The Chainbreaker Bike Book: A Rough Guide to Bicycle Maintenance

by Shelley Lynn Jackson and Ethan Clark

Published by Microcosm Publishing

256 pages, 2008






Zen and the Art of... Oh. Wait.

Reviewed by Aaron Blanton

The first glance brought me nothing but confusion. The cover illustration -- of a bike shop goin’ hard -- reminds one of the soft competence of the very best of Robert Crumb’s work. Here it is reproduced in black and the shade of pink I can never think of as anything besides “bubblegum.”

The title adds another clue: The Chainbreaker Bike Book: A Rough Guide to Bicycle Maintenance. This combination -- title, well and garishly drawn cover plus a certain devil-may-care attitude in the execution put one in mind of another famous book that concerned itself with maintaining a two wheeled conveyance.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig’s monumental 1974 work, had little to do with motorcycles, let alone their maintenance, philosophically delving into the metaphysics of quality. Put another way: very few among the millions who bought that book actually made the purchase to help them fix their bike.

So imagine my surprise when, here early in 2008, I encounter another pink book, which seems to give me clues about the metaphysical nature of the journey between two covers. And I open the book and it takes me a while to parse what I’m reading. It takes me a while to discern that which feels indiscernible. It takes a while because, quite beyond my expectation, The Chainbreaker Bike Book is about -- yeah, you guessed it: maintaining bicycles. But then, when you actually begin to read the book you realize that, just maybe, you weren’t so far off in the first place:

This repair manual is slightly limited and maybe even a little old school for the type of bikes that are on the road these days. At the very least, what this manual covers is the basics of mechanics and repair, a starting point for the person who wants to learn to look at your surroundings in a whole new way, because what I want to express here is not simply how to make a broken bicycle work again, but how to make anything broken work again. So that you feel you like you can look at a problem and not just feel daunted by it, but to actually feel inspired by it, to see every problem as an opportunity to learn something new and useful.

Robert M. Pirsig would be proud. | March 2008


Aaron Blanton is an expatriate Kentuckian writer and musician living outside of the United States.