Chainbreaker Bike Book, The: By Shelley Lynn Jackson, 256 pgs.

Aug 21, 2008

Chainbreaker was a bicycle-themed zine done by Shelley Lynn Jackson, a female bike mechanic living in New Orleans. Though there are reprints from the zine, The Chainbreaker Bike Book is more than a zine book; most of this is new material—a guide to bicycling and to the basics of bike repair.
The bike guide starts by talking you through choosing and buying a bike, then listing and describing what tools you will need for bike repairs. It then gives instructions for repairs, divided by bike part, and including some very homespun illustrations. The writing is friendly and clear, and if I had the tools and the time, I would have road tested Chainbreaker by overhauling my bike. I felt like I could do it with this book at hand.
After the repair manual are some assorted tips—safety and common sense that didn’t shoehorn into the rest of the book. A favorite part of mine was Shelley talking about working at a bike shop in the French Quarter of New Orleans and having drunk people coming in in disbelief, saying that their bike was gone, but their lock was still secured to the place where they’d left their bike. Lesson: Make sure you put the lock through the thing you’re locking to and your bike, especially if you’re out drinking.
The zine reprints are a collaborative effort, with great comics from the book’s co-author Ethan Clark, plus stories about the arrests made at the Critical Mass ride during the 2004 RNC in New York, bike travel, midnight relay races, bike delivery culture, and interviews with a bike-powered gardener and a member of the Black Label Bike Club. Focus often returns to the sexism experienced by woman mechanics working in bike shops, including horror stories about customers ignoring female mechanics or asking for men to work on their bikes.
The layout of the zine section of the book is chaotic, with articles going over the margins, into the gutter, and even stopping without warning. Also, one of the articles from the zine section is fully reprinted in the repair part of the book, which felt extraneous and wasteful.
Shelley and Ethan have both worked at community bicycle projects in New Orleans and elsewhere, and this book has a strong DIY bent. It’s obvious that the authors are more fulfilled replacing a pedal for a delivery biker than tinkering with a $2,000 mountain bike owned by a spandex-clad yuppie; and the writing is more passionate when talking about helping people who truly rely on bikes. I suppose they’d rather convert the wannabe Lance Armstrongs than alienate them, but the writing can get a little muddled when they try too hard to include them, like this quote from p. 119, discussing unnecessary expensive parts: “I could have done the same conversion with a cheap little derailleur. That kind of thing, just so people don’t feel like they have to get hyped up on the fancy shit. Unless they want to, of course.”
The Chainbreaker Bike Book teaches you how to fix and love your own bike, and that is a part of the self-reliance and freedom that cycling can bring. As compared to driving, not only is cycling cheaper and better for the environment, there is an intangible feeling of freedom and connectedness that comes with riding a bike. They try to describe it, but it’s impossible to replicate on the page—all the more reason for you to get on a bike and ride. –CT Terry (Microcosm Publishing, 222 S. Rogers St., Bloomington, IN47404)

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