Books for Bicycle Tinkerers and Armchair
If you like to work on bikes, or just like to think about
here are a few of my favorite titles that you might find interesting.
I've divided the list into two rough categories, "practical" and
"technical", though of course there's some overlap. A really good
how-to manual will also tell you why, and sometimes a good explanation
of why will make how self-evident.
For convenience, I've linked titles to
Amazon.com, though if you have a good local book store I
would certainly recommend keeping them in business. Book stores,
like bike shops, are part of the soul of a community, usually run
by underpaid devotees who find the fastest route to a small
fortune is to start business with a large one. Still, Amazon is
very fast, has excellent selection, and beats the pants off of chain
bookstores in the mall.
Practical Bicycle Books
Haynes Bicycle Book is, in my opinion, the best basic
the average home mechanic. It has excellent descriptions, very clear
photographic illustration of parts, and good coverage of almost
a home mechanic will want to tackle without professional help.
After being out of print for several years, a new edition
came out in
the fall of 2001. I haven't seen the new edition yet myself, but if it
up to the first edition, it would be my first suggestion for either
mountain bike general maintenance.
and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance is specific to road
bikes, though some of the
applies to mountain bikes. Not quite as good as the Haynes book in my
personal opinion, but Zinn's books stay in print and do cover
the average home mechanic will ever attempt.
and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance is the
mountain bike version of
Zinn's maintenance manual, and it's
the best mountain-bike-specific maintenance manual I've seen for the
Manual: Analysis and Procedures for Bicycle Mechanics is an
extremely comprehensive guide to almost everything
that a shop mechanic will need to do on most bicycles. It goes into
more detail than your average home mechanic will need, including thread
specifications and torque values, for example. Many professional
bicycle mechanics consider Barnett's the definitive
mechanical procedure. It's in a 3-ring-binder format for easy updating
and adding your own notes, too.
Handbook for Bicycle Mechanics is an excellent companion to
Barnett's Manual. While
Barnett's tells you
how to perform particular procedures, Sutherland provides encyclopedic
references to specifications for just about every part on a bicycle,
huge lists of rim diameters and hub specifications for determining
lengths, headset specifications, bottom bracket spindle dimensions, hub
bearing counts and axle threadings, cable and casing dimensions,
assemblies of modern geared hubs, derailleur specifications, etc.
If you just have one bike to work on, Sutherland's is
overkill. If you
work on many different bikes and always need to find information on
compatible replacement parts, Sutherland can save you many hours. It's
also handy if your designing a new bike and want to ensure maximum
compatibility with a wide range of components.
Custom Bicycle: Buying, Setting Up, and Riding the Quality Bicycle
Kolin and de la Rosa, Rodale Press, 1979.
A classic, if dated, introduction to custom bicycles,
published in the 1970s bicycle boom but still relevant to road bikes
The book begins with an introduction to frame building techniques and
then the majority of the book is devoted to profiles of recognized
builders in Britain, France, Italy, and the U.S., discussing design
and construction methods. Finally the book has close to 70 pages on
up a bike, both fitting the rider and integrating the components -- all
friction shifting, of course, so the discussion pays more attention to
chain line than cable housing. Some of the information is out of date,
the explanation of how to make a rider comfortable on a bike is very
Cycling by John Forester is a clearly-written, simple
on ordinary roads with other traffic. It's sad to think that such a
is necessary, but while public schools spend years getting kids to play
sports, and offer driver's education to older students, they generally
bother showing younger students how to safely enjoy the lifelong
to ride a bicycle. Forester's basic premise is simple: bicycles are
vehicles, not toys.
Forester also includes other practical information on bike
and equipment, maintenance ideas, etc.
If you spend much time on Usenet or various cycling
you may know John Forester as a rather irritable and often irritating
online persona, but his book does not display the same style, it's
well written and well reasoned.
2001 is the latest in a series of annual guides published
at Bike Culture Quarterly. It's filled with interesting bicycles and
accessories, and highlights the many alternatives to the traditional
road bike design. You'd be hard-pressed to find as many recumbents,
folding bikes, and special-needs bikes in one place anywhere else.
Technical (Impractical?) Bicycle Books
& Tricycles: An Elementary Treatise On Their Design
by Archibald Sharp is probably the most comprehensive bicycle
even though it was written more than 100 years ago. (Or perhaps
*because* it was written in 1896, before the automobile displaced the
bicycle as the pinnacle of personal transportation engineering.)
Besides detailed examinations
of geometry, bearings, drivetrains, etc., it has details of many
that were tried and found wanting, including many that crop up again
and again as
radical new "improvements", only to be discarded yet again. This book
has gone in and out of print repeatedly over the years, the current
edition is much better made
than the last one I saw in the 1990s.
Science by Whitt & Wilson isn't a design manual, but
rather a good summary of
much of the science behind the design and operation of bicycles. It has
extensive discussions of steering and handling, aerodynamics,
etc. Anyone interested in the evolution of bicycles will find something
worth reading here. Many better libraries have this book.
Cycling be Edmund Burke is a collection of articles and
on cycling technology and efficiency, biomechanics, aerodynamics, etc.
If you want a better understanding of cycling physics, this is a
Burke is a serious writer on cycling who provides an antidote to the
and marketing that drives so much of the bicycle business.
Design: Towards the Perfect Machine by Mike Burrows is a
technical and historical look at
many aspects of bicycles, by a bicycle designer and engineer at Giant
Bicycles known for his work on carbon fiber, compact frames, and
recumbent bicycles. Not
a how-to manual by any means, but loaded with information that can help
you decide what you want to do and what might be the better ways of
& Tricycles; Past and Present by Charles Spencer is a
brief historical review of
as of the 1880s. It has plenty of interesting illustrations, and shows
few of today's "new" inventions are even new to this century. Don't
this book with the seminal Bicycles and Tricycles
by Archibald Sharp,
it doesn't have any of the physics/mechanics that Sharp provides, but
it gives another view of designs of the past.
American's "The Amateur Scientist"
has, I'll admit, almost nothing to do with bicycles. But if
past Archibald Sharp and Charles Spencer, you probably enjoy general
as much as anything bicycle-specific, so I have to recommend this CD,
which contains 2600 pages of the Amateur Scientist column from
You may remember C. S. Stong's classic Book of Projects for
the Amateur Scientist, a wonderful book with dozens of
fascinating projects, some of them actually useful, too. If you're
lucky you can find that book used for
under $100, or you can get all that and more on CD for less. So if
you've ever wanted to build your own linear accellerator, or a cloud
a half-million-volt van de Graaf generator, here are all the details.
Bicycle Wheel by Jobst Brandt is the most thorough
iavailable of how bicycle wheels work. It debunks many hoary old
legends and gives sound
engineering analysis of these very elegant prestressed structures. Much
of what Brandt writes is counterintuitive to many people, even though
it's accepted engineering backed up with both finite element analysis
practical demonstrations. For example, when you add weight to a bicycle
wheel, the tension on the top spokes doesn't go up, but the tension on
bottom spokes goes down, so for practical purposes a wheel stands on
bottom spokes rather than hanging from the top ones.
Brandt also includes step-by-step instructions on how to build and true
own bicycle wheels, and the instructions work even if you skip the
- The McMaster-Carr Catalog isn't
book, it's not even really a book,
though it's over 3500 pages. But if you like to tinker, it's a
big-kid's toy catalog,
the most complete hardware store you've ever dreamed of. The only
problem is, they don't
give out catalogs to just anyone -- it costs a lot to print 3500 pages
You can browse it as a PDF at the McMaster-Carr
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