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The Ridebook Project

The Shimano Ridebook is a special project for me.

I’ve been blending by bike world with my book world for a while now, but this endeavor takes it to another level. I was approached by the fine folks at Shimano in the winter of ’21 to talk about a “welcome to bikes” book that would elaborate on the work I’ve been doing with bike shops and Great Little Bike Books with a team of wonderful people, including Kailey and Marley from All Bodies on Bikes and Kristina from Sketchy Trails. We wanted to create a fun, inclusive and helpful guide we could give to new and returning riders at local bike shops.

We called it “The Ridebook: A friendly guide to Comfort, Community and Confidence on Two Wheels”.

It was a blast to meet with this crew regularly and mash together all of our ideas. We’d all entered the bike world through different doors and our varied experiences helped us create a neat vibe for the book. I recruited some other good friends, too. Levi from Yawp Cyclery! is talented and hilarious. The "How to Fix a Flat" from the Yawp GLBB was so perfect, we decided to Ctrl+C/V that into the Ridebook. Scott and Jannine from Buddy Pegs helped us put together a kids’ section, too, which constitutes the back section of the Ridebook. It includes helpful hints for kids and some fun bike games (including Bicycle Hopscotch, which I invented). We flipped the orientation for that section, so the back cover of “The Ridebook” is actually the front cover of “The Little Ripper’s Ridebook”. I’ve used this flip-flip method on other MBB projects and was stoked to implement it here, too.

I’m really proud of the content we created. The books are being sent to local bike shops to give to new riders with a new bike, but as we all know, that moment of buying a new bike can be an avalanche of new information. The idea behind making this a beautiful, tactile takeaway is to give riders a chance to ingest the information on their own, when they’re ready. We define some common terms in bikes and poke fun at ourselves quite a bit, too.

Kristina’s illustrations do an excellent job keeping the whole book light and fun. A central part of our inspiration for the cover was old Farmers Almanacs, and she really nailed it. We also recruited the help of typographer Colby Brooks to create the title lock-ups.

Writing the book was one thing… but making the books… that was a whole different planet for me. When I won the bid to produce the books, I was elated and terrified. This was 10x my largest order at the time. What was I thinking?!?!

I was thinking, "I'm gonna need a bigger boat".

A few years ago, I had visited a print shop in Milwaukee that was owned by a guy named Tom, the father of a neighbor. He was the real-deal. He thought my side-hustle, printing on antiquated machines and assembling books by hand was so… cute. Throughout the tour, I was most interested in what he regarded as the least valuable items, his most outdated equipment. When I expressed interest in the cabinet full of type in the garage, buried under an impressive cake of dust and grime, he laughed,

T: “I haven’t touched that in 30 years… you want it?”

T: “Yes. Yes I do.”

He also had two Heidelberg Windmills, a mountain of ink and even a beautiful, hulking Linotype machine. So, when faced with the task of printing and building 30,000 books, I knew I needed bigger presses. I gave him a buzz.

T: “Hey Tom, this is Tobie from Mordecai Book Building in Madison”.

T: “Oh hey Tobie, I was just thinking of you. I just decided to retire. Are you interested in those presses?”

T: “Yes. Yes I am.”

No joke. That's how it went.

And so began the long process of buying, testing, learning and printing on the Heidelberg Windmill. I asked Tom if I could work with him on his presses in situ for this project, so throughout the spring, I made regular trips to Milwaukee to print. Learning the intricacies of the Heidelberg was tricky. This was a working press, not a collector’s edition. Well, it was a working press decades ago that should still work the same today, in theory. Many moving parts were covered in something… oil that had turned to honey that had turned to jelly that had turned to sludge. Remarkably, waking the beast wasn’t a problem and all the sludge got right to work keeping it all quiet and smooth.

Tom and his brother, Jim (Click and Clack of the printing world), opened the print shop when they were teens. They watched as each new magical printing machine went from an absolute must to an obsolete mass. Some of their services outlived the onset of computers, including die-cutting, triplicate printing and odd government jobs.

Tom and Jim gave me short, specific instructions along with a good number of jibs and jabs as we got started. I loved it. Then they would spend the days smoking cigarettes and scrolling the socials and waiting for me to yell for help. The Heidelberg had its quirks, so not only did I have to learn how the Heidelberg worked, I had to learn how this one didn’t work and how to make it work anyway. This involved a lot of “pull this,” and “when you hear this… kick this…” and quite a few “$&%!… %$&@^!!!…. $0n()^@!!!”. I’d print for a couple hours and feel like I just finished boot camp. The Windmill wins the prize for “Printing Press Most Likely to Amputate,"... it demands respect and reverence. I had one knuckle feel the rap of the feed tray and I was put in my place.

I made mistakes and misprints… a lot of them. I kept piles and piles of them with the intent to repurpose the materials. I’m planning on making pocketbooks out of the most interesting ones. I had ink under my fingernails for weeks. It was great.

When the covers were all done and the books were assembled (automagically in a different machine), I shipped the finished books to Shimano’s regional reps all over the country to disseminate to their networks of bike shops. They are limited, so shops need to request them in order to get them.

f you’re interested in getting one, the best way is to email or visit your favorite shop and ask them to contact their Shimano rep. If that doesn’t work, please let me know! Upon request, I can also toss one in with any order placed on the MBB Web Shop (just add it to the notes on the order).

So! If you've read this far, thank you. Please go give my co-contributors a follow, support their work, and go ask your local bike shop to ask Shimano for some Ridebooks.

And last, but certainly not least, I have to say thank you to Nick at Shimano for recruiting me into this project and giving us so much freedom and guidance along the way. This was a real treat and I hope we can work together again soon.

Postscript: The last paragraph of this chapter in Mordecai history is being written right now. I’m planning to move the Heidelberg and other equipment to my new studio space (formerly known as “the garage”) sometime this fall. I’m buying two Heidelbergs but only have room for one, so if you or anyone you know is interested in a smoking deal on one, LET ME KNOW. I’m super excited to get into the new shop and start making stuff again. But first, I need a nap. It’s been a busy year!

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