Best pliers for motorcycle mechanics

Sometimes, you just need to get a grip… with these sets of pliers.

Four pairs of pliers and wire cutters

by Jim Blackstock |

Any home – or even professional – mechanic knows that sometimes, you need to get strong with a bike. Occasionally you need the big breaker bar for a stubborn nut or bolt; sometimes you need the big hammer to bring a little persuasion to bear and sometimes, you need a pair of pliers to grip something strongly or in a spot you can’t get to.

Contrary to popular belief, a pair of pliers isn’t designed purely to exert more force than your hands are capable of, though of course they can do this. They are designed to hold, grip, place and offer additional dexterity that you can’t manage with your hands.

There are different types of tool which we will consider as ‘pliers’ here. These include traditional and long-nosed pliers, side cutters (which typically come in a set of pliers), water-pump pliers, electrical pliers/wire-strippers and self-locking pliers, or mole grips.

There are, as with all tools, certain aspects to look for. Handles should have some form of covering to make them more comfortable in use but bear in mind the softer this is, the less ‘feel’ you have for the work you are doing.

Size is also important; clearly a large pair of pliers will be able to exert more force or grip better than a smaller pair but will lack the precision and access of more diminutive tools.

Material is also a key element; the gripping edges of the jaws need to be harder than the workpiece, otherwise they will become damaged somewhere along the line. Conversely, you need to be careful of this if you are working on softer components, such as those formed in aluminium, for example.

Also when looking for tools, we find it’s best to try to find from a reputable manufacturer; we don’t mean buy a pair of pliers that costs as much as your motorcycle (unless you’re a professional of course), just go for a name you’ve heard of. That way, you should get something that is made of good material with a design that will last you a long time.

Here are some pliers we reckon should do a great job.

Draper 160mm DIY

Draper 160mm DIY
Amazon

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Draper is a name that has been around a long time in the tool world and while this budget set may not last a lifetime in a professional workshop, itu2019s a great starter and is Amazonu2019s Choice in pliers sets. It comprises a pair of combination pliers (the square-jawed ones), a pair of long-nosed and a pair of side cutters, all with soft-grip handles. According to the manufacturers, the jaws and cutting edges (on the side-cutters and combination) are hardened for performance and longevity.

Pros:

All-in-one set

Great value

Good reviews

Cons:

Reports of inconsistent build quality

Silverline Self-locking Pliers

Silverline Self-locking Pliers
Amazon

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Like the Draper set, this set of three pairs of self-locking pliers from respected manufacturer Silverline is a great starter set and is also Amazonu2019s Choice in u2018Locking pliersu2019. As the name suggests, these can be locked to grip objects with an over-centre handle and adjuster to vary the size of the object that they can grip. They feature flat and serrated grip areas and this set comprises pliers that are 130mm, 170mm and 210mm in length.

Pros:

Three self-locking pliers in one set

Good starter set

Varying sizes offer versatility

Cons:

May not stand up to harder or pro use

Mannesmann Electrical Pliers

Mannesmann Electrical Pliers
Amazon

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If youu2019re looking for precision rather than brute force for more intricate work (such as on carburettors or electrical systems, for example) then a set like this one from Mannesman could be very useful. They feature sprung handles and soft grips and are generally slightly smaller than a more familiar set; the combination pliers, for example, are 120mm in length. You get combination and long-nose pliers, side and end-cutters, needle-nose, bent-nose and two pairs of nose pliers, in a handy case.

Pros:

Precision when needed

Plenty of options for grip

Sprung handles useful

Cons:

Don’t have the clout of larger models

Stanley Compound Action Pliers

Stanley Compound Action Pliers
Amazon

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If you need a little more force than your hands are capable of producing on their own, then this pair of compound pliers from respected tool manufacturer Stanley should help. The compound design means that while the jaws donu2019t open as far as a normal set of pliers, the effective force applied at the jaws is greater than what you apply at the handles, thanks to the compound design. You get a traditional set of three; combination, long-nose and side-cutters and all are approximately 200mm in length, the extra dimensions coming from the compound mechanisms.

Pros:

Provide greater force than hands alone

Respected manufacturer

Cons:

Jaws open less than normal pliers

Longer than normal pliers

Presch Water Pump Pliers

Presch Water Pump Pliers
Amazon

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Water-pump pliers are incredibly useful and this set from Presch (no, Iu2019ve never heard of them either but they get very good reviews) comes with three different sizes for versatility. This design uses long handles to offer excellent force application but the jaws can open to a variety of sizes to grip anything from a wire to... you guessed it, the body of an engineu2019s water pump. Size is adjustable quickly and easily and they comes with a handy storage pouch.

Pros:

Work in a wide range of sizes

Grip anything from small cables to large pipes

Long handles give high grip force

Cons:

Can be a bit cumbersome

US Pro Circlip Pliers

Circlip Pliers
Amazon

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You might only need these once but when you do need them, they will be invaluable. You can get sets with interchangeable heads but many, myself included, favour a set of pliers like this u2013 one for each use. They are designed to remove circlips, or spring clips, and will work with both internal (in a groove inside a housing) and external (in a groove on the outside of a shaft) clips. This set from American manufacturer US Pro comes in a handy carry case and gets good reviews.

Pros:

A tool for each job

Well designed and built

Sturdier than interchangeable heads

Cons:

Take up more room than interchangeable versions

Draper Crimping Tool

Draper Crimping Tool
Amazon

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While not strictly pliers, these crimping tools are well worth the less-than-a-fiver investment to have in your toolbox. They crimp electrical connections which is possible with pliers but donu2019t give the proper finished shape to the ends and they also strip wires easily. They cut wires and can be used to trim screws or bolts with a good dose of brute force. They are Amazonu2019s Choice and while some reviews complain about quality, I have these and have found them invaluable.

Pros:

Strip wires easily for electrical projects

Crimp terminals in correct size and shape

So cheap, worth buying

Cons:

Basic design

Non-ratchet wire stripping

Pipe Clamp Pliers

Pipe Clamp Pliers
Amazon

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Not an essential but if you find yourself doing lots of work on motorcycles u2013 more than simple maintenance, such as restoration, for example u2013 then you will inevitably find these useful. Designed to make undoing the majority of hose clamps easy, there are seven different tools covering a vast sway of clamp designs including long-reach and cable operated for hard-to-reach hose clamps (which is normally almost all of them).

Pros:

Makes opening hose clamps easy

Covers most types of clamp

Get to hard to reach clamps

Cons:

May not need during routine maintenance

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