Bicycle!: A Repair & Maintenance Manifesto

Bicycle!: A Repair & Maintenance Manifesto

by Sam Tracy

Paperback(Second Edition, Second edition)

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Providing cyclists the know-how to take bicycle repair into their own hands, this manual covers bike care without technical terms. Written by a bicycle mechanic and laden with photographs and drawings, this guide is a valuable resource for professional bicycle workers and commuters. This updated edition includes an expanded index and a revised resource section. Topics include essential tools, bicycle components, on-the-road repairs, scavenging, locks, preventing rust, and more.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781604866407
Publisher: PM Press
Publication date: 01/25/2013
Edition description: Second Edition, Second edition
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 943,437
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Sam Tracy is the author of How to Rock and Roll and Roadside Bicycle Repair.

Read an Excerpt


A Repair & Maintenance Manifesto

By Sam Tracy

PM Press

Copyright © 2013 Sam Tracy
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60486-655-1



Like other trades, bicycle repair is in most respects a specialty. Some of the skills and tools acquired elsewhere in life may become useful, as we'll see, and others will not. The use of force necessarily becomes much more judicious, to take one example — a fairly obvious point, given the scale of many of the parts involved. Our accelerating tendency to rush is best left at the day job, as well: it is possible to wreck just about anything, done fast enough.

In the ideal, it's best to have one place in particular to fix those bikes in your care — somewhere dry, well-lit, and reasonably calm, if you're especially lucky. A truly exceptional workshop will feature a sturdy bench or table as well, mounted with a vise. There will of course come times when we don't have any of these things — a topic further explored in Roadside Bicycle Repair: A Pocket Manifesto — but given the luxury of planning, it is well worth the time to set things up right in the first place.

The BICYCLE REPAIR STAND is very useful to the craft, though it is not strictly necessary. The improved vantage stands provide makes it much easier to see and interact with a bike's nether regions; over the course of a tune-up this makes for a lot less squatting, bending over, and peering beneath. The stands also accomplish the useful trick of removing the wheels from the ground, which greatly simplifies our work on the brakes and the drivetrain.

A number of companies produce bike repair stands. Those made by Park Tool of St. Paul, MN, as used in most North American bike shops, are perhaps the most visible examples. I have plenty of experience with Park's heavy-duty shop stands, but I rely upon one of their lighter consumer models at home, and things work out fine there as well. The central distinction across their range of stands is in the clamp — basic models employ simple spring-mounted jaws; better ones incorporate adjustable clamps. This detail becomes important with lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber frames, the tubes of which may respond poorly to excesses of compression. In truth, we're really not supposed to be clamping anything around any of that at all — much as cats instinctively carry their young by the scruff of the neck, bike repair stands should strive to clamp the bikes by their seatposts. (Carbon fiber seatposts, available in only a few common sizes, can be temporarily replaced with dummy posts of the same dimensions.)

You may need to raise the post a bit more out of its frame, in order to successfully clamp it. Before doing so, mark its original position with a ring of electrical tape. And if there really is no alternative — as with some of the recumbents, which trade our bar stools for lounge chairs — slip a rag beneath the clamp's jaws, before biting down. Note that stickers and frame decals fare poorly under such pressure. so clamp elsewhere if possible.

This is all a little simpler if you're not working on anything too fancy — a sturdy old steel frame, perhaps, without much paint left to worry about. If the situation does appear negotiable, go ahead and clamp down on the frame's seat tube, just beneath its top tube. Clamping in such a position makes it easier to move the bike around as needed.

Park repair stands, among others, feature detachable clamps for distinct purposes. Park's 100-4X Extreme Range Clamp is wide enough to grasp many of the fat-tubed recumbent frames, but some short wheelbase 'bents such as the Bacchetta will respond better to one of the traditional Park clamp jaws, wrapped tightly around the neutral side chainstay. Moreover, this very same feature allows us to clamp on to the bike first, before lifting the whole package up into the stand — a very useful option to have with some of the tandems and trikes.

Got any old toe straps kicking around? Wrap one of the straps around the stand's base. We'll occasionally need to keep a bike's fork from dropping out of its frame, as when replacing threadless stems, and the toe straps are ideal for such purposes.

Absent the stand, you might want to set up a BIKE SLING: two lengths of rope, strung down from above about two meters apart, long enough to suspend a bike's saddle and stem at useful elevations. I found myself setting up one of these upon arriving to our new home in Atar, Mauritania, and all things considered it proved useful enough. It is only with some of the more torque-intensive tasks — tightening pedals, cranks, or bottom bracket cups — that I need to pull an old-fashioned, flipping the bike upside down to rest upon its seat and handlebars.

WHEEL TRUING STANDS are also key. Here again, my own experience favors those produced by Park Tool. Their TS-2 shop version is pretty much the only one you'll see in U.S. bike shops, and it's all you'd ever need. I haven't yet played with their less expensive TS-8, but the design looks promising in that it appears sturdy. It wouldn't operate quite as fluidly as the business version. Nor would its stout construction allow the wheel to flex around, and this is the critical point — the better your wheel is able to sit still, the easier it is to true the thing. Avoid any "truing stands" with plastic arms. It's also a good idea to bolt your stand to something solid — the bench, for example. (You may secure it in a vise, alternately.)

With regards to hand tools, the choice of what you'll need depends a lot on what you find yourself riding. It'd be good to start out with quality screwdrivers and metric box wrenches, regardless. It is also likely that you'll find use for a hammer, metal and woodworking files, box and needle-nose pliers, and a magnet. Beyond that, it is more a function of your bike's vintage than its brand. Cannondale is pretty famous for doing their own thing, and some of the recumbent manufacturers necessarily have been as well, but to a large extent at least everyone start out contemplating the same pools of technology, which grow a bit deeper with the passage of time. Darker and cloudier as well, one might argue. Your favorite local bike shop should be able to provide any bike tools you might need.

Pick up some metric ALLEN WRENCHES, if you haven't already. The standard metric set includes 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 4, 6, 8, and 10 mm keys, any of which might become useful when working on bikes. The better Allen wrenches are ball drivers, which is to say that the longer ends are beveled, allowing us to adjust Allen bolts from slight angles, which can be a very nice option to have. The shorter ends, meant more for delivering torque, can become rounded with extended use; you would need to face them against a grinder wheel to sharpen things up again.

Campagnolo made use of an odd 7 mm Allen wrench for some of its crank bolts years ago, but the standard set should cover just about anything else that might come up. Note that the threading used with most modern bicycle framesets and components is also on the metric scale — you may find yourself tightening the water bottle cage's M5 mounting bolt with your 4 mm Allen key, for example, or the brake's M6 bolt with your 5 mm key. The only confusion possible arrives with the description, fortunately; in practice it should be quite obvious whether or not something fits. You should not need to apply force to start the threads — not with anything that is meant to be, at least. With the notable exceptions of the broad cups and locknuts found on threaded headsets, which can range in size from 30 to 40 mm, as well as certain features associated with various ancient bottom bracket sets, just about all the wrench flats we see on bikes will be sized between 8 and 17 mm. Adjustable wrenches of the traditional variety are generally not as useful, in that their adjustments tend to require enforcement, lest they slip and strip things out. That said, my space-age Craftsman adjustable wrench, a gift from my brother, does not seem to share this problem — its spring-loaded claw seems to know exactly where to land, when applied to nuts and bolts up to a certain size.

I do keep a big old crescent wrench in my box, for the sake of the torque it provides — a nice attribute to have, when dealing with the threaded headsets. Some older threaded headsets also employ adjustable nuts faced with knurled surfaces, which may be met with a big pair of channel-lock pliers. With luck, you should not have much use for vice-grip pliers at all. Their forceful embrace can only suggest that diplomacy has been somehow allowed to fail.

As for the screwdrivers, you'll want at least four, to start: the #2 and #1 Phillips, a 3 mm flathead and another maybe twice that size. The longer their handles, the more leverage you will earn. The Phillips work well for many derailleur and brake adjustment screws, as well as those usually found on handlebar-mounted accessories. And despite our best intentions, the smaller flathead screwdriver might be most often misused, as a sort of miniature pry bar. Park once made an odd-looking wide-nosed T-handle screwdriver, meant for use with the brake levers found on older bikes. It was uniquely useful for such purposes, but it seems to have gone extinct.

One can find quality sidecutters strong enough to slice through bike cables, but for such purposes your cash would be better dispatched on a pair of dedicated CABLE CUTTERS, which enlist a hardened pair of wicked half-moons to sever cables and cable housing alike with predictable ease.

Bicycle cables are tightly wrapped braids of zinc or stainless wire, which is to say they're not easily defeated. Lower-quality sidecutters, the greater number of those available, will not be able to do the trick — the cutting angle is less than ideal, and the cheap jaws' steel is far too soft. Tools of good quality should be hard enough to reliably govern their more malleable subjects — this is why it's so difficult to drill holes in the wrench — but everything has its limits. Even the bicycle cable cutters' mighty jaws will lose the match, for example, when set against the stainless steel struts found on full fender sets. It's all about picking your battles, right? With extended use they'd be more inclined to loosen than wear out. The arms pivot on a short and stout screw, which passes through the one side and threads into the other, before being sealed with a nut: this last would need to loosen, before the bolt could be tightened. You'd want to end up with the jaws just barely loose enough to pivot freely, with the nut tightened down nice and solid.

Your new cable cutters are very much bicycle-specific; they will only coincide with the outside world at their leisure. Following on the heels of this opening is the amazing FOURTH HAND CABLE TOOL, an odd pliers with which we're able to counter the strong springs used with cable-driven brakes. The fourth hand makes it much easier to hold a cable in a particular position while tightening a brake's binder bolt, basically, greatly simplifying our work. (The tool earns its name by replacing something called the third hand, itself a bent-up strip of metal bearing the profile of a teacup, meant to hold the brake pads in place against the rim. Don't let the sequence throw you; this middle step was nothing special.)

There will arrive occasions when there's just not the space to fit a fourth hand into any good position — racks or other fixed accessories might get in the way, for example — and in such cases it may be useful to introduce a small accessory. Cut yourself a few short centimeters of brake cable housing, as described on page 75, and fit each end of this with a housing cap. Slide this down the cable you're working on: the fourth hand tool will now be able to lever itself off this extension, rather than the component. In keeping with our theme, I propose we call these SPARE FINGERS.

As will be seen, work with the cable housing also requires a small sharp stick, in order to reopen the thin plastic liner within the housing, which collapses when the housing is cut. You can go out and buy one of these, needless to say, but it's cheaper to simply sharpen up a dead spoke. Hold one against somebody's bench grinder and rotate, slowly; it takes all of a minute. While the soldered ends of new cables are not nearly sharp enough to poke openings in the plastic cable liners, cables that have been already been cut down will only fray apart, when pressed to such duties. As simple a tool as it is, a sharpened spoke (or a similar implement) ends up being really useful with the cables. Something between a safety pin and a nail.

You might also want to score some SPANNERS — maybe, if your bike is old enough, or cheap enough. Park's green SPA-1 is meant for the older three-piece bottom bracket adjustable cups; the HCW-11 wrench (or the older yellow -handled spanner, if you can find one) addresses the same on the larger American-style bottom bracket cups. These are relatively light and even wispy creatures, all but bereft of persuasive techniques; component manufacturers have long since moved on to more reliable arrangements.

Where the spanners end, the LOCKRING TOOLS soon begin. Their functions are roughly parallel, but the lockrings only surround more central elements; their minders thus approach from the sides. Your track hubs, bottom brackets, and a tiny group of ancient headsets may require their services.

Traditional threaded headsets — those bearing wrench flats across their foreheads — are adjusted with the curiously broad and flat HEADSET WRENCHES. A bearing cup is counter-tightened against its locknut to achieve the proper adjustment; there is no room to fit a big old crescent wrench in both positions at once. The flats range in size from 30 to 40 mm, dependent upon their vintage. The most common are 32 and 36 mm. The top locknuts on all of these threaded headsets may be grappled with the big old crescent wrench.

The 36 mm headset wrench may also have another use. Look at the edges of the drive-side bottom bracket cup, just inside the chainrings: does it feature a pair of wrench flats? These will almost always measure 36 mm. There is a specific bottom bracket tool that fits it best, because it catches their rounded edges as well, but your 36 mm headset wrench can fill in if it needs to.

The pedals on some bikes can be installed and removed with a regular 15 mm box wrench. In recent years, most of the others have adapted 15 mm flats too narrow to accommodate our clumsy old box wrenches, favoring instead the embrace of a dedicated PEDAL WRENCH. The same tool will also provide for the smaller and narrower 9/16" pedals found on most children's bikes. But the wrench flats are losing favor as well, among some of the newer clipless pedal sets, which replace them with stylish metric sockets carved into the axle bases. You would need an Allen wrench.

The CONE WRENCHES, available in sizes 13-18 mm, are even thinner: so thin, in fact, that the 15 would not be able to fill in as a pedal wrench. Pedals thrive on torque, as we'll see, and the metals used to make their axles are more than hard enough to damage something so dainty as a cone wrench. They're meant to be used with the hub bearing cones. The odd-numbered sizes are most common, and it's best to have a pair of each.

The cone wrenches remind me to mention Park's OFFSET BRAKE WRENCHES. These are of similar dimensions, but the wrench heads are offset 90 degrees. They're meant for use with the road bike caliper brakes; we find situations where nothing else will really work. They are ambidextrous as well, with distinct wrench flats at either end, in sizes from 10 to 14 mm, as well as an odd one which grapples with the caliper's spring directly.

One other oddball you want to pick up is known as the CRANK EXTRACTOR. A minority of the higher-end crank sets spec'd on bikes around the turn of the century arrived with the clever self-extracting bolts, eliminating the need for this tool, and the more recent two-piece cranks employ a simpler recipe of their own, but it can still be said that the great majority of modern crank arms will only be removed with extractors.


Excerpted from Bicycle! by Sam Tracy. Copyright © 2013 Sam Tracy. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


I. Tools,
II. Frames,
III. Headsets,
IV. Stems,
V. Wheels,
VI. Seats and Posts,
VII. Handlebars,
VIII. Control Cables,
IX. Brakes,
X. Drivetrains,
XI. Hubs,
XII. Boxing Bikes,
XIII. Winter Riding,
XIV. On-the-Road Repairs,
XV. Scavenging, Rust, and Security,
XVI. Building Your Own Wheels,
XVII. Singlespeeds,
XVIII. Recumbents,
XIX. Fixed Gears,

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