An afternoon with Grant Petersen

Nashville was lucky to host Grant Petersen—of Rivendell Bicycle Works, makers of Dot’s beloved Betty Foy, among other bicycles!—on the last stop of his book tour for Just Ride, an opinionated collection of essays on the various reasons for/ways of riding a bike for pleasure. Parnassus Books was packed during the hour-long conversation, as Grant discussed the origins of his book and took questions from the audience—even store co-owner Ann Patchett was among the crowd. As the talk progressed, it became more of a conversation, with audience participation and laughter.

'Just Ride' displayed at Parnassus Books

Turns out that writing a book was his publisher’s idea—they called him up out of the blue in 2008. At the time, Petersen said, he didn’t know much about Workman Publishing, one of the biggest lifestyle book publishers in America. “What to Expect When You’re Expecting is paying for this book tour,” he joked.

photo by Kim Sherman

Like most books, Just Ride has an eventful publication story. Petersen went through three drafts. When he turned in his first draft, his Workman Editor David Skinner said “Somewhere in here, there’s a good book.” So he tried again, narrowing the topic to his opinion about various bikes on the road, and ended up with a book he laughingly called “Grant Petersen’s big boring book of bicycles.” Petersen didn’t like it, and when he admitted as much, his editor replied “Good. Nobody here likes it either.”

Trisha of LGRAB with Grant Petersen

Getting my book signed

Take three became Just Ride (eventually—settling on a title was equally full of back-and-forths), a book written in an informal but informed style that Petersen aptly described as “a friendly scold.” It’s an ode to “unracing,” the type of riding that most appeals to me and something that Petersen only discovered after spending six-and-a-half years racing bikes and about 20 more still riding like a racer.  As he put it, “Uniforms have an interesting effect on people. . . . When you put on the uniform of a professional racer, without even knowing it, you put on all the swagger that comes with it.” When you’re spending 10 minutes suiting up for a ride, he said, “You don’t want to do fun rides anymore…it feels like a waste, foolish.”

Petersen said that he found himself pushing himself out of the house in the morning and missing leisurely breakfasts with his wife and daughters in order to get his miles in before the heat of the day hit. He was embarking on the type of ride “you’d rather finish than start.” He wasn’t having fun.


most bikes greenhills has ever seen

The bikes outside Parnassus Books—thanks to Walk/Bike Nashville

Eventually, he realized that this philosophy was costing him and decided to indulge in “the luxury of being able to enjoy your bicycle.” Something just about everyone who reads this site surely believes in, right?

Three ways to unrace yourself, according to Grant Petersen:

1. Dress down. Wear your normal clothes and dress for the weather, not for your bike

2. Ride a different kind of bike. You don’t need 30 gears.

3. Don’t have goals. “You work toward goals, you don’t play toward them,” said Petersen. “Riding a bike should be fun.”

Petersen stressed that everything in the book was his opinion, and his opinion only. “Nowhere in the book does it say ‘in my opinion,’ but all of it is.” Some of his more controversial essays, such as the ones on helmet use (hilariously, Petersen said he has worn his bike helmet in the car: “I’m afraid of driving.”) and Critical Mass have earned him some nasty emails from early readers, but he felt it was worth it to get his thoughts out there. He doesn’t expect everyone to agree with him, and he’s fine with that, saying that if you get something from at least 8 or 9 of the 89 essays in the book, it’s worth the price of admission.

I can say with certainty that readers of this blog will get more than that for sure. If you’re looking for a book to share with friends and family in order to explain why you ride the way you do, Just Ride would be a great choice.

After the talk, we rounded up about 15 of the people who had ridden to the reading despite the sizzling 100-degree temperatures and headed to Green Fleet Hub for a little afterparty.

The group, and Grant

There were a few Rivendells in the crowd.

Me and Le Peug

We ate chips and salsa, drank some Fat Tire and chatted. My new Po Campo bag was duly admired by all. I asked Grant if he had considered making a second women’s bike, and he said no…but then asked me what I would change about the Betty Foy. The sign of a successful businessperson, being willing to consider new ideas.

Bikes outside of Green Fleet Hub

Meeting one of cycling’s legends was definitely the highlight of my weekend. Thanks to everyone who came out as well as to Parnassus Books, Green Fleet Hub and Walk/Bike Nashville for helping to make it happen.

{photos in this post courtesy of Austin, Kim & Whitney, who filled the breach after my camera came down with a fatal lens error. Thanks!}

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20 thoughts on “An afternoon with Grant Petersen

  1. Whitney says:

    Great reporting, Trisha!

  2. Lauren says:

    I’m sorry I missed it! I just requested his book at the library – apparently it already has a list of holds haha :) 

  3. Michael says:

    I wish Grant had come to DC.  I see Rivendell’s pretty frequently, and we’re down with riding for fun and to get where we’re going.

    • LGRAB says:

      Michael, I proposed the reading to my local bookstore and they requested Grant visit through his publisher. I know the events manager, but any bookstore manager would probably be responsive to a well-pitched request from a regular customer (you are a regular customer at your LBS, right? :-) ).

  4. Daniel says:

    I get my rides in before the heat of the day and largely before my boys and wife wake up.  And my desire isn’t to finish the ride but to ride.  I do it on 20 gears and enjoy every minute of going as fast as I can.  Grant’s opinion on this is fine for some and for me sometimes but it certainly doesn’t fit how I want to ride a bike all of the time.

    I do like the Rivendell philosophy, generally, although I think the imported frames are overpriced.  I’d pay the extra to get a handbuilt frame from a local builder (and did).

    • Trisha says:

      Thanks for sharing your perspective, Daniel. As long as you’re enjoying yourself, I think your rides fit in to our philosophy here just fine. :) And probably in to Grant’s, too. There is definitely joy to be found in speed. I do love feeling the wind whipping through my hair (but will confess that mostly happens on downhills).

    • Daniel says:

      Hi Trisha,

      I’d like to think that all kinds of riding is best.  Carrying boys in the bike seat, commuting, touring, and riding fast all work for me.  I always feel better when I get to work on my bike than when I drive (child care drop off dictates what I do).  

      Speed is a funny thing on bikes.  I compare it to flying (on my own, which, of course, I have never done).  I don’t get that sense moving slowly but do when going fast.  And I mean going fast on my own power.  A gravity generated 50mph ride is another thing entirely – and not always advised.
      Thanks for your response!

  5. Ryan says:

    I am glad I made the trip to this; it was interesting to hear grant talk and finally get the book (which fits right in the back pocket of my jeans). Nice write up.

  6. Sounds like a great read.  Hmmm, wonder if it’s an ebook?  

  7. Sounds like a great read.  Hmmm, wonder if it’s an ebook?  

  8. Just purchased for Kindle.  

    • Trisha says:

      Cool! Let us know what you think. It’s a quick, easy read — would be a good gift for someone newer to cycling, I think. It makes it seem really accessible and easy to incorporate into everyday life.

      • Hi Trisha, I read some last night, and finished it early this morning.  As you stated, it’s an easy, quick read.   I enjoyed his “velos-ophy”!  I’m a true casual cycler, and so most of his thoughts hit home, and I found it informative as well (bike math…)  I only knew of Rivendell through the Dottie and Kara’s beautiful Betty Foys.  Thanks for bringing this book to my attention.  

  9. Stephen Hodges says:

    Very cool. The fact that he went for a ride afterwards with y’all is astronomically cool.

    Grant’s writing made a huge difference to my riding. Having ridden a bicycle since a child, and being quite serious about it in high school and college in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I got “back into” bicycling a little more than a decade ago after a few years spent dealing with a new baby, new job, etc. I was lost at sea in a modern bike shop, and then found Rivendell’s catalog. Ahhh, yes. I think he’s more important to the modern bicycle movement, if I dare call it that, then he may know. Hugely influential and a gifted communicator.

  10. […] Riding Your Bike by Grant Petersen on the always informative and fabulous Lets Go Ride A Bike blog! Just as stated in the title,it’s  a practical guide as well as a quick, enjoyable read. […]

  11. That photo of Grant standing next to the podium is fantastic–his personality is really shining through there.

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