Book review: Big Blue Book of Bike Repair, 2nd Edition

I learned from dad that, in everyday life, little qualifies as rocket science. You may not care enough to learn how to change the oil in your car or build a closet or clear a slow drain, or you may not care enough to buy the necessary tools, but it’s still not rocket science. The same applies to bike maintenance and repair.

Then again, bike repair isn’t entirely intuitive. That’s where a good book comes in. With some enthusiasm, a handful of tools, and a book with well-written procedures and decent pictures, you can readily adjust your own brakes and gears, fix a flat, or replace a tire. With a bit more enthusiasm, several more tools, and a few days during which you don’t absolutely need your bike to get around, you can also tear it down to bare frame and put it back together again. My old bike-repair book, the 1973 edition of Glenn’s Complete Bicycle Manual: Selection, Maintenance, Repair, was well behind on bike technology (that’s how disc brakes looked in 1973?), so when I saw a favorable mention of the second edition of the Park Tool Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair (BBB2), I figured I should take a gander.

Park Tool makes (surprise) bike tools, and, according to the introduction, has for over 50 years, so you’d expect ’em to know something about bike repair. They do. I’m no bike-repair god, but I’ve repaired, replaced, or adjusted enough parts on my bikes to be able to read a lot of the procedures and say, “Yup, that’s how I’d do it.” In many cases, I also know enough to say, “Hey, they left out the part about …,” but as I read through BBB2 (on planes to and from Iowa—the folks next to me surely thought me addlepated), the only time I found myself saying that was when I also knew there to be a dispute about the method I’d learned. (For example, I dust a tube with baby powder before I slip it back into the tire, but not everyone thinks this is a good idea. BBB2 doesn’t mention it.) True, I didn’t actually follow the procedures at 35,000 feet, so the author, C. Calvin Jones, may have missed a step here or there, but that would be the rare exception. BBB2 is detailed enough about the stuff I know cold that I’m almost looking forward to puttering with disc brakes for the first time.

BBB2 is laudably thorough, but the organization occasionally leaves something to be desired, so you’d be well served to read the relevant portions of a chapter before you get to work. The chapter on tires and tubes, for example, includes a procedure that explains everything you’d ever want to know about installing a wheel as long as you don’t have disc brakes. However, the procedure doesn’t mention the next section, which contains useful tidbits about installing a front wheel when you do have disc brakes.

As long as I’m whining just a smidge, I’ll also mention that the editor needs to find a different field of endeavor. BBB2 is peppered with spelling errors, words that make no sense in context, and awkward turns of phrase that would give a competent technical editor a conniption fit. Never was I unable to figure out what Jones meant, but several times I had to re-re-reread a sentence or a photo caption to figure out what it should have said.

I also wouldn’t mind a more extensive section on the tools you should have if you want to do your own bike maintenance. Given the breadth of the repairs that BBB2 covers, you could make the case that someone who doesn’t have a basic set of tools or who can’t tell the difference between a Phillips screwdriver and a box-end wrench isn’t the intended audience. The procedures are so detailed, though, that, for many tasks, you could follow along and succeed even if you rarely pick up a pair of pliers.

I don’t know if anyone gives awards for photos in technical documentation, but if so, the anonymous photographer of the nearly innumerable photos in BBB2 deserves a nomination. Sure, the art director gets credit for deciding which steps in a procedure would benefit from photos, for cropping the photos to include the right pieces, and for inserting labels and exploded views where desirable, but the photographer gets a big thank you for crisp, well-lit images even when the parts and the tools are black.

The short story? If you have the faintest interest in trying to do any of your own bike maintenance, I recommend that you start by picking up a copy of the Park Tool Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair, 2nd Edition.

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