Saturday, September 21, 2013

Campagnolo Tools

One of the great things about classic, vintage bikes and time-tested components is being able to take care of them yourself. Classic cup and cone ball bearing hubs, headsets, and bottom brackets require a certain amount of maintenance, but that maintenance is not difficult, and the components can potentially last longer than their "maintenance free" sealed bearing counterparts. And for me, working on bikes is just part of the allure, and a great way to clear my head. Maintaining a bicycle can be almost therapeutic in a way. I remember reading Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance -- which Pirsig himself explained wasn't really meant to be a primer on Zen Buddhism, nor was it very helpful in understanding motorcycles. But I believe that bicycle maintenance, on the other hand, might really be a path to enlightenment.

When it comes to maintaining a bicycle, of course, the right tools are important, and unfortunately most of the necessary tools aren't available at the local Sears, Lowes, Home Depot, or even your old-fashioned family-owned hardware store (the one with the creaky wooden floorboards and that awesome smell that seems to be a mixture of sawdust, gear oil, and plumbers putty). Cone wrenches, headset spanners, bottom bracket tools, 3rd and 4th-hand tools (for brakes), freewheel and cassette removers, crank pullers and more -- all are needed for basic bicycle maintenance, and available only from the bike shop. Look for bicycle-specific tools today, and one will mostly find tools by Park or Pedros -- fine tools, no doubt -- but the most sought-after tools for classic bike enthusiasts and retrogrouches are the ones made by Campagnolo of Italy.

The Holy Grail - as shown in one of Campagnolo's
old catalogs. A place for everything,
and everything in its place.
In addition to making virtually all of the components needed to build a complete bicycle (except stems and handlebars, interestingly), Campagnolo also made all the tools necessary to build and maintain the bicycle -- including the thread-cutting tools and alignment tools needed to prepare a new frame set to receive components. The tools were available individually, but the ultimate collection -- the holy grail -- was the full kit which came packed in a beautiful wooden case.

These full tool kits were available with cutters for either English or Italian threading. Find a complete kit in the case today (used!) and expect to pay several thousand dollars. As I was writing this, I spotted one on eBay, brand new -- the cutters still had wax on them from the factory -- listed for over $5000. I've seen just the wooden cases, devoid of any tools whatsoever, sell for $500 or more.

I don't have the full kit. (Sigh).

I do, however, have a pretty nice collection of individual Campagnolo tools -- most of the tools for basic maintenance, minus the cutters needed for frame preparation. I use them regularly. Let me take some time to show some of the tools I have, use, and love.
Headset and Bottom Bracket Spanners (from top): BB pin spanner and headset combination; BB lockring spanner and headset combination; BB fixed cup and pedal wrench combination.
A really useful set (from left): Offset seatpost and saddle wrench (for adjusting Nuovo Record 2-bolt seat posts and the tension bolt on Brooks leather saddles); T-wrench (6 mm allen/8mm socket -- really useful for many components); 5mm allen wrench (often called the "pregnant" wrench); Pedal spanner (for pedal dust caps and locknuts); Chainring bolt spanner (to hold the back of chainring bolts while tightening with the 5mm allen wrench); Cone wrenches - two each, 13/14 combination and 15/16 combination.
An interesting mix: (from top left) C-Record hub dustcap remover; Spoke wrench; "Special Brake Spanner" (that's what it's called); Pedal bearing cone spanner (that's a hard one to find -- but nice to have!); Pedal dust cap tool; 17mm/23mm combination spanner; And crank removing tools: One-key release crank puller (with allen wrench); and pin tool (for removing the one-key release bolt, as well as certain dust caps); Crank puller; 15mm crank bolt wrench -- aka Peanut Butter Wrench. Legend has it that the crank bolt wrench took on its "culinary" use with bike racers who were travelling to races and needed to improvise when preparing quick meals on the road. I don't know if anyone actually ever used one to spread peanut butter, or if they just thought it looked useful in that way. All I know is that it is also really useful for tightening or loosening axle nuts on track hubs.
Headset tools (from top): Fork crown race setter; Head tube bearing race remover; Fork crown race remover.
Wheel dishing tool (top) and Derailleur hanger alignment tool. 
Great tools, all of them. I managed to get a lot of mine when an old bike shop, Al's in Cleveland, was going out of business after about 40 or 50 years. I had gotten to know the owner, Al, in the last few years -- he had a reputation for being pretty "gruff" and not the friendliest guy in the business, but I think he took a liking to me. When he was closing up, I bought a bunch of his tools -- some brand new, some used. I've been filling in gaps and adding to the collection over the years keeping my eyes open on eBay for the tools that I'm missing.

Last but not least: I'm not just a fan of great classic bikes -- I also love good wine. When work is over and it's time to relax, nothing pulls open a bottle of red better than Campagnolo's specially designed and built cork puller. Much larger than most, it stays perfectly centered on the neck of the bottle, and the specially designed screw cuts cleanly into the cork without breaking it. The bolts that hold the two arms are Campagnolo chainring bolts. A nice, collectible piece that comes packed in a classy wooden box. Yes, it makes very nice, easy work of pulling corks. An indulgence, but one I had to get.


  1. Nice tools and a must if you work on your Campagnolo equipped bicycle.

  2. Nice collection. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I have had a set of Campy cone wrenches for 25 years. They are precise, fit the hand lovingly and are unmarked by any cone steel they ever met. Wonderful tools, wonderfully well made and purposeful.

  4. Well - now I know who bought the Campy cork screw :-)

    I have an eclectic bike tool collection - nothing at all from Campagnolo, AFAIK. I see the toolkits for sale at silly prices and suspect if I did have any, I'd be afraid to use them.

    Nashbar has some very good value tools and so do some of the UK bicycle online retailers. Like anyone, I have lots of Park tools. Some are excellent value. I've made a few tools. I've a couple of workstands. BBB makes some nice small tools like cable cutters and chain pliers.

    After having two different LBSes crack Campy crown races for me (the headset is about $75 complete - the race alone is $45 - go figure) I now do it myself and have not had a problem.

    I can install a bottom bracket and even chase threads as long as they are English. I don't have any cutting tools (crown race, BB or seatpost reamer) but on any new frame today, all that I've found is necessary is removing a layer of paint at most. And cutting the crown race and reaming the seatpost is really only required when building up a new frame, which opens up the need for a whole lot more in the tool department.

    Campy's latest PowerTorque carnks are a step backwards and require a special puller to get the non-drive side arm off. Unlike Shimano (pinch bolts) or SRAM/FSA (integral removal bolt) Campy went with a very user-unfriendly "jammed on" design and didn't even take the trouble to make provision for removal. Every mechanic I've talked to hates this. It requires a special puller, a plastic cushion and a plug (for the puller to rest on). For carbon cranks they supply some cardboard shims to help protect from scratches. The tool is undersized, and I saw one at an LBS that had bent trying to pull an arm. I guess you should probably disassemble PowerTorque components on some sort of regular basis and use LOTS of anti-seize.

    Speaking of such things - I'm a big fan of blue (medium) Loctite and anti-seize or grease. Obviously, grease is used on rotating parts (headsets, wheel bearings, BBs) but there are plenty of alloy parts on bicycles and also lots of stainless steel (I usually replace anything mild steel with stainless if possible). Both metals tend to gall under pressure (stick), so depending on the location, I use either Loctite (waterbottle cage bolts, rack mounts, brake bolts, handlebar clamps, dérailleur mounts) or anti-seize (seatposts, stems, skewers). It may seem counterintuitive, but Loctite - whike keeping parts together - also makes disassembly easier since the threads don't corrode.

    One final mention of a pet peeve. There are plenty of manufactures making decent parts and accessories that obviously spent a lot of money of tooling, but then cheap out on the hardware and supply mild steel or plated nuts/bolts/stays. Anyone who looks at old bikes can see the ravages of rust (as Neil Young said, "rust never sleeps" :-)

  5. I worked in a shop back in the early/mid 80's and the shop owner bought one of these boxed tool sets. It was really nice. He also purchased at about the same time the Campy 50th Anniversary Gruppo. That was something special. Ah, the good ol' days.

  6. I have the full tool kit in the wooden box- any ideas on value? We bought it new about 25 years ago and it's still in pristine condition.

    1. As mentioned in the article, I've seen sets in excellent, like-new condition sell for $5000. Complete sets in good condition often sell for $3000 - $4000.