just ride: a radically practical guide to riding your bike by grant petersen. workman publishing 212pp illus. £8.99

just ride

jimmy logan was a scottish comedian from dennistoun in glasgow who followed in the music hall tradition of his parents and ostensibly that of scotland's great music hall comedian/entertainer, harry lauder. in fact, logan toured a one-man musical based on lauder's life. jimmy logan was also the presiding minister at the church attended by my parents; not the same jimmy logan, i hasten to add. though the rev. logan was not a comedian as such, he did have a remarkably unstuffy attitude for a man of the cloth, and despite my non-attendance at his church, had the great decency to phone the eve before i left for college to wish me all the best with my course.

he and my father used to travel to local football matches on a saturday afternoon. both were ayr united supporters but every alternative saturday would also travel to nearby rugby park in kilmarnock to watch that team's home games. for reasons i have never understood, in football stadia of the time, the areas for standing to watch a match were known as the terraces, while the seated areas were known as the stands. go figure.

presumably wishing to be of rustic stature, both my father and the rev. logan were wont to occupy the terraces for their football entertainment. as is the case with many an enthusiastic supporter, oft times the language surrounding the reverend would become somewhat on the uncouth side. at these times, he would casually open the top buttons of his overcoat to reveal his dog collar, leading to mumbled apologies of "sorry reverend, i didn't realise" which was pretty much the rev. logan's intended reaction.

his laid-back attitude stretched as far as his careful marketing of the church's summer evening services. recognising that many would spend those balmy sunday afternoons and early evenings at the beach, in the country, or lazing in the back garden, the so-called sunset services were subtitled at the foot of the posters which i had eagerly produced in defence of my immature graphic skills, 'come as you are'. few of even the regular churchgoers would have spent those summer times partaking of leisure activities dressed in their sunday best. more often t-shirts, shorts and sandals would have been the order of the day, or at least the afternoon.

yet despite this sartorial admonition from those beautifully drawn posters, not one of the congregation would have dreamt of attending church service dressed in the togs that had sufficed for the day's play. every one of them had nipped home, dressed smart but casual to impress upon their peers that this was how lazy summer afternoons were spent, before standing martially behind those hymn books. because, for one reason or another, every section of humankind likes to dress according to their whim, for whichever activity in which they are about to participate, whether that be of sporting hue or otherwise. this easily observable fact thus calls into question grant petersen's contention in his book just ride, that "in its need for special clothing, bicyle riding is less like scuba diving and more like a pickup basketball game."

i am not, in this case, decrying the opening statement of his second chapter, for there is a substantial amount of truth in what he says. in fact, the very need for the pelotonese to dress in padded shorts and jerseys with three rear pockets, might conceivably be one of the reasons that prospective cyclists take time out for second or even third thoughts over joining the clan. but that doesn't obviate the fact that quite a number of us actually enjoy wearing clothes appropriate to the activity, seeing it not as a barrier to enjoyment, but our very birthright.

grant petersen is the founder and outspoken owner of rivendell cycles in the usa, makers of a type of bicycle geared (pardon the pun) more towards the commuter, the tourer and those who would prefer to think of themselves as folk with a bicycle rather than cyclists per se. in fact, his opening gambit laid bare in the introduction is that of self-appointed pointer out of "what i see as bike racing's bad influence on bicycles, equipment, and attitudes", followed by a vow to "undo it". this is a perfectly laudable crusade, somewhat undermined in my opinion, by his rather childish notion of referring to his intended audience as 'un-racers'.

it would be easy, as one of those inducted into the world of bicycles by the strong european influence of cycle racing, to poo poo everything from page one to page 206, but maddeningly, petersen makes a good case for many of his points, particularly regarding the subject of nutrition for those not intent on emulating brad or cav. in this particular chapter, the man speaks (or writes) a great deal of sense. there is also some remarkably sane advice for those riding in traffic, albeit some of it a tad obvious, but worth saying nonetheless. but in a manner with which i can identify well, he does tend to be self-contradictory at times.

concerning the subject of maintaining your bicycle and keeping it clean, petersen has some remarkably low standards. on that of wearing gloves on the bike, he is in favour of the unfettered approach, not wishing to place his pre-ride clean hands into a pair of 'stinky gloves'. the contradictory stance begins with the admission "yes, i can wash and dry them, but that's too much work". yet flip forward a chapter or two and regarding the installation of bar tape, he proposes beautifying the latter with shellac; "the short time it takes to shellac your bar tape or cork grips is always worth it" followed by "i do the left side, then the right, and by the time i'm finished with the right side, the left side is dry enough to slather on another layer."

it is strange that a man who finds it, by his own admission 'too much work' to wash and dry a pair of cycle mitts, yet is happy to paint two seemingly unnecessary coats of shellac over his bar tape. were that not sufficient to query his motives, he then portends that rather than finish off the bar tape with black tape, we ought to do so with fifteen wraps of twine on each side, providing four graphics to explain visually how we should go about this.

redefining the meaning of "too much work'.

i think it prudent that a lot of what is written within ought to be taken with a pinch of salt, partly because i can't help thinking that some of his more controversial statements may have been presented for effect, and taking into account the portion of his introduction that says "in real life, i'm not as mean (or judgmental) as i sound in this book...", is quite probably a truism, for nobody who could care less spends this amount of time and words justifying their viewpoint. he truly expects the book to be panned by the sort of folk who ride the sort of bike of which he is less than enamoured, and i think it my duty to at least partially fulfil his prediction. that said, there is a lot of wisdom to be garnered from each chapter, even if it's just to vehemently disagree; nobody should have such strongly held opinions that they cannot bear being poked at now and again.

there is only one part of the book that i fervently hope is a typo, or at the very least a momentary lapse of concentration. while discussing the numbers used to create the ideal frame of whichever type, petersen states at the foot of page 161 'mountain bike top tubes are twenty to thirty centimeters longer than road bike tubes, typically.' i do hope that was supposed to say 'millimetres'.

it would not be too much of a stretch to describe grant petersen as a visionary, even if that vision does not fit easily into an accepted norm with regards to bicycles, accessories and riding the darned things in the manner to which some of us have become accustomed. it may well be that, to the regular civilian, riding about on slivers of disturbingly expensive carbon fibre, while dressed like human advertising hoardings, appears to be exhibitionism of a peculiar sort, particularly when it's likely we're all going nowhere fast. but that doesn't make it right, wrong, or socially acceptable; having it thrown back in our collective oakleyed faces does no harm at all.

buy a copy, even if it's only to scream loudly at the pages. it's small enough to throw at the couch on a regualar basis.

friday 8th june 2012


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