There is something intrinsically beautiful about a quality tool. It’s a characteristic that can’t really be defined, it’s more felt. You hold it in your hand and you can feel that the thing is going to last forever. You feel like bowing down and that a beam of light should descend from above with an angelic chorus because you are thankful that such a tool exists.
For some of you old timers, you will recognize the above photo as a Campagnolo toolkit box. What lies inside begs the angelic chorus every time the box is opened.
Tools that are decades old, but still capable of milling a head tube perfectly, or chasing that difficult bottom bracket. Skills lost to most young bike wrenches, but the quality tool still capable of doing its job.
With all the praise of good tools, good tools do not a good mechanic make. A good mechanic understands that a good tool makes a job much easier, but in the wrong hand or without the appropriate skill set, that tool can do harm. A good tool should make it harder to fuck things up, but if you try hard enough it is possible.
Last week, this photo popped up in my Twitter feed. I had followed the individual simply because they had posted interesting pictures and, on occasion, live updates about races. I had never been to their blog or knew anything about them beyond photos.
After seeing this photo I had to know what was going on and clicked through. No this wasn’t a picture of what not to do, this was this person’s “preferred” method for headset removal, and I later learned install. I responded to his tweet informing him that a tool existed for said job.
His response, “I’d still need this method for install. Probably 6 bikes now, no issues. Seen mis-used headset presses wreck frames twice.”
Wow, twice you say. Holy shit! We should definitely get rid of that tool because you happen to know two dipshits that have misused a headset press and ruined two frames. In my 18 years of wrenching, I’ve never seen a headset press ruin a frame. I have seen plenty of headsets ruined from DIY installs like the one this jack ass was suggesting.
Bike mechanics often refer to themselves as wrenches. Yup, they call themselves tools. And in reality that is exactly what they are. And there are plenty of different levels of wrenches. There are those that have spent years accumulating the appropriate tools for the job and have learned and honed the skill set necessary to do the job correctly. And there are those that get the job done and most likely have a big set of vise grips in their tool box that are worn out from use.
And every other iteration that you can find in between.
So how do you tell the difference? Well, there is no fool safe way to do that. Much in the same way that when you pick up a quality tool, a Campy bottom bracket facer or a Snap-on ratchet, you can just tell that it is the best that you can get. Talking to the mechanic should inspire a similar confidence. A confidence that they have the tools, the know how and the ability to perform the task that you are asking of them.
In the end, the fruit of the tree should be sweet. A tool that feels like it will last forever doesn’t, then you find a new one.
Just don’t be that guy who thinks that because two people screwed up the entire system is flawed and use a screwdriver to install a headset.
P. L. and R.