the bike owners handbook. peter drinkell. cicada books 111pp illus. £9.95

the bike owners handbook

this is allegedly how the system works: in any peloton du jour, there will be one chap or chapess (statistically less likely admittedly) with an intrinsic knowledge of what makes bicycles tick. someone who implicitly knows how many quarter turns on the adjuster will have the chain playfully skipping from one sprocket to the next without a care in the world. they will also have the superpower (not a particularly well-known aspect, but a wrench has to have some secrets) of being able to release one side of a tyre from its rim without resorting to a tyre lever. not many realise this can be achieved with a handful of hawthorn berries and a co-op till receipt.

this member of the peloton is, or should be, a protected rider, for you can never truly tell when their skills and superpower may be required. this is because the majority of those pedalling easy, shooting the breeze insouciantly as they contemplate whether this is the headwind, or will turning result in even slower forward progress, haven't a clue how their bicycles work. nowadays, 'tis but a simple matter to flick on lever or another and racing may proceed. how often have you heard someone moan that their out-of-tune guitar was not in this unharmonic state when they bought it? the bicycle worked when it rolled from the shop floor; why wouldn't it do so now.

this is when the protected rider comes into their own. that superpower will have already detected an almost insignificant change in the sound from his/her surrounding peloton, leaping eagerly from the saddle. at this point, the malady is all but repaired, leading to a sense of comfort and satisfaction in the group. it's the way life is meant to be.

however, let's just suspend disbelief for a moment or two, and hypothesise that such an invaluable member of the team doesn't exist. at least, doesn't exist in your particular neck of the woods. the results are almost too horrible to contemplate. imagine for a moment, the possibility of a chaingang battling their way through ever-increasing pain and suffering, each convinced that one of the others is the possessor of the required skills to maintain velocity in the face of adversity. scary, is it not?

learning the basics of bicycle maintenance is not as onerous a task as the prospect may suggest. no matter the existence of bicycle repair man in the lead-out train, it really ought to be the price of admission to the world of cycling, that any rider can at least repair a puncture while estranged in the wilderness. and though it may sound like the sort of threat you'd normally report to the nearest member of the constabulary, it wouldn't do any harm to figure out how to adjust the gears.

training courses for the bona-fide mechanic abound. i have come across one that promises placement with a cycle team should you fancy working all the hours god sends while incurring the wrath and invective of riders who are not winning, but in desperate need of someone to blame for their lack of prowess. undertaking such a professional induction may not be what most have in mind, and to be quite honest, it's not something i am suggesting, merely to acquaint yourself more personally with the velocipede.

the bike owners handbook

rapha have released an admirable series of books by the inestimable graham fife, describing the road climbs of many of the french mountains, some of the very bumps with which bradders and co. have become intimately connected over the past three weeks. in the manner that rapha do most things (it was instructive to watch two rapha-lites last friday eve, carefully positioning the corporate sign advising visitors to the brewer street cycle club to refrain from locking their bikes to the railings outside the building) not only were mr fife's words carefully laid out, but beautifully augmented by the photography of peter drinkell.

it is not unusual in these contemporary times for photographers to be engaged for their imaging skills alone, never mind any direct affinity for the subject at hand. therefore, it occurred not for one minute that pete drinkell may be more acquainted with the bicycles he was inviting to ride those mountain roads, than would necessarily be expected. but it turns out that he is. and not only is he perhaps satisfied with his own superpowers and the need for a telephone box to change into his secret identity, but carefree in his intent to pass on these powers to anyone within reading distance.

i have reviewed books concerned with bicycle mechanics in previous months and years, many of which come highly recommended. but in the majority of cases, these are designed primarily for use in the workshop that you probably don't have to hand. pete drinkell's the bike owners' handbook fulfils two important functions; on one hand, it is the bicycle equivalent of o'reilly's the missing manual series, and on the other, it fits perfectly into the rear pocket of a cycle jersey, meaning it springs easily to hand at the very point when the lack of a protected rider is discovered.

this is the very book that ought to be hanging from the handlebars as the cycle sits on the shop floor. i have a bicycle in for review at present that arrived with a bell, wheel-spoke reflectors (complete with step by step instructions on how to fit them) and one of those spoke protectors designed to fit tween cassette and hub (like anyone is going to remove the ten-speed cassette on an expensive race bike to fit one of those). what did not accompany it in the box was a manual such as this, explaining how to keep it running in tip-top condition over the ensuing months.

(i am being deliberately disingenuous at this point, for the bicycle in question is hot off the boat from taiwan. i would not necessarily have expected such a manual to be present at this point, but, might i suggest, it would be a more than appropriate accessory to include at point of sale.)

i am now a cosmopolitan cyclist, with a full length toolboard of often unreachable tools due to the number of bicycles obscuring my reach, and a dedicated workstand. however, in the days of youth before i mistakenly assumed i had a reputation worth protecting, any mechanical repairs deemed necessary, particularly that of a puncture repair would be commenced by upending the bicycle, allowing the wheels to be spun without constantly lifting from the seat tube. in truth, that is how many workaday cyclists continue to work on their bicycles, and there's every possibility that the protected rider in the peloton would do likewise in the field. thus, on the grey cover of peter drinkell's book, the gold embossed title is bordered by the graphic of an upside-down bicycle.

the bike owners handbook

in a cute role-reversal, the foreword to the manual is by the previously mentioned graham fife, worth at least 25% of the cover price alone. the contents may be familiar, either through having asked the service department at your local bike shop to carry out the work on your behalf, or having overheard stray bits of conversation while stepping up that pain and suffering in the group. how to fix punctures, adjusting the brakes, figuring out the gears and learning how to adjust them, and the lettering that ought to run through the middle of every cyclist: regular maintenance.

each specific task under discussion is brilliantly illustrated by phil smith, and should those prove insufficient to allay your fears or incompetence, there are frequent pepperings of squares of binary code (qr codes is, i believe, the correct terminology) linking to online videos that make eveything clear. these were filmed with the aid of the look mum no hands workshop, and are in high definition along with appropriate commentary. pull your mobile phone (or in my case, an ipod touch) from one of the other rear pockets and scan the code to gain access. with a mobile phone, this means instant access even in the most estranged of locations.

the explanations could not be clearer, and it would not be long before there is no need to resort to any of the online videos. yes, there are a modicum of tools required for some of the maintenance operations, but there's no easy way out of that. it is a far more comforting situation to ride your own bike, safe in the knowledge that the majority of mishaps that may befall you out on the road are within your own grasp to deal with. more so than that, you will have the wherewithal to perfrom preventative maintenance back at the ranch, again aided and abetted by those excellent videos.

to possibly misquote an overheard phrase, this is the shiznitz. please take this as a compulsory purchase order.

monday 23rd july 2012


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