16 March 2008

bikefix Exclusive Review: Park AWS-1 & AWS-3 hex wrenches

With spring just around the corner (or so I hope) and more daylight available after work, I find myself drawn to my garage workshop more and more frequently. It's not necessarily that anything really needs doing, but it feels good to be out there, tidying and fettling after dinner. Figuring that I'm not alone in this, we'll be looking at some essential tools over the coming weeks and months.

While changing out some handlebars lately, I realized just how nearly perfect the Park AWS-1 wrench really is. Modern road and mountian bikes feature a whole host of of fasteners. While high-strength Torx fasteners are becoming increasingly common, the vast majority of fasteners on most bikes are of the 4-, 5-, and 6mm hex variety. In fact, I can probably count on my fingers the number of fasteners that aren't one of the three. Park, most mechanics' favorite tool company, realized this and (about 20 years ago) came out with their AWS-1.

It's a simple tool, really (see the picture), but very well executed. Three 2in hex keys point out of a squished plastic puck that fits very well in the hand. The keys (available in stronger straight and versatile ball-end versions) are made out of very high-strength (Bondus Protanium) alloy steel that is very resistant to rounding. As many of us have learned from experience, using a rounded tool is one of the best ways to hose a perfectly good fastener. There is enough length in each key that, should you manage to hose one, you can use your bench grinder or Dremel cutoff wheel to shave 1/4in off and carry on. The arms are long enough to provide enough torque for most any bicycle application, and having all three common sizes in hand is great for common tasks (ie: stem and bar swaps, gear adjustments and so on).

The AWS-3 in the title and pictured above is the little brother of the AWS-1, and has 2-, 2.5-, and 3mm keys (as used on Formula disc brake levers and Rock Shox "we'll use every fastener size we can find" remote lockout assemblies). While there are several similar tools available (from Pedros and others), none that I've seen have been as durable. Do it right and you'll only have to do it once (besides, they're under $10). Since mine were made and purchased (I keep one on the workbench, one in the car), Park have revised the AWS-1 for more strength and better ergonomics. While I don't see mine wearing out, these do have a funny habit of going missing. When this happens, it'll be replaced quickly with the same thing.



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