Cycle: Pedal Craft Speaker Grant Petersen Just Wants Cyclists to Ride Like Kids

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Bike-tober is nearly upon us and it all gets kicked off on September 28 with Pedal Craft: Volume 2. The evening features a talk and book signing with Grant Petersen, cycling advocate and author of the new book "Just Ride," a "radically practical guide to riding your bike."

Petersen first got involved in the bike industry in the late-1970's at REI and then as the marketing director and bike designer for Bridgestone. Petersen went on to create über-niche online bike merchant Rivendell Bicycle Works, a J. Peterman-style boutique for cyclists who buck the lycra shorts and carbon frames.

Cycle caught up with Petersen for a quick conversation about bikes and how so many cyclists might be missing the purpose ... and some fun.

Have you spent any time cycling in Arizona?

Grant Petersen: Just a little. Maybe ten or eleven years ago I went to a Pacific Atlantic Cycling Tours training camp Lon Haldeman and his wife Susan put on. It wasn't racer-ish or anything, more like a lot of bike riders going down to good ol' dry Arizona in the winter and riding around the desert from point to point, kind of a big loop.

You make a point with "Just Ride," what you call a "manual for the Unracer," that you really connect with cycling from an everyman's view. What is it that you love about cycling and how do you see yourself helping to get more people on two wheels?

Well, I got INTO bikes because I needed to get around, and I've never been into cars. I've always been kind of afraid of them, which doesn't mean I don't own two or drive ever, it just means if something is reasonably rideable and a bike makes sense, I ride my bike. But I don't have a mission to get more people onto bikes, or anything like that. I'd like to see more people ride, because I think they'd have fun doing it, they'd get exercise, and the old "One Less Car" thing, too.

If I have a bike-related mission, I'd say rather than it being to get more people out there a-pedalin', it's more like to get existing riders out of their lycra, out of their click-in shoes, and to quit riding rides that are more relief to finish than fun to be on.

Quit copying racers, ride the way you did as a kid before you grew up and got fooled into turning child's play and good transportation into a hero-emulating workout.

I've had a lifetime of training rides to nowhere, and am not into them anymore. I love to ride my bike more than I ever have, because the rides are fun, no pressure, and useful. I'm not a slave to my bike, and I don't pretend to be breaking away up every climb. I'm not saying others are living that fantasy; I'm saying I did, and I doubt I was the only one.

So, what's an example of how we rode as kids that you see adults getting away from? I mean, as kids it was always about racing down the street and going fast or trying to do tricks. Besides the clothes and gear, what else has changed? Kids treat the bike as a toy and transportation. They goof off on bikes, play with them, have fun, and go places on them so they don't have to be driven by a parent. Kids don't use the bikes as a fitness tool, but adults do, all the time. Kids don't rely on the bike to get rid of a carb-belly, but adults always do that.

So many adults get into riding as a means to get healthier and lose weight and stave off the effects of aging. No kid has any of those concerns. And yet who has more fun on a bike? I'd say it's the kid down by the creek doing things he shouldn't be doing on a bike in a creek, or the kids who ride downtown in a pack of other kids, to get out of the house. I know riding a bike as an adult can be fun, and I also know that there are different ways to have fun. But generally, treating the bike as your last hope at aerobic exercise to stave off heart disease and weight gain and diabetes....makes it hard to have fun riding the bike. It can help with all of those things, but if that's the reason you're riding, good luck having fun with it.

Americans started to become infatuated with racing in the mid-'80s, when touring started to fizzle out and Greg LeMond started winning internationally. The media was all over it, and we've idolized racers ever since. The industry uses racing as a commercial opportunity. It's not a bad thing to do. It's fine, but it's real.

What are some things that you encourage people do to embrace that inner kid and get back to having carefree fun on the bike?

I think a lot of it has to do with the costume you wear. People take on the swagger or subservience that comes with the costume. If you put on a badge and have a gun on your belt, you tend to be bossy and see strangers as perps. If your job has you wearing spike heels and tight shorts and low tops and lots of makeup, you tend to behave sexually in a way you wouldn't in your private time. Bike riders are the same - you dress like a pro and you see your bike as a tool for training or racing and every ride becomes grueling. Maybe "every" is overstating it, but don't let the overstatement kill the point, which is just that if you dress like a warrior, you tend to behave like a warrior. So, clothing is one way.

Another way is to understand that you can whip yourself into racing shape, but you cannot whip yourself into health - at least, not by riding really hard and really long. A lot of people are think they have to suffer for health gains. There's a notion that a ride that's mega-long and mega-hard supercharges your system and after you recover, you're incrementally more healthy. I believed that for 30 years, and it kept me going. No pain, no gain. Suffer and thrive. It's all BS, though. Long hard fast rides on the bike train you for long hard fast rides on the bike. That's it. If your aim is all-around fitness and better health--and if those are the primary reasons you're riding those 60 to 200 mile rides--then you've been wasting your time. Rejoice that you don't have to anymore. Ride the bike for fun, for companionship, to see the sights, to travel, to go somewhere you want to or have to go, ride it to get out of a car drive or to get there faster than walking. I can do more for my overall fitness and health in six minutes off the bike than I can in one to six (or more) hours on the bike. Anybody can. The bike is a fantastic toy, but---as I say in the book---it's a lousy all-around fitness device.

Going back to your question, how to get back to having fun on the bike...if you don't turn the bike into a workout device, it's hard NOT to have fun on it. Ride for pleasure. Enjoy a nice coast. Marvel at the efficiency of sitting on top of two wheels rolling at 14 mph down a slight grade. Grunt up a hill for fun sometimes - grunting can be loads of fun - but don't fool yourself into thinking that's the way to get healthy. There are better ways. Ride for fun, and a certain amount of healthiness will come along.

How do you reconcile those that ride for fun versus those who ride because they have to for basic transportation, especially here in Phoenix where we experience what the nation would interpret as extreme temperature for four months of the year, and how do you position your business interests to meet the "Ride for fun" mantra? If I lived in Phoenix or Africa, I wouldn't go out for "fun" rides in 104-degree heat, but I'd ride to get to where I had to go. Those (who ride for basic transportation despite the heat) have the right idea. They're not idolizing anybody in a yellow jersey, wishing they could be like that. They also aren't out there riding for fun, I'm guessing---but in Arizona heat, what kind of ride constitutes "fun"? I'm guessing for me it would be a 10 p.m. ride with some friends, out to a restaurant or to an air-conditioned bowling alley. So yeah, I think the laborers riding bikes because it's faster than walking and they don't have cars have the right idea. Go, them!

Listen, I love bicycles. They're my favorite objects in the world. I have been deeply involved with them for three decades at least, and along the way you come to prefer a certain look, certain proportions and style and details. What I have come to prefer isn't inherently better than what anybody else likes, but if I'm going to devote my life to bikes, I'm going to put myself and all I like into the ones I design and sell, and it just so happens that there's no way to do it cheaply. If you point to a lug that looks unnecessarily swirly or girly or beautiful, I'll point out a feature on it that you'll miss, a feature that makes it better structurally, too. And then I'll point out clearances and balanced clearances on our bikes, stuff that nobody asks for and is invisible because it is air around the tires and is largely unappreciated, because a guy will mount a 40mm tire and a fender, and it works, as he expects it to.

So what can the cyclists of Phoenix expect at your appearance at Pedal Craft on Sept. 28? A stocky fifty-eight year old guy with a fairly full head of thinning brown hair, wearing sandals, probably some long knickers that look like short  pants, and if it's hot, a t-shirt. I will thank the introducer if I'm given a nice introduction. I'll ask some questions of the audience to find out something about them, which will steer my talk one way or another. My message is important enough to warrant a much better speaker about it than I am, but I'll give it my best shot, and I hope they like it.

Pedal Craft: Volume 2 is Sept. 28 from 6 to 10 p.m. at Kitchen Sink Studios in downtown Phoenix. Peterson is scheduled to speak at 8 p.m.

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