Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
Last fall, while camping, which always includes riding, of course – I needed to lubricate the rear brake cable on my Litespeed. When I went to yank my trusty Plano toolbox (photo) out of the RV storage compartment, the box’s plastic handle broke off. Upon further inspection, when I flexed the box and drawers I discovered that the whole thing had become so brittle it was ready to fall apart.
Toting Tools for 25 Years
I know I got that old box before 1994 because it was what I took with me to wrench for Shimano at the 1994 Mountain Bike World Championships in Vail, Colorado. Here’s a story I wrote about that trip for Bicycling magazine: Wrenching At the Worlds. The date means I’ve been hauling that Plano around for at least 25 years.
In that story, I said the following about that box, “It’s a plastic Plano multi-drawer unitquite unlike the suitcase style boxes favored by the other wrenches (and nowhere near as durable, but it’s what I had, so I took it).”
Suitcase Style Bicycle Toolboxes
Instead of drawers for the tools like the Plano box, suitcase boxes feature palettes that have holders for each tool. Because the palettes swing out of the suitcase when the toolbox is setup on a workbench, the tools are nicely organized and easily accessed.
So, for my next toolbox I started looking at the suitcase models and soon learned that Park Tool had just released their BX-3 Rolling Big Blue Tool Box. The new box boasts the most palette space they’ve ever offered. It’s also made of rugged impact-resistant polypropylene. It has smooth-rolling integrated wheels and an extendable pull handle. There are side and end foldaway carry handles. And, oversize spring-loaded latches plus gas-assisted lid struts inside make for easy opening.
My New Box
Because Park’s Big Blue was such a huge upgrade from my old box, I decided to get one. It arrived just in time for the worst winter we’ve had in years here in Northern California. I didn’t get to set the box up at that time, but I did write a Tech Talk about unboxing it, and included a video with a rundown of the toolbox features. I called the BX-3 amazing and I still think it is.
To go back and read that initial article and watch Part 1 of my youtube about it, go to Unboxing Park Tool’s Impressive New BX-3 Rolling Big Blue Tool Box. The Part 2 video is below in this article.
Setting Up a Suitcase Style Bicycle Toolbox
I can’t actually tell you the tools you need to set up your toolbox because only you know what types of bicycles you will work on and what types of repairs you’ll be doing. And, it’s unlikely you’ll need the same exact stuff I do, or other pro mechanics do.
Some pros have different boxes for different events because they’re only working on a certain type of bike. So there’s no need for them to carry any more tools than needed for those specific bikes. Seeing these setups in the mechanics’ “pit” at races is always fascinating. Here’s the best story I’ve seen in awhile about it. If you’re into tools you’ll love it: https://cyclingtips.com/2019/01/toolboxwars-a-battle-between-professional-cycling-tool-nerds/.
Old Tools for Old Bikes and Lots of Wheel Tools
My setup is a bit over the top because I enjoy helping others with their bikes. And I attend many different types of events. For example, at vintage bike festivals, such as L’Eroica, I need tools dating back to the 1960’s. But then, when RVing with friends, I’ll be working on new e-mountain bikes and might even need to repair hydraulic brakes. Speaking of electronics, for road events, I will bring the charger I need for my electric shifting bikes.
Another personal example, as a wheelbuilder I want to be prepared to fix any wheel problem. For this, I carry dozens of spoke wrenches that fit all the different types of spoke nipples out there, and a cool old tool that makes “emergency spokes” allowing fixing wheels with broken spokes.
Choosing Your Tools
For setting up your own toolbox, I recommend making a list of what bikes you plan to work on. Next, make another list of what repairs you want to be able to perform. That’ll give you a great start for selecting the right stuff for your toolkit and ensuring that you have what you need.
Use your lists and visit these informative pages on Park Tool’s site that give recommended tool lists for Novice, Intermediate and Advanced mechanics. They also have a list of Essentials. https://www.parktool.com/search?q=tool+list
Going through the tools in my old box, I realized I needed some new tools. So I ended up ordering quite a few more for my new set up. I show the tools in the video.
How to Use the Palettes
Ideally when using a toolbox the mechanic will have the tool needed right at hand so it’s not necessary to hunt around. And when a job requires using a couple of tools together, like a cassette lockring tool and chain whip for removing a cassette, those tools that are used together will be close to each other in the box, too.
Palettes make tool organization easy because the built-in holders allow moving things around as much as you want until you get them where you like them. In Park’s Big Blue there are several different types of holders that can handle everything from wrenches and screwdrivers to pliers, hammers and those spoke wrenches I mentioned. Those I put in one of the large pockets on the back of the palettes.
How to Use the Bottom of the Box
When you open Big Blue, you pull out and position the side and wing palettes. Then, there’s a removable palette inside that comes out and hangs on the front of the toolbox. Once that palette is out of the box you have access to the bottom of the box, which is where the big stuff can go. (The removable palette acts as the lid for that compartment in the bottom of the box.)
There’s a lot you could do with this space. A company called Kaizen makes foam inserts that you can customize so that every tool has its own perfectly shaped pocket. While that’s definitely a cutting-edge way to keep things in place, inserts take up space.
I decided to simply put my larger tools in the box’s bottom. Park built the box with slots to accept dividers if I wanted to make some. But, a wide, open area allows fitting odd sized tools in different ways, which comes in handy. So, I left it open. I have a little box for small parts and tools in there, too. That saves having to carry a separate small parts box, which many pro mechanics have.
Verdict So Far
I’m thoroughly enjoying this massive upgrade. I’m able to carry more tools in Big Blue (I can even fit in a small “Y-type” bike parking/repair stand) and the wheels and hideaway pull handle mean I hardly ever have to carry what is one heavy toolbox.
The best part is opening it up because it always draws a crowd impressed by the pro setup and eager to see it in action. Using it is a lot like working in one of my shops where the tools are hanging on toolboards and always easy to access. Plus, it’s awesome to be able to tuck away the palettes, close the box and take it along wherever we go.
I’m still refining my tool selection. Every extra item adds weight making the box harder to move around. So, duplicate tools that aren’t needed will eventually come out and be left at home. For the heaviest tools, I might switch to lighter versions – as long as they’re still quality tools.
The layout will probably always be a work in progress. Because there will be new tools coming along and my preferences for which tools to use will change, too.
Overall, I would recommend this box to traveling mechanics who need its large capacity and extensive features. I noticed that Park has slightly dropped the price to $499.95. They also make their BX-2.2 Blue Box Tool Case, a suitcase-style box that goes for $299.95 and is smaller and has a few less features than the BX-3.
If you’re just starting out as a mechanic, keep in mind that many tool companies offer complete toolkits in even smaller, more affordable boxes. These all-in-ones allow you to begin with a general assortment of tools already chosen for you. As you develop new skills, you add tools and customize your kit.
Watch the Video
For more details about how I set up the BX-3, including the new tools I got and where I put everything – and how you might want to set up a suitcase style box like this, here’s a Part 2 video to complement the unboxing one. Hope you enjoy the show and end up with the toolbox of your dreams.
Ride total: 9,303
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Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.