Toolbox perfection? A look at Abbey Bike Tools’ new tool kit
When it comes to working on modern bikes, what tools should go in a good cycling tool kit? Abbey Bike Tools’ new kit provides some valuable insight on that very question.
Abbey Bike Tools is commonly regarded as one of the best makers of premium cycling tools, and you’ll be hard-pressed to attend a professional road, ‘cross, or mountain bike race and not find an Abbey tool hidden in the box of each mechanic.
The maker of those green tools is now offering its own pre-made tool kit. However, unlike many cycling tool brands, Abbey doesn’t make, or rebrand, everyday hand tools that are needed for fixing bikes. Instead, the Oregon-based company focusses on making cycling-specific tools and believes the best general-use hand tools come from the companies that specialise in making those tools for use across many major professional service industries.
Abbey’s approach is to pick what it simply feels are the best tools for each use, and that approach provides an opportunity to see what are commonly regarded as the benchmark tools for working on bikes. The tools of the meticulous pros, if you will.
ToolboxWars was effectively a joke that started on Instagram and has since become a hotly contested battle amongst mechanics. The inaugural toolbox wars occurred almost a year ago, and led to a significant spike in interest for perfectly selected and organised tool kits.
Abbey Bike Tools’ new tool kit is effectively an off-the-shelf version that looks much like many of the finalists from ToolboxWars. It’s missing a few tools (and keeps space for them), but the framework is there.
The box is a military-grade Pelican Storm IM2200 case, a product made for the hardships of travel and one that can be thrown around without fear. Measuring at 41 x 32 x 17 cm, it’s fairly small as far as cases like these go, but you also don’t require a tonne of tools if you’re only working on specific bikes. Rather cool is the subtle engraving, and a custom engraved name tag will be provided with each box, too.
Inside you’ll find layers of Kaizen foam, CNC-cut to perfectly complement the included tools. That Kaizen foam is traditionally a layered foam designed for DIY tool tracing, something you typically cut with a box-cutter knife. However, having a CNC machine do the cutting surely leads to a cleaner, and in Abbey’s case, repeatable outcome.
Abbey, of course, includes many of its own tools. The ubiquitous Crombie cassette tool and matched chain whip are there. The relatively new Decade chain breaker (my favourite chain tool) is in the mix. As is the HAG derailleur hanger tool (another favourite of mine).
Abbey then includes its chain wash buddy tool, a couple of 4-Way multitools, a disc rotor tool, a Shimano crank preload cap tool and the BBQ pedal wrench. And that’s where the Abbey Tools end and the more interesting aspect of this article begins.
Jason Quade is the founder of Abbey Bike Tools, a former Aerospace welder turned pro cycling race mechanic turned tool maker. He’s also been the one to handpick each and every tool in this kit.
Pro hand tools
“When you look around at the professionals, they’re using tools from other reputable manufacturers,” Quade told CyclingTips. “There wasn’t much need to go to a manufacturer and white label our own tools. Rather we wanted to give credit where it’s due, and there’s no downside in sourcing this stuff from other people.”
For example, the box features a number of pliers from German specialist Knipex. From needle pliers, to side/flush cutters (great for neatly trimming zip ties) and “wire rope cutters” (for cables), Knipex is often regarded as the benchmark in the space. The company’s Pliers wrench is a common sight amongst all the boxes in ToolboxWars and replaces an entire set of spanners while being useful as a portable vice and press.
Another German company, Wera, is used for the hex keys, Torx keys and screwdrivers. The company’s hex keys offer a patented “HexPlus” design which aims to improve the surface area of the hex key and hex head interface – which in theory leads to less rounding out of bolts. The kit actually only includes two screwdrivers (Phillips #2 and 1mm flat blade), while the other two screwdriver-looking tools are 2 and 3mm hex keys. “We spec their ball-end Torx, which is similar to the ball end you find on hex keys — [it’s] super awesome when used appropriately,” said Quade. “It has enough engagement to do limit screws, but they’re great for all the fun places you see Torx pop up.
“We wanted to include a few other things that come in handy or are necessary. Scissors, flashlight, and tape measure are examples of this. The scissors are from American brand Klein – they’re short and really stiff, so they’re great for cutting thick and heavier plastic race numbers, while still being fine for all other tasks. They’re also relatively affordable.”
“The tape measure is from Starrett, a company known for its measurement tools. It does inches and centimetres. They have a nice snappy spring to them; it’s what we’ve used in the workshop for years. It’s a pretty simple thing, and it won’t break the bank.”
All up the tool kit offers the tools needed for the majority of repairs on modern bikes. However, Abbey has left space for additional tools. “Most other tool kits don’t leave room to grow,” said Quade. “We know we don’t make everything, and so there are holes when it comes to things like bleed kits, maintenance products, etc. There’s an 1 1/2in layer at the bottom which is almost empty.”
And that empty space is sure to come in handy. A torque wrench is almost a must-have tool in working on modern bikes, while bottom bracket tools to suit your bike(s) are likely to be needed, too. And then there’s the small stuff, such as a pick for seals, and a chain wear checking tool.
Building your own box
With a price tag of US$1,350, Abbey Bike Tools’ Team Issue tool kit surely won’t be for everyone. However, Quade does have some advice for those looking to build their own.
“The reality of pre-made tool kits is that not everybody has the budget to buy all the tools in one sitting,” admits Quade of a fact that applies to his latest product, too. However, like me, Quade is clearly a proponent of buying quality tools that you’ll have for life. “Buy once, cry once,” jokes Quade of the motto he lives by.
“There’s so much inspiration out there as a result of the ToolboxWars,” Quade said. “The great thing about it is that everybody’s is so different. Back when I was doing race mechanics, one thing I would do when I go to team camp is start with all my tools in a cardboard box. And when I was assembling the bikes for the season, if I used a tool, I would put it into my tool case. And by the end of the bike build session, I would have all the tools I would actually need.”
The foam used in Abbey’s case is something that you’ll find in almost every aviation toolbox. In that industry, it’s used for identification and to ensure a tool hasn’t been dangerously left behind in an engine bay or similar. However, for cycling toolboxes, it’s as much about the aesthetic as it is about function. And Quade admits it’s not for everyone.
“The foam is a little daunting,” he said. “And people can struggle with the layout — where to put what and what tools to use. The foam is great for a lot of reasons, but it may not be the best way to build your first toolbox. Maybe put off the foam project until you know exactly what tools you want to use”.
Of course, owning premium tools and having them neatly organised will only appeal to a select few. But for those that find joy in visiting the tool section of their local hardware store, working on their bike, and knowing exactly where that 5mm hex key is, then a box similar to what Abbey is selling has plenty to offer.