This post is a review of Grant Petersen’s book Just Ride, partly in response to a New York Times review.
The basic premise of Petersen’s book is that racing culture is bad for bicycling.
My main goal with this book is to point out what I see as bike racing’s bad influence on bicycles, equipment and attitudes, and then undo it.
I agree in large part, but by no means completely.
I rode a bicycle in everyday clothes for transportation years before I took up bicycle touring and joined a recreational bicycle club. It was several more years before I first wore the much-derided spandex outfit for my tours and club rides.
So, I live in both worlds. I do think that some elements of racing technique and equipment are useful to everyday cyclists — especially concerning nutrition, how to propel the bicycle efficiently, and how to maintain it. On the other hand, faddish imitation of racers leads to some very poor choices. A fiendishly expensive, fragile racing bicycle buys the typical club rider a couple percent greater speed on a ride with no prize at the finish line. Hello, hello, you’re being taken for a ride! The bicycle industry has discovered how to churn the market with yearly model changes and planned obsolescence! It’s like choosing a Ferrari when a Toyota Corolla would be much more practical — except that a more powerful engine isn’t part of the package.
When rain starts during a bike-club ride, why must I be only among the 5% of participants who have a bicycle with fenders — or that even will accept fenders?
I have a few points of disagreement with Petersen, and the Times reviewer. About only wearing a helmet at night: it’s your choice to make, I hope. I’m not in favor of mandatory helmet laws. On the other hand, examples should be sufficient to make the case for helmet use. (A longer discussion is here.) I’ve had to replace three helmets so far in my bicycling career. All of the crashes were during daylight hours. Bicycle gloves, too, are very nice if you are going to have to put a hand out to break a fall. And a rear-view mirror? I don’t think it should be required by law, but I find mine highly useful when interacting with motorists, and with other cyclists on group rides. Actually, the Times reviewer gets this wrong — Petersen recommends mirrors. But the ones I like best attach to a helmet! (My take on mirrors). I use walkable cleated shoes, too. Disparaging practical and effective equipment doesn’t play in my book.
Petersen states that a bicyclist needs only 8 gears — somewhat in jest, giving vague (and charming and humorous) descriptions of them. Here, as elsewhere in his book, Petersen gives simple and direct advice, poking a finger at silly fads, while avoiding details that would bog down his presentation. That’s good as far as it goes, but gearing requirements depend on the cyclist, ride purpose and location. I know that Petersen knows this, based on the way he equips the bicycles he manufactures (practical, sensible, expensive but good value for money) . Most have more than 8 gears.
Petersen gives no coherent or comprehensive advice on how to ride in mixed traffic, though he describes something which is a little bit like “control and release” lane usage. Going into detail would, again, bog him down, though in this case, I get the impression that he may not be an expert on the topic.
All in all though, I really like this book. It’s refreshing. Its common-sense perspective is all too rare. And it’s a lot of fun to read, too.