Ask Nick: What’s in Nick’s toolbox?

Also, is water OK for your bike and Gore cables

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Editor’s Note: VeloNews tech editor Nick Legan is a former ProTour mechanic who most recently wrenched for Team RadioShack at the 2010 Tour de France and elsewhere. His column appears here every Thursday. You can submit questions to Nick at, and be sure to check out Nick’s previous columns.

Last August I purchased a Cervélo S2 with SRAM Red shifters, Red front/rear derailleur and Rotor 3D round crankset. The rear shifting of the bike is flawless but the front shifting, going from the little to the big ring, is very inconsistent; one time spot on and the next time it will struggle. From time to time I will have chain drop or chain suck. My LBS has re-cabled the front derailleur and tried to make some adjustments but nothing consistently improves the performance. Going from the big ring to the little ring doesn’t present any problems. We are at a loss of what to try next. I had suggested installing Gore sealed cables but my LBS has had problems with the Gore cables and SRAM shifters due to the cable routing and bends created. Any thoughts on what to look at next?
— Rusty Stapp

Respectfully, I disagree with your shop about using Gore cables. If properly installed, they improve virtually every shifting system and SRAM seems to benefit from them more than other manufacturers. That’s why they include them in aftermarket component sales and send them to every SRAM-sponsored pro team.

Cables that run freely will always make shifting more reliable. Once that’s done, shifting is a matter of limit screw settings, cable tension and component compatibility. If any of those are messed up, you’ll have problems.

Rotor’s round chainrings have always been a bit sluggish in my experience. I think Rotor’s ovalized rings shift better than its round ones. Consider a different big chainring.

SRAM’s Red titanium front derailleur has issues with cage flex. A steel version is supplied to most teams. A Force front derailleur could help.

Front shifting is actually much more of a mystery to many mechanics than rear shifting. Taking time and a systematic approach is key. If you’re not happy with your shop, consider trying another. Throwing up their hands in defeat is not an option.

I am just curious what tools you consider “must-haves” in your toolbox?

Do you have an interesting gadgets or other modified do-dads in your box
of tricks, and how do you get a hold of some of the goodies?  Finally
what do you look for in a toolbox to store your collection?
— Alex Lepert

Great question! Man, I do love tools. My toolbox is a mix of manufacturers and a collection of necessary items. Over the years, I’ve filtered out any tool that didn’t see use over the course of a season. Whenever sponsors changed, so too did my toolset. (No need to carry Campy tools if you work for a Shimano team.)

Lately I’ve been using Park’s 3-way Torx wrench. I’m also loving CDI’s preset torque keys (but that’s on the shop wall. I wouldn’t carry all three in my toolbox).

I’ve always loved Pedro’s Bicycle Cog Wrench (though it’s no longer on the Pedro’s website) And, while at Tour Down Under a few years ago I picked up a BBB Shimano cassette tool (the Lockout BTL-12A) that is always in my toolbox.

I always make sure to have a shaving cream brush in my toolbox. They’re cheap and super useful for cleaning tight areas. A good pick or dental tool is really handy when inspecting tires for cuts and debris.

I carry as few tools as possible, but I have four different 5mm Allen keys. One is a big T-handle, a second is Pedro’s T/L handle. Then I have a Bondhus set and lastly a Park 3-way wrench. Depending on the job, I’ll reach for a certain tool to keep my work as fast as possible. There’s no need to mess about.

I also carry a Swiss Army knife, given to me by a good mechanic friend after the Beijing Olympics. It’s come in very handy on many occasions (to cut a tomato for a sandwich, to open a bottle of wine, or to saw off something plastic). When I was full time on the road I also carried a spork in my toolbox. It’s horrible when you have delicious food in front of you but hesitate to eat it with your greasy hands.

I purchased most of what’s in my toolbox. Sometimes a generous tool manufacturer will sponsor a team or hand out some new prototypes to team mechanics. 3T gave me a very nice Mariposa torque wrench in 2009.

Basically, I’m always on the lookout for ways to make my work faster and my life easier. If I see a cool tool in another mechanic’s box, I’ll ask him or her about it.

I’ve used Pelican cases recently for my toolboxes. They are affordable and extremely robust. I use pallets from an old Pedro’s toolbox and glue in stops to keep the pallet in place. I use foam in the bottom of my box to separate tools. And I carry a smaller, see-through Pelican case for small parts in the bottom of my box.

Can you settle the dispute on bike washing? Our mechanics say under no circumstance spray with water. They say bikes will sustain severe damage to the pivots, bearings, etc… I say grab a hose, bucket of suds and brushes and scrub away. Who is right?
— Steve Ford

Wash those bikes! If water was so damaging you’d never consider riding in wet weather. What’s important to remember is that you should also dry and lube the bike immediately after washing it. Don’t overdo the degreaser or the water pressure and you’ll be fine.

Regular maintenance, whatever the routine, is likely to benefit you in the long run. You’ll pay closer attention to wear items and routine inspections will keep you safer. I find a lot of problems that were previously undiagnosed when I wash a bike. It’s literally a laying on of hands and a thorough look at what you’re riding.

So, I guess you’re “right” on this one. But remember that most of life is debatable. No need to convert anyone. Do it your way and enjoy taking care of your bike.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.