Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bike Talk: Bike Maintenance Books?

Jeff from Portland writes:

I'd like to know your recommendations for learning more about bicycle maintenance. Are there books you'd recommend, online resources, etc?

Jeff, if you're from Portland, Maine I think I understand your question, but if you're living in Portland, Oregon, I'm a bit confused. Didn't they issue you a set of Park Tools along with the reusable coffee cup when you moved there? I thought that was part of the Portland Human-Powered Welcome Wagon Package. Check the chicken coop in the back yard, the tools are probably hanging up in there.

Of course tools won't do you much good if you don't know what to do with them, so to get serious about Jeff's question, a great starting point for learning bike maintenance and repair is the Park Tool Big Blue Book of Bike Repair. Written by Calvin Jones, the Big Blue Book is a great guide to repairs and the tools you'll need to get the job done. The book has lots of pictures and simple, clear instructions. Yeah, the book will probably convince you to go out and buy a bunch of Park Tools (unless you've found some in the chicken coop out back) but Park makes good tools and good tools and the knowledge of how to use them are good investments.

A couple of other good bike maintenance books are those written by Lennard Zinn. Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance or Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance go into more detail than the Park book, are quite up-to-date and are packed with good illustrations and exploded views of parts.

I'm going to digress for a moment (shocking, I know!) and talk a bit about the whole "Zen and the Art of SomeDamnThing" books out there. In general, "Zen and the X" books are bad. The original book, Eugen Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery was a wonderful look at both Zen and Archery and that book is a little gem. Robert Persig played with Herrigel's title in his own Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a big, great, flawed book containing some terrific stuff and virtually no information about Zen. As Pirsig notes, "it's not very factual on motorcycles, either." I can forgive Persig for the bloat of that book, but I mostly curse the mass of "Zen and Dreck" books that are more litter than literature. I'll let Zinn slide because it's OK to make a pun on your name and Ray Bradbury actually wrote a lovely book called Zen in the Art of Writing but most "Zen and..." books are horrible things like Neville Shulman's dreadful Zen in the Art of Climbing Mountains.

Returning the subject of bicycles, there are a couple of great online references. The one I hit most often is Sheldon Brown's massive storehouse of bike info at Whether it's odd wheel size info or bottom bracket threading or the strange code I need to calibrate a cycle computer, the odds are Sheldon has that info tucked somewhere on his site.

Sheldon's site can be a bit overwhelming, so I often point folks to another handy site, Jim Langley's Wrench site at Jim has a wealth of info and practical advice on his site and it's well worth repeated visits.

I hope this helps. In addition to the books and websites I've listed here, check with your local bike shops and see if they know of or offer bike repair classes. Bikes are fun machines and learning to maintain and repair them can be part of that fun.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA


Jeff said...

Thanks, Kent. And yes, I'm to the south of you, not the east. I didn't get the welcome package because I was born here. Thanks again for the tips.


RoadieRyan said...

+1 on Zinn and the Art of Road bike maintenance. My copy is well thumbed and a bit greasy ;-) Great reference.

Moronicycle said...

Bikes aren't zen anyway. They're Mormons.

"The Book of Mormon and Bicycle Maintenance" would be more like it.

Don S. said...

This is a good opportunity to pay tribute to a book that kindled my love of bike maintenance: Tom Cuthbertson's Anybody's Bike Book. which I believe was the inaugural pressing by Ten Speed Press, back in the early 1970s, as the ten-speed boom took off. I loved that book and its cartoony illustrations. It may not be the most comprehensive, and I have no idea whether it has kept up with the times, but that book convinced me that I, a kid at the time, could do it, and for that reason it holds a special place.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the article. At the risk of sounding Mormon-unabled, why would a bicycle be more Mormon than Zen? Actually, a bicycle reminds me more of the Hopi. Hopi Indians say they "learn from everything that comes around and if it is moving to fast, they wait, because anything moving that fast will come back around soon..."

Gogo said...

My own bicycle is more of a despairing but persistent existentialist. Like the Hopicycle, it observes that we keep coming around to the same place, but unlike the Hopicycle, it really thought we were going to get somewhere. Rather than a sense of completion and pattern, it feels disillusion at the lack of linear progress.

Still, it keeps pushing that rock (me) up the hill even knowing we'll just be rolling back down, passing the suspiciously happy Mormon bicycles which seem to be everywhere, even though they never leave the sidewalk.

Palindrome said...

How's that Hopi-changey thing working out for ya?

bikelovejones said...

If you can find a copy, "A Cooperative Guide To Flat Repairs" by Mark Lipe is an excellent book that actually covers a lot more than simply flat fixes:

Unfortunately, there was only one run of this book and copies are tough to find. Try Aaron's bikes hop in Seattle. He bought a stack of them, as I recall.

Fred Roberts said...

Thank you for those list of books.. I must say this, I have never read a book just to learn how to repair my bike. I learned it from pure experience,from father. He taught me everything I need to know about repairing and it was worth it I bought my first cdi torque tools because of that.

Patrick Finley said...

The Hayes manual is quite clear & concise.