Archive for June, 2014

ToolTime #6 Chain Whips

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014


Editor’s note: This week’s article was prepared by Past AMS Bike Co-op President Cole Murphy.

This week on Tool Time, we are going to deal with the funny looking device, chain whips. Not to be confused with the weapon of the same name.

Chain whips are used for removing two things: a fixed cog, a non-rotating/ratcheting cog found on fixed gear wheels, and a cassette chain whip, used for holding cassettes in place while another dedicated cassette removal tool unscrews the lock ring holding the cassette onto the wheel.

A park tool chain whip (and socket for a lockring tool)

A park tool chain whip (and socket for a lockring tool)


A very brief history of rear cogs, freewheels & cassettes:

The simplest type of drivetrain is that of the fixed-gear, which consists solely of a fixed cog, a chain, and a crank. The cog threads on to the rear wheel, and then is held on by specific lockring. The lockring does exactly what it sounds like it will, locking onto the hub, and screws on in reverse to prevent the cog from threading off the wheel.

From the advent of the geared bicycle up until the 1980s, all bikes (besides those with fixed gears) used a thread-on freewheel to move the wheel. This type of interface consists of a rear hub with threading on the right hand side and a freewheel, which includes the set of cogs on which the chain grabs, and the set of bearings on which the cogs are allowed to move.


Which is better??


To install these, all that is needed is to screw the freewheel on to the threaded side of a hub. Removal requires a special tool that is specific to the brand. Below is a Shimano branded freewheel removal tool with splines that grip the inside. To remove, put the tool into a vise, put the wheel on top, and move the wheel counter-clockwise such that it unscrews itself.


A Shimano freewheel removal tool

A Shimano freewheel removal tool

In the late 1980s, Shimano came up with an improved style of gears called a cassette. These consist of a set of cogs (sometimes called a cluster) with splines that interfaced with a part of the hub called the freehub body, which also holds the ratcheting mechanism, allowing the rider to coast. The main reason for the change is that it places the bearings in the hub much closer to the dropouts on a bike, effectively eliminating the chance that an axle will break, a common occurrence on hubs with freewheels. It also lets you “shove more gears in there.” How the ratcheting system engages is something that continues to vary for many manufacturers.

There are other benefits though, including weight savings, greater interchangeability of parts, and wider hub flanges, necessitating a stronger wheel. Though the freewheel interface is still used in some cases, cassettes are standard for just about any bike of decent quality.

In the Late 1980s and Early 1990s, Shimano made a special cassette interface called Uniglide in which the smallest cog on the cassette doubled as the lockring that held the cassette on. In this case, two chain whips are needed to remove the cassette.

The Chain Whip!

The modern chain whip is simply a variant on a tool called a strap wrench – a tool used to hold something in place that can’t easily be held by a human. The most common uses of strap wrenches are for automotive and plumbing purposes such as getting enough torque onto a pipe such that it turns into a joint.

Strap Wrench –

In the case of a bicycle, the strap used is a piece of normal bicycle chain attached to a long handle. The modern chain whip comes in two versions: a fixed cog chain whip used for removing fixed cogs and a cassette chain whip, used for holding cassettes in place while a wrench and special cassette lockring removal tool is used to remove the cassette lockring.

Prior to the chain whip, when there was a smaller cog-count and when torquing a wheel was less problematic, there existed tool such as the Suntour chain vise:



This, however, was contemporaneous to chain whips mostly, and as you can see from this 1980s Catalogue on Sheldon Brown’s page, vices and whips were sold to work in tandem. Check out the other cool old tools they have!



So you may or may not have actually used a chain whip before, so here are some exciting ways you can use a chain whip!

Fixed gear usage:

  1. remove the wheel from the bike
  2. on many fixed cog chain whips, a fixed-cog lockring removal tool is included on the opposite end of the chain whip. Use this (or a separate lockring removal tool) to remove the lockring by turning it clockwise (note: this is different from standard usage because lockrings must tighten the opposite direction as the cog to prevent them from both coming undone).

    Using a chain whip on a single speed/fixed cog

    Using a chain whip on a single speed/fixed cog

  3. once the lockring has been removed, wrap the chain whip around the cog, and turn it counter-clockwise. If it has been ridden, it will require a lot of force. Once the cog is loose, it can be hand loosened and removed from the bike. You’re done!

Cassette usage:

The two parts of the hub rotate in opposite directions

The two parts of the hub rotate in opposite directions

  1. Take the wheel off the bike and remove the quick release axle
  2. Wrap the chain whip so it prevents the freewheel from, well, freewheeling and insert the lockring tool
  3. Position the two handles so you get maximum torque, and TORQUE IT!!

If you want further help, check out this video, or come in to the kitchen!

Invent your own tool;

And that’s all we’ve got for this week. Come back next week for our Canada Day Special when we take a look at Fourth Hand Tools.

Special thanks to this week’s guest author who researched and wrote the article, former AMS Bike Co-op President, Cole Murphy!

Étienne & Kevin

Want more Tool Time? Go back to Tool Time #1 for the list of previous articles.





ToolTime #5 Allen Keys

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014


Editor’s note: This week’s article was prepared by AMS Bike Co-op Vice-President Jean-François Caron.

An indispensable tool for today’s cyclist is an Allen key set.  There is actually an industry drive to use more Allen bolts on new bicycle models as opposed to other kinds of fasteners.  This makes repair & maintenance of the bicycle simpler, and requires fewer tools.

A really modern bike may only need 2-3 sizes of Allen keys to perform nearly all the maintenance tasks.  Older bikes could require all sorts of sizes of box wrenches, screwdrivers, and special tools.   Some people customize their touring bikes to eliminate any non-Allen fasteners and minimize the number of sizes of Allen keys needed to fix their bike.

Allen Key Set


Allen keys have an interesting history, and hail from worker’s safety movements at the turn of the 20th century.  Set screws are a kind of bolt that applies pressure through its tip in order to keep pieces of metal together.  Pulley systems for line shafts in factories commonly used set screws.  The pre-Allen set screws used protruding bolt heads, often just square heads on which to use a box or crescent wrench.  Protruding fastener heads on moving machinery near workers was a serious hazard.  The heads would catch worker’s clothing or hair and pull them into the moving machinery.

Allen bolts are a type of recessed-head fasteners in that the tool bit fits inside the bolt, rather than grabbing the bolt head from the outside.  Other recessed-head fasteners include Robertson and Phillips screws.

The extra advantage of Allen heads is that the recessed head is more easily manufactured and can be made to fit inside the threaded portion of the bolt.  This means that you can make a set-screw that is entirely threaded, without a special “head” sticking out, and the whole screw can fit inside the machinery, without protruding out.

The more correct technical term for Allen keys and bolts is hex bolts.  They are commonly called Allen in Canada because of the company that first patented them in North America.  In other parts of the world, they are often known by other common names based on the companies that patented them there.  From what we’ve researched, they were actually branded and named in the U.S.A. around 1911 by the Standard Pressed Steel Company which then created ‘Unbrako’ (from unbreakable) and thus popularized their use. This name then spread all over the world! 

This is a sheet demonstrating the types of socket screws from the 1920s

This is a sheet demonstrating the types of socket screws from the 1920s

Take a look at this table!

Name Licensing Company Areas Used
Allen Key The Allen Manufacturing Company North America, France, UK
Inbus Bauer und Schaurte Germany, Netherlands
Brugola Egidio Brugola invented it in 1926 Italy
Unbrako SPS Company of Philadelphia Some parts of the US, India (current owners), Europe

On bicycles, Allen keys almost always come in metric sizes.  The sizes refer to the distance in millimetres between opposite faces of the tool.  Unfortunately there are also size designations for bolts that refer to the diameters of the threads, so an “M5” bolt (the most common Allen bolt on bicycles) doesn’t usually need a 5mm Allen key to turn it, it just tells you that the threads are 5mm wide.

Fortunately among the metric sizes, it is very obvious if you have the wrong size Allen key: either the tool will spin inside the bolt head without engaging, or it will refuse to go in.  If you accidentally mix an Imperial-sized allen key into your set, you might accidentally use a size “close” to the correct metric size and strip the bolt head, so keep non-metric IKEA keys out of your bike toolkit!  A bike-specific multitool should have all the Allen key sizes that you need for basic maintenance, and 4-5-6mm sizes are the most common.


Some Allen keys will have a “ball” end which allows the tool to fit into bolt heads at less-than-ideal angles.  This is useful for hard-to-reach spots, but offers much less grip on the bolt head, as the tool only makes contact with the head at a few points, instead of on full faces.  Only use the “ball” end when the bolt is not very tight, to avoid stripping the bolt head and the tool.

If you want to know some handy-dandy sizes and usage, here’s another cool table:

Size (mm) Common Uses
2 Pedal tension screws
2.5 Other tension screws, Avid v-brake adjusters
3 Larger tension screws, Grip-Shift shifters, cleat bolts, other various brake bits (cantilever, pivot etc.)
4 Derailleurs, fenders, racks, eyelets, seatpost clamps
5 M5 Allen screws are the most common, but the heads of these screws can take etiher a 5mm or 4mm keyMany things that apply to 4mm, also apply to 5mm. Also saddle clamp bolts
6 Saddle clamp bolts, Pedal spindle bolts
7 Cinelli stems, Campagnolo Victory Crankset
8 Crank bolts that have a hex-head
9 Surprisingly, nothing that we could think of
10 Campagnolo Cranksets, freehub bodies
11,12 Freehub bodies


Check out this video demonstration of how to use both ends of the Park Tool HT-8 Allen Key. It may seem strange, but as particular things such as pedal bolts become based on Allen keys, using proper leverage and technique can prevent you from damaging your bike!!


And that’s your information overload on Allen/Hex keys! We hope you learned something, we certainly did!

Special thanks to this week’s guest author who researched and wrote the article, the AMS Bike Co-op’s Vice President, Jean-François Caron!


Until next week, where we whip out a new article,

Kevin & Étienne
Back to Tool Time #1 – the list of articles!






Seaside Greenway Celebration – July 5

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

poster map

On Saturday July 5th from 11-3: mark the date and come celebrate the completion of one of Vancouver’s best public realm treasures.

The Seaside Greenway that connects downtown’s Seawall and False Creek with Jericho Beach is ready to be biked, walked, or rolled – and may the best costume win! There will be music, food, kids crafts, and more along the route and especially closer to Jericho Beach. Bring your decorated bikes, kids and picnic baskets!

This celebration for everyone is supported by many, including the Vancouver Public Space Network, HUB Cycling , the AMS Bike Co-op at UBC, BEST, area neighbours and others.

Pre-Event Group Ride

Interested in riding to the party with us? We will be having a group ride to the event leaving from UBC at 10:15. You can learn more from the Facebook Event.

Learn More

More details are available from the Vancouver Public Spaces Network.

Spread the Word

If you think the completion of the Seaside Greenway is something worth celebrating please consider spreading the word about this event by inviting your friends and family. You can invite your friends or share the details from the Facebook Event page created by the VPSN.


If you would like to help support this event and volunteer, simply complete this form.

A volunteer orientation will take place on July 2nd at 7:00pm at the HUB office. 1-828 West 8th Ave.




ToolTime #4 Chain Checkers

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014


If you haven’t realized it already, last week we learnt that chains are absolutely a big deal when it comes to making your bicycle roll.  You may recall that in Tool Time #3 Chain Breakers we talked about the development of the roller chain.

From that, remember that a modern chain is made up of a whole bunch of plates and rollers held together by pins. A single chain thus has more moving parts than the rest of the bicycle combined!! It probably isn’t too much of a stretch to realize that so many constantly moving parts will eventually wear out.

This week we are going to talk about Chain Checkers, a simple solution to a very common problem. [Also called chain wear indicators or chain gauges]. Really, the best way to keep your chain from wearing is to clean it. Come talk to us and we’ll walk you through it – or, if you want a REAL, SERIOUS way ;), check out ShelBro cleaners.

We also have a cool section on SUPER CHAINS. It’s not a real term, but we made it up and it’s cool to talk about.


To start off, we are going to make sure we know what it really means when someone talks about ‘chain stretch’.

What does it mean when a chain wears out?

People often talk about chain ‘stretch.’ As a chain wears out it no longer fits perfectly with the rear sprocket of gears. Technically, the effect of wear on a roller chain is to increase the “pitch” (spacing of the links), causing the chain to grow longer. With each rotation of the chain a little bit of metal is ground away. Over time this can lead to the characteristic “shark tooth” look on your rear sprockets.

Worn down “Shark Tooth” cassette. –

The term ‘chain stretch’ is a little bit misleading because it is not actually caused by a stretching of the metal plates (this does happen to some other flexible steel components such as the hand-brake cable of a motor vehicle, but not with bike chains). So, you might ask, how can a chain get longer if the plates don’t actually stretch?

Remember that chains are made up of plates, rollers, and pins. As the chain rotates there is wear at the pivoting pins and bushings which eventually wear down. A small amount of wear on each pin can cause a relatively ‘significant’ lengthening of the chain.


Okay, so what exactly is this stuff? A SUPER CHAIN is what we are calling chains that are immune to chain wear. Or when it just doesn’t matter. Or when the setup is just so weird, that like, what the heck? Sidenote: this may not be a chain

  1. Shaft Drives – basically without existing in oil, or an armadillo shell, dirt destroys it. But it doesn’t stretch like a roller chain!
  2. Chainless/shaftless drives – Yes, no chain wear, but… what???
  3. Belt Drives – Actually a very common thing in tandems and single speeds, the belt drive runs at super high tensions (you need a tool to install!) but basically avoids all the issues of chain wear, rather it wears the drivetrain. The company Gates is now a major manufacturer.
  4. Internally gear-ed hub systems – if the gear changing is done internally, such as in one of the many internal hub drivetrains, there is much less wear on the system, as the gears are protected from grit, and the chain does not move around. Okay. maybe they’re not ‘super’ but still longer-lasting!
  5. Retro-direct drive – Pedal forward for one gear, Pedal backwards for another!!! Wear would be truly exciting and hard-to-predict. SUPER CHAIN or SUPER VILLAIN CHAIN???
  6. Strings – I just…. I don’t even… what??

We have a really cool book in our library about all these sort weird things! Come ask us about it!

But okay, back to reality: How can you measure stretch on an actual chain?

I’m glad you asked! There are a number of ways (okay, maybe like three) that you can measure a chain to see if it is worn.

  • use a ruler (☺)
  • use a basic chain checker tool like the Park Tools CC-2 (nope)
  • use a chain checker tool like the Shimano TL-CN40 which isolates pin wear (if you must)


Ruler Method

The original way to measure chain stretch was to use a ruler to compare a chain’s current length to it’s original length. You use a metal ruler or tape measure to calculate the chain wear.

  • leave the chain on the bicycle
  • measure a one-foot length and place an inch mark of the ruler at the side of one link pin
  • look at the corresponding link pin 12 complete links away
  • on a new chain the pin will line up exactly with an inch mark
  • with a worn chain the link pin will be past the inch mark

Sheldon Brown points out that this technique provides a direct measurement of the wear on the chain and an indirect measurement of the wear to the sprockets.

You can also do this test using metric or imperial measurements. The main disadvantage of this method is the difficulty remembering all the values, and getting an accurate measurement without having the ruler slip.

Use a handy-dandy metal ruler to measure chain wear

Basic Chain Checkers

Of course this article is actually about Chain Checkers so we should probably tell you about how to use them. Basic chain checkers come in a variety of designs which you can see below.

The advantage of these Chain Checker tools is their simplicity. There is no need to remember a table of values (like those required for the measurement method), nor are you required to count links. They also have the advantage of removing some of the human error that exists when you use the ruler method.

  • leave the chain on the bicycle
  • place the two posts of the Chain Checker tool into the chain
  • look at the gauge to estimate wear
  • your brain was barely even used

Usually it will give you a reading of  either 0.5, 0.75, or 1.0 meaning the chain is either:
“prolly fine”, “whoa I should keep up with this!” and “well crap”!

Of course, the big caveat is that bike chain theory suggests that this style of chain checker is actually pretty inaccurate. This is because the usual technique of these tools is to spread several links of chain by pushing the rollers apart. Because of this, roller wear is added into the measurement even though wear of the rollers has no affect on proper chain operation.

The good news is that most commercial tools are conservative, and thus never suggest that a chain is good when it is actually worn (avoiding accidental drivetrain damage). This does mean that these tools may tell you that a chain is worn, even if it is still good. If you follow the warnings of these tools you won’t suffer drivetrain damage but you may be replacing your chain more frequently than is necessary leading to increased costs.

Chain Checkers that isolate pin wear

There are a few Chain Checkers on the market that isolate the pin wear by eliminating the roller wear from its measurement. For example the Shimano TL-CN40 has two measurement points that are on the same side of the rollers, so roller wear does not affect measurement.


A cool video about how to measure your chain using a Shimano chain checker or the ruler method.

And that is all we have on the topic for this week. If you want to learn more about chains be sure to read last week’s Tool Time #3 Chain Breakers. Next week, we will be continuing our investigation of the drive train by having a look at Tool Time #5 Chain Whips. Don’t let the name fool you, we are actually moving on from chains to cassettes. Be sure to stop by the Bike Kitchen and make use of our chain checking tools. And yes, we do have a Shimano TL-CN40 for you to try out!

– Étienne & Kevin
Back to Tool Time #1 – the list of articles!



Sheldon Brown – Chains

Gallery of Retro-direct

Wikipedia- Bicycle Chain Wear – Chain Wear Measuring Tools

The Dancing Chain




ToolTime #3 Chain Breakers

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014


Chains are an essential part of actually moving on your bicycle, and are one of the parts that are most often replaced, examined and worked with. It’s the chain that connects the power of the pedal-er to the motion of the bicycle!

But the chain forms a circle! How does it come off? Good question! This is where Chain Breakers enter the picture. Bolt cutters are a fun destructive solution, but Chain Breakers are the tool for you if you need to use the chain again. And chain breakers come in handy for things other than just removing your chain! Read on to find out all about the cool world that is chain breakers. (And just in case you didn’t know, the entire system of gears and derailleurs is referred to as the drivetrain).



A chain breaker breaks apart links in the modern chain, what we know as a roller chain. Early chains were actually block chains like the one seen below: a connection of solid metal blocks together, that fit strange looking sprockets. In the middle (1900’s-1950’s) they had skip-link chains, a sort-of hybrid of the two, that fit sprockets spaced 1-inch apart. In the end though, strength and reliability lead to the universal adoption of the roller chain.

(It’s no surprise that an evolution took place, keep in mind that the first bikes had their pedals attached directly to the wheel. If you remember back to your childhood bike this was really limiting in many ways!)

Since the adoption of roller chains there has been a variety of chain sizes and standards that have emerged. There are now chains for single speeds (these are thicker, stronger chains at 1/8″ in width as opposed to 3/32″), chains for 5/6/7/8 speeds, and newest of all chains for 9speed, 10 speed, and 11 speed! WHOA! So many chains!

The thing is, each new revision of chain had to fit narrower and narrower sprockets to cram more gears in there, so different standards arose. Additionally, the Italian manufacturer Campagnolo took its own proprietary approach to this process so all its chains are incompatible with other manufacturers…

Finally, it’s important to note that roller chains trace an important lineage to motorcycles. The company Renold introduced the early roller chain and pin extractor for their motorcycle chains, clearly linking the origins of our tool to motorcycles!

But let’s take a break from all this history ☺


So why do we need to break chains? Well, with roller chains, it comes down to a few scenarios:

  1. Installing a brand new chain
  2. Shortening an old chain
  3. To modify other parts of the drivetrain
  4. Replacing your chain!

When you are installing a new chain, you will most likely buy a chain that is too long for your bike. Because there are different sized chainrings on the front of the drivetrain -that is, on cranks-, various sizes of sprockets on  rear wheels, and longer and shorter bikes, most chains will need to be modified in some way. This involves first splitting them apart.

Chains also wear out over time, stretching out (as the pins wear down) interfering with the drivetrain function (more on this in Tool Time #4, Chain Checkers). This is one reason you might want to shorten the chain. Another could be if you are switching bikes and reusing the same chain. Even just replacing a derailleur would require you to split the chain to get it off, as the chain loops through the derailleurs.

Extra Fact: Quick Links

You might have noticed there are lots of scenarios in which chains are being split. Subsequently, companies have made links that can disconnect and reconnect, such as the Craig Super Link or the KMC Quick-Link, and SRAM Power-Link. Like the one below:

Okay, so now back to this breaker. How does it work exactly? The pins are key. As you can see from the above photos, the pin is what connects the links of a chain together. When we resize the chain, we are removing links from the chain. A standard chain will come with 114 pins connecting the links, and the chain is then comprised of narrower and wider pairs that connect (see the image below).

Once you have sized your chain1, you can use the chain breaker to pop out the appropriate pin, and achieve a desired length. To do this, you place the chain in the groove on the chain breaker and twist the extractor pin so that it pops the pin out. Confused? Watch this video with overly-excited intro music:

And there you have it! Hopefully you learned something about chains and breaking them! Come in to the Bike Kitchen and do some chain work, or just have a look at the myriad of different types of chains that exist here!

Étienne & Kevin

Back to Tool Time #1 – the list of articles!


Note to 1 There are many methods to size a chain, including the Shimano method (small ring on front and back), the SRAM method (big ring on back and front) and others. If you want to learn how to break a chain, the best way is to do it yourself – come into the shop and we’ll be happy to show you, and explain the benefits of various methods!


  1. Pink Bike’s article on the 2012 NAHBS
  2. The Drexel CS Wiki Page on Block Chains
  3.’s article on Vintage Chains
  4. The Renold company history
  5. The All-knowing




Thursday Bikes and BBQ – June 5

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Looking to celebrate sunny days? Join us for a short bike ride and BBQ at Spanish Banks on Thursday June 5th.

Meet at the Bike Kitchen at 6pm with your bike. We will ride together to Spanish Banks where we will have a BBQ. Company is provided but bring your own food.

Don’t have a bike or can’t make the ride? You can meet us at Spanish Banks near the foot of Tolmie St at 7pm.