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Book Review: The Bicycling Guide To Complete Maintenance And Repair: For Road And Mountain Bikes

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“Maintaining your bike can be relaxing, rewarding, and financially liberating.” – Todd Downs

A wise man once pointed something out to me: the much maligned Bicycling Magazine is geared toward newbie riders who have only been into cycling for a couple years at most. Yes it’s repetitive and yes the material generally contained in it is laughable to most initiated USAC card-carrying, leg-shaving, cyclists, but it’s all crazy, new information for a rookie cyclist. Except maybe for all those  “lose five pounds and gain 500 watts in five minutes!” type articles. That stuff is lame by anyone’s standards. If you showed The Star Wars Kid one of those articles, even he would get that it was lame. While the 6th edition of the Bicycling Guide to Complete Bicycle Maintenance and Repair is ostensibly geared toward the newbie, it could prove useful for experienced bicycle mechanics as well. Whether you want to adjust the limit screws on your derailleur for the first time or install a Shimano Di2 gruppo (and save yourself about a hundred bucks labor after dropping almost five thousand on the parts), this book has got you covered.

The tone of the book is one of inclusion — author Todd Downs gently coaxes you into thinking that you can perform the myriad repairs covered in the pages of the book. It starts with the basics, real basics, like an overview and history of bicycle frames and materials and explanations of frame geometry and anatomy. “Anatomical drawings” of the most common forms of bicycles grace the first few pages: the  mountain bike, the full suspension mountain bike, the road bike, and the tri bike (the road bike’s deformed cousin). Anatomy is a great place to start, it’s the first thing you learn in art school or medical school. Actually, while I can speak from experience on the art school thing, I can’t really speak with any authority on the medical school experience. For all I know, on the first day of class, you do baboon heart implants.

This version of Rodale’s Bicycling Guide to Complete Bicycle Maintenance and Repair has been updated with 200 new photos, it covers the latest…. models and parts, and it’s got links to helpful videos on Bicycling.com. It runs you through: setting up your own, special workplace; creating maintenance schedules; determining what tools you’ll need, both for your shop and the road; cleaning and lubrication; fitting yourself to your bike, and safety. Safety is important because, as Downs says “It’s a terrible irony when you can’t  ride because you hurt yourself cranking on your bike.”

Having met Todd Downs, I know that his physical appearance and bearing sort of scream “I AM THE LAST FREAKING GUY IN THIS BAR YOU WOULD EVER WANT TO FIGHT!” (the book jacket photo does him no justice). But this is at odds with his freakish-yet-lovable-hybrid-of-a-teddy-bear-and-a-lamb-like demeanor. A demeanor that comes across in this book every bit as much as it does in person. His voice is there, throughout the book, talking you through what might otherwise be intimidating or confusing. He is there for you, doing everything in his power to spare you the expense of having someone else perform your repairs for you — “An ounce of preventive maintenance is worth a pound of expensive repair.” And spare you the embarrassment of walking into a bike shop full of snarky mechanics and saying something like: “No mater how much I tighten this bolt on the top of the stem, I can’t get my stem tight.” Only to have a snarky mechanic point out, ever-so-snarkily, that you’ve really been pre-loading your headset bearings, not tightening your stem, and all you’ve accomplished is the pulling out of the star-nut or expander plug. Of course you (and by “you,” I mean BikeRumor reader) would never do something as insane as that, but one of your newbie, rookie friends might. Hell, they might even do something as mortifying as asking: “So can you just put my rear wheel on the front of my bike?” Nobody wants to be that guy, because that guy comes off sounding like he’s huffed a lot of airplane glue. The chapter on wheel compatibility will get “your buddy” all sorted out on that subject.

Even if the concepts of lock nut to lock nut dimensions and threadless headsets are lost on your newbie friend, at the very least, after reading this book, he won’t be calling a tire a “tube” or spokes “wheel strings” (unless he’s being ironic).

And while the newbie is going to benefit the most significantly from the book, the seasoned mechanic or the too-proud-to-ask-questions shop grommet might benefit from it as well. The newbie will learn how to perform simple, money-saving tasks like boxing a bike, wrapping bars, or fixing a flat. Those are things you shouldn’t pay to have done unless you have money to burn. Like you literally heat your house with a money stove (and who even does that anymore?). Maybe the seasoned mechanic will learn a better way to perform a task he’s done a thousand times, like fixing a flat: “If you don’t hear air escaping, hold the tire near your face and turn it, trying to feel the air (this sounds nutty but the skin on your face is very sensitive)” Downs instructs. Maybe the stubborn shop grommet, who may know how to install a Campy Ultra-Torque bottom bracket, but has no idea how to deal with a traditional cup and cone BB, can save some face by hiding in the shop bathroom and poring over the chapter on bottom brackets.

Karen, a self-described neophyte had this to say in her Amazon.com review:

I used this baby to take apart that Target bike I had hanging in the garage for 5 years. It was so great, it had everything, even the cheap cruddy gear on my bike was covered, and I managed to put the bike back together again too! I discovered there was more to chain lube than that old can that you pushed on the bottom and dripped oil on the chain with. Plus I found out that I had the wrong size bike, completely, that my shifting system was the one they put on 3 speeds back in the 60’s, and that it never pays to pry off stuff with the sharp part of the tool pointed at yourself. HOWEVER, the point is, this book ROCKS! I, a complete neophyte (mechanically speaking) took this bike to pieces and it went back together with not one screw left over. I actually did the Hans and Franz PUMP YOU UP pose after finishing.

– Karen Delaney

A lot of self-taught mechanics will perform almost any repair, but will shy away from wheel building. Wheelbuilders are seen as these mechanical geniuses, technical ninjas, bicycle repair wizards, spoke-tensioning Jedi…nipple-twisting Sardaukar. Well, Downs covers wheel building in 4 pages, totally demystifying this simple mechanical act that has been so unnecessarily elevated to the realm of geniuses…and ninjutsu…and wizardry…and Jedi-ism…and Sardaukar-, um, -ing? -izing? I have no idea.

Want to know what your idiotic single-speeder or sweet-fixie riding friends (I can say that, I am one) are yammering about with all that “gear inches” and “ratios” business? You’re in luck! There’s a whole chapter on gearing to get you up to speed. I’m not suggesting that you need to know about that stuff, but sometimes the best way to make fun of something effectively is to know a lot about it.

If you’re already too cool for school and you know everything about bicycle repair and maintenance…except maybe how to repair a tubular, this book can help you out. Or, if you’re a consummate newbie and you have no freaking idea what a tubular is and you just want to know how to install a damn tube in your tire, this book can help you out too. Of course if you’re Mr. Too-Cool-For-School you could always get if for your rookie friend to ease his path into the too-cool-for-school-club (and then sneak over to his house, hide in the bathroom, and cram on how to deal with that XTR FC-M970 crankset that you have no clue how to remove).

All I Know is that I wish I’d had a copy of this book when I was a 16-year-old kid riding around on my too-big orange Rockhopper with the seat, uh, I mean saddle too low, both quick release levers wing-nutted on, the gears clicking, and the chain grinding dryly over shark-toothed cassette teeth.

The Bicycling Guide to Complete Bicycle Maintenance and Repair is available at Amazon.com and, more than likely, at your local bike shop, so check with them first, because if you actually buy things from them they might be nicer to you when you come in with the Frankenstein’s-Monster-train-wreck that you’ve turned your bicycle into while attempting to repair it yourself.

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13 years ago

“nipple-twisting Sardaukar”

That’s a pretty obscure reference. You must be a fairly high ranking Geek to be able to slide that in with Wizards and Jedi. 🙂

13 years ago

You had me at ‘nipple twisting’…..

12 years ago

I’m sorry, but nobody has ever, /ever/ called spokes “wheel strings”. You made that up.

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