It started millions of years ago when our ancestor first used a stick to prise the remnants of dinner from her teeth. For cyclists it starts at the moment we make our first adjustment to a bicycle.
As a young beginner cyclist I remember watching in wonder as my uncle Jack wielded his tools to make a pile of scrap into a rideable bike for me. I got proficient at mending punctures and tightening the seat clamp every ten miles and I never looked back. Being self sufficient, having the ability to get myself home after a mechanical breakdown became a big part of the enjoyment I derived from cycling. Later I became a cycle retailer and for a while the workshop manager of a busy London shop. And when I started it was with the same sense of wonder that I watched the experienced mechanics use the pro tools – treating the boxed Campagnolo frame finishing tools with the sort of reverence and respect usually reserved for religious relics.
The line between on-the-road tools, the ones you take along for roadside repairs, and workshop tools is sometimes a blurred one. The most useful tool of all time – for everything – is, for me, The Nest, a set of Allen keys which fold out of a moulded handle in the manner of a Swiss Army knife. I don’t know if they were the first but Cannondale made the first one I remember buying. Soon others followed with similar products. It helped that the cycle industry introduced decent universal fastenings. For the road you pack the tools you’re most likely to require. And this brings us to the issue that keeps the weight weenies awake at night. You can’t pack every tool that you’re ever likely to need, your bike would weigh a ton, so you choose which tools to bring according to the results of a complex equation which takes in to account: tool weight, tool multi-functionality, the likelyhood of mechanical failure, the length of the ride and your confidence in your bike’s mechanical integrity.
This is my (now retired) weight weenie tool kit: 2.5, 4, 5, 6mm Allen keys, Phillips head driver (Topeak Mini6), chain rivet extractor (Finishline Chainpup with the handle filed off), patches (glueless Park Tools patches) and tyre lever (Lezyne). I’ve had it a very long time and I’ve never had to use it, because my bikes never break down! Modern tyres don’t go flat and I’ve never broken a chain. These days, for everyday adjustments I carry a Park Tools Allen key nest in my bag. Simple.
Lots of companies have spent an awful lot of time and effort to give us road-side bicycle tools we want to buy. US company CoolTool were amongst the first to realise that there was a vast market for lightweight, combination tools. Topeak have gone on to dominate the market.
And in to this environment comes Full Windsor, a London England based company who started out making a rather nifty clip-on bicycle mudguard. This is one of those tools that bike nerds pick up and coo over. It’s a lovely thing, very tactile. It’s essentially a steel ring spanner and the tip of its handle has been formed to make a tyre lever (and plastic coated to protect the surface of alu rims). It comes in a fancy carrying case made of leather and recycled inner tubes. It feels good in the hand and it has a some nice angles which indicate that it’s been designed with a great deal of thought and consideration. It’s the perfect tool for the single-speed/fixed-wheel riders out there. As a simple spanner which doubles up as a tyre lever it does a fantastic job. But … I wish it stopped there, because then there’s a square cut-out in the side of it which is intended to function as a spoke wrench. It doesn’t. And the pouch is full of little compartments, each of which contains a different hex driver bit, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8mm plus a couple of screw driver heads and a driver extension. These are intended to be used with a hex socket in the side of the handle. And if you like you can rest them in couple of little magnetised nesting positions inside the handle. I don’t know why you would. You have to ask; is this tool better than a generic spanner with an Allen key set and plastic tyre lever? It looks nice enough but there’s no real functional advantage. And as a cyclist, as a bike mechanic, and as a tool geek that irks me a bit. It’s all a bit fussy.
I admire Full Windsor for getting out there and doing it. It’s not easy to start up a new business in a saturated market and during a global economic turndown. And good luck to them. I suspect that they’ll sell a lot of these things. But. And it might be just me, I suspect that most of them will end up on the bench or in the toolbox at home. A good tool, but not one that I’d take on the road.