Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
Back In 1971, the late Tom Cuthbertson wrote one of the best selling bicycle repair books of all time, titled, Anybody’s Bike Book. Thanks to the Internet, you can still buy it. While you won’t find anything about electronic drivetrains, hydraulic disc brakes or a host of other recent innovations, what you will find is good basic advice for beginner bike mechanics.
Tom modeled his book after the even more famous DIY guide for Volkswagen repair called How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot by John Muir – also still available. Notice the “for the Compleat Idiot” part. Both books were as entertaining and funny as they were informative.
In Anybody’s Bike Book, Tom used simple terms and clear instructions accompanied by Rick Morrall’s accurate yet always goofy illustrations to make bike repair sound easy and even better, fun. He truly made anyone feel like they could fix their own bike, or at least the basic stuff that went wrong.
Demystifying The 10-Speed
Anybody’s Bike Book had a huge effect on millions of cyclists when it came out. The world was in the grip of an oil crisis causing gasoline shortages that crippled transportation. And, one of the most popular solutions was the relatively new at the time, 10-speed road bicycle. In the early 1970’s they sold so quickly bike shops couldn’t keep them in stock and the major makers couldn’t crank out bikes fast enough.
Because the 10-speed was so new to so many, Tom’s manual was almost the only book on the topic. It was the missing link for the basic maintenance and repair issues that rendered so many of the bikes essentially unrideable.
For example, the Presta valve we know so well now, was a mysterious new thing. Many bikes had sew-up tires that had to be glued to the rims. Derailleur gearing and shifting was way beyond the 3-speeds that had been the bike everybody got around on before the 10-speed arrived. And, rims brakes drove newbies crazy, always squeaking or dragging on one side.
Sparking A Passion For Bike Repair
I was one of those newbies who Tom spoke to through his book and he gave me the confidence to try to adjust my derailleurs and gears. It was scary to pick up the tools and start messing with my brand new red Peugeot AO-8. After all, it cost a whopping $95.
But, Tom was right there talking to you in words that gave you the confidence to forge ahead. And in the upstairs hallway – my first impromptu workshop – following Tom’s tips, I discovered that I had a knack for diagnosing problems and fixing things.
I’ve heard similar anecdotes from many other roadies from those days. And like I did, a lot of them fell in love with fixing 10-speeds to the extent that they sought out and landed jobs in bike shops and became full-fledged pro wrenches.
Getting To Know Tom
I took it a step further and rode cross country from Vermont to Tom’s hometown of Santa Cruz, California and went to work in the shop where Tom penned his book. He no longer worked there. He’d gone on to become a writer of Apple computer manuals teaching newbies in the nicest way how to get the most out of their computers – way more challenging than 10-speeds if you ask me.
But, Tom visited his old shop frequently and we became friends. I learned that besides his wrenching and writing, he was a highly skilled cyclist and also helped bring the sport of cyclocross to America. In the photo he has just won a cross race in Berkeley’s Tilden Park in 1971.
And, I owe a lot more to Tom, because he was also the person who told me to start writing about bicycles and helped me land a gig at Bicycling Magazine.
You, Too, Can Fix Your Own Bike
From my experience reading Tom’s book and realizing there was a bike mechanic inside me, I have always believed that like his title says, Anybody can do bicycle repairs – by which I mean you.
Yes, the advanced stuff might be beyond your capabilities. But, the basic things it takes to keep a bike running nicely are well within the means of anyone who is interested enough to learn.
And, today we have the amazing resource, youtube.com, where you can literally find a video showing you how to fix everything, and especially bicycles. One of my most visited channels is Park Tool’s. Go to this link and use the search box to find what you’re trying to fix: https://www.youtube.com/user/parktoolcompany/videos. Or if you prefer to read about it, visit https://www.parktool.com/ and search there for text instructions.
Note too, that today most parts makers have video channels where they explain basic service procedures for their parts, too. You can try searching on the brand name, like “Sram” in youtube or visit the company’s site and look in their Support webpages for video links.
Since Anybody’s Bike Book was a good old-fashioned book, you might also pick up a copy of Lennard Zinn’s Zinn & the Art of Road Bike Maintenance.
Why To Fix Your Own Bike
The benefits of do-it-yourself bike maintenance are many, such as saving money; getting a thorough understanding of how your bike and all its parts work; being able to fix things on rides and always get home safe; having the know-how to save your friends when their bikes need work; and the great joy of fixing something.
The other life-changer is that having the skills to diagnose and fix a bicycle comes in super handy for figuring out almost everything else, so that when there’s an issue at home or at work, you can be that person that saves the day, which feels great.
I encourage you to give it a try. I think you’ll find that there’s a bike mechanic inside you, too.
Ride total: 9,059
Joan Oppel says
I too found Any body’s Bike Book in the 70’s,when I got my first 10 speed! He taught me a lot. And I still have my copy. Today I use Zinn’s book and my laptop-playing the excellent Park Tool videos by Calvin.
Jim Langley says
That’s great to hear, Joan. Thank you!
Actually, my favorite book on bike repair and maintenance is yours. Thank you for it.
Jim Langley says
Thanks for making my day, fixieguy – appreciate the kind words very much 😉
Mike Feinstein says
Tom’s book simplified the repair of my early bikes in 1975. I passed it on to my wife and she carried it in her bike bag for years. It may still be in her bag today. Tom’s touring guide book was also unique. A real treasure…he was!…..Mike
Steve Weeks says
This timeless classic advice from 2018 mysteriously showed up on my phone this morning. It’s as valid as it was two years ago. I always tinkered with bikes, but really didn’t get serious about learning how they work until I was about 50. Thanks for your guidance, Jim!