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Removing a cassette from a wheel isn’t a difficult task, but it does require two specialist tools. First, you need a tool to undo the locking, and then you need a tool to stop the cassette from freewheeling backward. Most commonly that second tool is a chain whip, effectively a piece of bicycle chain mounted on a bar for leverage.
The traditional chain whip still works well and many mechanics still swear by it. However there are now a number of alternatives that seek to lock onto the cassette and in turn, reduce the risk of the dreaded (and potentially painful) chain slip. Pedro’s Vise Whip was arguably the first great option.
An old design updated
The original Pedro’s Vise Whip was the genius of frame builder and bicycle repair author Lennard Zinn. The goal of the tool was pretty simple: create a chain whip substitute that locked onto a cassette cog with zero chance of it slipping off. And that’s exactly what the Vise Whip – effectively a modified Vise-Grip plier – achieved.
The Vise Whip offered the same adjustable locking design as a utility Vise-Grip plier, but had a unique rounded jaw design with small steel pins that interfaced with the cog teeth. So simple in hindsight, and extremely effective. Over the years the tool has developed a cult-level status amongst many experienced mechanics. Within the CyclingTips team, it remains James Huang’s go-to nearly 11 years after he reviewed the thing.
Personally, I had used the original Vise Whip working in shops but never fully took to it. I found it was perfect when set up for a certain-sized cog, or even better for a 13T cog (which most cassettes have), but you’d waste time the second that cog size changed. And that’s one of the key areas Pedro’s worked on with the new model – adding cog sizing markings to the adjustment thread for quick and easy setting of the tool.
Despite its age, that original model worked perfectly fine on all the latest 10, 11 and even 12-speed cassettes. However, it was limited to only fitting 3/32T cogs (aka, multi-speed cassettes) and tooth counts between 10-23T. The new Vise Whip II offers a one-sided design that removes such compatibility woes, and it can now be closed down onto 9T cogs, too. From SRAM AXS 12-speed to e-bike sprockets, from Campagnolo Ekar 13-speed through to a 1/8″ track cog, the Vise Whip II will handle it. The new one-sided design also provides a viewing window to see how the tool is placed on the cog teeth, too.
“Additionally, not only was narrow cassette compatibility increased but the one-side jaw also further expanded compatibility to thicker cogs and e-bike chainrings as well,” explained Jay Seiter, head of product management and engineering at Pedro’s North America.
Pedro’s has also notably added a locking function to the tool, designed to work with 40-46 mm opposing notch lockings (such as those found on older bottom bracket designs and fixed-gear cogs).
What hasn’t changed is the effective (265 mm total) length, something that’s arguably on the short side when compared to many shop-level chain whips. I’m of the opinion that more leverage is typically better for tools designed for removing things, however, others suggest that the design of this tool deserves a pass. Carl Presseault, a mechanic in Quebec Canada, suggests the leverage isn’t an issue given you can literally stand on this tool or wedge it under something heavy without risk of it slipping. It’s a fair point, and Seiter admits that he did consider increasing the length in the redesign, but decided it wasn’t needed.
The new Vise Whip II weighs in at a solid 498 g, just 10 grams less than the old. Best of all, the price is unchanged at US$65. That’s likely beyond the budget for occasional home users, but it’s a competitive price for a shop-quality tool with a difference.
Ok, so the original Pedro’s Vise Whip has a cult following for a reason, but what else is out there?
Park Tool released its Chain Whip Pliers in 2015 which sought to provide quick and adjustment-free clamping onto any cog size. I actually like these pliers, but they don’t physically lock onto the cassette and so the hold is only as good as your hand grip. That’s fine for 99% of cassettes, but occasionally I’ll come across a stuck cassette that has me reaching for a long, traditional chain whip. Also, these pliers are the most cumbersome and space-consuming option on the market.
More recently Feedback Sports joined the party with a slip-joint cassette plier that’s specifically designed as a chain whip replacement. This is a pretty clever tool, but it too relies on the tightness of your grip and is perhaps a little on the short side for undoing over-tightened cassettes. Still, it’s a well-priced and compact option that is certainly worth considering for home use.
Moving away from the plier-style tools and you have the pin-style. J.A Stein, Pedro’s and Unior each offer such tools that merely feature fixed pins that interface with the smallest cassette cogs. Many mechanics love these simple tools, however, occasionally you’ll find a cog tooth count that won’t work. I also prefer a tool that grasps onto the cog teeth in some way, not merely relying on your ability to hold the tool perfectly in plane. And finally, my preferred Abbey Bike Tools Crombie cassette tool interfaces with the handles on this style of tool, and I’m pretty loyal to the Crombie these days.
And of course there’s also a myriad of more traditional chain whips on the market. These remain the best option for those on a strict budget, and also the best option if you’re looking to build a portable tool kit. They’re also something you can quite possibly make yourself. There’s not much to these tools, but look for one that offers a suitably narrow chain for your cassette, that has strong connection points for the mounted chain, and ensure there’s enough leverage (tool length) to deal with overly tight cassettes.
Whatever you choose, just remember to whip it, whip it good.