Book Review: The Bike Deconstructed by Richard Hallett

I built my first bike from the frame up earlier this year. It was an experience. I’m glad I did it, and fortunate that I had a couple friends that help me through the rough parts, but I had a ton of questions. I started cycling back in the late 80s, dropped it for a while, restarted, dropped it, and restarted it a couple years ago. I’m by no means a long distance rider, but it’s always been something I enjoyed and this year I felt it was time to try my hand at building a bike from scratch. In some ways, cycling is the crack rock of the sports world; it’s amazing addictive and once you start it, you’ll always come back to it.

Back in the late 80s, the cycling world was a different place. In many ways it was a much simpler world; there weren’t that many parts manufacturers out there and the parts were more interchangeable than they are now. In other words, the cycling world is a bit more of a baffling ordeal than it was 25 years ago.

So, after I finished building a cyclocross bike (it rocks, by the way), I stumbled across Hallett’s book on bikes. It would have been incredibly useful before I started building (as would Zinn and Art of Road Bike Maintenance, but that’s for a different review). Aside from the fact that Hallett manages to make the dizzying array of technical terms readily understandable, he treats bicycles as the work of engineering art that they are. In the end, not only do you wind up with a fascinating look at the parts of bicycles, you get bits of history about how the parts came to be. For instance, do you know the history quick release levers? Back in the 1920s, if you wanted to change gears on a bike, you had to take the wheel off. Tullio Campagnolo was trying to change gears during a race and his hands went numb from the cold, so he couldn’t get the rear wheel off because he couldn’t get his hands to move the wingnuts that held the wheel on. Yes, QR levers are that old.

That’s the kind of thing that makes The Bike Deconstructed: A Grand Tour of the Modern Bicycle such a fascinating read. Not only does it cover the current technologies, it gives the history of how we got to this point. And it’s full of historical tidbits.

Granted, The Bike Deconstructed isn’t for everyone. If you’re not into cycling, it may hold limited interest for you, but even then it’s still an pretty cool book. If you are into cycling, it’s a wondrous exploration of the history of the sport. The Bike Deconstructed focuses primarily on road bikes, so mountain bikers may find it less interesting, but it’s still worth checking out.

A metal frame, two wheels, pedals, a seat, and handlebars—on first glance, bicycles look pretty straightforward. And yet, even today’s most stripped-down bicycles can feature as many as two hundred parts, each with a critical role to play. The unbelievably efficient way they work together is what makes modern bicycles such marvels of compact engineering, and sometimes frustrating to diagnose and repair. In The Bike Deconstructed, bicycle guru Richard Hallett dismantles the modern bicycle to uncover the origin, design, and evolution of every integral part. Through stunning photography, accessible writing, and clear diagrams, Hallett examines every aspect of the bike in detail—from the anatomy of the drive chain to the geometry of the main frame, and from spoke weaving patterns to the effect of fork rake on steering and stability. So whether you are a leisurely cruiser or have dreams of entering the Tour de France, The Bike Deconstructed is your must-have cycle resource.

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Get your copy here (paperback)

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