packed case weight. This not only proved handy for avoiding airline charges, but also allowed me to stuff more things in with the bike. Compact multi-tools, like the Silca T-ratchet, can often suffice when packing and rebuilding a travel bike, but there are times when only full-sized tools will do the job.
In this scenario, the Wolf Tooth Pack Wrench is a unique beast. At one end is a 16-notch socket that works on many Shimano Hollowtech bottom bracket cups and oversized splined disc rotor lockrings. At the other is a 1″ magnetic pocket designed to work with Wolf Tooth’s tool inserts, of which there are currently five to choose from: one for Shimano/SRAM cassette lockrings (unfortunately no Campagnolo!), an 8mm hex, a 16mm hex (for use with Easton and RaceFace Cinch cranks), a 20mm socket for adjusting the sliding dropouts on frames from Wolf Tooth’s sister company, Otso Cycles, and one more for most Shimano and ISIS splined bottom brackets. The recently updated handle is CNC machined 7075-T6 aluminium plate which now matches the optional chain whip (below), and the tool bits are nickel-plated 4140 chromoly steel.
The wrench itself costs US$33; inserts are US$19 each. Additionally, Wolf Tooth offers the Pack Wrench bundled with the four most popular inserts for US$90.
The 8mm hex and cassette locking inserts were the ones I used most. These two sockets and the handle combined weigh just 197g; the Pack Wrench alone is a paltry 105g. This is an impressive figure and is easily half the weight of most other options. For example, the already svelte Feedback Sports combination cassette and bottom bracket tool is 294g alone, and you still need to add an 8mm hex wrench for pedals (about 100g for one with similar leverage).
I absolutely love this tool and its customizable bits for lightweight travel use. It’s the perfect item to leave in your car, and then pull double duty when it’s time to fly with a bike. And since Wolf Tooth updated the handle from a 4mm piece of flat aluminium to a shapely CNC machined item, the comfort is quite good too. I still prefer dedicated shop tools back home which offer even more comfort, but I’d happily use this for occasional DIY.
Wolf Tooth updated the Pack Wrench shortly following the original review. The new handle is stiffer, stronger and far more comfortable to use. The handle also features laser engraving which allows it to be used as a chainline checker. However, it is 20g heavier than the original.
The steel tool inserts work exactly as intended, offering a snug fit and are seeming very well-made. The new Pack Wrench offers a tighter interface fit, while larger magnets hold the inserts more securely. These will last a lifetime under casual use.
There’s an Ultralight Chain Whip
Complementing the Pack Wrench and its cassette lockring capabilities is the Ultralight Chain Whip, made in a matching anodized CNC-machined aluminium design to the newly updated Pack Wrench. At 167g, it’s impressively light and offers compatibility with just about any multi-speed cassette (including 12-speed). The chain is held in with small rivets, and these can be replaced with standard chain pins if required.
Suffice to say, it works as advertised with no issues noted. Retail price is US$45.
Bottom bracket tools added to the mix
Released alongside the updated Pack Wrench are five new external cup threaded bottom bracket tools that are suited to workshop use. All five are CNC-machined aluminium and designed to cover the most common bottom bracket designs. The includes the newer 39 and 41mm cups from Shimano, the most common 44mm size as used by most brands in the past, and two newer sizes suited to oversized 30mm bottom brackets from the likes of RaceFace, Rotor, SRAM (DUB) and FSA (MegaExo).
Cleverly, the tools feature a 1″ hex interface to work with the Pack Wrench, including steel inserts to connect with the handle’s magnets. The tools can also be driven with a 3/8in ratchet or breaker bar. Each tool serves double duty too, with three of the five offering a Shimano Hollowtech bearing preload tool, while the two tools for 30mm spindle bottom brackets include a 16mm hex for use with RaceFace and Easton Cinch cranks.
Priced at a reasonable US$30 a piece, these offer a workshop-grade quality and a precise fit that won’t mark bottom bracket cups. However, they are not without issue and the addition of the preload cap tool means you can only use these tools for bottom bracket duties; they’re no good for removing centerlock disc brake rotors (though the Pack Wrench will handle this).
Wolf Tooth isn’t the founder of the lightweight tool space. The closest competitor is Abbey Bike Tools, but even that company’s wares hold a slightly different place in the market.
By comparison, Abbey Tools are also made to be travel-friendly, but are built with higher precision and greater durability without sacrificing all-day comfort; they were originally designed for professional race mechanics who need to travel with their tools, after all. On the other hand, the Wolf Tooth stuff places a higher priority on portability and more accessible price points.
While I still prefer dedicated and typically steel tools within a workshop environment, I do like what Wolf Tooth offers. The Pack Pliers are brilliant, as both a tool to carry with you on a ride, and one to keep in a travel case. And the rest of the range is what I’d consider the benchmark for travel-friendly, lightweight tools where some wrenching is required. That’s certainly a niche, but there are plenty of people that travel regularly with bikes, or who want a compact kit for the car, who will find undeniable appeal here.
And with the newly updated Pack Wrench, Wolf Tooth has ensured this kit earns wider appeal beyond the travel niche. Certainly there are more comfortable tools to use in the workshop, but for occasional use, this stuff will certainly get the job done.
For more tool reviews and features, check out our tool talk section.