The Urban Biking Handbook: The DIY Guide to Building, Rebuilding, Tinkering with, and Repairing Your Bicycle for City Living by Charles Haine, Quarry Books, 208 pages, $25
It was good to find a fresh book aimed at the city biker. Charles Haine's The Urban Biking Handbook: The DIY Guide to Building, Rebuilding, Tinkering with, and Repairing Your Bicycle for City Living looks at urban cycling from the technical to the whimsical. The meat of the book are the chapters on how to choose a bike suitable for the kind of riding (i.e. commuting) you do, how to shop for a used bike and then how to fix it.
Maybe you want to make your beater into a fixie? How about hacking your handlebars at home or "citifying" a favorite old mountain bike? The author shows you how to do it.
Haine brings years of experience, first as a mechanic at an Oberlin College bicycle cooperative and stints at several bicycle shops in Washington, D.C. to this entertaining book. He continues to teach beginning and advanced bicycle mechanics at the Bicycle Kitchen in Los Angeles, where he makes his living in the film industry.
Haine's eclectic approach to city cycling was what first grabbed my interest when I first opened The Urban Biking Handbook. Sure, he offers a lot of nuts and bolts advice on how to keep your ride in good shape, adjust the brakes and shifters, repack bearings and maintain or replace the chain - in other words, the stuff of many biking books. But his oddball fixes add a real DIY (do-it-yourself) aspect to the book, such as inserting a "folded up lucky dollar bill" to cover a small rip in the sidewall of your tire or a "shade tree mechanic's" guide to truing a wheel while on a ride.
DIY and DIT (do-it-together) are hallmarks of the urban biking experience as Haine sees it. "A cycling renaissance" is exploding in our cities. The DIT phenomenon is at the basis of L.A.'s Bicycle Kitchen (where Haine is chairman/head grease monkey) and other bike co-ops across the country. In the Upper Midwest, for example, there is the Grease Pit in Minneapolis; Freewheel Community Bike Shop in Madison, Wisconsin; the Milwaukee Bicycle Collective; and Common Cycle in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
A chapter dedicated to community-based "bicycle education space" advises readers on how to set up their own shop, from recruiting, training and keeping volunteers, to finding a space and financing. "Many bike spaces," Haine writes, "engage in projects such as earn-a-bike. This is generally coordinated with local schools, where children are taught to repair bicycles." In the case of DreamBikes, kids actually run bicycle stores in their low-income neighborhoods of Madison and Milwaukee.
I remembered spending afternoons with friends in the garage tearing down, lubing and putting back together our one-speed coaster brake bikes. Once the frame was stripped of its other components, we might get a can of red enamel from the hardware store and paint the old Schwinn's frame. Haine devotes a short chapter to the process of repainting your bike, from a "rattle-can" do-over (like we did with our stalwart cruisers) to nail polish or model paint art work on the frame to a professional powder coatings.
In addition to the nitty-gritty tips and guidance, the book stands alone among many bike-oriented publications I've read by including less-often addressed tips, like "starting small: a car-free week."
"Most of us," Haine writes, "have spent so much time using our car as a major means of transportation that the idea of going without is initially overwhelming." Try a car-free week, he recommends. "If even that is too much, try just a car-free day or two."
Consider shopping "market style" several times a week instead of making one big weekly grocery run. He cuts us cyclists a little slack for the times when we really want off the two wheels and onto four. For example, "on chilly days, when you're running a little late or when you feel like you have a million things to do, it can be a difficult choice for anyone."
Haine is also the first writer I ever read who offers advice on how to go on a bicycle date. "Because of how much I love cycling ... I think there are few things as romantic as sharing a bike ride and a meal with someone." Spoken like a true bike lover.
With photos by Drew Bienemann, another Bicycle Kitchen volunteer, and others, The Urban Biking Handbook is a visually appealing, light-hearted and amusing read.
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