People who have inspired us: Grant Petersen

Posted by: Jan Heine Category: People who inspired us

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.

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