Blackburn Coolest Tool NSMB AndrewM (1).JPG
EDITORIAL | REVIEW

The Coolest Tool

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major
Date Oct 9, 2020
Reading time

My Cool Tool

I received my Cool Tool as a gift in ‘95 or ‘96. It was the perfect multi-tool for the time and such an important part of my tao of teenaged mountain biking that all these years later my mom still remembers it. These days a multi-tool is just something I use on the trail, but back then if I didn't fix it with my Cool Tool, it meant my bike was heading into the shop.

This beauty did everything in a tidy package, from tightening my always loose square-taper cranks to adjusting my STX-RC cantilever brakes, to straightening my derailleur hanger. Until it didn’t. Enter the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink Topeak Alien - a soggy 'meh' of a tool that sold thousands and thousands of units - and the disc brake era.

I've tried countless multi-tools. Some of them I even really, really, appreciate, like the Wolf Tooth EnCase or my SKS Toolbox Race. Nothing, absolutely nothing, has ever entered my psyche like the Cool Tool but that could be a case of tool-creep. Over the years I've purchased a number of very nice shop tools that I use for working on bikes at home. Cool Tool wouldn't have had a shot against my Knipex pliers either.

Cool Tool WikiMultitool (2).jpg

The original Cool Tool. 14mm/15mm reversible socket that interfaced with the adjustable wrench. 8mm and 10mm hex sleeve on the 6mm hex. 5mm hex, 4mm hex, and a Philips screw driver. Chain breaker, and spoke key. Photo: Multitool Wiki

Blackburn Coolest Tool NSMB AndrewM (15).JPG

Selected pieces of the Blackburn Switch combined with a SRAM Torx key. 8mm, 6mm, and 5mm hex, chain breaker, valve remover, three sizes of spoke key, disc pad spreader, T25 (4mm), and T10 (2.5mm).

There's also the fact that we aging bike nerds can get a bit cynical. Blackburn has new multi-tools, eh? Big whoopie-ding. Multi-tools; there are lots of cheap options that work fine, a few expensive options that offer some unique storage or function advantage, and a sea of whatever. Nothing new.

Then Pete used the word 'sleeper' to describe Blackburn's new program and honestly, that was enough to pique my interest. And yeah, they look pretty damn good. And then I played with them and I agree that the Wayside, with its detachable full-size hex keys, is a grinder - to remove the ball-ends - away from being most riders' perfect trailside toolbox.

Putting the Wayside to the side, the tool that caught my eye right away was the new Switch. It's essentially a very nicely made sliding T-handle & L-handle with huge potential to deliver shop-level leverage and feel out of a compact multi-tool. It's not perfect, but the potential is extraordinary. I've been using my version of it around my house and out on the trail, and the experience has been delightful.

The T10 & T25 Disclaimer

I'm not pandering when I say that I think the vast majority of NSMB.com readers don't need to be beaten over the head with this, but I also know that there are exceptions, so here's a general 'don't try this at home.' If you round out a bolt head using the improper tool, and then mess up your component trying to drill it out, and then ravage your frame or fork trying fix the first two screw-ups, then that's on you. I don't want to hear about it.

In my case, the only components on either of my bikes that use a 4mm hex key are my brake levers, which I run fairly loose - so they can move in a crash - and occasionally I need to tighten them up a touch on a ride. For this application, the Torx T25 that I carry is a perfect trailside substitute for a 4mm hex. I'm not saying I use a T25 in my shop as a replacement for a 4mm, I'm not suggesting I torque up stem bolts with one, I'm absolutely not advocating using a T25 for any application other than for tightening or loosening hardware with a Torx T25 interface. I'm just saying, for my setup a T25 replaces my 4mm hex. Likewise, the 2.5mm hex bolt on my RaceFace crank preloader and Chris King hub preloader almost never require adjustment on the trail. But, in a pinch, a Torx T10 does the job, for me and it means I don't need to carry a 2.5mm hex key.

The good news is, if you're looking at this setup and thinking it would be lovely but for the lack of a <<insert tool>>, the Blackburn Switch will interface with any 1/4" bit. If you need to carry a security bit to service your phone trailside, or a tiny screwdriver to tighten your glasses, then chances are you can track those options down in 1/4".

Blackburn Coolest Tool NSMB AndrewM (6).JPG

The only 4mm bolts on my bikes currently are for the brake levers and I run mine fairly loose. In the event I do need to lightly tighten a loose bolt the Torx T25 works great in place of a 4mm hex.

Blackburn Coolest Tool NSMB AndrewM (5).JPG

Likewise, the only time I'm worried about adjusting 2.5mm hex bolts on my bike are when they're loose in which case the Torx T10 is a great tool for the job.

Blackburn & Ball Ends

Ugh, ball ends. Someone at Blackburn obviously loves them. I had a joke about how this tool should come with a bag of 2.5mm, 3mm, and 4mm hex bolts for when riders round out all their hardware but the naked truth swallowed, digested, and defecated out any humour I could scavenge.

People are going to roach* the ever-loving shit out of their bikes using these ball ends on bolts that are torqued up. They're going to strip lock-on grip screws, stem face-plate bolts, dropper post cable clamping bolts, and so on. If it uses a 2.5mm, 3mm, or 4mm hex interface, it's on borrowed time. And unlike the aforementioned Wayside, the naturally higher-leverage Switch only has ball ends as an option for these hex sizes.

Don't agree? Love those ball ends? Never had an issue using them in the past? Great. I've never had an issue using a T10 as a 2.5mm and a T25 as a 4mm. Air high fives for us! Feeling a little more wishy-washy about the ball ends? Remember, whatever your mechanic charges to remove six stripped bolts from your $280 ENVE M6 V2 stem is totally fair.

*roach = bad | Roach = good

Blackburn Coolest Tool NSMB AndrewM (7).JPG

I tossed the 2.5mm, 3mm, and 4mm hex keys because they all use ball ends. I don't have any use for the T30 Torx bit or flat screwdriver on the trail either.

Blackburn Coolest Tool NSMB AndrewM (8).JPG

Ranting about balls aside, the Switch is a really sweet tool to use. It comes with a nice tube wrap for 45 USD or on its own for 30.

Cool Switch Tool

Disclaimers and ranting about ball-ends aside, here's the tool I've been using for the past while. I've tightened Presta valves, a loose spoke, single-speed dropouts, and various other bolts on the trail. At home, just to say I did, I've used the decent leverage to remove a RaceFace crankset (8mm hex) and I've also tried out the chain tool a couple of times. It's a great setup.

I can use the hollow 8mm hex to generate extra lever on my T25 hex key as needed and my Switch is really quick to use as it's always pre-assembled. It's also one of the few tools I'm happy to use without taking my gloves off which I suspect will be a major advantage this winter. I tend to have 99% of my yearly mechanicals in the pouring rain. Half of those are at night.

Blackburn Coolest Tool NSMB AndrewM (1).JPG

The Switch tool can be used as a T or L wrench. For bolts, like my drop-outs, that need to be tight-tight I'll switch the 5/6 hex bit into the L-position.

Blackburn Coolest Tool NSMB AndrewM (3).JPG

It's essentially a sliding T-handle with stops that make it more convenient to use on the trailside wearing gloves or getting at awkwardly positioned bolts.

Blackburn Coolest Tool NSMB AndrewM (4).JPG

This little beauty is the cornerstone of most Blackburn multi-tools. It's very usable as a spoke key and valve tool and the chain tool is okay too. I haven't tried the pad-spreading function yet.


I tend to have 99% of my yearly mechanicals in the pouring rain. Half of those are at night.

In a micro-version of how my Cool Tool was assembled around an adjustable wrench, all of Blackburn's new tools are built around their chain tool. It's also a spoke key, Presta valve tool, and disc-pad spreader. As both a valve tool and spoke key, it is not only better-than-nothing but actually excellent. Most spoke tools included in multi-tools are all but useless but one could build a wheel with this Blackburn piece and not lose a second compared to a standard Park Tool key. It's a passive addition to many of their tools but it truly shines with my Switch, where a rider is visually encouraged to remove it and use it separately from the rest of the tool.

I think Blackburn could improve the Switch by ditching the ball ends and also scrapping the T30 Torx. In place of the T30 and flat-head screwdriver, Blackburn could eliminate a whole bit to look after. I think my perfect version would include the T10/T25 Torx L-handle key and a 3mm/4mm Hex L-handle key attached via plastic clips with the rest of the tool as I'm running it. I'm certainly more than happy as is, though.

More than those potential improvements, I think Blackburn has the roots for an ultimate trailside tool in 2020 comparable to Cool Tool twenty-five years ago. Everything I need, nothing I don't, always ready to go with no faffing about. Probably don't want to throw it in your stash bibs, but in a hip pack, frame bag, or backpack, I'm golden.

Ditch the Cordura bit holder (everything here stays on securely) and the superfluous bits and it's probably realistic to call the Switch a 25 USD tool. Even at 30 USD, it presents a great value to me. It doesn't have the stash-ability of One Up's EDC, Trek's BITS, or Wolf Tooth's EnCase but it's way closer to the price of a basic multi-tool compared to any of those setups.

In use, my six-year-old appreciates the extra leverage even more than I do and that's an extra feature for anyone trying to trailside-tech their bike without a lot of hand strength. The non-ball-bits interface very nicely with bolts and the whole tool clicks together with a resounding quality.

Want to make one like mine? These T10/T25 SRAvidM Torx keys are easy to come by and it's just a plastic cable clean-up clip holding them together. Those bits are easy enough to come by so I'm going to say you can pick this package up for 30 USD at your preferred local shop. Since the Switch uses a 1/4" bit interface the customizing options are endless.

If you have a cooler, more relevant, out-there toolset I'd like to see it!

Related Stories

Trending on NSMB

Comments

olaa
+2 Andrew Major Pete Roggeman
olaa  - Oct. 9, 2020, 12:23 a.m.

In my pack i have a multitool assembled from several old ones, it is great, and has all the functions that you really need. But it's not my favourite. My favourite tool is a Park Tool MT1 that i've had since the mid 90's, it lacks the t25 but other than that it is a nifty little tool for those short rides when you take that tool (with quick links taped to it) in the pocket and head out the door. If Park tool could update the MT1 i would buy it in a heartbeat!

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Pete Roggeman
Andrew Major  - Oct. 9, 2020, 6:55 a.m.

An updated MT-1 could be great. T-25 instead of the flat blade (but in a higher leverage location) but the lack of 2.5 hex may still turn some folks off.

I could see having it in a quick access spot with a more involved tool in my mini-frame bag. But yeah, dead without a T-25. Although... could always rubber bands a SRAvidM Tory key on there!

Have any pics of your homemade tool?

Reply

fartymarty
+2 Andrew Major Pete Roggeman
fartymarty  - Oct. 9, 2020, 3 a.m.

This looks quite nice.  I wonder how much of it you could stow in your BB axle?

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Pete Roggeman
Andrew Major  - Oct. 9, 2020, 6:50 a.m.

Or in my handlebar... 

The cornerstone pad spreader etc doesn’t fit. It does all fit in my little Wolf Tooth frame bag, but I just keep it in my pack. 

Haven’t done a pack-less ride since I started reviewing the Chase Protector Vest.

Reply

MuscogeeMasher
+3 Vincent Edwards Andrew Major Pete Roggeman
MuscogeeMasher  - Oct. 9, 2020, 3:33 a.m.

Could you please share who makes the cable clip?  I've looked for that style before but not been able to find it.  Thanks!

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Pete Roggeman
Andrew Major  - Oct. 9, 2020, 6:46 a.m.

It’s a great little clip. Rocky Mountain specs this one on their bikes. Probably other brands do too, but I’d guess any Rocky dealer could dig one up for you.

Reply

MuscogeeMasher
0
MuscogeeMasher  - Oct. 10, 2020, 6:04 a.m.

Yep.  Seems to be OEM on a lot of bikes but no aftermarket sales.

Reply

Tremeer023
+2 Andrew Major Pete Roggeman
Tremeer023  - Oct. 9, 2020, 5:15 a.m.

I replaced a lot my bolts with ti bolts (random weight saving exercise as I was bored), but they seem to round out more easily.  After stripping a couple of rotor bolts I got scared and switched back to steel for a lot of them.  

Multitool or not, it's always worth paying more for a sharp edged quality hex tool.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+2 Pete Roggeman Tremeer023
Andrew Major  - Oct. 9, 2020, 6:42 a.m.

“Multitool or not, it's always worth paying more for a sharp edged quality hex tool.”

This. Although when it comes the multi-tools price and bit quality aren’t always associated. 

Also the reason for my derision towards ball ends. A bit of convenience isn’t worth the potential cost and headache.

Reply

Evil_Bumpkin
+1 Andrew Major
Evil_bumpkin  - Oct. 9, 2020, 8:34 a.m.

Andrew, is the original Cool Tool still valid in these days of changing standards? I have one in mint condish that I'm considering tossing back in my kit.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Evil_bumpkin
Andrew Major  - Oct. 9, 2020, 8:55 a.m.

I mean, the chain breaker is okay the the wrench could be used for straightening a rotor but honestly I don’t think the Cool Tool stands up to what’s available today. 

Made for a great muse for thinking about modern tools though!

Reply

Evil_Bumpkin
+2 Andrew Major Christopher Daniel
Evil_bumpkin  - Oct. 9, 2020, 9:53 a.m.

Thanks for the response :) I have been keeping it around as a nostalgia/conversation piece, I have to decide if that's enough reason to use it on the trail. Added bonus, its heavy enough to knock out a bear.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Evil_bumpkin
Andrew Major  - Oct. 9, 2020, 11:39 a.m.

Definitely worth keeping around!

Reply

Jotegir
+3 Andrew Major danimaniac Pete Roggeman
Lu Kz  - Oct. 9, 2020, 8:36 a.m.

Ah, the Blackburn One-hitter. When these came out I think the "hidden feature" was one of the first things mentioned about this guy. It's my go to tool for my DH bike where big torque can save the day. I like how I can chuck a drivers license and credit card in the pouch portion and simply run it as my wallet for ride days too. Fits really comfortably in a pocket, which is nice because there's lots of bike stuff in the no backpack future which fit pretty poorly in pockets these days, including many boy-I-wouldn't-want-to-crash-on-that shaped multi tools.'

I've actually also been a pretty big fan of Blackburn of late. They make a bunch of cool stuff like frame bags or bikepacking which can be hard to find at similar pricepoints. While the quality of these items isn't quite as good as some top of the line stuff, Blackburn's warranty policy is absolutely incredible: in my experience, it's just show up with broken stuff and a receipt and you're good to go. I won't say what specifically, but I've seen some pretty dubious stuff that Blackburn's covered without question. Right now, you'll usually see the small frame bag, multi tool, and tire plugger making regular appearances on my bike. In the shop is the tire pressure checker. My only gripe is that I'd like them to round out their catalogue a bit more so I can ride more of their stuff!

PS - for people actually looking to make a tool exactly like Andrew's, our shop has probably a hundred of those little SRAM tools. If you get the other Blackburn half, I can't see a shop in a similar poisition not throwing in the stuff to get you the rest of the way.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+2 Lu Kz Pete Roggeman
Andrew Major  - Oct. 9, 2020, 9 a.m.

The tool-wallet angle is awesome. Hadn’t thought of it as a bike park tool (I only don’t ride park) but the combination of packability and usability is great. I just wouldn’t be able to get over the ball ends - though my SRAvidM key fits in the pouch. Would easily fit in the back pocket of my riding pants.

Yeah, that’s what I figured on the clip and Torx. Shops generally have a box of them so if someone is chucking down 30usd for a tool I didn’t figure it’d be a big deal to get those thrown in.

Echo the fact that Blackburn is coming up with a lot of great stuff right now. As Pete said they a sleeper. I always think of them as the pannier rack company.

Reply

earleb
+4 Kurt Adams Andrew Major mrbrett Pete Roggeman
earle.b  - Oct. 9, 2020, 10:02 a.m.

How can we have a mention of Cool Tool and not it's eccentric founder Bob Seals? Bob started Retrotec bikes and after leaving the bike world he founded Klean Kanteen.  He's known for showing up to the early singlespeed races wearing nothing put a speedo. 

I've been using a set of Fix-It sticks for a few years, I managed to lose one of them and yet to replace it. Along with the Fix-It Sticks I've carried a small chain breaker that was salvaged from some old Topeak. This unit looks like it could be a worthy addition. 

Regarding 1/4 bits, get WERA HexPlus bits. They are better.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Oct. 9, 2020, 12:55 p.m.

Wera Hex Plus bits are nice!

I knew Bob Seals was Cool Tool & RetroTec, but didn’t know about Klean Kanteen. Figured the best way to make a fortune in the bike industry was to do something else I guess?

Reply

nouseforaname
+1 Andrew Major
Nouseforaname  - Oct. 9, 2020, 1:42 p.m.

TIL

Reply

Losifer
+1 Andrew Major
Carlos Matutes  - Oct. 9, 2020, 4:26 p.m.

A bright red speedo at that! 

I also had no idea he started Kleen Kanteen- good on ya, Bob!

Reply

kurt-adams
+1 Andrew Major
Kurt Adams  - Oct. 9, 2020, 11:47 a.m.

I'm a proud Cool Tool owner ....unfortunately it doesn't go in the pack any more, but I still love it!

Reply

lance-h
+1 Andrew Major
lance-h  - Oct. 9, 2020, 3:02 p.m.

I dont think anything short of a breaker bar can break a DUB crank loose... hahaha

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Oct. 9, 2020, 7:56 p.m.

I always say it’s SRAM’s way of supporting the local bike shop. Had plenty of folks through to get chain rings changed...

...how hard could it be right? 8mm, self-extracting cap, abs a T25.

Reply

Bad-Sean
0
Sean Chee  - Oct. 10, 2020, 6:43 a.m.

I'm with you on the ball end hex. They have a use but I used to prefer normal keys every day of the week. 

Now I own both wera and pb swiss hex keys, I use both equally. The pb are a normal end and the wera have a ball. The wera ball is very different to every other ball end out there and I am happy to put a lot of torque into them without fear of rounding the bolt. 

Not that I do often. Most of the time I need a lot of torque on a hex bolt, I am using a ratchet or impact driver.

Reply

colemaneddie
0
colemaneddie  - Oct. 12, 2020, 8:59 a.m.

Was on the fence about this but came up with another hack that is pushing me over the edge -- getting a 1/4" ratcheting spanner wrench and throwing that in to use in place of the main tool (or in addition to?). This would give me ratcheting ability for getting fixes done quick. I'll probably just buy a single spanner, cut it down with a hacksaw, file it until smooth and throw it in the kit. That gives me portability, ratchetability and all the other abilities. BRB, headed to Home Depot. https://www.homedepot.com/p/Husky-1-4-in-12-Point-SAE-Ratcheting-Combination-Wrench-HRW14/204757660

Reply

Please log in to leave a comment.