PEZ Bookshelf: Essential Road Bike Maintenance

In 1970, Eugene Sloane took North America by storm with his “Complete Book of Cycling” as the bike boom exploded and people began to look on bicycles as more than children’s toys. His book was truly complete, covering history, bicycles types and maintenance, including now-archaic things like 3-speed hub gears and coaster brakes, and it went through numerous editions. Fast-forward to 2000 and former US national-level racer Lennard Zinn came out with “Zinn & the Art of Road Bike Maintenance”, which has also gone through numerous editions and grease thumbprint-stained copies of this excellent book can be found as indispensable in many of our workshops. But time marches on and the latest comprehensive guide to road bike maintenance is the third additional to the Global Cycling Network’s (GCN) library.

For those familiar with the GCN YouTube channel that is devoted to technical issues, it is no surprise that the crew has sifted through an impressive bank of knowledge to come up with an attractive, lavishly-illustrated and totally modern book that will be useful to cyclists in a range of experience levels.

Applicable to road, gravel, hybrid and commuter bicycles, the book is beautifully designed and, for a guide to maintenance, surprisingly entertaining. The book is not only exhaustively illustrated with high-quality colour photos but also provides links to a huge library of how-to videos from GCN, a cycling salute to our convergent multi-media world.

The subjects covered go beyond the expected maintenance and include advice on buying a bike and proper fitting, as well as useful tips on things that experienced riders know about, such as how to make your bike more comfortable. While the photos are small compared to the excellent line drawings in my own copy of Zinn’s book, what is notable is how much of the book is devoted to new technologies.

A recent GCN program asked viewers about their most expensive cycling mistake and perhaps the best response was from someone who said getting into cycling was his most expensive cycling mistake. Not only do manufacturers offer machines that reach into a pricing stratosphere but repair has become correspondingly complex. When Eugene Sloane was writing there were cottered cranks and friction shifters, and clipless pedals and indexed shifting were decades away; when Zinn’s first edition came out, disc brakes were on some mountain bikes, titanium was the Frame Material of the Future, electronic shifting was like science fiction, and “gravel bikes” would have been a strange idea. Today, the bicycle as a Simple Machine is a thing of the distant past, up there with wool shorts and stringback gloves although, to their credit, the GCN crew show you how to build up a single-speed bicycle (while fixed gears are not mentioned and the classic touring bike—it ain’t there).

The book is logically set out, with each maintenance chapter detailing what tools you will need to do the work, an estimate of how much time is needed (ha ha!–right), a link to the corresponding video, and photos laid out step-by-step to accomplish the task.

For those of us who are still amazed that someone invented a 7-speed cassette, the complexity of many of the systems in current bicycles is daunting. The authors try to be as comforting as possible, suggesting going slowly and carefully will see you through some of the more difficult repairs, but admit there are times when the local bicycle shop is where you want to get the work done. This is apparent when looking at some of the very specialized tools you will need, such as the press fit device for getting in those astonishing number of proprietary bottom brackets. (Once upon a time cyclists moaned about the fact that there were three kinds of threading—Italian, French, and British—but compared to the current lack of standardization in the cycling industry those were indeed halcyon days). Reading between the lines, one has the impression that the authors find old (but effective) equipment like square taper bottom brackets and quill stems faintly amusing. And, as a book of UK origin, North American readers will note some British terminology: “ring spanners; rear mech, tyres.”

Chapters are nicely marked “Beginner Basics,” “Essential Repairs,” “Set-up Secrets,” and “Top Tips.” There is good advice on the best way to clean your bike, do roadside repairs, and even three ways to clean handlebar tape—using toothpaste and a toothbrush was a new one to me. There is even a chapter on setting up a bike for the taller rider.

As noted, much of the book deals with modern technologies. Installation of a 1x transmission looks like one of the simpler things but in spite of the authors’ reassurances, installation of electronic shifting systems looks fairly challenging for those of modest mechanical skills. And even those sections pale in comparison to the extensive explanations on the installation, care and maintenance of disc brakes. At least the care of clipless pedals looks pretty simple!

The book claims it is “all you need to know to fix your bike.” Is this so? “Essential Road Bike Maintenance” is quite comprehensive but its superb design and logical presentation will encourage even the most hesitant of would-be mechanics to step up and keep their beloved two-wheelers running smoothly and beautifully for the decades to come—or at least to be able to explain to the mechanic at the local bike shop specifically what repairs would be wanted. Ollie Bridgewood, a GCN presenter, writes in the opening of the book: “But do, test, and learn. Try stuff. Don’t be afraid. Welcome to the world of bike maintenance!”

“Essential Road Bike Maintenance”
258 pp., illustrated, softbound
The Global Cycling Network, Bath, United Kingdom, 2020
ISBN 978-1-8382353-1-4
Suggested Price: GBP 19.99, and available at: shop.globalcyclingnetwork.com

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