Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Grant Petersen vs. Bicycling Magazine

Grant Petersen, the founder of Rivendell, has long railed against how racing-centric bicycling is in America. For example, in a 2005 interview with Sheldon Brown at Interbike, Petersen ranted:
I think the worst thing that's happening in bicycles these days and it's been happening for years is using racing and competition bicycles to sell bicycles to people who are not going to do that. I mean, it wouldn't happen in cars. You don't see people driving around in cars that people race on the dragstrip or in NASCAR cars but that's the kind of bike that people get on and ride. It's not a practical bike for everyday living....
Now Petersen, whose wonderful writing made collectibles out of old Bridgestone catalogs and Rivendell Readers, has written a book based on this theme: Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike.

This is not going to be a review of his book. Instead, I thought I'd set up a debate between Petersen and the most consistent purveyor of the racing-centric view of bicycling I could think of: Bicycling Magazine.

Bicycling has obliged by publishing an article in its July 2012 issue called Beginners' Guide: A Construction Manual. This is an article on "how to become a cyclist." So what I'm going to do here is take a quote or close paraphrase from Bicycling's "Construction Manual" and then a counterpoint from Petersen's Just Ride. I'll leave it to you to decide who makes more sense.

On bike shorts

Bicycling Magazine: Bike shorts wick sweat and make riding comfortable. A section of padding, called a chamois, is sewn into the seat of the garment to help prevent chafing.

Grant Petersen: The benefits of tight shorts with padded crotches matter only to racers and mega-milers. For anybody else, and for recreational rides, even vigorous ones lasting the better part of a day, a good saddle, smooth-seamed shorts, and standing up now and then are all you need.

On jerseys

BM: Made of lightweight, fast-drying materials that stay cool, this shirt includes back pockets to hold snacks, keys, and other essentials.

GP: If you don't race, loose is better. Loose clothing ventilates better and stays off your skin. Untuck your shirt, so it flaps a little and keeps the air moving around your skin.  

On shoes

BM: Invest in a clipless system, which increases power and efficiency and smooths out pedal strokes by connecting cleats on your shoes to the pedals.

GP: As long as your pedals aren't dinky, any shoe does the job without flexing because the shoe is supported by the pedal. The benefits of pedaling free far outweigh any real or imagined benefits of being locked in.  

On gloves

BM: They prevent blisters and pressure pain from the handlebar and protect your hands in case of a fall.

 GP: I can see gloves (or mittens) in cold weather, but they're far from essential in fair weather.

On helmets

BM: That's your only brain up there. Strap this on to help keep it safe.

GP: Are you safer wearing a helmet and overestimating its protection, or going helmetless and riding more carefully?

On buying bikes

BM: Buy the highest quality bike you can afford. For $500-700, expect entry-level components; a frame made of no-frills steel or aluminum; basic wheels. For $1,000 to 1,500, expect mid or entry level parts; a midquality steel or aluminum frame, maybe with carbon fiber mixed in; lighter, stronger wheels. For $1,500 to 3,000, expect upper-level components; a frame made of some high-quality aluminum or steel or midlevel carbon; lighter wheels.

GP: The lighter bike is good for maybe five years before it breaks or you just don't trust it anymore. The heavier one may easily last twenty or thirty years because it can withstand scratches and minor gouges. The more useful steel bike let's you ride tires up to 38 mm so you can ride it over any paved surface with remarkable comfort, because you can lower the pressure in the wide tires. It fits fenders, so it's a year-round, all-weather bike, not a part of the year, good weather one. A weight difference of a few pounds is hard to get worked up over, especially when the "extra" weight makes the bike better.  

On saddles

 BM: Plan on using a firmer, narrower model common to sportier road bikes that will support your sit bones and muscles. You might initially experience soreness while your rear end acclimates to the seat, but that will subside over a week or two of riding.

 GP: Sitting well behind the pedals keeps you from scooting forward on the saddle and putting more weight on your hands, and lets you apply power sooner when you're pedaling uphills sitting down.


m e l i g r o s a said...

well put, and thx for the 1-1 answers, liking this very much.
received the book a bit ago, have yet to start it +pretty much looking forward to
thx for sharing xxom

Pimadude said...

I'm certainly not aversive to many of Grant Petersen's ideas, which he has promoted in his "Rivendell Reader" editorials over the years.

I own a 1996 Rivendell Road Standard, from the original Waterford era and it's my favorite bike. That said, I'm willing to cut Bicycling Magazine some slack.

Wearing cycling specific clothing (shorts, bib shorts, jerseys, etc.) in my opinion is more comfortable and efficient than street apparel. I virtually always wear bike shorts (or bibs), a cycling jersey and gloves (and I've done so for >30 years).

If I worked at a bike shop, and commuted a few mile to work, I surely wouldn't wear bike apparel. It does, however, suit my use for recreational and touring rides.

The idea that one doesn't have to invest a great deal of money for a bike certainly is true. I've heard Grant Petersen, during an NPR interview, state that it isn't necessary to spend more than $300-$400. This is true...

If, however, you attempt to build up a Rivendell frame, with the components that are generally used for those bikes, you would expect to spend in the range of $3,000-$4,000 (or more). Grant Petersen has not built a business model by selling cheap bikes. That's just a fact.

I'll stay with my steel frame, traditional bikes (toe clips, leather saddles, 6-speed, etc.), but I'm not going to start wearing cowboy shirts and shellacking my cloth handlebar tape (finishing off with a twine wrap).

Anonymous said...

I am sorry but I don't totally agree with him. What is wrong with buying the bike way the highest price point that you can afford? Of course taking into account misc items into your budget. I.e. helmet, gloves, shoes, etc.

Also, not wearing a helmet if you ride more careful! What kind of idiotic comment is that? I don't wear my helmet because of riding style or because it looks good!!! I ride with it to be safer out there, with other people I.e. walkers, bikers, and specially cars!!!!

One final thought, once he makes frames that cost $100-$500 or less and maybe complete bikes that cost no less than $700 then he can say what kind of bike "we" should buy! He, like everybody else in this industry is trying to make money, that is why they promote "racing" bikes. By making and selling racing bikes then companies can make the profit they need to make inexpensive bikes (with less of a profit margin) that can sell to the masses and that they don't have to advertise as much!!!!

Anyway that is my 2 cents............... He could make his book cheaper ($13.95 I think) like $5 so that I can save more money for an affordable bike!!!!!

Velouria said...

The Rivendell Reader and Bicycling Magazine cater to different types of cycling and I am not sure how much sense it makes to compare them. Cycling is all about individual style and preferences anyhow, it is not as black and white as racing vs not racing. I can relate to both/either point of view (or sometimes neither!) depending on what kind of riding I am in the mood for. It is not a war.

AML said...

Both are good resources of biking information, but I must say Bicycling Magazine had been well put in terms of tips, a well written material.But I would agree that it would largely depends on the bicyclist preferences. I like the post though, more points to ponder. Thanks!

sierraddict said...

Velouria, I think what Grant Peterson is (should be?) trying to say is that his kind of cycling is not yet what most Americans think of when they hear the word "cycling." That's a shame, because his kind of cycling is attractive and affordable to a much wider range of people than Bicycling Magazine's kind of cycling. That's why in, for example, the Netherlands, although there is certainly a healthy sport/recreational cycling element, cycling in normal clothes is utterly mainstream and if you want to talk about sporty cycling you have to use a special word.

Carlisle Dekerlegand said...

I'd love to read a feature that talks about the best pre workout for cycling. Both magazines seem fine to me.

Chris said...

"Are you safer wearing a helmet and overestimating its protection, or going helmetless and riding more carefully?"

Think I'll do both; I'll wear a helmet AND ride more carefully.

CSA said...

I have to agree with every single point that Mr. Peterson makes. Just ride ... great philosophy !

Anonymous said...

Both are good resources of biking information, but I must say Bicycling Magazine had been well put in terms of tips, a well written material.But I would agree that it would largely depends on the bicyclist preferences. I like the post though, more points to ponder.