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)

The Gift That Kept On Giving

Sometime mid last year I got it into my head that I needed to build a cyclocross bike. We were at a friend’s wedding and got a short tour of the bikes Johnny had built over the years, one of which was a cylcocross bike. I’m not sure what it was about it, but I decided I needed to try my hand at building one.

Now, I’m far too old to take up competitive cyclocross (for those who don’t know, think of it as a cross between road biking and mountain biking), but the idea of bombing along fire roads on what amounts to a hopped road bike appealed to me. Besides, I’ve tinkered with bikes for years but never built one up from scratch.

So when my wife asked me what I wanted for Christmas in 2015 I immediately pointed her to a Nashbar aluminum cyclocross frame. Christmas morning I got up to a giant box with a feather-light frame in it and soon set about figuring out how to put it all together. Fortunately, I had some help in the form of a couple avid cycling friends who pointed me in the right direction and answered some of my incredibly stupid questions (Are 29er wheels the same size as 700c? What’s the difference between a regular crankset and compact crankset? On and on and on).

From January til now, I’ve been finding parts all over the Internet and slowly assembling my first ‘cross bike.

biek frame

02/03/16 Basic frame. Found a set of Ellsworth aluminum forks and an FSA stem on ebay. The seatpost in the pic is from my wife’s bike (turns out she still needed it to, you know, hold the seat on the frame).

bike 2

2/13/16 FSA Headset installed, headset spacers installed, stem temporarily in place. Oval Concepts seatpost and WTB Laser saddle. The saddle is a leftover from WTB’s Test Ride seats. Dirt cheap and about as close to brand new as you can get. The bottom bracket is also in place.

Bike3

2/20/16 – Drop bars added. This is the first bike I’ve had with drop bars since my old 10 speed in 1985. In an exciting twist of events, this will have double the gears: 2 up front, 10 in the back. By the way, it was 70 in Albuquerque when I took this picture. In February. Strange weather year.

bike wheels

First test mount of the wheels. I didn’t have rim tape or tubes in them yet. 02/25/2016

bike5

03/02/2016 – Rim tape and tubes mean real wheels. You can’t really see it from here, but the rear brake is mounted. Finally fully lubed and assembled the bottom bracket and got the cranks put on and tightened down. Tonight was the first night I got to sit on this beast.

I has breaks. 03/25/2016

I has breaks. 03/25/2016. I wound up having to replace the Shimano brakes. They were for a mountain bike and the road levers have a different pull. I could pull the levers all the way to the bar and the brakes still wouldn’t engage. Protip: Road brakes and Mountain brakes don’t work quite the same way.

And most of a drive train.

And most of a drive train. I’ve actually got a chain, but wanted to get the shifters before I put the chain on. 03/25/2016

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04/09/2016 – Most everything is done. Still adjusting things and haven’t wrapped the bars.

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04/10/2016. Fully assembled. Still need to do a bit of work on the rear derailleur – it won’t let me shift to the highest gear, and the back brake whines a bit. Minor tweaks.

Total costs (minus the frame. It was a gift, but they go for about $150)

  • Stem: FSA OS-140 Carbon. Found on eBay for 15.99
  • Headset: FSA Orbit MX. Found on eBay for 34.99
  • Seatpost: Oval Concepts. Found on eBay for 13.70
  • Headset spacers: 10mm FSA carbon. Found on eBay for 3.24
  • Crankset and Bottom Bracket: FSA Gossamer. Found on eBay for 50.00
  • Bars: FSA Energy Ergo, found on eBay for 19.99
  • Fork: Ellsworth aluminum. Found on eBay for 69.99
  • Bar tape: Deda. Found on eBay for 8.45 shipped
  • Saddle: WTB Laser V, found on PricePoint for 22.98
  • Seatpost Clamp: Azonic. Found on PricePoint for 6.98
  • Tires: Schawlbe CX Comp HS 369. Found on Amazon for 19.98 each.
  • Wheelset: Shimano RM35 Mavic TN317. Found on eBay for 130.96
  • Brake/Shift Levers: SRAM Apex. Found on eBay for 139.00
  • Brake Calipers: Avid BB-5R, found on Amazon for 78.00 for the pair
  • Brake Rotors: Rear, Shimano Deore SM-RT62 (160mm), eBay 12.99. Front, Shimano SM-RT54 (180mm). eBay 16.39
  • Front Derailleur: SRAM X7, eBay 15.00
  • Rear Derailleur: SRAM X7, eBay 35.00
  • Pedals: Shimano (pulled from old bike)
  • Chain: SRAM PC-1031, eBay 17.60
  • Cassette: SRAM PG-1030, eBay 43.94

Miscellaneous costs:

  • Headset installation: 10.00
  • Brake adapters: 9.95 on PricePoint
  • Rim Tape 6.00 on PricePoint
  • Tubes 6.00 PricePoint
  • Extra 20mm M6 bolts 10.00 on eBay
  • Cable kit, bottle, cage, seat pack: 32.00 on PricePoint

Total Cost (minus frame): 829.17

It weighs in at slightly over 25 lbs.