My Favorite Multi-Tool

Like most cyclists, I’ve tried many a multi-tool over the years.  But, my Topeak “Alien” multi-tool, which I purchased sometime in the 1990’s, is my favorite.  I’ve been using this tool for decades, and it still looks and functions as new.

There are many things to love about this tool, not the least of which are the many individual tools available.  I think this model has 26 altogether.  While some of them may only be needed occasionally, when cycling far from resources, or just commuting home on a miserable rainy Portland evening, the abundance of tools available in this single mechanism has meant the difference between needing a rescue or being able to make it back in one piece.

Because I ride so many different bikes, some of them many decades old, having the box wrenches (8, 9 & 10 mm) on hand has helped me adjust Mafac brakes, tighten fender bolts, and make derailleur and shifter clamp tweaks.  Two of the box wrenches also feature 15 and 14 gauge spoke wrenches.  There is a serrated knife and bottle opener which can come in handy while camping, as well as a chain breaker.

There’s even a pedal wrench which can be deployed by attaching it to the supplied 8mm Allen key.  I’ve never had to use this, but it’s nice to know it’s there.

The multi-tool comes in two parts which are separated when you depress the Alien logo button, which allows the two sections to be pulled apart.

One of the most useful features of this multi-tool is that the box wrenches, knife, chain breaker, and screwdriver can be locked into place so that they don’t move around as you are trying to use them.  The plastic body also has two integrated tire irons. I’ve never used these because I always carry separate tire irons, but in case you find yourself without your favorite tire irons, these are always there.

My version of the Topeak Alien tool came with instructions which I am amazed that I still have, as well as a handy carrying case.  The weight of the tool is about 275 grams on my scale.  That’s sort of like carrying around an extra bottom bracket, and really is nothing to seriously worry about.  My model is no longer produced, and has been replaced by the Alien II and Alien III models.

The individual tools in this kit are made from stainless steel, and they have really held up well.  A close competitor is the Crank Brothers M19 multi tool, also made with steel (high-tensile), which I’ve also used over the years.  While both multi-tools are excellent choices, I think the Topeak’s range of functionality across different types of bikes from different eras gives it the edge.

Garage Sale Find

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I am always skeptical when friends call or text to tell me about a bicycle they discovered at a yard sale.  They assume that because the bike in question looks old (i.e., decrepit, cheap, and utterly worthless), that I might be interested.  But today, my friend Linda alerted me to a box of bike parts at her neighborhood garage sale.  The photo she texted revealed some Campagnolo cranks, but I couldn’t make out the other items.  $40 for all – she said. “Okay I’ll take it”, not knowing what the box contained.

I shouldn’t be too harsh on my various friends’ enthusiasm.  In fact, it is very difficult for a lay person to distinguish between that which is excellent and good and that which should never have been manufactured, the latter of which exists in ubiquity.

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Campagnolo Record high flange hubset – with rare 120 mm spacing on the rear hub – smooth as butter.

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Campagnolo Record front hub – will need some work as the hub doesn’t turn smoothly, but the hub shell is a work of art.

So, discovering that the box contained three Campagnolo Record hubs was a real delight, especially given that the rear high flange hub has 120mm rear spacing, which is now very difficult to find.  Since vintage bicycles have narrower drop out spacing than modern bikes, the rear hub made the whole deal worthwhile, regardless of what else the mystery box contained.

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Various OEM Freewheel removal tools – Campagnolo, Suntour, Atom, Shimano

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Handtools – Campagnolo and Mafac.

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Spoke wrenches.

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Park Chain Tool

Digging further into the box, I pulled out these wonderful old tools, including some freewheel removal tools that I didn’t already have on hand, plus some great Mafac wrenches.  And, it’s always nice to have an extra Park chain tool.

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Campagnolo Record square taper crankset.

The Campagnolo Record square taper crankset, which served as the lure for my purchase, is pretty scuffed up.  The drive side crank arm shows a lot of scratches and wear.  However, the 53/42 rings look like there is still some life left in them, so I may be able to salvage the crankset.  I’ll know more once I clean it up.

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Time Titan Magnesium pedals.

These old clipless racing pedals are dated, so it is doubtful that this item has any value.  However, they are VERY lightweight and I can see why these pedals were at one time popular with the racing crowd.  If anyone reading this wants them, let me know and I’ll ship them to you, for just the cost of shipping.

So, yes, sometimes there are garage sale finds.  Unfortunately, they are all too rare.

Park PCS-9 Portable Mechanic Stand – a Quick Review

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I needed a portable work stand that I could both stow in my shop as an extra stand, and take with me on the road.  As far as portable stands go, I had only previously used the Feedback Sports Pro-Elite Stand at another shop, and while I was impressed with the ease of use of its unique clamp and its light weight, I kept tripping over its tripod base, so I knew I wanted a stand with legs sitting flat on the floor.

I turned to the Park PCS-9 stand, not only attracted by its low price, but because it offered reasonable portability, and well, it’s a Park product so I assumed it would be a high quality item given their stellar reputation.

The company’s product description for the PCS-9 indicates that the stand can hold up to 80 lbs. and its adjustable clamp allows you to clamp all kinds of tubing sizes – up to 3 inches in diameter and down to 7/8 inches.  With its simple 4 metal tubes it folds down to 41 inches in length.

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It took no time at all to assemble the stand.  In use, the low price point became obvious right away.   While it’s very nice to have the fully adjustable clamp, the sleeve in which it rotates consists of a fluted tube, with a molded plastic insert on the clamp side.  To rotate the clamp, you release the tension at the back on the top tube, turn the clamp and then tighten everything back down.

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That’s all fine and good, but if you need to work on even a normal weight bike, the force necessary to keep the clamp from moving under gravity will cause the molded plastic insert to embed itself into the fluted portion of the tube, and then the clamp cannot be moved at all, even with brute force.  This part of the mechanism really needs some kind of bushing or sleeve, to allow the clamp to rotate freely.  So, after tapping out the molded plastic piece several times, which required disassembly of the clamp, I lubricated the pieces with some chain oil, which has helped for now.

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The height adjustment sleeve has no quick release mechanism, so it is necessary to grab a hand tool every time you want to change the height.

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Portability is achieved by these freely swinging base legs, combined with the collapsible vertical tubes which allow for the stand to be quickly folded.  When folded for transport, the legs flop around unless you secure them.  As it turns out, a pant leg strap works perfectly for this task.

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However, if the stand is sitting empty, or with something light like a bike frame, it is very easy to bump the stand over, as the horizontal legs are held in place only by gravity.  Really, Park should have engineered some pins to keep these legs in place while the stand is in use.  I can remedy the problem by drilling some holes and inserting pins myself, which eventually I will probably do.  I will also rig up a quick release for the height adjustment clamp, and contemplate further what to do about the non-freely rotating clamp.

For it’s price point – about $140 – you might say that you get what you pay for.  On the other hand, I think it would be easy to address these problems during manufacturing, which would probably add at most only $25 to the price.  That would still make it highly price competitive with other similar products.  In its current state, I would hate to recommend it to anyone but an experienced mechanic who can work around its shortcomings.