Tech Tips & Articles

Ten Of My Favorite Bicycle Tools

You get attached to bicycle tools after awhile. Take my Schwinn Approved combination wrenches.
I purchased this set of 10 metric wrenches in 1973 at my second bike shop job, using the bicycle mechanic’s installment plan (the boss takes money out of your weekly paychecks). It took me months to pay for them. Years later, while working in another shop, I lost the 10-millimeter wrench and was crushed that the set was now incomplete. That 10-mm had turned thousands of brake bolts. It was polished bright from years of use. In spots the chrome plating had worn thin. I could pick it off the workbench by feel alone. 

I called the wrench company and purchased a replacement. But it wasn’t the same; the design had changed. It depressed me. I lost hope. My wrench set would forever be short.

A couple years ago, though, an amazing thing happened. I was working on a story about Steve Gravenites, a professional bicycle mechanic. When it came time for me 
to leave, Gravenites said he had a gift for me, something he “just had a feeling that I needed.” He handed me a Schwinn Approved 10-mm— identical to the one I’d lost!
~ Copyright © 2007 Jim Langley

We asked three nice guys - Steve "Gravy" Gravenites, former Team Yeti/Cannondale mechanic and current master builder/ owner at GravyWheels ( and spoke/hub maker DT Swiss's Paul Aleta and Dave Agapito for tips on building and caring for wheels.

Gravy is the coolest guy who ever lived. Even cooler than John Philip Sousa. First, tips from the master wheelbuilder. (Sorry, no tips from Mr. Sousa.)

  Have your wheels checked for proper tension every 1,000 miles.
COMPOUND FRACTURE:  Use a spoke thread compound (DT Spoke Lock, Wheelsmith Spoke Prep or Loctite stainless-steel thread compound) when building wheels, not grease or oil.
WHAT IN HELL?  At least once a year place a drop of thick oil at the rim/nipple junction.
NO WISEACRE REMARKS:  Use brass nipples. Alloy nipples save weight, but they don't last more than a few years - at best - before they begin to break.
YOU WON'T BE ASSIMILATED:  Get hand-built wheels. If you knew what a machine-built wheel goes through, you wouldn't buy them.

Dave and Paul know wheels, spokes and hubs. We don't really know Dave and Paul - they provided these tips by e-mail - but we like them already.
YOUR HIGH-END HUB:  Clean and lubricate the hub's internals, according to the manufacturer's instructions. This absolutely includes never using a car-wash hose on them.
MORE OIL ADVICE:  When you're retruing a wheel, apply a drop of oil where the spoke enters the nipple and where the nipple contacts the rim.
STRONG DISC WHEELS:  For durable disc-brake wheels, use spokes with a 14- or 13- gauge elbow diameter and a 3-cross pattern. Or try one of the new breed of spokes designed just for discs.
BEST TOOL:  A tension meter is the most important tool for ensuring a quality wheelbuild. Improper or uneven tension is the number-one cause of premature wheel failure.
REBUILDS:  When rebuilding an older hub with new spokes, use brass spoke-head washers; they improve contact between the spoke head and the hub flange for longer wheel life.

Please stop by again. Thank you for your interest!