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As our reality gets ever more virtual, I appreciate owning physical books more every day. Books are humble, useful, tangible, and solid. When I pick one up with my hands, no power source is necessary, just a bit of light. I own a few favorite novels, various poetry and reference books, and around 80 books on cycling, mostly older ones from the 1990’s and back. I get such a kick out of looking through a mountain bike repair book from 1989, as it reminds me of how simple things were back then: no electronic shifting, no thru axles, no virtual top tubes (yes, it’s a thing).
The thing is, I rarely use books for technical information any more. Having owned my bike shop since 2010, I know how to work on the majority of bikes that grace our roads and trails, and have become proficient at assessing, troubleshooting, and repairing various mechanical issues. I’ll admit I’m not an expert on mountain bike suspension systems or hydraulic disc brakes (yet) and whenever some new-to-me component has me scratching my head, I try to find the manufacturer’s technical document online.
Why then, am I writing this post recommending books for bike maintenance? Because I used them plenty when I was getting started, and I think that they’re still a fantastic way to learn how to work on a particular bike component and its history. They’re also handy when you dread spending another moment looking at a glowing screen. Needless to say, books always make great gifts. So whether you’re a beginning bike mechanic or have been at it for a while (or are shopping for one) here are my time-tested recommendations.
Best General Bike Maintenance Book for Beginners
My first choice for budding bike mechanics is The Bicycling Guide to Complete Bicycle Maintenance & Repair, 6th Edition, by Todd Downs. I’ve got a well-used 2005 edition of this fabulous book (mine happens to be British, so tire is of course spelled tyre). The first chapter describes how to set up a home bike workshop and the essential tools. The book methodically covers all the bicycle component groups, and even includes a bit of history and evolution of each. This is followed by descriptions of the most common repair and maintenance tasks. Every procedure is clearly laid out and accompanied with black & white photos. Besides showing you how to repair and maintain a bike, this is quite an enjoyable book to just browse on a rainy autumn evening, and every time I look inside I learn a new thing or two.
The key to success lies not in knowing the answers to everything, but in knowing to find them…Todd Downs
I’ve always appreciated this book’s exploded component illustrations as well – super informative, and artful enough to look good on wall, I say:
Best Advanced Bike Maintenance Book for Intermediate Mechanics
If you want to skip all the fluff and get straight to the source of the problem, the Park Tool Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair, 4th Edition by C. Calvin Jones truly stands out. Many of Park Tool’s wonderful cycling-specific tools are featured in the pages of this book, which is more of a shop manual than a book to browse through. Inside is everything you need to get most jobs done on modern bikes – the book includes plenty of instruction on adjusting and overhauling suspension systems, and all about the joys and frustrations of hydraulic brakes. You’ll find the Big Blue Book in most professional mechanics’ bookshelves, including mine.
As a side note, the “Repair Help” section of Park Tool’s website is one of my favorite online resource for advanced bike repair procedures, and most articles are accompanied by very good videos.
Best Road and Mountain Bike Maintenance Books
If you are a more serious road or mountain bike rider, consider getting one of these two essential books by Lennard Zinn: Zinn & the Art of Road Bike Maintenance and Zinn & the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance. These companion volumes have been the best selling books in their respective categories for quite some time. Because there are two books, each is able to focus more on technology exclusive to road or mountain bikes. The new editions cover everything from the basics to 1x-speed drivetrain systems, and even electronic and wireless shifting.
Lennard Zinn is a bit of a guru in the cycling community, and has written many tech articles for bicycle publications. He also happens to be a very tall guy (6’6″) and has designed the road bike KHS Flite 747, whose frame comes only in XXL/64cm and XXXL/66cm. He also fashions custom bikes for taller riders under his own brand, Zinn Cycles.
One More, Just For Fun: My Favorite Non-Technical Bike Book
Although you can learn plenty from its compact chapters laden with counter-intuitive wisdom, Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike by Grant Petersen isn’t exactly a how-to book. It does have plenty of practical advice for bikers, though, especially those who may miss “the good ol’ days” and are disillusioned with full suspension mountain bikes and carbon fiber this-and-that. Petersen’s lifelong quest, it seems, has been to lead cyclists back to the pure joy of bicycling, with a steadfast focus on that which is practical, simple, and comfortable. He loves relaxed frames, old-fashioned steel Wald baskets, leather saddles, and friction shifters.
This is a thinking person’s bike book, with plenty of opinions by the idiosyncratic Petersen and lots to laugh and/or scoff at. Petersen was the principal designer of many revered 90’s Bridgestone bicycles, and is the current owner of Rivendell Bicycle Works. Their “budget” model, the Clem upright city bike, will set you back $1,650, but what a beautiful steel steed it is!
I would guess that 9 out of 10 copies of this book sold were given as gifts, but I actually bought my own. I have to warn you that in its pages, Petersen may try to convince you that: helmets don’t always make you safer, biking is relatively poor exercise, cycling gloves are mostly useless, and the weight of your bike doesn’t really matter much. Reading this book (or just opening at a random page) feels much like listening to your cranky uncle who knows his stuff and is generally entertaining, but over the years you’ve learned to take most of what comes out of his mouth with a grain of salt.