Book Review: Bicycle Maintenance & Repair (6th Edition)

The repair forums are a great place for maintenance and tech info, but what if you could have a wealth of that type of info right in your hands? The Bicycling Guide To Complete Bicycle Maintenance & Repair by Todd Downs is a book that can give you just that.

Seriously, you could start a bike shop with all the information in this one publication! Both road and mountain bikes are covered, so those of you who own both will need just this one resource.

According to the author’s bio, Todd Downs has 21 years of experience as a bike mechanic and he has wrenched in various shops and on the race circuit, including the Tour de France. He felt driven to share the knowledge and tips he has picked up over those years, and this book is the result.

Many books of this type can lead to the reader getting lost in the sheer volume of information presented, but in this case the topical organization is excellent. Even though it includes everything from what a bicycle is and how it operates to bike tools to extremely technical breakdowns ofspecificcomponents, the book is laid out in such a way that a complete beginner or a seasoned pro can quickly get right to the section needed for a particular task.

Preceding the table of contents are several pages with labeled pictures of common types of bikes and components. Study these pages and you can stop saying things like “the whats-it that’s connected to my whatchamacall-it thingy is broken.” At a glance you can see exactly what a headset or seat stay is, and have an instant visual of how a mountain bike is different from (and similar to), say, a time trial bike.

The main text begins with an overview of home repair. It discusses creating a work space, selecting the most commonly needed tools, performing preventative maintenance like adjustments and lubrication, keeping your body parts safe from injury while working, and, interestingly, how to box up a bike for shipping or travel.

Next the author discusses bicycle frames. He goes over the evolution of the bike frame into the various types and materials we have today, and educates the reader on how to properly maintain each frame type and inspect it for wear or damage. He also tackles the difficult topic of frame geometry, both in the general sense and in terms of bike fitting. I particularly enjoyed this section and as an example, I now have a technical understanding of why my Specialized Rockhopper handles so differently from my Giant Trance.

After frames, he moves into a discussion of suspension. He employs the same top-down approach as the previous sections, progressing from a big picture overview to painstakingly detailed methods. For the rest of the book, every component group is broken down in this same way. If you are a beginner, or are just curious, the introduction to each section is a great read and will give you a solid understanding of the history and purpose of the bicycle and its various parts. If you are mechanically inclined and want to start doing your own maintenance and light repairs, the next part of each section has the info you need. If you are determined to do all of your own work, or if you’re a shop or race team mechanic, the latter part of each section has detailed technical information with things like caliper measurements, torquenumbers, exploded views, etc.

Again, this seems like a flood of information, and it is, but it is indexed so well that you can quickly flip to exactly what you need. Each section has excellent photographs of real bikes and components, with clear labels as needed. Most of the techniques described have accompanying graphics, frequently showingcommonerrors along with the way things should look. There are also links to video tutorials at for some of the more common repairs.

After spending some time with this book, I have no problem recommending that anyone with more than a passing interest in cycling grab a copy. It has a list price of $23.99, but I found it for around $15 at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and The very first adjustment or repair that you don’t have to go to the local bike shop for will more than cover the purchase price. That potential savings combined with all the interesting historical and summary information translates into an incredible value!

I would like to thank Rodale Press and Bicycling Magazine for sending a copy of this book for review.