Dear Mr. Petersen,
I first remember first hearing of you in the early nineties when you were the marketing director at Bridgestone. At the time, I remember being really happy that you introduced a lightweight production mountain bike without a quick release seatpost lever. The MB0 (zip) soon became my dream mountain bike; in fact I still have the old 1991 Bridgestone catalog that first introduced me to the term Q factor. These days, I do not always agree with everything you write, but I am always interested in reading (and now hearing) your perspective on all things related to bikes. Even though I usually ride a lightweight aluminum road bike with a long, stretched out stem and a really long aero carbon seatpost, I enjoy each new issue of the Rivendell Reader. I still have a few lugged steel road bikes, as well as a 25 year old lugged steel track bike. I like all those bikes but I have no desire to take them on fast, long rides with significant elevation gain. I have to admit to you that I really love my fragile, impractical 18-pound road bike. I know that the aluminum frame won’t last forever like a good steel bike would, but I am willing to accept that. In fact, I must say that I like many fairly recent developments in the bicycle industry including compact road frames, lightweight dual suspension mountain bikes, carbon forks, threadless headsets, aero wheelsets, skinny cutaway saddles, STI shifting, and even some of the synthetic miracle fabrics that make up my “alien-like” cycling uniform.
All that said, I recently listened to the podcast interview that Sheldon Brown conducted with you at this year’s Interbike (for anyone reading this who is not Grant Petersen, I recommend listening to the interview as well as all of Sheldon’s podcasts). You really made some great points. As much as I like modern racing bikes, I realize that they are not for everyone. You are absolutely right that it makes no sense to sell racing bikes to people who do not really need or want to ride fast. I think that most of the mountain bikes sold in this country are basically used as city bikes anyway, so why are they all based on trickle down cross country racing technology (OK, I admit that I am ignoring all the freeride stuff, but I don’t really want to get into that)? As you say in the interview, normal people (and I am OK with the fact that that does not include me) should be able to be comfortable on a bike. I couldn’t agree more. We also both agree strongly that riding a bicycle is a fantastic thing. Any bicycle that gets ridden and makes its user happy is a good one in my book whether it is made of steel, aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber, plastic, or bamboo.
Another great point was toward the end of the interview. To paraphrase, you said that most people in the U.S. do not dignify the act of riding a bicycle unless it is in high performance terms. How true. Most Americans have no problem accepting the fact that kids ride bikes. Most of those same people are willing to accept the fact that cycling enthusiasts ride bikes for recreational purposes. Unfortunately, “normal” people on “average” bikes often do not get the same respect, even from other cyclists. If I go for a ride on my 2000 dollar road bike while wearing the full cyclist’s uniform, other cyclists always wave when I pass on the opposite side of the street. If I am out in street clothes on my old beater bike, a lot of those same cyclists do not even look over in my direction. I don’t know, maybe the marketing departments at some of the big bike companies are partially to blame for the elitist attitude that seems to be present among many performance-oriented cyclists. Maybe those same companies also have the power to change some of those attitudes. I hope that, as gas prices rise, they will use some of their design and marketing resources to create bikes that get average people excited about commuting, running errands, or just riding a good bike for pleasure (see my recent post about bikes for everyone for more on the subject). Oh yeah, lastly, thanks for the strides that you and Rivendell have already made toward that end.