Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.
A battle has been brewing on Instagram, and if you’re a tool nerd (like me), it’s a wonderful thing.
The #toolboxwars jokingly started amongst World Cup downhill mountain bike mechanics a few years ago. For years, these traveling race mechanics have had impressive tool setups with great thought put into efficiency, ease of transport and self-sufficiency, to cater to their athletes’ bike servicing needs.
The nicest part of many of these race setups is that they feature carefully selected tools specific to particular bikes. Brand-specific mechanics don’t need every bottom bracket tool, bleed kit or headset tool, and so much like your own tool setup that likely only needs to cater to your personal steeds, these mechanics can be choosy with what they have.
And within these setups, you’ll find some recurring tool picks. Almost all feature Abbey Bike Tools’ Crombie cassette tool and matched chain whip. They all use high-end hex keys from either PB Swiss, Wera, or similar, and nearly all carry a Knipex Pliers wrench – a tool that merges a multi-grip plier with an adjustable wrench. Most mechanics also carry press tools to replace press-fit bottom brackets, hub bearings and even mountain bike suspension frame pivot bearings – proving that such items do get changed on race weekend.
Tim Travis of Sivart Cycles in Seoul, South Korea, recently pitched the idea of a #toolboxwars world championships. From there, Abbey Bike Tools took the reigns and a flurry of top mechanics chased the title. Picked by Abbey Bike Tools as finalists to the competition, here are some highlight setups to peruse (all embedded Instagram posts feature a slide function to see more). Just be warned, it can be contagious and expensive!
While he didn’t start it, John Hall, the mechanic of downhill mountain biker racer Aaron Gwin, arguably brought the battle of tool setups to the public eye on Instagram with his Kaizen foam pallet and Pelican toolbox, and many similar setups have since appeared.
Hall’s tool setup is housed within hand cut foam pallets stacked inside a Pelican 1560 wheeled case. Like many of these kits, the most-used tools sit higher up in the layers for quick access, while the task-specific stuff is stored deeper down. In Hall’s case, a set of Beta 951 sliding T-Handle hex keys sit within easy reach and occupy much of the first pallet.
This setup belonging to Australian Brad Kelly took the win for #toolboxwars2018, earning him a rainbow-striped Abbey Bike Tools titanium hammer (decided based on public votes). Kelly is a shop and race mechanic in Newcastle, Australia and has a travel setup that was tailored toward servicing the bikes of gravity mountain bike racers Jill Kintner and Bryn Atkinson.
Some clever touches include foam layers with recesses so the tools pop up when you push down on an end, a wide variety of specialist tools for detailed servicing, and a custom-made carbon pallet in the lid.
Speaking with Kelly about building such a setup, he suggests that tools can often be like wine, and sometimes the most expensive is not always the best. He suggests that when it comes to building your own kit, you should carefully consider your capability as a mechanic. “I would pack enough tools to be able to fix or maintain everything you have the confidence and ability to do yourself,” he says. “Otherwise, you’ll get stuck with a mechanical and/or have to pay someone else to do something you could have done yourself.”
As for his favourite tools, Kelly points to his zip-tie gun (the big blue gun-like tool kept in one of the tool pallets), which “pulls nice and tight and cuts flush in one go”, and the rotor tool he made himself (bottom right on the carbon lid pallet), a tool that “enables me to fine tune the free stroke and brake feel without having to continuously re-fit wheels to feel the brakes.”
This is the box belonging to Kate Courtney’s mechanic, Brad Copeland. Built around a Pelican case and Kaizen foam inserts, Copeland’s cross-country-focussed kit is top-notch and includes a huge number of tools and spare parts to do the most intricate of repairs.
Some of the nicest elements include a rainbow-striped titanium hammer from Abbey Bike Tools and a custom ring marking plier for Copeland to stamp his name into cable end caps – something that may soon become redundant with SRAM’s expected Eagle eTap.
The supposed founder of ToolboxWars (and stating it was initially a joke), Giant Factory Off-Road team mechanic Colin Bailey has already moved past toolboxes and is onto a custom leather tool bag made by Crazy Heart Leather. Bailey says that hard cases are bulky, heavy and inefficient — this custom leather bag provides unhindered access to all 106 of Bailey’s tools. It also fits inside his usual travel luggage, providing additional security against tool-loving TSA agents.
Working with Colin Bailey at the Giant Factory Off-Road team, it’s not too surprising to see mechanic Sebastian Boyington duking it out for the best setup. Boyington’s setup also features leather, but is instead used for tool pallets within a Pelican case and Boyington impressively taught himself leather work to make it all happen.
His setup is comparatively minimal, relying on Snap-On ratchets and socket bits in place of more cumbersome tools.
Tyler Angelo Marchesano
Built for keeping Specialized-sponsored athletes on the Red Hook Crit circuit running smooth, this setup is pared right back to cater to fixed-gear bikes and offers storage for spare cogs and chainrings, too.
The carbon pallet in the lid is made by Marchesano himself, with the individual tool pockets formed for a snug fit. The attention to detail seems to know no bounds here, and even the spare cogs are colour-coded based on tooth count.
When you’ve got a mechanic that makes his own carbon fibre hammer and a ti-lugged repair stand, you know their setup is going to be something special. This toolset is built around a custom carbon plate pallet, more Kaizen foam, and a modified Pelican case.
Having spent much of the past year traveling and mountain biking across the US and Canada, O’Rourke put together this pro-level kit for his own travel and servicing needs. He’s an amateur mechanic who works on his own and friends’ mountain bikes.
Living the van life, O’Rourke quickly learned to be self-sufficient in what he travels with. In addition to this tool case, he has a second case filled with “spare parts like bearings, bolts/hadware, cables, fuids, spokes, spacers, derailleur hangers for each bike, preload rigs, tubeless valves, brake pads, bleed kits, chainrings, grips, etc.” Citing “it’s always the little things that sabotage a trip.”
Erik Anthony Cho
SRAM neutral service mechanic, aeronautical engineer and someone who’s pretty handy with a camera, Cho has been putting together impressive travel toolsets for a number of years and has no doubt inspired many others in this list.
Cho owns a number of comprehensive custom kits, but this particular one is focussed on absolute minimalism for use within a neutral service car. This smaller kit offers great insight into exactly what tools are used most, and what you may consider stashing in your car.
The specific contents of this kit are: PB Swiss Rainbow Metric Hex 140th Anniversary, Sharpie Metallic Gold and Black, Bontrager 5nm Torqkey with PB Swiss 4mm bit, Clover Japan measuring Tape 10ft, Wera 454 T-Handle 5 x 100mm, Wera 454 T-Handle 2.5 x 100mm, Motorex Dry Power lube, Motorex Wet lube, Motorex 2000 grease, Witte MaxxPro PH2, Witte MaxxPro 5.5 flat, SRAM housing/cable cutter, SKS Tour 7 multi-tool, Wiha Industry Shears, Wiha 6″ Diagonal Cutters and a Pedro’s 13mm Cone Spanner. All stored in a B&W 1000 case with custom cut TrekPark and trimmed GridIt boards.
Here’s another setup extremely similar to that of John Hall’s. This one belongs to Tanner Kietzman, a Specialized demo fleet mechanic. If you’re after a pro setup, then it sure seems a Pelican case and Kaizen foam is an accessible way to make it happen. Patience in piecing together the puzzle of tools is the most important part, and clean edges are best achieved with a little bit of heat (such as a hot knife). Just be sure to set aside a small fortune to fill it with contents like this.
Which toolbox is your favourite? Have you got a setup to rival these? Share it in the comments below!