Sunday, 25 January 2009

Cycle Repair Step By Step, Rob Van Der Plas (1993)

Springfield 1 85688 027 3 Quarto 127pp

A comprehensive and well-explained guide to cycle repair, with extensive colour illustration

Having something repaired, much less repairing something yourself has become a subversive in recent years. The modern way is to throw away manufactured goods rather than entertain any idea that they might be coaxed back from mechanical breakdown.

You might think that the reason for this is that we now so goo d at making things that repair is no longer necessary. It is certainly true of cars that most marques of car can now be expected to deliver nearly double the trouble-free miles than the vehicles offered by the same companies thirty years ago.

Perhaps the same is true of bicycles – but I doubt it. Indeed, I would lay a hefty wager that the average distance that any bicycle sold today will travel will be a third of that which might have been achieved by a similar model sold in the mid-1970s. Nonetheless, the torrent of new products that manufacturers bring to market is dizzying – intentionally so, I suspect. Every year, Shimano and Camapgnolo issue new versions of their vast range of groupsets, for example – thereby rendering all that went before as ‘not the latest’.

All of which makes the repair of bicycles increasingly difficult. Once, servicing one derailleur gear system was much the same as working on an another. Now they grow more complex by the year. Once there were only one or two different patterns of frame mounted brakes. Today there are half a dozen.

Nonetheless, maintenance and repair of your bicycle is still within the grasp of anyone willing to try. And anyone who is game would do well to have Van Der Plas to Hand. The goatee-bearded engineer is a publishing phenomenon. He has sliced and diced cycle repair into a whole shelf-full of books, of varying specialism, but of generally clear, easy-to-use quality.

Road bikes are the main focus of this book, but he does detour to such esoteric areas as coaster brakes, hub gears and side-pull brakes. I might be a bit wary of taking apart a Sturmey Archer five speed hub with only his words to guide me – it is a challenging job to which he devotes just half a page. But if you aim is to get your gears to index again as they did when you left the bike shop, Van Der Plas is your man.

He even has the occasional tip for the experienced cycle engineer. I did not know that the control cables used on bicycle gears and brakes were known as ‘Bowden’ cables, despite 30 years of cutting my fingers on their ends. I do now.

For anyone venturing very far beyond their home on two wheels, some basic competence in bicycle upkeep is a wise precaution. But there is a deeper value in becoming proficient in the repair and adjustment of your bicycle. You may sometimes choose to have someone else repair your mount, or even to replace it once its lustre is gone. But by becoming proficient in cycle repair you are increasing your control of the world around you – an act that brings benefits both practical and spiritual.

PS January 2009


Nej said...

I've recently decided to get more serious into the cycling hobby. I own a bike, but have never done any repairs or upkeep. I have an opportunity to buy this book (1994 printing) for what I think is a good price. As a beginner to bike maintenance, is the 1994 printing sufficient, or should I find a newer printing?

pedalspinner said...

It is a really good book, that contains a great variety of bikes. For the purpose that you describe, I would have thought it excellent. My only caution would be if, for example, you want to take apart the kind of brake lever gear controls that road bikes now use. They were not mainstream until the late 1990s, and I don't think are covered in thsi book.

Nej said...

I'm currently (for right now) riding a hybrid purchased 5 or so years ago from a sporting goods store. Nothing fancy or expensive.

I'll be buying a new bike in the future, but I thought I'd use my current bike for learning basic bike maintenance during these cold winter months. If I mess something up, I will still have time to get it repaired or replaced before the riding season truly begins.

Based on your review, and enthusiasm for the book, I think I'll go ahead and give it a shot. Thanks!!