How not to set up a home workshop

You don't have to be good at fixing bikes ... or at least that's what I keep telling myself.

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 19.06.2024 Photography by
Matt de Neef
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Some people love tinkering with bikes. They love the process of building, rebuilding, cleaning, and repairing. They’ll happily spend long hours in their well-equipped home workshop, battling to seat a stubborn tubeless tire or replace a tricky section of internal cabling. They might even spend vast sums acquiring all the tools they need (and more) to fix any problem they might conceivably run into.

Put every cyclist’s wrenching ability on a spectrum and these people would be right down one end. Among them would be my brilliant colleague Dave Rome, a man known the bike world over for his technical knowledge and skills, and also for his tool obsession. Joining him would be many of our wonderful members, judging by the #projects-and-makers channel on the Escape Discord server.

Me, on the other hand; you’ll find me way down the other end of the spectrum, right at home amongst the luddites and the lazy. Where Dave is a poster child of the “this is how to fix it” mentality, I like to think of myself more as a champion of the “let the experts at your local bike shop handle it” approach.

Sure, I could watch some YouTube videos and learn how to complete some maintenance task. In all likelihood, though, I’ll do a terrible job, get annoyed at how badly I’ve done it, then take my bike to the LBS anyway. Why not save time, energy, and frustration, and just head straight there to begin with?

Two boxes of random bike stuff, in amongst a slew of other random items.

If you’re like Dave, with all the tools, the know-how, and the can-do attitude, I salute you. I’ve no doubt there’s great satisfaction in being good at wrenching. But if you’re a little more like me, well, I think that’s fine too. That’s one of the many great things about bikes: whether you enjoy riding them, fixing them, or both, all of us can appreciate bikes in our own way.

Me personally, I enjoy riding, putting my bike away, then doing the bare minimum of maintenance needed to ensure I can do the same again next time. And as you’re about to see, my “home workshop” very much reflects that approach.

Think of this as my answer to Dave’s fantastic Threaded newsletter – a chance to highlight some tools that aren’t so new and shiny, and a way to acknowledge those of us that maybe aren’t quite so good at fixing bikes.

A word of warning before we begin: if you’re from the Romeian school of neatness, thoroughness, and, dare I say, obsessiveness, the following might be a little upsetting.


Forget the spacious double garage, replete with vast workbenches, neatly organised tool walls, and all manner of bike-specific gadgets, each in their own place. My workshop is maybe half of a single garage that’s largely filled with packing boxes and other odds and ends, with a trio of bikes smooshed together haphazardly against one wall.

I don’t own a workstand – hanging a bike from a Hills Hoist by its saddle is the closest I’ve come – and my “collection” of “tools” exists almost entirely inside a single plastic container, crammed into a shelf filled with camping gear, garden equipment, and who knows what else.

The pink leopard-print rag, haphazardly tossed over my handlebars, really paints a picture of what we’re working with here. See that clear container top left? That’s where we’re headed now.

It’s when you pull my “toolbox” off the shelf and peer inside that the true horror of the situation presents itself. If there’s a more random, more depressing, and less useful collection of items in a cyclist’s toolbox anywhere, I’d love to see it.

Tossed mindlessly together are all manner of old parts and tools that speak to a troubled, off-again-on-again relationship with wrenching. Some of the tools still serve a function. Other items are in there for reasons that still aren’t clear to me.

Let’s break it down.

I’m not proud of what you’ve seen today. I’m also preparing myself for an absolute bollocking in the comments below (or from Dave via Slack). And yet, this whole process has been strangely therapeutic. There’s a confessional power in laying it all out like this, letting the whole world witness my shame.

Would I love to be better at fixing bikes? Yep, sure. Do I think I could save money if I was? Probably. Do I want to invest the time it would take to develop those skills? I do not.

And ultimately, that’s what it comes down to for me: I am not good at wrenching because learning those skills has never really been a priority. I’d rather pay someone to fix any issues I might have, and spend my time on stuff that I truly enjoy. And you know what? I reckon that’s OK.

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