People who have inspired us: Grant Petersen

An endeavor like Bicycle Quarterly does not happen out of the blue. There are many people who influence us as we develop tastes and ideas outside the mainstream.

A major influence for me was Grant Petersen. Grant was influential in making Bridgestone into a maker of slightly left-field production bicycles during the 1980s. I missed the “Bridgestone Years,” because I rode a hand-built racing bike and had little interest in mass-produced Japanese bikes. But I took notice when Grant started Rivendell Bicycle Works after Bridgestone closed its U.S. operation.

Here was a guy who looked at technical issues overlooked by the mainstream. I subscribed to the Rivendell Reader from the very first issue, and learned about tread (Q factor). I read that the then-current 53-tooth big rings were useless on most terrain and at most speeds, and saw that Grant was selling 50- and 48-tooth chainrings. (As a racer, I was skeptical…) Grant stressed the importance of craftsmanship at a time when fellow racers shook their heads in disbelief over my Brooks saddle and friction shifters. His company sold Simplex SLJ derailleurs, and I was reminded that there was a whole world of French components that had nothing to do with the crappy Peugeots of my childhood, even if the parts looked outwardly similar.

In the bike industry, Grant was the first person I met who questioned the wisdom of “newer = better.” A friend once called Grant the “poet of real-world bicycles,” and I think it is an apt description. For example, he wrote about a shipment of 3TTT handlebars:

“The decal adjacent to the sleeve [...] reads: Computerized Hi-Tech Heat Treatment / High Vibration Control, with Vibration written as though the word itself was vibrating. Such gratuitous attempts at high tech imagery make it seem as though insecure, fresh-from-college marketeers have taken over the company, and the smart old guys are off somewhere bound and gagged. The decal comes off easily.”

As a customer with many questions, I often talked to Grant, and over time, we became friends. I visited him every year when I attended a geophysics conference in San Francisco. I was welcomed by him and his wonderful family. We rode up and down Mount Diablo, and discussed bicycles. I test-rode prototypes and production bikes, and was exposed to many new ideas. It was at Grant’s house that I first saw a photo of a bike with brazed-on centerpull brakes. I decided that I wanted those on my custom Rivendell frame, but Grant had reservations, because he felt that if I ever wanted to sell that frame, nobody would want such an odd brake arrangement. How things have changed…

When I took my new Rivendell to Paris-Brest-Paris, it was the start of a journey of discovery about French bicycles. Grant encouraged me along the way. As I discovered a new world of bicycles, I began writing articles for the Rivendell Reader. A classic was “Proud to be a Tourist,” which you can read here. When I decided to start Bicycle Quarterly, Grant published an announcement in the Reader, and before the first issue even was printed, the magazine already had more than 150 subscribers.

Today both of our endeavors have grown. Rivendell Bicycle Works is a significant force in the bicycle world. Bicycle Quarterly prints almost 6000 copies of each issue. Grant and I still are in touch, and I’ll never forget how his mentorship more than a decade ago got me started on this path.

P.S.: We did an extensive interview with Grant in Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 3, No. 4. The photos above are from that article.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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16 Responses to People who have inspired us: Grant Petersen

  1. Andy Eichmann says:

    I got a kick out of that article in the Reader, I think by you, about touring in someplace in South America where the locals had never heard of the US.

  2. Drew Childers says:

    Jan, I’ve been enjoying your blog for a while and after reading “Proud to be a Tourist” now know that we are kindred spirits. I have friends that work for the big bike companies and I often tell them they are selling stuff folks don’t need instead of products that would increase their enjoyment of cycling. I’m a fat git that enjoys riding around, not humping it in a pace line, but enjoying the scenery around me. I don’t need nor want a frame that weighs less than a Kleenex tissue. I want a bike that I can bolt a rack to and sling panniers over. I ride a Brooks saddle and my rather large bottom loves me for it; I wear shoes I can walk in without busting the bottom the Brooks has been keeping happy!

    Keep up the great work!

  3. Chris Lowe says:

    Grant is gold. I don’t always agree with everything he says but I respect where he’s coming from. I too remember the early days of Rivendell when it was still being run out of his living room. Grant generously sold me a couple of his Rivendell prototypes – turns out we had identical measurements, right down to saddle height. He also introduced me to the other Grant – Grant Handley, who used to own Planetary Gear in SF and helped introduce me to the likes of Singer, Herse, Routens, etc. Spent many hours (and dollars) at that shop.

  4. Brian says:

    Recently, I read that he’s writing a book. Hope that’s true.

  5. Matthew J says:

    Great article Jan. Long time Rivendell customer and fan. I really enjoy reading Grant’s ‘Blug’ and the Rivendell Reader. All around great guy and talent.

  6. AAlexander Krauß says:

    Yep. The one good thing “Bicycling” did was running an interview with Grant in about 1998. This was an eye-opener. As someone living in Germany and holding the typical cliche ideas about America I was stunned that all of this remarkably diverse scene developed in the US. So I became RR reader (there can´t be too many words). From there I learned about Sheldon Brown and finally Bicycle Quarterly. Consequently I looked for Randonneurs in Germany and found Karl Weimann in Osterdorf, 100 km from my hometown, whom I had met 15 years ago at a “Radtourenfahrt”(by the way since you mentioned it in a earlier post, RTF are not timed events), wearing a PBP shirt. But at this time I did not follow up. He is a 5 times PBP finisher and great organizer, Together with his wife Heidi, he will organize the second Bavarian 1200 this year. His series of qualifier Brevets brought me to PBP this year where I met Jan Heine. It is a small world. But it was Grant Peterson who put me on the right trak. Thank you Grant! (And I think he is right about pedals ;-)

  7. Doug Peterson says:

    Thanks for highlighting Grant’s influence. I became aware of Rivendell thru Adventure Cycling, and was delighted whenever a new Reader arrived (“published sporadically…”). To read such common sense articles was a delight and inspiration. For quite a while I had been thinking about a real touring bike, as opposed to a re-purposed racing bike, and the Atlantis test by John Shubert in Adventure Cyclist sealed the deal. Grant’s dedication to designing maximum versatility and utility into Rivendells makes them stand out in any group of bikes.

  8. ascpgh says:

    I felt the burdens heaped by a hundred (non-cyclist) bike company MBAs lifted from my shoulders when I would talk to Grant or other Bridgestone folks at Interbike. I bought a handful of bikes from them for myself and entrenched our shop as a safe haven from homogenous products answering questions no one has asked.

    I have enjoyed a life in cycling that hasn’t had the banner of a PBP run or any parameter-ized claim in a reputable event. I ride my bikes, from sea to sea, across dirt trails, along gravel paths and to/from my place of work every day, every season. I’ve shared my enjoyment with others including my nephew, who rode with me on a 146 mile weekend never having gone more than ten miles total. We just rode, stopped when tired, drank when thirsty, ate when hungry and kept riding until we reached the place to which we were riding.

    Should I lay up this evening and have cause to reflect on my life, cycling would present itself large in my mind and Grant Petersen’s resistance to let it be parlayed into something other than what it is and how it can be would stand proud as clear thought in times easily clouded by the unaffected profiteers.

  9. Tim says:

    I was first exposed to Grant Peterson when I bought my first road bike – an RB2 – at the Freewheel Bike Shop in Minneapolis. I remember pouring over every inch of the beautiful catalogs and drooling over the MB1 and the RB1.

    Here is another interview with him that I enjoyed: http://37signals.com/svn/posts/2772-bootstrapped-profitable-proud-rivendell

  10. dpcompt says:

    You all know that time just keeps going forward. I just turned 60. After playing golf for so many years, including playing in college, in 1984 I just decided that I had enough. I bought a Centurian
    bike. Over the years I have ridden double centuries, many overnite tours, and whatever you can imagine. I have owned the latest and the greatest.
    In fall of 2003 I had just about enough with my back problems. I broke down and went to Walnut Creek and talked to Grant. We talked and he totally convinced me about position and posture on the bike. On the spot, I bought a “Ram” and built it up with my “roadie stuff”.
    On to today, my go to bike is my Roadeo and I still have many other bikes. I just seem to get to a comfortable position on these bikes. Grant is the greatest.
    Don C.

  11. I’ve been reading the Rivendell Reader and their website/blog for almost 3 years now. I don’t always agree with everything, but I love Grant Petersen’s writing. It makes me feel so optimistic. I hope the rumors of him writing a book are true, I would love to read it.

  12. David G says:

    I also love Grant Perersen’s writing, and especially his humor. I’d love to see the Rivendell Reader reinvigorated as a quarterly publication like BQ.

  13. Grant says:

    For the record, I don’t always agree with everything I say, either…at least not forever. I do when I say it, but hey…I’m not locked in. (So, I forgive anybody who “doesn’t always agree with me,” either!)
    Thank you all for the such kind thoughts, and especially to Jan. I’ve never been so flattered, and I wish him and BQ a long life and continued good things.
    You know…I’ve known Jan for a long time now. The first contact was…well, it seems to me he was looking for a seat post of some kind, and I think I may have helped him find it. Unless I’m confused. Anyway, we both have these…alternative bike businesses. Sometimes they seem to be in the same pond, and if they are, it’s a better pond for his presence in it. Over the years, we have agreed soooooo much more than disagreed, and as Jan said, the disagreements–well, just different points of view, but it’s never right or wrong, Jan or Grant, BQ or RIV. He has influenced me a lot, and I know him to be rock solid, honest, out to do good, and good at doing it. In an industry so (well…) messed up with misinformation and weird influences, he has made and is continuing to make an important contribution to the overall sanity.

    • Grant, you memory is excellent. I was looking for a 26.2 mm Campagnolo seatpost, and somebody suggested that this brand-new company, Rivendell, might have one. So I called you… You didn’t have the seatpost, but you knew that Cupertino Bike Shop had one. We chatted, I subscribed to the Reader, and that is how it all started.

    • TSW says:

      I just love this bromance :-)

      A few months ago there was a post on LovelyBicycle! (is there any way we can clone Velouria in Northern California…?) about the differences between Jan and Grant- created lots of fodder for discussion. But I agree, the similarities are more important, and the pond is much better, and growing bigger too.

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