Chains and Whips... and Wrenches

If you’re riding anything other than a rental bike, changing gears is a necessity. Warm up in one gear and work out in another (or two or three or four); love it or hate it, there’s no way around. And if, like most cyclists, you’re penchant for the sport is somewhat predicated by a lacking of hand-eye coordination, you’re probably looking for tools that can make the job easier. The good news is, there are a number of different tools that can help: knurled chain ring bolts, chain whips, and cog removers to name a few. But, as we all know, not all tools are created equal. Since the requirements for a getting a chain ring off are pretty straight forward, we’ve taken a look at what’s available to remove a cog and have compared some of the most common, and expensive, options so you don’t have to. For now, we’re going to compare: Park Tools’ SR-18, Shimano’s TL-SR22, the Cobra Cog Wrench, and Euro Asia’s Pro Keirin Tool.
Park Tools’ SR-18
Despite the name, chain whips are not as pugilistic as they sound. They’re typically a long piece of metal with a couple bits of chain affixed to one side that allow you get even the most standing-start-stubborn cog off. Park’s SR-18 is no exception. The PVC moulding covers a heat treated 1/8” steel handle that has a hexagonal cut-out at one end large enough to accommodate one of Park’s many lock ring tools (available separately). At the business end of the tool you’ll find two bits of 1/8” KMC chain attached by three metric screws. Overall the tool is easy to use because of its length and the use of the screws, instead of the typical rivets, makes up for the cheap bit of chain used for the whip (it makes replacing the chain a lot easier when the need arises). But at roughly 36cm (14 ¼”) long it’s a bit cumbersome for most track bags. Try and fit it in EAI’s Keirin Tote and it’ll stick out of the back compartment by about 11cm (4 ¼”).
Shimano TL-SR22
Shimano’s TL-SR22 has a more refined track pedigree. From tip to tip it’s still about 31.5cm (12”) but this time the moulded handle covers ¼” tempered steel. And, despite the fact that it bares the name Shimano, it still has an 1/8” Izumi chain…Little known fact, Izumi has actually been making many of Shimano’s chains for the last 60 years. Another feature that’s an improvement over Park’s whip is the fact that it has an integrated lock ring tool for use on fixed gear hubs. The Achilles heel of the tool is the fact that the chain is affixed to the handle by a single rivet. Over time the repeated stress of removing cogs coupled with the lateral force that’s applied to the tool weakens this joint and, eventually, the chain snaps off. That said, because the handle is ¼” it, not coincidentally I’m sure, is the same width as the chain’s rollers. So as you tighten the cog, you’re less likely to add those lateral forces. Also, it’s repairable and it typically takes years of use for this to happen. At about 415 grams it isn’t particularly light but since you probably won’t be going over any mountain passes with this, I won’t count that as a disadvantage. Overall, despite its small shortcoming, I’d say that this is probably the best track chain whip/cog removal tool on the market.
Cobra Cog Wrench
The inspiration for our next tool actually comes from some of the short-comings in the previous tool. Carl Jones, of the Alkek Velodrome in Houston, Texas was using EAI’s Keirin tool when, at some point, it broke. Having shelled out some decent coin for the tool he was understandably upset. And, rather than throw his arms up in frustration, or more realistically after throwing his arms up, he decided to channel his frustration into making improvements on the tool. The Cobra Cog remover is similar to the Keirin Tool except that it’s made of three heat treated plates of steel held together with five small bolts. Should you ever damage the tool, all of the parts are available after-market. Aside from the ability to remove cogs and lock rings like the tools’ archetype Carl has also added a bottle opener for post ride brews and a small space to store an extra chain ring bolt. The tool is also more solid on a broader range of cogs handling 13-18t sprockets relatively well. While I don’t suspect most track cyclists will take advantage of the bottle opener and the bolt “keeper” I do like the fact that it’s repairable and made in the USA. The biggest drawback is that, even though the tool measures 22cm (8 ¾”) from tip to tip, the usable lever is actually just under 1cm shorter than the Keirin Tool (which was short to begin with). If you’re not a skinny scratch racer you may want to bring something to extend the handle, or prepare to wrestle the cogs off. Having said that, coming in at $85CAD ($65USD) it’s still a better option for those wanting to move away from the whip.
EAI Pro Keirin Tool
Made from forged steel the EAI Pro Keirin Tool is a dwarf in comparison to the chain whips we’ve already reviewed (and its archetype the Cholain). The chromed steel tool has a 15mm box wrench at one end to take the place of your peanut butter wrench and, at the same end, there’s a 10mm box wrench intended to help loosen and tighten a chain tensioner. At the opposite end of the tool two pronged teeth, each capable of acting as a lock ring tool, are separated by a narrow trough large enough to accommodate an 1/8” cog. While the manufacturer claims the tool will work with 13-16t cogs, it’s been our experience that it handles 14-16t cogs with more consistency. Also, at 22cm (just under 8 ¾”) long, it’s a little too short to get enough torque to remove stubborn cogs. Lastly, although it seems pretty durable, we’ve heard that the teeth on the tool can occasionally break off. This wouldn’t necessarily prevent the tool from acting as a cog remover it’s just not something you would expect from a tool that costs nearly $270CAD ($200USD).

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