Tools and workshop New Tools Day #3: bearing impressed
A game-changing bearing press for home mechanics, plus new shiny goodness from RadLabs, Pinner Machine Shop, Lezyne, BSC, and more.
New Tools Day? Again?!
You bet! And in this third edition, I have a detailed first look at an exciting new modular bearing press system for home mechanics from a young brand, Alt Alt. The system is so good I have little doubt that many shops will be keen on it, too.
In addition, there are new tools to share from small labels such as Pinner Machine Shop, BSC, and Radar Laboratories. There are also a few from better-known names, such as Abbey Bike Tools, Lezyne, and SRAM.
And as always, even if you’re not in the market for new tools, you’ll probably find a few useful tidbits sprinkled in here and there.
I do enjoy a good hex key holder. And it doesn’t get much better than a good hex key holder that’s free. Radar Laboratories (makers of the LoobToob grease syringes) recently released the 3D print files for its new cleat-style modular tool holder. The wall-based holder is printed in multiple pieces, including a slotted base plate and a series of tool-holding cleats in whatever tool sizes you desire. The base plate is screwed to the wall, with the cleats then covering up the screw heads. Note the cleats with tool identifiers already present. Stashed within this 3D printed tool holder are a variety of hex keys that I often use for common tasks. These little cross-handle drivers (PB 1206 80) from PB Swiss recently went through a handle shape revision. They’re a useful and comfortable size. Pictured is the newer (squarer) handle shape against the original cross-handle (seen on the right). The new versions offer a more comfortable feel at higher torques. PB Swiss hex drivers remain my top pick for their balance of durability, ergonomics, fastener fitment, and tactile feel. Lezyne’s Pocket Torque Drive (US$65) is now a year old and sits within a somewhat underrated category of tools. That category is pocket-friendly torque wrenches that can be taken on a ride, or easily shoved into a gear bag for those occasional pre-ride adjustments. The Pocket Torque Drive features an adjustable 2-6 Nm torque range (.5 Nm adjustment increment) that is driven with a removable T-handle. What I like most is that the torque mechanism is a click-style with a clutch feature that prevents accidental over-tightening. This style of tool is perhaps all the torque wrench a casual home user needs. It’s early days, but I am working on a comparative review of this tool category. The kit includes a plastic wrench for the sole task of adjusting the torque setting. It is possible to adjust the torque by hand, but it can be a little uncomfortable to do so. Early impressions are fairly positive, but there’s still plenty more testing to be done. It’s also worth noting that the Pocket Torque Drive isn’t a good replacement for a multi-tool due to its general shape and loosening/tightening limitations. I consider this more of a travel-sized torque tool. Bearing tools are somewhat of an enigma of the cycling tool world. There are many similar-looking options available, but there’s very little information over what they can do, and more importantly, what they can’t do. Additionally, it’s pretty normal for a shop to need multiple different sets of bearing removal and installation tools to best cover the broad spectrum of products out in the market. And that’s why I’m so excited by what the small Canadian brand Alt Alt is doing in the space. This is Alt Alt’s new Hub and Suspension Bearing Kit, a comprehensive and modular tool kit designed for home mechanics to remove and install cartridge bearings from a huge array of bicycle components. And dare I say, it’s more versatile than many professional tools available. Alt Alt started off by offering a sensible tool kit for home mechanics looking to swap bearings on full suspension frames. As shown here, the new HSBP-1 (Hub and Suspension Bearing Press) expands on the original idea to now work with hub bearings. Some of the items pictured are optional add-ons to the CAD$195 (approx US$145) kit price. Made in Canada, Alt Alt provide a huge number of pieces for the price. The pricing is kept affordable through making many of the bearing drifts and receiver-cups out of acetal, an engineering-grade plastic that happens to be plenty strong and non-marring. Further savings are achieved by not stamping or labelling the sizes on those tools, and so rather it’s up to the user to simply match the correct size drifts/guides with the bearings and task in question. And while that sounds complicated, Alt Alt has clearly put a huge amount of work into creating some of the best instructional guides I’ve ever seen. Some of the pieces are simple, others are not. For example, this oddly shaped item is designed to be a receiver cup when pulling bearings out of the hub or freehub body. Alt Alt have even overcome the dreaded slow winding of press handles along the threaded rod. The included ‘Stud Stop’ is a simple half-threaded nut that simply slides along the threaded rod and then tightens into place. You’ll find the same concept used by the likes of Wolf Tooth and Abbey Bike Tools on some of their tools, too. Another optional extra is the press handle (CAD$28). In the words of Alt Alt, “it’s not necessary, but pretty sweet.” Alt Alt’s included press is nothing too fancy and is actually just a length of good quality M8 threaded rod. In addition to the Stud Stop, the kit includes two basic threaded nuts to use in place of the optional press handle. This simple DIY-like design has the added benefit of easily slipping into the tightest of spots within tricky full suspension frames. Using such a common thread size also means users can easily source spares without having to go through Alt Alt. The kit comes in a storage box that keeps things organised as long as you don’t tip it. The provided foam organiser is really begging to sit in a toolbox drawer. Alternatively, Alt Alt suggest that you can glue the foam onto a sheet of wood for a stable and moveable bearing system. See these cylinders of varying sizes? They’re bearing guides, designed to sit within the inner race of the bearing and keep the tool square and wiggle-free in use. The outcome is a bearing that stays straight and doesn’t put up a fight. This is one feature that’s missing from the vast majority of professional-grade tools and offers a noticeable improvement. But wait, there’s more. Alt Alt also offers Over Axle Drifts, specifically designed for hubs that have axles protruding past the bearing (such as DT Swiss). The company offers them in pairs of single sizes for CAD$12, which gets you one long and one short. Or you can get the whole lot as shown for CAD$125 (approx US$92). The Over Axle drifts feature a flat face on one side, while a relief on the other side is for hubs that have raised sections of the axle protruding past the bearing (Zipp hubs come to mind with this). I’m a little obsessed with bearing tools. And as a result, I have plenty of experience with the top professional-grade options. The Alt Alt lacks a moving bearing or bushing like many of its more premium counterparts, but I still found it a breeze to use. My preference for bearing presses is increasingly leaning toward the tools that offer some form of quick release nut that saves you from having to tighten and loosen a handle along the full length of the threaded rod. Of those shown, the Wheels Manufacturing, CeramicSpeed (black one), and Alt-Alt offer such a feature. The complete ensemble. Oh wait, I haven’t even touched on those anodised tools sitting in the left hand corner… … this is ALT Drift Kit (CAD$85), a tool that’s somewhat still in beta testing but has proven incredibly useful. It’s effectively an eccentric bearing puller designed specifically for removing the first bearing in situations where a spacer tube sits in the way (such as with many freehub body bearings, front hub, and some full suspension frames). The ALT Drift only works when the bearing spacer tube can be moved off to the side by a millimeter or so. From here, the tool slips into the bearing, and the offset (eccentric) shaping allows it to sit off-centre with the moved spacer tube. If none of this makes sense, I have a somewhat shaky explainer video on my Instagram. From there you gather an appropriately sized bearing guide and a puller cup. The Stud Stop goes onto the rod and then you tighten the 6 mm hex bolt from the back. A few turns of your hex key later and that first bearing is smoothly removed. It sounds complicated, but after a few goes I’m now able to grab all the needed parts and pull the bearing in less than a minute. Why not just use a pin punch and hammer? Wherever possible my preference is to use tools that keep the bearing as perpendicular to the bearing bore as possible – doing so ensures you don’t ovalize or similarly damage the often-soft aluminium bore. Perhaps a better picture of how the ALT Drift works. The tool winds itself around the bearing as it is tightened, and in turn, pulls the bearing out. The modular nature of this kit means there are fewer rules over how to tackle any one specific task. And the result of that is you have tools to cover an incredibly wide spectrum of different bearing sizes and components. I even think this toolset would be useful as a supplementary kit for those already with a nicer bearing press. Alt Alt is also currently working on an aluminium version of its tool kit that’s intended for heavy shop use. BSCTools is a British company that was born through Covid, and the company has become known for its Press-Fit bottom bracket puller or spoke nipple insertion tools. One of their more recent additions is this Chain Tool (£58, or approx US$73). This professional-grade tool combines a solid steel body, stainless steel handles, and a machined aluminium base. It’s designed to fit all modern chains currently on the market, even track-sized 1/8″ models. The brightly anodised handle doubles as storage for a spare pin and a Campagnolo peening insert. The latest 12 and 13-speed chains fit without issue. And the tool offers an impressively smooth and light action in use. That aluminium handle can be removed to double as a screwdriver handle for any common 1/4in hex bit. A small 2 mm hex grub screw keeps the two pieces connected. Personally I find this a bit of a faff to do and would much rather keep the tool as a dedicated chain tool, but each to their own. Yep, the handle fits the company’s own great nipple insertion tools. And you thought I only had a problem with bearing presses? I really have a problem with chain breakers! All the professional-grade tools pictured here have their own highs and lows, but despite being one of the cheapest options in the pictured mix, the BSC holds its own well. It also happens to be one of the only tools shown that works with every modern type of chain. As for my favourite of the mix? Well, perhaps I’ll share that another day. From the days of the Avid Juicy, SRAM’s hydraulic brakes have used DOT brake fluid. And while SRAM continues to suggest the automotive-standard fluid is best for performance brakes, they have started to admit that the non-hygroscopic nature of mineral oil is better for bikes that are likely to see neglect or long periods without use. And with that, SRAM released the DB8 mineral oil brake last year. And with a new brake comes a new Pro Mineral Oil bleed kit. It’s critical not to contaminate between DOT and mineral oil systems. SRAM has provided clear labelling on its bleed tools and different colour seals for the mineral oil kits. The threaded fittings are different, too, with regular SRAM (DOT) brakes using M5 x 0.8 mm, while SRAM’s mineral brakes use M4 x 0.7 mm. It’s worth noting that SRAM’s new mineral oil bleed kit is effectively a rebranded version of Jagwire’s Elite bleed kit. Also, the M4 x 0.7 mm fittings are the same as Campagnolo disc brakes. Add in other compatible kits from the likes of Park Tool, BleedKit.com, Epic Bleed Solutions, and many others, and you have a wide array of options for bleeding these new SRAM mineral oil brakes. Abbey Bike Tools released a few new tools at this year’s Sea Otter Classic, one of which was the PreHAG (patent pending). This US$20 tool simply acts as a reference point for seeing whether a derailleur hanger and/or derailleur cage is straight without having to remove the derailleur and attach a hanger tool. The PreHAG simple slips onto the big cog of the cassette. From there you have an easy visual reference for whether the derailleur is parallel to it. It works well, but it’s important to note that it won’t be useful for all derailleur systems. Some derailleurs, such as SRAM’s new Eagle Transmission, are purposely set at an angle. Abbey Bike Tools is another company to now offer free 3D print files. The files on offer are wall/peg board mounts for some of its more popular tools, such as this holder for the HAG hanger tool. And here’s another one flying the flag for Canada. It’s an exquisitely machined brake bleed from Whistler-based Pinner Machine Shop. Shimano recommends the use of a bleed cup for bleeding its newer brakes, and they offer a couple of different plastic versions for the task. Those plastic cups have their advantages, but the plastic threads don’t fare well in heavy use. By contrast, Pinner’s Bleed Cup (CAD$75) is designed to overcome such wear. Pinner’s Bleed Cup offers a common M5 x 0.8 thread in its stock format, the native size for Shimano MTB, SRAM, and a handful of other brakes. The company then offers various different brass adapters (CAD$14 each) to fit other types of brake systems, such as the M7 x 0.75 thread adapter shown here for Shimano Road. The piece on the left is the funnel stopper, aka, the plug. It’s worth noting that Pinner isn’t the only maker of a metal bleed cup. Hope has long produced a cup for its own brakes, which just so happens to have the same thread size as Shimano MTB brakes. Hope’s bleed cup is less expensive, however I prefer the deeper cup shape of the Pinner. The Pinner cup is a fair bit taller, which I feel makes it less likely to spill fluid when tilted. There’s no denying the price is immense, but it’s also hard to argue with the quality of this one. However, the impressive quality doesn’t overcome some obvious limitations. Firstly, the cup doesn’t provide a stand to stop you spilling fluid across your workbench. I quickly 3D printed such a thing, while I’ve learned that the head mechanic of Yeti/ Fox Factory Race Team, Shaun Hughes, got creative with machining down an old Shimano Hollowtech bottom bracket cup to make a matching stand for his. Further issue is the lack of an anti-spill lip, something I’ve come to really like with Shimano’s latest bleed cups – especially when bleeding the road brakes which requires a fair bit of tilting. Plastic cups also have the advantage of being translucent, so you can avoid flowing over the cup or running out of fluid while you’re standing back with the rear caliper. And lastly, a metal bleed come is superior in durability, but it also opens the door to damaging the thread of a lever assembly. This isn’t such an issue on mountain bike levers, but I do worry that the more delicate material used on road levers plus sometimes have a folded rubber hood fighting you could lead to issues. Whether you see a metal bleed cup as a game-changer or a waste is of course up to you. I’m still on the fence of this one. A plastic cup still has some benefits over a metal one. I know some mechanics swear by using a syringe at the lever for Shimano brakes. Personally, I prefer the free-flowing nature of a bleed cup. I think my future may involve Pinner’s bleed cup for mountain bike levers, and then having Pinner’s M7 brass adapter attached to a plastic cup for Shimano road levers. Got a question? Join Escape Collective to show your support for member-funded independent content like this and to be part of the conversation. At Escape Collective we want to support those literally turning the cogs in our industry. If you are a professional bike mechanic please fill in this form for a special industry rate. What did you think of this story?
😐Meh 😊️Solid 🤩Excellent