Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Just Ride by Grant Petersen: A Review

Grant Petersen is one of the great souls in the world of bicycles. He's been called a retro-grouch but I've never actually found him to be grouchy. The retro label fits better but in an industry obsessed with faster, better, lighter and newer, a considered consideration of the notion that some old values might still have value is a welcome perspective. For years, at Bridgestone and more recently at Rivendell, Grant Petersen has provided that consideration and put products out into the world that he finds to be "simple, practical and proven."

I've mentioned Grant's book, Just Ride, a couple of times earlier on this blog and last night the Kindle version of the book went live on Amazon. These days I prefer getting my books in electronic form, so I'd been waiting for the digital release. One feature of the Kindle is the ability for a reader to highlight and Tweet out links to passages in a book and last night and this morning my Twitter followers found their streams filled with snippets from Grant's book as I quickly and delightedly clicked my way through the virtual pages of Just Ride, highlighting as I went.

I've seen this book in the real world and it's a slim volume but it is packed full of interesting thoughts about bicycles and riding. While I certainly don't agree with everything Grant has to say (I think he conveniently ignores the folks who have fun racing, for example), his perspective is well worth reading. I found myself highlighting many passages.

Folks familiar with Grant's work won't be surprised by the kind words he uses to describe steel as a material for bicycles but may be surprised to find he has this to say about titanium:

"Price aside, it is the ideal material for winter commuting on salted roads. Titanium frames were most popular in the pre-carbon years of about 1990 to around 2003. It’s still a terrific frame material, but it’s more labor-intensive than factory-built carbon frames. Titanium may be the only frame material in common use that doesn’t have either a real or perceived drawback. I’m not saying it’s the best material, and it isn’t my favorite, just that no matter how big a fan you are of steel, aluminum, carbon, or bamboo, you’ve got to like the all-around wonderfulness of titanium."

He's much more cautious of carbon, however:

"Carbon is... the least defect-tolerant fork material. Defect tolerance is a material’s ability to maintain its toughness—and safety—when there’s a defect. Defects may be contamination between layers of carbon fiber, or a gap, or the weave of carbon not being optimized for the directional stresses). Or the defect may be a wound caused by an accident. In any case, because carbon fails so suddenly, a defect in a carbon fork can be disastrous."

Grant espouses a certain aesthetic that not everyone shares. For example, he writes:

"Most panniers come in pairs but can be used singly, and you often see students or commuters riding around with only one. Whatever works is fine, but it’s an irritating sight, kind of like somebody walking around, perfectly content and all, in a long-sleeved shirt with one of the sleeves rolled up all the way."

I can understand his irritation, I feel the same way whenever I see shellacked handlebar tape. I think that's one of the goofiest things ever.

A book that only contains words you agree with is not nearly as useful as one that makes you think and that you learn things from, and Grant has written such a book. He questions things, like helmets and blinkie lights, and comes down firmly in favor of things like sturdy tires. I won't argue with him on that one, his sentiments echo mine:

"It’s easy to buy tires with an extra layer of rubber, nylon, kevlar, or something else between the casing and tread to stop thorns. Every extra bit of protection adds weight that will always scare off racers and others under the spell, but for all-purpose Unracing rides, I like extra flat protection. Why not? I’ve fixed at least five hundred flats in my life, I’m really good at it, and I still hate it. Beef up my tires, thank you."

Grant questions lots of authority in this book, including his own. He's designed many bike frames but he knows there are things he doesn't know:

"Drop is the one area of bike geometry I feel fuzzy about. I have suspicions about it, but no convictions. I’m suspicious of anybody who is as declarative about it as I used to be."

I could go on for longer than the book about this section or that with which I agree or differ but I am not Grant and you are not me so my message here is simple: Read Grant's book. It's good and it's useful. I liked it and I think you will as well.

Here's a final bit from the book that I liked:

"Be saintlike on the bike path. You are the predator, so ride slowly and defer to everyone. Signal your approach with a bell or a “hi.” Pass with at least two feet of clearance and ride at or below the speed limit (usually 15 miles per hour), at least when people are in sight. Keep both hands on the handlebars, because one- or no-handed riding makes nervous riders even more nervous. Stay to the right, pass on the left. If you’re a guy, don’t chitchat with solo women you meet—give them their space. Always use lights at night, because bike paths aren’t lit up, and reflectors won’t work..."

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA


Ἀντισθένης said...

"shellacked handlebar tape. I think that's one of the goofiest things ever." Slippery wet unless held onto with human or animal leather, but lasts and lasts.

Just goes to show you we can't all agree. I have a steel framed road bike with a carbon fork, Shimano 105, Brooks Swallow and taped and shellacked bars. Yes, aesthetically a 'dog's breakfast', but it works for me... except for the forks.

bikewrider said...

Just finished the book yesterday.
Definitely some good thoughts and quotes in there. Glad you shared some of your favorites.

I've been trying to narrow it down on which ones I'll blog about.

Anonymous said...

"Read Grant's book. It's good and it's useful. I liked it and I think you will as well."

I have and I really enjoyed it (this isn't the first book I heard about through your blog and enjoyed,so thank you once more,Kent :) ).

Like you,I didn't always agree with every word,I found lots that I did,and lots I either had not previously thought about or just flat did not know.

One thing I did know but had not coined a term for,and despite the healthy male ego I harbor on occasions (like say...when I'm awake :p),I am decisively an unracer other than against my own self in most cases,and I found myself nodding and giving an "Uh-huh! :) " lots. Very good read G.Peterson :)

The Disabled Cyclist

Slo Joe said...

One of those timely thingies...saw the book on Kindle yesterday and read it last night. Click on your blog, which I do periodically, and here it am.

Grant's "in your face" tone makes this a great book for putting the titles in a fishbowl with a bunch of bike buds, picking one out, and going "..okay agree or not?"

Like you, I don't agree with some of what Grant's says but I'll defend until my cogset wears out his right to his opinion. Makes for some earthy chats.

Freewheel said...

I'm glad Grant Petersen finally wrote a book. It's been known that he's a wonderful writer ever since his days of penning the Bridgestone catalogs.

16incheswestofpeoria said...

I was a bit surprised by the titanium comments as well. And while Grant played a lot of his greatest hits, I have to say I missed all the Rivendell-centric comments he left out of the book. Nothing on moustache bars or double top-tube bikes, for instance. I'm still working on my review, but I'd have to say there's a difference between reading it on the Kindle and holding the paper version in your hand. I miss the bookmarking possibilities of an e-book version, but in Grant's case, paper is the technology that best matches the mood.

kfg said...

When I ordered my Rivendell my first and most adamant specification was "no shellac."

If I wanted that sort of surface I'd simply use the far more durable plastic, but I don't, so I put up with the trouble and expense of changing cloth tape now and again.

While he ignores the racing crowd, he also ignores internal gear hubs, a bit of kit that would seem a natural fit with many of the riders who appreciate his bikes, indeed many Rivendell riders fit gear hubs themselves.

When pressed he points out that he isn't agin these things, per se. It's simply that as they don't interest him he isn't very knowledgeable about them and he isn't going to pronounce on things of which he is not knowledgeable.

And it's not like there is a shortage of people who are, so no one need go without just because one man isn't stirring that particular pot.

One of the things I find interesting about Grant is that although he obviously feels very strongly about what he does, he doesn't show any particular reticence in pointing out that other people make fine products as well and that if they suit you better, perhaps that what you should go with.

The Daily Cycle said...

I have read the excerpts from amazon and I definitely do no agree with a lot he has to say. I think that is what is preventing me from getting the book. I suppose someone else's opinions should be taken with a grain of salt over yours, but always be open to see their side of the story anyways. I may check the book out once the price goes down for the kindle edition! Go kindles!

Mandy said...

@Freewheel, I completely agree. Peterson has always been a great writer, and I do enjoy his tone. This book is awesome, I like that it can appeal to an "unracer," or someone who just rides to feel free and enjoy cycling in the fresh air. Biking can be trendy sometimes, so for someone who does not understand the difference between a fixie and a mountain bike, I do not see what the problem with this book could be. Oh and it is available on kindle!

Anonymous said...

"Put shellac on it" could be the Rivendell equivalent of "put a bird on it."

Or maybe the equivalent of "cacao."

No chitchat, boys, says Mr. Petersen(s).

editorque said...

Thanks, Kent. And thanks, Grant. I will definitely pick up my paper copy. I have always liked that even though Grant is as much a businessman as the rest of them, he is open about the reasoning behind any business decision, and he is just as likely to make decisions outside the realm of commerce as in response to it. And there are plenty of folks out there ready and willing to pay for the premium--or make do with what they have.

An interesting follow-up might be an examination of the history of the bike industry in this country, including recent trends and frank opinions, particularly as they relate to transportation cycling. Grant is in a unique position to carve out a middle ground in what can be a strident public conversation. Or to simply spark debate with a choice observation.

Let's hear it for passionate reasonableness!

Dan O said...

Great report. I plan to pick this book up.

Though I certainly don't agree with everything Grant says/believes, that's one of the reasons why I've always enjoyed his position in the bike world - from Bridgestone to Rivendell. I always enjoy his views, writing, catalogs, and interesting mix of stuff he carries at Rivendell.

His current Rivendell bikes are little over the Grant edge for me. Well, except for the Roadeo - that I dig.

Back in the '90s I was a huge Bridgestone fan with a RB-1, MB-Zip and MB-3 in the garage. I still have the RB-1 and ride it occasionally. Still feels good.

Anonymous said...

Sir, regarding the one sided pannier. I don't think it's an ugly site in the same vein a messanger bag doesn't look ugly compared to a regular backpack, you see? There is a beauty to it, it looks practical, kinda relaxed, like the way kids wear hats. But anyway, it's not really so, because of the weight distribution,

Chrehn said...

Thank you to Grant Petersen for reminding us that the "Emperor Has No Clothes". I will admit that I did not agree with everything Grant Petersen said, but, I don't know anyone that I agree with 100%. Maybe I'm the cranky one!! I highly reccomend this book.

zbicyclist said...

I don't understand his objection to a single pannier. If your stuff fits in one, why use two?

Olle Nilsson said...

I have to admit I bought this book expecting to agree with less than half of what Grant had to say. I wanted to shake up my thinking a bit. I'm sure I could relate to at least 3/4 of it, and in some cases was more retrogrouchy than Grant (shockingly, gearing comes to mind). It's a good read, although I did lose a bit of interest with the fitness chapters. Considering I admire Rivendell's motive but don't necessarily appreciate the execution of some of their products, I didn't regret buying this book.