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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

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