As commuters, enthusiasts and other non-occupational cyclists, it seems like a lot of our collective bicycle knowledge comes from The Ones Who Came Before: those folks that – at least at one point – knew more about cycling than we did. So we accept what they have to say, and by the time other wide-eyed fledglings come to us for advice, it has become so engrained in our bicycle background that we probably have then passed it on ourselves. It is the lore of the basement home shop, the bards’ song of the bicycle lane, some of which is incredibly useful and can save a new cyclist from having to learn tough lessons on their own.
BUT. I was born in Missouri, the Show Me state. I blame this for my inability to accept anything without question. I call it being healthily incredulous; my girlfriend uses other words. When someone tells me something that doesn’t sit well with what I know – or think I know – I have learned to mostly hold my tongue. I’m not sure Grant Petersen has ever held his tongue, and I think we’re all a little better for it. His new book – Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike – is an attempt to undo much of what many of us think we know.
For those that don’t know, Petersen is the man behind Rivendell Bikes as well as much of the philosophy and design Bridgestone USA is still known for twenty years later. He is a proponent of practical, traditional-looking steel bikes with comfortable cockpits, fenders and racks, and uncomplicated technology. He is the man the term “retrogrouch” was coined to describe, and although many make jokes about comically long stems and tweed underwear, it is often still with respect for what he does.
He begins the book by presenting the concept of the UnRacer, the antithesis of the spandex clad, faux-race-bike riding folks we all are familiar – and some of us probably identify – with. To put it politely, Petersen is passionate about the influence professional road racing has had on cycling as a whole. To put it bluntly, he sees it something of a cancer on the rest of the cycling community and dedicates a good portion of the book trying to reverse some of the damage. This includes topics along the lines of “Your bike is the wrong size”, “Clipless pedals: wait, why?” and “Dude, put on some pants” (okay, my titles, but accurate).
Much of the rest of the book touches on nearly every aspect of cycling, whether it’s health (stop ‘carbo-loading’, tubby), technique (you will never hit corners the same way again), gear (saddlebags are awesome; no one surprised) and various technical aspect (like what the Q in Q factor stands for). Many of these things are presented as fact, not opinion, and there are no extensive BQ-esque diagrams and charts trying to win you over to his side. And maybe because of this, the tone is very conversational, and I found it pleasant to read even those items I didn’t agree with (which were the minority).
Overall this is a quick, enjoyable read. I’m not sure if it would have the effect of de-racing those entrenched in the commuter peloton, but it is nice to have a solid book to remind the rest of us we’re not alone in our desire to “normalize” cycling – assuming you can accept wearing a rain poncho as ever being normal. My only complaint is the unusual shape, which ironically seems designed to stand out instead of perform while in use, but I could be off base. It might be shaped to best fit in a saddlebag.
Thanks to Ben over at Back Alley Bike Repair for passing this my way for review. The book is/will be available in both bike shops and book stores (as well as through Rivendell directly) so keep your eye out. If you or your local shop is carrying it, post where in the comments.
Grant Petersen will be doing a book signing, reading and ride this Friday, May 11th at Freerange Cycles in Fremont. Get in touch with them for more information.