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What spanners and tools do I need
for classic British motorcycles?


Whitworth | AF | Metric | Box spanners | Torque wrench | Multimeter | Plug spanner



For older British motorcycles (i.e. pre-1970s) you'll need BSW or British Standard Whitworth spanners and sockets. "Whitworth" for short. They might also be marked "BS". British Standard. These are still readily available at classic bike autojumbles, and you can find them on eBay and elsewhere on the internet. A few "old bike shops" will carry them too.


You might at some point also need a set of Whitworth taps and dies. And try and get some Whitworth box spanners (thin walled tubular spanners, like sockets). Just look for the appropriate BSW or BS markings and/or tell the dealer/trader what you want. Quality box spanners will often reach into places where you can't get a spanner or a (thick walled) socket. Buy the spanners, and always use the tightest fitting one you can.


Note that there are oddities with Whitworth nuts and bolts, notably regarding the head size. It's a complicated historical/technical matter and needn't bother a classic bike mechanic. Just make sure you ask if the spanners/sockets will suit the motorcycle you have, or plan to buy. It's a learning process, but school's out fairly early.


For post-1970 classic bikes you might need a set of AF spanners (for T140 Triumphs, for instance). But there's some crossover here. So you might need Whitworth and AF depending on many factors, such as what parts might have been fitted/mixed etc. But don't panic. These spanners don't have to be very expensive. Just check what you're buying, and always buy the best you can afford. And once again, try and get some box spanners. And you might need a set of Allen/Hex wrenches. AF sizes, please. Few, if any pre-1970s classics, however, will need Allen/Hex wrenches.


So how do you know what "type" of spanners you need? Well, you'll have to talk to a dealer, or check your parts book, or try a few spanners for size, or speak to the members of an owner's club. You'll soon work it out. It's not complicated.


Broadly speaking, metric spanners are no good to you for classic British bike repairs—except to say that occasionally a metric spanner just happens to fit a Whitworth or AF nut/bolt. But as a rule, use the exact size spanner possible. Stay focussed.


Much later Triumphs (Hinckley bikes) will use metric spanners. No AF. No Whitworth.


One final point on spanners. You might need some BA spanners too. BA stands for British Association. It's an obsolete size and is used for smaller nuts and bolts (on carburettors or magnetos or similar). BA spanners are usually fairly cheap (and flimsy if you're not fairly selective). Get a set if you can.


Beyond that, there aren't usually too many special tools needed. These might include a small three-legged puller set, a spark plug spanner, possibly a locking tool for the clutch, maybe a valve spring compressor, an impact driver and a torque wrench (Clarke torque wrench shown here).


And once in a while your workshop manual will advise you to get this or that tool—or even to cobble something together from a piece of metal plate and a bolt or similar. But more often than not, you can work around special tools. There are plenty of second-hand special tools at autojumbles, and prices are usually very low.


Meanwhile, you'll want some long-nosed pliers, a set of screwdrivers (mostly flat, but possibly a few Philips). A soft mallet will come in useful. Self locking grips and a copper hide mallet too.



The bottom line is that you rarely need to spend too much money on such equipment. You'll certainly save over labour costs if you regularly use a mechanic. But do get a quality multimeter. Cheap kit will quite possibly give you false readings when you have a problem.


Otherwise, the job in hand will "tell" you what tools you need. Might take an extra day or two in acquiring them. But chances are they won't be overly expensive.








Remember to look at our Motorcycle Workshop pages too.

You might find some additional help there. And check this page: How to remove seized nuts, bolts and screws.

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