This review originally appeared on the Feminist Review blog.
The Chainbreaker Bike Book
by Shelley Lynn Jackson and Ethan Clark
This “rough guide to bicycle maintenance” is really two books in one.
The first half is a bike repair manual, with which the authors strive to “serve many people, from the very beginner to a decent mechanic who just likes to geek out...” I found the how-to instructions accessible, written in a way that is easy to understand, not in “high tech or cool dude language.” Although both authors have been professional bike mechanics and stalwart volunteers at the New Orleans Community Bike Project, they come across as real people who just want to help other real people repair and maintain bicycles—no bike snobs here!
The illustrations—by Ethan, Shelley, and Happy, the title page proclaims—are really awesome. They are simple but informative, slightly cartoonish, but factual. For folks who need to know what different styles of bikes or different kinds of tools look like, there are pictures here to help. There are also drawings to assist with adjusting breaks, truing wheels, and replacing cables, as well as other repair and maintenance projects.
The manual ends with two appendices. The first is a directory of community bike programs in the United States and abroad, followed by a helpful glossary of bike terms.
The second half of the book consists of reprints from past issues of the Chainbreaker zine. Shelley Lynn Jackson edited and self-published Chainbreaker from 2001-2005, but was unable to continue after losing her typewriter, clip art, desk, drawing supplies, and home to flooding following Hurricane Katrina. Lucky for readers, she was able to collect some of her favorite parts of the old zines in this compilation.
Shelley’s excitement about bicycles shows in the articles she wrote and collected for her zine. In her introduction to the very first issue of Chainbreaker, in a love letter to bikes aptly called “For the Love of a Bicycle,” she details all that bikes have to offer. “…[T]he bicycle shows a person that their [sic] are options, that there are other ways of living, new horizons undiscovered.” Romantic? Yes. True? Definitely.
Chainbreaker contains not only Shelley’s voice, but includes the art and writing of other folks too. There are instructions for making a bike tube belt from Spitshine the Eye zine, directions for constructing bucket paniers [sic] from Joe Biel of Microcosm, and art and words from long time zinester Icky Apparatus. Andalusia contributes an account of volunteering at Maya Pedal, a bicycle-recycling center in Guatemala, and Happy explains bicycle delivery New Orleans style. Co-author Ethan Clark has participated in the project from nearly the beginning as a contributor of stories and images to the zine,
This bike repair manual doesn’t just show how to fix things; it provides a lot of encouragement and inspiration as well. Shelley gives several pep talks to women throughout the book, cheering us on to…”stand up and be heard…get to know the tools and language…ask questions and look for guidance, but look to your own sense of logic as well.” That’s good advice, not just for bike repair, but for everything we do in life.