Friday, July 3, 2009

Online Bike repair guides

In the old days, when there weren't so many bike shops and the Internet was a green-screen geeks-only paradise that offered only email, FTP, and Usenet discussion groups, getting information on how to fix your bike was difficult. Bicycle repair was a matter of lore, and virtually all serious riders were competent mechanics (at least to a degree.) For the first 20 years of the Tour de France (1903 - 1923), a rider was in fact required to do his own repairs. (Thanks Chairman Bill.) Perhaps this custom that riders be self-sufficient is why John Forrester's seminal book Effective Cycling has so many of its pages dedicated to bike maintenance and repair.

Now, of course, if you don't want to get your hands dirty, it's a quick trip down to the local bike shop to get that drivetrain fixed or those brakes adjusted, or maybe even a trip down there to get diagnosed what is wrong in the first place. This is fine if you have the money, or lack a mechanical aptitude gene. (It also keeps the local bike shop in business, which isn't a bad thing either.) So you, dear reader, have choices, and an excellent choice is an on-line bicycle repair website. The web is full of them, some good, some very good, and some quite generic (the "generic" ones are the ones that list "bike repair" up alongside "gutter repair" and "13 uses for baking soda".) I've surveyed several of the bike-specific sites here and hope you find the overview useful:

Park Tools Repair Site:
This ia an encyclopedic, professional bike repair web site. Not surprising when you consider the source -- Park tools have a deservedly excellent reputation and there's no better way to sell and support tools than to show people the proper way to use them. The Park website has a nifty interactive Flash-based "bicycle map" that hightlights the parts of the bike that may need repair and navigates you to the "chapter" of the website where you can see the specific topics on that part.
This website is very old-school. It has a chaotic layout, with ads sprinked about. Topics are hit-or-miss. The illustrations are both sparse and of marginal quality, looking like they were created with a DOS-based paint program on a VGA screen. There are a few interesting sections, though, including a section that deals with diagnosing what's wrong with your bike based on how often you hear noises.
This is easily the most "social web" oriented of the repair sites. Most if not all instructions include downloadable videos. Note the "tags" below the image-map of the bike at right. All instructions allow comments by users. This site has some general topics, such as "how to shift gears" and "how to tune up your bike", as well as the specific highly-categorized topics.

Utah Mountain Biking:
This site has a large selection of topics; each topic is well-illustrated with lots of well-cropped photos. I like that the graphic bike-parts index includes "Chad". Definitely a focus on mountain bike and downhill stuff here -- this is the place to go to get info on disk brakes and shocks.

Jim Langley's Bicycling Site:

This is definitely an "old-school" site with a pleasing personality. Lots of old-bicycle-poster eye candy, lots of mini-articles about bikes, with a focus on antique bikes. He does have a page calling out bike terminology, but unlike the other sites, he doesn't use this as a clickable index. This won't suit everyone, but the information given, although you may have to hunt around a bit to find it, is good. He has a number of topics on bicycle fit and adjustment.

Sheldon Brown's Fixit Pages:
The late, great Sheldon Brown of Massachusetts' Harris Cyclery had a collection of pages on the Harris website. The range of topics is by no means encyclopedic, in fact it's hit-and-miss, but if Sheldon Brown covers a topic, it's worth taking a look, because the depth of his topics is extreme (including things about the history of each component, going back to the English/ French/ Italian standards of the 1950s). Each topic is more like a brief "white-paper" style treatise on that kind of bike component or situation. For the experienced cyclist, this will be elucidating and enjoyable, but it's not for beginners who are looking for a "step-by-step" approach.

Wheelpro Wheel Building Guide:

I'm going to wrap this up with a single-topic website, or rather, a reference to an excellent book on perhaps the most important maintenance / repair topic, and that is wheels and wheelbuilding. Roger Musson, a British bicycle wheelbuilder and mechanic, has written the final word on building bike wheels.

It's not free, but neither is it expensive, and it comes with a money-back guarantee. It's packed with useful information and guarantees you that if you follow the instructions, you can build a wheel that will be straight and true for its lifetime (i.e., until the rims wear out.) If you like riding on round, true wheels and want to build wheels that are better than those you can buy, this is the reference for you.

Summary Chart:
For those of you who have made it this far, here's a chart summarizing the topics covered in all the sites listed. Click the image for a high-resolution, printable version.

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