A packable derailleur hanger de-wambler
Wolf Tooth Pack Hanger Alignment Tool
The second I started to type the intro to what should be a pretty easy to parse product review, my brain went into vapor-lock. There are some caveats here. They must be addressed before we can move on. So, here we go:
- This is a review of a derailleur hanger alignment tool. Most people do not need one of these. Why not? Well, for the price of this tool (119.95 US), you could purchase three or four replacement hangers, since most bikes these days have replaceable hangers.
- This is a review of a packable, portable, derailleur hanger alignment tool. See above. This tool may be packable and portable, but it is still several orders of magnitude larger than a replaceable hanger.
- Most bike and/or replaceable hanger manufacturers will likely warn against trying to bend a derailleur hanger back into shape, because hangers (especially the replaceable ones) are generally made out of aluminum and aluminum does not take kindly to repeated bending.
- About that bending, it's very easy to use too much force. People who have not spent some time in shops learning the ugly way how much is too much, well, every once in a while they might find themselves snapping a hanger clean off. Hopefully it's a replaceable hanger. Go back up to point number 2. Replace hanger.
- Bike shops NEED hanger alignment tools. They are an integral part of fixing bikes. The vast majority of "my bike won't shift right" customer complaints can be chalked up to buggered/dirty cables or derailleur hangers that got knocked out of plane by something ("I swear, I was just riding along when that tree came and punched me right below the rear axle..."), and not all hangers are replaceable. Individual customers, well, refer to points 1 through 4.
Okay, now we have that out of the way, let's see what we've got here. This is the Wolf Tooth Pack Hanger Alignment Tool for bikes with thru-axles. It is unlike all the other hanger alignment tools out there. Everyone else, from the ubiquitous bike shop Park DAG-2 to the beautiful but somewhat ostentatious Abbey Hanger Alignment Gauge (to say nothing of the scads of Chinese knock-off tools available on Amazon), works basically the same way: big long arm pivoting around a bolt that threads into the derailleur hanger, with some sort of index arm that you reference against the rim of the bike's rear wheel. Rotate tool, bending as you follow the rim, adjusting until the index arm is consistent with the rim.
The Wolf Tooth P.H.A.T goes about things differently. Instead of an index arm referencing off the rim and a big long bender bar, the P.H.A.T utilizes a dummy axle with an indicator rod that extends out of it, and a separate handle that threads into the derailleur hanger. Alignment is achieved by eyeballing the differential between the hanger handle and the indicator rod, and bending into the hanger handle until it is visually aligned with the indicator rod from both above and behind. The end result is the same, but the manner of getting there is different. More on the pro/con of the different methods later.
In execution, like all Wolf Tooth gear, this is a beautifully made piece of kit. It's manufactured in the USA, with its various component pieces machined from 7075 and 6061 aluminum, and 303 stainless steel. The stainless steel indicator rod slides smoothly but precisely inside the aluminum 12mm axle dummy, held in tension with a pair of tiny o-rings in the shaft. There are three stainless axle tips for different thread pitches; 12x1.0, 12x1.5 and 12x1.75. A tightening knob (that also serves as the "cap" for the packed tool) is partially threaded in what is referred to as a "rock to lock" design; it can be slid along the threaded end of the dummy axle until it is needed to thread down and snug the assembly tight into the frame of the bike being worked on. The knob also has a notch machined into it that fits the hex on the end of the axle tips so you don't need to chase down a wrench to swap them out. The thru-axle kit seen here packs down into a single tube, about 360mm stem to stern and weighing a modest 297 grams.
To use the P.H.A.T, you need to remove the derailleur, as well as the rear axle. Then you match the P.H.A.T axle tips with the axle from your bike, making sure to DO THIS PART RIGHT. Thread the Dummy axle in where your old axle was, slide the tightening knob into place then rock/snug the assembly finger tight. Thread the hanger handle onto the derailleur hanger, gently extend the indicator rod, commence eyeballin' and start straightenin'.
I'm old as dirt, and have been using either Park DAGs or really long 6mm Allen wrenches for the past 35 years, so it took me about five minutes to get used to the difference here, but it did the job on a freshly wambled rear hanger and had a cantankerous XO Eagle 12-speed derailleur shifting fine again in short order. It works! But it is a bit different, and there are definite pluses and minuses to consider.
First, the hanger handle is shorter and offers less leverage than the long bar on the bigger "old style" tools. That means it requires more effort to get things in line. On one hand, this is good - it will also require more effort to snap a hanger clean off. On the other, as one applies more effort, it can sometimes be difficult to precisely meter that effort, so maybe, just maybe, one could argue that it's more difficult to apply just the right amount of oomph to the afflicted hanger. Personally, I think this is a matter of calibration. It just feels a little different and takes some getting used to for people used to the old long bar type tools.
Second, you need to visually align two parallel tubes of differing diameters, and there isn't a clearly etched set of reference marks on the body of the tool or any handy cheat sheet. It's not really necessary, since it is pretty easy to reference the edge of the black hanger handle against the shiny silver of the alignment rod, but it could conceivably mess with people who have moderate to severe astigmatism, or who have short vision issues. However...
Third, some people might claim that the old way - having a feeler gauge tapping on a rim - is a more accurate way to measure alignment. I doubt that assertion. Rims are not always perfectly true, and most of the more modestly priced long arm tools have some degree of either slop or futzy operation to their feeler gauges (which need to be slid up and down along the gauge arm since they are not rotating concentrically with the rim) that it takes practice to get good and consistent with that method.
Fourth, you need to remove both the rear axle and derailleur. With the long bar tools, you only need to remove the derailleur. Buuuut, I think using the bore of the rear axle for alignment is on the whole a more accurate point of reference than using a rim, see above. So, once you get the hang of it, the process takes about two minutes more, from soup to nuts, maybe, but is also likely to yield more predictably accurate results, maybe.
I bought this thing out of curiosity, because I had a couple hangers that had been mangled, and because I like nice tools but can't justify paying twice this much for the super swank Abbey piece of kit. Also, while I don't really buy into the packability aspect (see reasons 1-4 at the top of this scroll), I do value a tool that can fit into a toolkit unobtrusively and be relied upon to consistently do its job. Meaning, I may not pack it on rides, but I sure as hell will take it on the road in the travel toolkit. To that end, the P.H.A.T is beautifully compact compared to every other alternative.
Final thoughts: I like it, but I am a tool nerd and I am fully aware of the "oops" limits of most aluminum hangers. If you are not a tool nerd, and if you subscribe to the "tighten until it strips then back it off a quarter turn" school of wrenching, you could better spend your coin on other things. Lastly, this is a thru-axle only tool. It can also be purchased as a kit with a q.r axle adaptor, or as a q.r only tool, or the q.r adaptor can be purchased separately.
Ahhh, q.r rear axles. Remember those? Sigh... I wonder if anyone is trying to adapt a 135 q.r rear end to SRAM UDH yet. Hey, here's a video of how this here tool works!