Step By Step
Be warned: Including a total list of all the tools you need to build a bicycle makes this post enormous. Almost 4,700 words total plus pictures. Go get a sandwich and a drink before you start reading.
The tools needed for each step are in their respective Step section.
This article is for the most part ONLY about listing the tools in a given step. However in some cases, for the more esoteric tools, I give some extra description to help illustrate why a special tool has value versus doing things a cheaper way. Alternatively I may talk about why the cheap tool is as good or better than the expensive one. With that said, I will generally try not to talk about using tools here, and save that for the individual Step where they are in direct play.
Step 1: Planning
There are no tools needed in Step 1 as its all a brain exercise. However, as part of your planning its a good time to assess whether or not you have the tools you need for this job overall. What will it cost to buy what you need? Factor that into your overall project cost and Build Sheet and budget accordingly.
Step 2: Hunting
Tools in Step 2 are pretty much a computer, an internet connection and available funds to buy the bike frame and motor. Translation: No tools needed in this step.
Step 3: Tinkering
To do the basic fiddling with your frame that this step will entail, you are talking about some basics only:
A Tape Measure
This can be as simple as a literal soft tape measure like what a tailor would use, or a modern chrome steel or plastic-cased retractable measure with a lock. I use both.
I buy them in the 24-pak like in the link. It seems I can never find my tape when I am looking for it and secreting one in the glove box of my car, one or two in each tool box and so on is the way to go for me. And for $7.99 for all 24 of them… well, that price speaks for itself. No they are not high precision… but they are good enough.
These tape measures have an unusual thing in common that means they will not typically be found in a local store: They both provide metric measurements. So you are buying them online.
With a few weird exceptions, all bicycles have been on the metric system for many years. You need metric tape measures. Since there are numerous exceptions you want both scales on your device.
If you are a tool geek, The Calipers are an essential weapon in your arsenal. They are especially useful on a bicycle build where you have so many annoying, oddball measurements. Is that seat tube 31.6mm or 34.9mm? Its 34.9. OK is the exterior seatpost diameter the expected 36.4mm, then or did the numbskulls who manufactured the frame use thick paint to screw up your life (you need to know this stuff to attach a seatpost collar that fits)?
You can live without calipers and make do with a tape measure… assuming that what looks like pretty much 35mm must be 34.9. And that tube measures a skootch over 36mm so it must be a 36.4.
Or you can eliminate the need to guess. My metric Mitutoyo good-for-200mm dial calipers are old-school analog, so I don’t have to deal with dead batteries ever again like I did for my cheaper but still damned expensive RCBS digital calipers. Still, the digital set lasted me from 2013 until 2022, so I got my money’s worth I suppose. And they aren’t broken. If I keep buying batteries I can use them for SAE measurements. I guess.
For any bike build, hex keys are essential. I generally like the ones sold by Bondhus as they are solid, USA-made tool steel at a good price.
If you can buy only one set, get the extra long type with the ball ends. If you can splurge a bit (these wrenches are cheap so you should) then also get the stubby-end high-torque version as well as the short wrench set. That way you have a wrench that can pretty much fit anywhere you need regardless of available space.
L to R: Long ball end. Stubby end. Short. These three pictures are not to scale relative to one another.
I also have a set of Wera (Germany) wrenches which I can only find on Amazon. Wera wrenches are not slab-sided hexagons and instead have a shape that relieves pressure on socket cap corners. They have it patented under the trade name Hex-Plus, and its a solid upgrade. The beefy, color-coded version with a spring loaded bearing on the ball end that will hold onto a screw for tough to reach locations are even more expensive, but if you want a single set good for lifetime use in your shop, they are worth a look.
Note that these are all metric. The need for SAE hex wrenches is almost nonexistent for bicycle parts (SRAM brake lever handlebar mounts are the only one I can think of). ALSO: I typically include the short or long ball end set in my preferred onboard tool kit that goes with the bike.
Motor Mounting Tools (optional)
If you are mounting the motor for test fitment at the Tinkering step as recommended here, you will need any special tools required to mount that motor. In the case of the example bike we are building, that means a Bafang 4-point inner lock ring socket. They are available from a variety of sources. Mine come from Luna Cycle (no longer available for sale). Here is the ‘traditional’ Bafang-sourced 4-notch tool from Empowered Cycles. Here is a fancier version from Lekkie.
Without question, this socket and a torque wrench is the right tool for the BBSHD job. Those little knuckle-smashing Bafang wrenches are Chairman Mao’s revenge from beyond the grave on imperialist running dogs the world over. They cleverly give only the impression of functionality as they cannot let the unfortunate capitalist lackey deliver enough torque with it (unless you make your hand bleed) to keep that motor from slipping sooner or later (usually sooner).
The one I linked above, I own myself as a temp-mount shortcut… but I never use it. It at least has the advantage of being a fairly strong steel (without the usual sharp finger-creasing edges).
Torque Wrench (optional … for now)
This depends on whether or not your chosen motor needs one. In this project we are using a Bafang BBSHD mid drive motor, and it does. We don’t necessarily need a torque wrench to do motor mockups at this step, but it can come in handy, in particular if you need to determine exact spacer size to align the motor just right.
I use an automotive 50-250 ft-lb micrometer torque wrench from Home Depot for that job. To deliver the serious torque a BBSHD needs for a done-by-a-grownup installation, there’s no substitute for the leverage this wrench gives you, and the Bafang socket tools are usually made for a 1/2″ socket head. Worth noting (we’ll get more into this below): The big HD wrench is calibrated to +/- 3% accuracy.
Step 4: Buying
During the Buying phase, as parts are being ordered and arriving on your doorstep, you may be fitting parts onto the bike as test-fits to help you decide what other complementary parts should be purchased as follow-ons.
As such, while there are no tools specifically required to buy bicycle parts (other than a keyboard, internet connection and so on), during this phase you could end up needing any number of tools found in Steps 3 and 5.
Step 5: Assembling
Remember… in the Introduction I said we’re cheating on this one and we farmed out the wheel build. Wheelbuilding is not something someone who needs a tutorial on building a bike wants to be tackling along with learning all of the other ropes this series is focusing on. So we are not going to be worrying about truing stands, spoke prep, tuning forks and spoke keys.
A Bike Stand! (optional)
This is one of those optional deals that you are going to hate yourself for cheaping out on, once you go to the expense of actually getting one and you see how much easier your life becomes. And if you buy a cheap one, its going to suck because a cheap stand with an ebike on it is seldom going to be strong enough to hold up all that extra weight (psssst… take the battery out).
If you are reasonably crafty, you can make yourself a bike repair stand out of PVC. Just don’t use furniture grade PVC and up the diameter of the pipe so it is crazy strong. This one uses 1 1/2″ pipe and reportedly cost around US$35 in materials. But notice also it doesn’t clamp anything to anything, so bumping into the bike while its on this thing is going to lead to exciting results.
Me, I use two different Park stands in my two shop locations (ok so full disclosure: my shops are a storage unit in one town and a patio in another). One is a Park PCS-10 stand that I bought in 2017. Its been my workhorse for almost six years. The one they sell now – the PCS 10.3 – is quite a bit more expensive than the US$192 I paid for mine, but it looks to have a couple of improvements.
My second repair stand was acquired recently and is a bit of an indulgence. But I’m not sorry I sprang the big bucks for it. I have a Park PRS-25 ‘team issue’ portable stand that folds up nice and easy and has a few added benefits I appreciate, like using hex tubing so the bike cannot shift side to side and topple over. But… four hundred bucks for a repair stand. You gotta use it a lot for that price to make any sense.
Torque Wrenches (plural!)
The fact you are considering buying a torque wrench at all is a big step up over your typical shade-tree bicycle mechanic. With that said, if you don’t own one now, you don’t need to spend a bundle on a precision instrument. A Park TW-6.2 3/8″ torque wrench relied upon by the bicycle industry and insisted upon by snooty internet forum experts is going to run you in the ballpark of US$130… and its one of at least two you need to work on a bicycle. This 3/8″ wrench is required for the bigger (and absolutely crucial) jobs like torqueing down crankarms. The smaller Park TW-6 1/4″ torque wrench that you’ll use for almost everything else on a bicycle is another US$115 or so.
Thats kind of a lot. Here’s the thing: You can spend a lot less and still get most of the benefit of a torque wrench. The Park wrenches are sturdy enough for repeated daily use. For the occasional bike mechanic, thats not necessary. Additionally, the Park wrenches are both calibrated to be accurate within +/- 4%. So lets consider that … an industry-wide standard of quality (wink).
What about lower cost options? How accurate are they?
My first bicycle-sized torque wrench was this one: the Venzo-branded 1/4″ wrench-and-socket package that retails at the moment for about US$50. It too is rated for a +/- 4% accuracy level. Even though it is rated for 2-24Nm, you wouldn’t want (or need) to push it past 10 Nm. For a larger 3/8″ wrench, I initially used a variation on this widely-rebranded Chinese import wrench. This Amazon-branded version runs just under US$30 and again its rated for +/- 4%.
Neither of these wrenches will hold this level of accuracy for as long as a more expensive tool, but if you only use them occasionally, you don’t need them to.
What does the author (thats me!) use?
Some time ago I stepped up my game on the torque wrench front. My little 1/4″ wrench lost its accuracy after a lot of use, and I could no longer trust it. The same went for my no-name 3/8″ wrench. While I trust the Park brand name, their torque wrenches are not particularly noteworthy as far as I can see in their construction, although they are premium priced. Certainly not a bad choice, but for the money, with some research, I could find better.
I went with a German brand: Wera, which are calibrated from the factory at +/- 3%. Importantly: they offer a USA address to perform re-calibration services should the wrench get a little wonky from extended use. No need to buy another wrench if it loses the spring in its step. Get it professionally re-calibrated by the manufacturer.
1/4″ wrench: Wera Reversible A5 (2.5-25 Nm)
This one wrench is perfect for nearly every job needed on a bike. It scales up to medium stuff without breaking a sweat. Handlebar stem bolts on our project bike need 5 Nm. the chainring attachment bolts need 8 Nm. Excepting the cranks, you shouldn’t need to go over 10 Nm (its max of 25Nm is 18 ft lbs).
3/8″ wrench: Wera Reversible B2 (20-100 Nm)
Thats 15-73 ft lbs in SAE units, which fits perfectly within a bicycle need, whose peak is about 35 ft lbs for an aggressive crankarm tightening (as a general rule of thumb don’t exceed 30 ft-lbs if you can help it).
And no… neither one of them are inexpensive. Like the Mitu’s above, I consider them crown jewels of the toolbox that I expect to last a lifetime of hard use.
In the past, specifically when I built Frankenbike, I used a very basic, very cheap headset press that did the job just fine. BUT something like 5 years later I couldn’t find the damn thing. So I upgraded just a bit when I bought another one for this project.
The design of this tool is reminiscent of the Park HHP-2 tool, but its literally less than one-tenth of the price. It works on the same principles as the more expensive tool, and is just fine for the rare or occasional user (then again, so was the even cheaper one I bought in 2017).
Star Nut Setter
I didn’t have to use this tool for this build as the used fork I put on the bike already had a star nut inside of it. However if you are buying a new fork, it won’t. You’ll have to set a star nut in the steering tube of the fork.
You could do this with an M6 bolt screwed into the star nut, and then hammer on the bolt to bash the nut into the steerer and hope it goes in straight. I’ve done that myself (when I couldn’t find my setter tool) and I have to say its a dumb idea. You’ll almost never get it in perfectly straight, and if you do it’ll take a LOT of pounding. If you use the proper tool, it automatically centers the star nut, seats it to the proper depth and works with one or two quick shots with a mallet.
It turns out Jenson USA sells this tool for about 1/3 of what Amazon sellers want for it. Just make sure you buy other things in the same order to get free shipping. They are an excellent parts and tool source.
Crown Race Setting Tool
You could spend a zillion dollars on a fancy crown race setting tool, or just get a piece of PVC pipe that is 1 1/4″ in diameter. Park Tool wants US$86 for their CRS-1 Crown Race Setting System. I think a length of PVC is … what? 86 cents? I got fancy with mine and chamfered the inside of it with a pipe reamer so it was a perfect fit. You don’t need to do that.
If you have a 1.5″ tapered steering tube, use a bigger size of PVC.
These cable and housing cutters are the same ones I use for making electrical connections. They work for cutting the shifter cable, the shifter cable housing and hydraulic brake hose. In fact, that black hex nut visible in the pic actually doubles as a hose end reshaper thingie. Cutting hydraulic brake hose deforms it. Stuff the end onto the little cone inside the hex reforms it into a proper circle so you can fit a new hose needle / end back on.
Brake Hose Needle Driver (optional)
The ‘needle’ is the end fitting on hydraulic brake hose, which actually comes under some pretty high pressure during the braking process. For years, I jammed these little suckers in by hand. You do it by using manual dexterity and swear words to get the little thing fit into the hose just enough to stay in, then use a small hammer in one hand while holding the hose in the other, and bash on it, trying to hold the hose tight enough to make progress without smooshing your fingers with the hammer.
You can also bang the hose end on the garage floor to help finish the job after you decide you have hit yourself with the hammer enough times.
OR you could wise up like I finally did and buy the right tool for the job. I was disgusted at how easy it was once I had the proper tool.
Brake Bleed Kit (optional?)
This is not needed if you are using cabled brakes (please don’t do that), which do not need bleeding.
Once you resize your hoses you need to bleed the system. It doesn’t take much. A couple of syringes, some rubber hose and some brake fluid (I hope yours use mineral oil and not corrosive-to-paint DOT fluid).
Rather than buying a Magura branded bleed kit, I picked up this syringe kit and this little 100 ml bottle of Royal Blood mineral oil brake fluid. If I was feeling adventurous, I could spend less and use generic mineral oil or baby oil, but one bottle of the real thing will last quite some time. Since brake spacer blocks come with each set of MT5’s, and I have I think seven sets, I also did not need to buy spacer blocks.
For Magura brakes, you will also need a very small crescent wrench to tighten and remove the bleed hose onto the caliper.
Cassette Lock Ring Socket
I use a fancy Park FR-5.2H. I work on enough cassettes – and got it years ago – so the sting that comes from the price of this little beast has gone away. I appreciate the ability to pick it up and use it like any other wrench.
An occasional bike mechanic will save a bundle and use something like this little Park FR-5.2 with a crescent wrench for less than US$9. I’d show you a picture of mine but I only see it every few months, whereupon I set it someplace safe and don’t see it again for another 3 months. It’ll turn up.
If all you do is put your cassette onto your rear hub, you don’t need this tool. But if for some reason you want to take it back off, a chain whip is essential. Most workshops have several of these. I have a couple of cheapies like this one or this one. Both of these will give you cassette lock ring sockets, too. I was recently stuck needing one while away from my shop and sprang for the Park SR12-2. Its quite fancy and works great. It had better for the price they charge.
Metric Hex Keys
This is the same set we used and discussed in Step 3 above.
I use the same one in the shop as I keep in my onboard toolkit. The basic, dependable Park CT-5 Mini Chain Brute.
Again, using the tool I take right out of my onboard tool kit. Either Park MLP 1.2 master link pliers, or the cheaper Oumers master link pliers. Both serve double duty as openers and closers. When you buy your own set of master link pliers, don’t get snookered into buying pliers that only open or only close. Those exist solely to make you buy two tools.
Pretty basic stuff here. Needed simply to squish/crimp the cable end tip cover on the shifter cable after it terminates at the derailleur.
Air Pumps (tire and shock)
A tire pump is obvious, right? But we’re trying to do a complete tool list so there it is. Also necessary is the shock pump, which you use on your rear shock and your air fork. You can’t use a tire pump on a shock for a bunch of reasons, regardless of whether you have a chuck that will fit the valve. I use the Air Tool shock pump from Specialized because it has a T handle, and a 2-stage valve chuck that will prevent air loss when disconnecting. I had a cheaper pump from Amazon that had these same things but it died on me after a few months and only a few uses. Buy once, cry once.
T25 Torx Wrench
Needed for brake rotor bolts and all of the fasteners on Magura brakes. Additionally the T25 is popping up here and there on other parts, and is something of an alternate standard to a hex socket. The seatpost collar you will read about in the Perfecting section uses one. I have a whole set for my in-shop toolbox. Even if it wasn’t labeled, you can tell by the scuff marks on it which one the T25 is.
Electrical Connection/Crimping Tools (optional?)
This is something you probably should do, but you can do without if you really must. First of all, the tools necessary, and the procedures needed, are entirely covered in this 2-part series that begins here with this link.
Here’s the deal: The BBSHD motor’s power connection is a long dual-wire affair extending from the motor about 2 feet and terminating in a pair of 45-amp Anderson connectors. Now, you can buy an Anderson-to-XT90 (female) adapter, for instance, and use that to connect to your battery without shortening the wires (you will need to wrap them into a ball and stuff them somewhere) or needing to do any crimping. But thats going to be sloppy, at best.
When I built the Stormtrooper, the cable lengths worked out fine and I didn’t need to cut and shorten anything. I was able to insulate the archaic Anderson connectors and tack on an XT90-to-Anderson adapter and no one looking – even closely – at the connection would be any the wiser. That project was the exception, not the rule.
For our subject Apostate build, the distance from the battery to the motor was only a few inches, and with no battery bag to hide wiring sins its right out in the open. So there were issues with protecting the connection as well as a need to shorten the wires.
What you need, and whether you need anything besides an adapter is entirely dependent on the physical requirements of your bicycle frame, and whether you have a place to hide excess cabling. I personally have no qualms about stuffing a rubber-banded coil of cable inside of a battery bag only I will look inside of. You? Its your call. The link to all the tools you need and step by step instructions on what to do are above.
Silicone Tape (aka Extreme tape. aka Plumbers tape)
This is one of my secret weapons. On the Stormtrooper, with its white frame, I spiral-wrapped the main wiring harness and battery wires in white silicone tape. Matching the frame, they blended right in; hiding in plain sight. I use black silicone tape as handlebar grip tape on almost every bike I own. Similarly for this project we will see I use this tape in red extensively to blend in the wire tunnel, and a little bit of grey on the rear triangle. In older photos you will see white tape, which is not a match to grey alloy, but close enough to turn the volume down until I found my grey tape.
One advantage of silicone tape is it has no adhesive and sticks to itself naturally. You wrap it around things and it stays put because it stretches like a rubber band, and then sticks to itself. Permanently. Until you take a knife to it and then it splits apart and comes right off.
Zip ties are the hallmark of many DIY ebike builds, where they often seem to be used everywhere, with abandon. I try to use them as little as possible. When I do, just like the silicone tape, I use a color that matches whatever it is they are looping over to minimize their visibility. Exact paint matches are never possible, but I have found even a rough match is enough to make them less noticeable versus the typical, common black zip tie most DIY builders plaster all over anything and everything.
Step 6: Perfecting
No additional tools are needed for this step. You’ll use whatever you’ve already used in the previous steps to redo this bit or that to correct anything you don’t like about your new build.