Bicycle!
A Repair & Maintenance Manifesto (2nd Ed.)

By Sam Tracey

Published by PM Press 2013

Paperback

256pp

978-1-60486-640-7

USA $20 UK £17.99

 

2nd Edition Reviewed by Steve Dyster

Well, if the bicycle is to revolutionise society from the grass-roots up, “Bicycle!” will certainly keep the movement rolling on.

 

This is one of those discursive bicycle maintenance volumes that explain more about function, seeks to establish principles, as well as giving serious advice on maintenance. Sam Tracy’s “Bicycle!” throws the author’s fascinating mechanicking experience into the mix. Add a sense of realism, humour, and a neat Californian turn of phrase and you have a really good read as well as an authoritative survey of bicycle maintenance.

cycling bookreair maintenance manual bicycle cover

Sam Tracy wrote the first edition when working in San Francisco as a high-end bike mechanic. The second edition follows a period of Peace Corps volunteering in Mauretania. In that state, as in most of the world, the carbon fibre, electronic-shifting, light-weight flying-machine is a rarity. Sam says that the gulf between the two experiences explains the paradigm of this book. As he writes, “… but in the end we ride what we have.” So, there’s something here for everyone – even though the author expresses a personal preference for older style components, he admits to running sealed cartridge bearings on some of his bikes.

 

P&M press publishes radical books on politics, society, philosophy etc. So, where does “Bicycle!” fit in? there’s a long history of the bicycle as the harbinger of radical ideas and the bringer of freedom. The Clarion Cycling Club springs to mind. In reality, in much of the world the bicycle is used as water-carrier, family taxi, ambulance, and much more. It is ridden into the ground and keeping it going for as long as possible is a necessity. I guess that part of Sam’s love pf older tech is that it is less likely to end in the bin and more open to repair. The stated aim of the book is to take away perceived dreariness from mechanics and get people to maintain their own bikes because they want to.

 

Don’t let me give you the impression that this is a book of bodges – although there is a roadside repair section. It covers all sorts of components, materials, and so on. I have never come across a general maintenance book that covers every possible aspect of the bicycle – specific components and changing technology go off at tangents, especially in areas where there are no industry standards – and even then, older bikes have their own, sometimes convoluted, histories.

 

There are chapters on; tools; frames; headsets; stems, wheels; seats and posts; handlebars; control cables, brakes, drivetrains, hubs, boxing bikes, winter riding, on-road repairs, scavenging, rust, and security; building your own wheels; singlespeeds, recumbents, fixed gears. There’s a section on resources, which are, largely USA based, an index, and a brief author biography. Read the latter first to learn where the book comes from and the origins of Sam’s mechanic values.

 

I like the chatty discursive style, with lots of examples from the less sophisticated end of the spectrum of machines Sam has come across. I have a degree of empathy here, having done many Dr. Bike session in what are designated as deprived areas. You get to understand that to a keen, reasonably well-off cyclist the mess of a machine shoved in front of you may look awful, it is what someone has, sometimes all they have. Often there are limits to what one can fix, but you don’t disrespect it. Equally, Sam’s at home with light-weight carbon and has plenty to say about that.

 

I was pleased to read a bit about diagnostics. Some bike manuals just leap to repair or replacement without getting to the root of the issue. Likewise, the range of issues covered is extensive – wish I’d this manual to hand when my wife had a bike with Magura hydraulic rim brakes, for example: very effective brakes, but not something I have come across frequently.

 

I suppose the practical test is whether the reader can repair, or as I chose, build a wheel, by following the instructions. Key to wheel-building – and I have been on a course, but build wheels so rarely that I need to remind myself – is getting the components right. So, Sam, the introductory discussion of rims, spokes, hubs, and nipples was much appreciated. Everything assembled, off I went. Without Sam’s guidance I’d have made the usual three false starts. Not to long later, I had nice three-cross laced wheel that was not only round, but has completed a few journeys without collapsing. I, or Sam, must have got something right.

 

Here’s an enjoyable bicycle maintenance book, positive, informative, humorous, ad living in the ‘real’ world. Yes, it is from the USA, and UK readers may pick up on Americanisms, but if a fogey traditionalist pedant such as I can cope, so can you. I love this book. Mind you, Sam’s view that lube drippers are better than sprays because they don’t go all over the living room fixtures and fittings has not persuaded Mrs. D to let me do bike maintenance in the comfort of my own front room, nor the kitchen.

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