I’ve been a fan of Grant Petersen for a very long time. I first became aware of him when he was head honcho at Bridgestone bikes. I even worked for a short time in a Bridgestone Bicycles dealership; Hollywood Bikes in LA. Petersen continued to extol the virtues of steel as a frame material when the whole industry seemed hell bent on abandoning steel for oversized aluminum. Bridgestone bikes featured lugged frame and fork construction long after everyone else had adopted tig welding. What Petersen was trying to do was retain some of the features he valued, but in the fickle trend-led world of mountain biking Bridgestone bikes eventually became thought of as old fashioned, behind the times, obselete. I don’t know if this was the reason that Bridgestone (giant Japanese manufacturing conglomerate) stopped making mountain bikes and shut down their US operation. Probably.
Thankfully Grant Petersen went on to found Rivendell Bicycle Works. Which kinda picked up where Bridgestone left off. Rivendell bikes are steel, their frame tubes brazed together using lugs of various degrees of fanciness. But this is merely the cornerstone of Rivendell’s ‘velosophy’. Rivendell Bikes are the antithesis of the super-light-weight close-clearance carbon-fibre race-bred bikes which dominate the high end of the bicycle industry. They are also the antidote.
To modern eyes these bikes look old fashiooned, and they are, but it goes way deeper. These are not superficially retro styled bikes. Petersen recognised that lots of people were riding the wrong bike. Wrong in size, but more often wrong in type. The equivalent of everybody riding around in the bicycle equivalent of a Formula 1 car.
His occasional ramblings on the excellent Rivendell website have been condensed into an excellent book; Just Ride, A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike. As someone with a pretty clear set of notions about cycling this book was a revelation. Firstly he changed my mind on a bunch of subjects. As a self proclaimed seeker after the truth this was ‘interesting’. (it’s hard to be rewired so profoundly at my age). It also put in to words a few ideas which were already coalescing in my mind – his chapter on clip-in pedals smacked my right between the eyes.
And I disagreed with him on a bunch of stuff (Woo. Big deal you say? For me, sad old bicycle anorak who finds mistakes in every bicycle magazine or book I’ve ever read that’s quite a big deal), but he’s not wrong. We simply hold different views. And I loved it. Reading a book whose subject matter is so well thought out, so thorough and resolved. A radical and serious book by a true expert. It’s just about the best bicycle book I have ever read. There is not a single word of BS in the whole thing. Not just a book to read to understand Petersen’s philosophy, I understand my cycling better having read it, and I thought I knew it all. My only criticism? It was too damn short.
If you ride a bicycle I urge you to read this book. It might just challenge everything you think you know.
I sent Grant a copy of Cyclorama, I almost wish I hadn’t because his book is so bloody brilliant I feel embarrassed to have him read mine! What I really do wish is that I’d read his book before I’d written Cyclorama. That tells you something huh?
Mr Petersen and his publishers have kindly allowed us to reproduce an extract from his book in our Bike Culture section, here – The Shoes Ruse