I bought a cheap tool and braced for Dave Rome’s rage

The risks and rewards of budget gear, feat. the ZTTO HAG-5 and a fussy colleague.

Iain Treloar
by Iain Treloar 23.11.2023 Photography by
Dave Rome
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Iain Treloar: Dave, hello. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me about something that has been on my conscience. 

Dave Rome: Oh no. It’s great to finally speak to you. After so long reading your stuff and finally, here we are. 

IT: Yeah well, cheers. Big fan, big fan.

DR: My dad’s going to be stoked that I got to speak with you. 

IT: Hi Frank! And likewise. I’m a huge fan of your assorted works, in which I’ve frequently heard you banging on about derailleur hanger alignment tools. Often very expensive ones. Which has ushered me into a kind of internal conflict – because I want the pretty things like Dave Rome has, but I’m simultaneously a chronic tightarse. So I have a confession. What has happened here is that I have bought the cheapest derailleur hanger alignment tool that I could find on AliExpress, for the princely sum of $30 AUD including shipping … 

DR: Was it actually the cheapest?

IT: Yeah, I think so. Well, the cheapest one that looked like it was maybe semi-decent.

DR: Well, that’s different to buying the cheapest.

IT: Eh, I figured that I’d row the boat out a little bit of the way without going full-blown tool nerd with, like, Abbey Tools. 

DR: Yet you didn’t ask for my opinion on this. That’s very hurtful….

IT: Uh, can I back you up a little bit there? Because I considered asking not just for your opinion, but actually just blatantly approaching you and saying ‘Dave, I want a derailleur hanger tool. Give me one of yours.’ But I thought that even for a tightarse like myself that was a little bit much when I could get one from AliExpress for like 30 bucks.

DR: Fair. I guess my first question is – did you read my best derailleur hanger tool shootout from The Old Place? 

IT: Well, unfortunately I don’t have a login that works at The Old Place, Dave. So I couldn’t have even if I wanted to. 

DR: Yeah, but if you’d asked, I could have sent you a PDF of the shootout.

IT: I wouldn’t want to take a single hard-earned banner advertising dollar out of our old friends’ pockets, David. 

DR: [exasperated] Sure. And I would say, if you’d read that piece, you would have found that I had included a ZTTO tool from AliExpress within that shootout. 

IT: Well, that is the one that I have.

DR: Yeah, but it’s not the exact one that you have. It was the older model of it. 

Dave’s ZTTO HAG-3 (top) alongside a ZTTO HAG-5.

IT: Ah, OK. I’ve got the HAG-5. 

DR: Yeah, I think it was the Three that I reviewed. And it did quite well. It wasn’t perfect. But it actually didn’t do as poorly as some other big brand options.

IT: Okay. Well, that’s good. I mean – to the hand, to the eye, it’s pleasing. [flopping it around in the Google Meet video] I got this at about nine o’clock last night. I was in the back garden getting eaten by mosquitoes whilst putting a trampoline together, hating life, and then I felt the buzz in my pocket of a notification, checked my phone, and it said that Fast Horse Express  – which is itself not something I’d ever heard of – had delivered my parcel into the neighbour’s front garden. So I skulked down and opened their gate and found it, just lying on the ground there. And here we are. 

DR: It just galloped its way over to you there. 

IT: It did. I’d like to show you the postal email, if I could, because it’s just the shittiest postal notification I’ve ever seen. [holding up phone to computer camera]

Screenshot of an email to Iain, very crude in its format with very squished font and a non-aesthetically pleasing photo of a delivered parcel down the bottom.
Aesthetically, I have no notes.

Alright – so there in this blue band [points at narrow strip of blue with extremely squished white font across it] … yeah, that says Fast Horse. But it’s like squished down into the narrowest possible band. This picture –

DR: Is that a picture of your neighbour’s property? 

IT: That is a patch of their front garden at night. 

DR: In the grand scheme of things that’s pretty close.

IT: It is, Dave, but crucially, not close enough for Fast Horse to actually say they have delivered it to me

DR: How was the packaging quality?

The ZTTO HAG-5 arrives in a black cardboard box, with a mix of Chinese and English characters.
What is known in the industry as ‘a leading question’ from Dave, but truthfully, he has higher standards than I do. I particularly like, for example, the increasing urgency of font-size for colours.

IT: I guess it was just sort of flopping about in a box in a plastic bag in the dirt over a fence. I’ve taken it out of the box and sort of figured out how to put it together, and … I don’t hate it? I don’t hate how it looks. I don’t know how it works. 

DR: You don’t know how a derailleur hanger tool works, or you don’t know how this one works? 

IT: Well, I guess I’m not an appreciator of the form as a whole. I understand the problem and what it is trying to fix, but the function … that is something that I might contact you about.

DR: So what would you like? Would you like my opinion of this? 

IT: Well, hang on. I’d like two things from this conversation. Firstly, your, uh, philosophy on cheap tools that have been bought through means such as AliExpress. Can I get a brief synopsis of that from you? 

DR: So I would say ZTTO today is increasingly a legitimate brand that you can trust. They have a huge product range, and generally speaking they will consistently sell you what they claim to sell you.

IT: Huge win.

DR: And generally speaking they’re not blatant copies. They’re approximate copies of products. 

IT: [pointing] Is this maybe a copy of a Silca logo? 

A black derailleur hanger alignment gauge end, with a vaguely-S-like logo.
The derailleur-end of the ZTTO HAG-5. (Photo: Dave Rome)

DR: A little bit. 

IT: Silca-adjacent. 

DR: Yeah, but they haven’t copied every design element. That derailleur hanger tool there is actually unique to them.

IT: A ZTTO Original! 

DR: Whereas some other tools on AliExpress are blatant Park Tool copies, where you can’t tell them apart. And the ZTTO model I tested previously was a relatively blatant copy of the Abbey that I so dearly love, but with features that made it worse.

IT: Well, that’s what you want. And what might I expect if I had actually bought a better grade of tool?

DR: That’s where I’m most impressed. That particular one that you have in your hands is, uh, in all ways that you want … actually, tell me. Does the silver part pivot? 

A picture of a silver rod that is secured with a grub screw.
The silver part in question. (Photo: Dave Rome)

IT: Hell yeah it does. 

DR: So in purely functional ways, more premium tools don’t actually offer anything noticeable that one doesn’t. Cheaper tools, historically, used to lack some tolerances. So where your left hand is …

IT: This one? 

DR: Yes, that left hand. That bolt goes into the derailleur hanger. On cheaper tools that would historically have a large amount of wiggle in it which would then translate at the opposing end of the tool to a lot of play that would impact your ability to get an accurate hanger alignment. But that one’s actually pretty solid in that regard. 

IT: How much does a good one cost? 

DR: So uh, an Abbey is in the $300 range. So you’ve paid 10% of the cost of an Abbey. A Park Tool in Australia is, I think, $120. That’s for the basic Park Tool. And I would argue that for casual use the ZTTO that you’ve got in your hands might even be nicer to use [ed: than the Park Tool DAG-2.2]. 

IT: And I will be using it casually. 

DR: So I guess my point with cheap tools is, not every cheap tool is great and sometimes it’s worth spending more on. But this time you got lucky. You’ve actually bought yourself a fantastic tool with very little money. 

IT: [barely contained delight] So I’ve done good?

DR: I think you’ve done good. My only worry with the cheap tool stuff is – that in theory is a precision tool, and it needs to be square. 

IT: I’d just like to briefly interject for the transcript to state that you’re a precision tool. Carry on. 

DR: Thank you. Anyway, it needs to be square and my sample was good in that regard, but it’s hard to know how consistent it is across batches and all that – like what sort of quality control they have in place. It’s difficult to get a gauge on that, ya know? Pun absolutely intended.

IT: Very good.

DR: For the casual home user that wants the cheapest derailleur hanger tool possible, the one you have got is not just fine, but actually even good. It’s so good that I’d question why you’d spend ten times the price for something that … the Abbey is better in every way, but not ten times better.

The ZTTO alongside a few rivals: the Abbey HAG (up top), the ZTTO HAG-3 second down, our budget hero in third from top, and a Park Tools DAG-2.2 at the bottom. (Photo: Dave Rome)

IT: Not that I am the kind of person that is entirely dependent on external validation, but … you’re not disappointed with me for my choices? 

DR: Not for your choices. No, no. I would have thought you’d have asked for my opinion, but no, not disappointed in your choices. No, you’ve done quite well. 

IT: Are you proud of me, Dave? 

DR: Yes, son. 

IT: Thanks, dad. Anything else that we need to talk about? 

DR: No, I would just say that you stole my thunder because on my to-do list was to review that exact tool.

IT: Would you mind if I just throw up our shitty little transcript? 

DR: Nah, that’s OK.

IT: Wow. This has turned out better than I could ever have imagined.

A postscript from Dave

Following our chat, I decided to do some further testing. I decided to provide some photos and notes to prove it was on my to-do list.

This derailleur hanger tool truly is quite impressive for the money (I paid AU$37 for mine a year ago, but careful searching shows up options for almost half that now). It doesn’t suffer from compatibility woes on modern thru-axle bikes that plague a number of other cheaper tool options. It can be tuned to be without free play for better accuracy. And a bonus point for the ability to lock the indicator rod while still having it pivot around frame tubes, fenders, or rack struts.

Sure, it’s not the smoothest thing in use – in fact, mine squeaks. Getting the most from it requires fiddling with the set screws in 1/8th increments. And I do have concerns related to the long-term durability of having the head bonded to the main tube on a tool designed to be used as a bending lever. I also think with enough use, you may end up grooving and eventually snapping the main aluminium bolt, but that’s probably more of a problem for professionals who should be spending more on tools.

Still, for the money it’s hard to truly fault it. If you want a budget hanger alignment tool, this is my pick. Still, it was nice to return to my Abbey, and that would remain my suggestion for anyone looking for an heirloom quality tool that also happens to fit in a portable toolbox.

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