Recently I’ve been reading pretty much every book on bike mechanics I can get a hold of.  One thing I really like to do, especially if I’m traveling, is to walk into the central public  library and make my way towards call number 629.227.   Most bike books get shelved there, and sometimes under R(eference)629.227.  I’ve found some really interesting reads this way, and I want to start remarking briefly on the one’s I’ve like the most.   I’m going to start with Shelley Lynn Jackson &  Ethan Clark’s The Chainbreaker bike book because it stands out from everything else I’ve read.

I liked this book for its style and perspective.  It’s written by two mechanics/volunteers from New Orleans and resembles a DYI zine more than a dry, professional repair book.   Actually, Shelly had started a bike zine called Chainbreaker, but the project was canceled after ‘Cane Katrina.  All four issues of the zine are reproduced in the second half of this book.

I appreciated Shelly’s perspective as a female mechanic.  She goes on for a little while describing all the BS she has to deal with at the shop and I think that after taking it all in it will help me stay aware and sensitive of how women are treated in shops and the bike scene.  I also appreciated Ethan’s account of going from working at an unpretentious LBS to a high-end chain store.  He basically said it sucked working on nice bikes for rich people all day, because he didn’t feel like he was doing as much good for people as he had when he fixed bikes for people  who depended on them on a daily basis.   That resonated with me because I’m more interested in commuter riding than racing or doing anything competitive on a bike.  At one point in the boo, it might have been the zine reprint section, there were some words regarding fixies, and it went something like (paraphrasing) …. “whoa, can everyone just chill out and stop being so obsessed with components and competing for the nicest ride? let’s just encourage people to ride bikes and stop being so pretentious and intimidating.”The city of New Orleans definitely looms large over the writing of this book.  Both authors were volunteers at Plan B, a community bike organization, and I just got a really good impression of both N.O and Plan B, enough to spark an interest in visiting N.O. soon.

As for mechanical advise in this book –by the time I got around to Chainbreaker, I’d already read a lot of cut and dry repair books, so I wasn’t really scrutinizing this part of the book too much.  Really it’s likely not the best first/only book on repair to read, since the illustrations are sketched in black and white.  It did however give a good explanation of why freehubs and better than freewheels.

In all I liked this book and you should check it out, unfortunately no library in New England has it on their shelves.  Ask you local branch to order it?  They are required to spend like 20% of their budget on new books, you know….  Or order it from the publisher for 12 bucks here.

experience required (?)

January 29th, 2009

When I first began to consider becoming a bicycle mechanic, I was afraid of being already too old to get my foot in the door. I assumed most mechanics got their start when they were 13 at their local shop, and to do so post-college was too late in the game.  While it’s true that a good number of people in the field started out messing around with bikes as kids or teens, it turn its still possible for others to gain experience and get hired.  Here are some good resources I can think of:

bike shops – It might just be as easy as walking into an LBS and asking if they’re hiring.  Some shops might not require any previous experience at all, just an “enthusiasm for the job”, but that’s rare.  Maybe you can ask to start out as a sales associate and have them train you on mechanics on the side.   I’ve also heard of some people convincing the owner/manager to let them apprentice at a shop medium-to-long-term, but this might involve being compensated with a store discount in lieu of a paycheck.  If you’re really lucky maybe you’ll find a shop that does something as formal  as Aaron’s Bike Shop’s two-year apprenticeship.

Most shops will require some previous experience however, in which case you may want to inquire about whether your LBS offers basic bike maintenance classes.  These may last 3 to 5 sessions over a number of weeks and usually cover how to fix a flat and do a simple tune-up.  Bike-based nonprofits usually do this sort of thing as well, often for a smaller fee or even free.  Which bring me to…

bicycle cooperatives, a/k/a bike kitchens, community bike organizations, etc… are an excellent resource to learn more about bikes, gain mechanical skills,  save money, and do some good for somebody else.  A partial but not total listing is available here. These noncommercial enterprises vary in mission and organizational level.  Some are small, volunteer-run bike kitchens run out of somebody’s garage or donated space where you can get help on your own bike for free or a donation, or can work on your own bike (Actaully some LBSs also have rentable self-service workbenches as well). Sometimes there is a focus on empowering local youth by allowing them to earn a bicycle through volunteer work. A few orgs have international programs that focus on improving the standard of living within developing nations by delivering bikes and related equipment there.  All of these organizations share a common goal of getting more people on bikes and becoming familiar with them.

Check to see if the one near you offers maintenance classes or the opportunity to do bike-related volunteering.  Chances are they do.

Professional schools – There are two institutes in the country which offer a certification program in bike mechanics.  UBI in Oregon, and Barnett’s in Colorado. I think they go for 80 hours over 2 weeks, and cost two or three grand.  I’ve heard and read only good things about these schools.  They have websites.

if anyone has any other ideas or experiences … pray tell.

update: question mark added to end of title, as I had intended