Monday, March 10, 2014

Just Ride: A Book to Better Understand Ourselves By

Just Ride:
Reviewing one of the best cycling books out there

Just like the cover of the book suggests, this is a guide on how to just get out and enjoy riding our bicycles, without all of the ceremonial gear and accessories that exist in the racing world today. This book provides the reader with a back to basics approach on practical bike riding for the average person who isn't competing in the Tour De France or the BORAF ( Big Old Race Around France) as the author likes to phrase it. 

Grant Petersen is a bicycle engineer that started his career making bikes for Bridgestone Cycles in the 80's and then started his own company, Rivendell Bicycle Works in the mid 90's.  His bicycles nowadays have a cult following among those who simply seek an elegantly made, non-competitive touring bicycle that can be ridden on  and off roads in varying terrain. The bikes he makes for his current customers are made of steel, with intricate lug work and awesome paint schemes. They echo back to simpler times in cycling before carbon fiber became the rage and the standard for everyone else to follow by. 

Surprisingly, his book does not completely bash carbon fiber bikes like one would expect from an author like this to do. Instead, the author takes an objective approach in describing carbon fiber as a material that hasn't reached the level of development to be considered free of defects or not prone to catastrophic failure. He makes a comparison between different frame materials and makes a justifiably arguable case for steel bikes for the average person, something which I have been saying on this blog for at least a couple of years now. 

Being an engineer himself, Petersen dedicates several pages explaining the different dimensions on a bicycle and how different angles of these dimensions can have an effect on a bicycle's ride qualities. He also describes the advantages of having a steel fork with fork rake as opposed to having a carbon fiber fork or a straight bladed fork. The author notes that as we consider all these things, most bicycles today are designed for 150 pound skinny racers, not with the rest of us in mind. They are not designed for long term use, and are not designed practically for utilitarian use. They are modeled after professional athletes that can go through as many as 12 bikes in one season, with several component changes in between. 

There are a lot of things that I agree with the author on. The dieting advice in this book is great. I had already started a diet free of carbohydrates when I picked up this book at the bookstore a couple of days ago. The author mentions that carbs are actually harmful for cycling and that elite cyclists will eat carbs because their bodies genetically do not produce the same insulin as the rest of us. If we tried to eat as the pros do and have the same workout regimen, we would end up being strong legged and potbellied diabetics. The author also brings out that bicycling is generally not an ideal exercise for weight loss and is not load impact bearing; it will not fend off bone density loss and osteoporosis. As fun as cycling can be, there are other forms of exercise that need to complement it. 

I personally felt other aspects of the book, such as the bicycle maintenance section, could have been written better. The author himself puts a disclaimer in the book saying that there are better guides for bike maintenance than his book. Fair enough. But saying you do not have to clean your bike and just let the mud and crud fall off with the road vibration implies just being a filthy bike rider. I believe that when my bikes are parked and not being used, they should be clean. Like my mom used to tell me, even dirt poor people can have clean dirt floors. Leaving dirt on a bike for more than one ride is just negligent in my opinion. The author talks about Beausage, a word he makes up to describe how imperfections on aging vintage bikes bring out their character more and make them beautiful in an antique sort of way. I also agree with that, and generally speaking I won't repaint a frame that has a few chips and scratches because it brings out the character of the bike and the bicycle's life experience, if it were a living thing, of course. But Beausage is not something someone goes about trying to replicate, whether intentionally or by negligence, on bicycles that are not vintage or that haven't withstood the test of time.

Another point that I couldn't agree with was his advice on fitting and use of platform pedals over clip-less ones. On the latter point I somewhat agree not to use clip-less pedals if you are new to cycling. I would recommend platforms or even toe-clips for awhile before going clip-less. But once someone learns how to ride with clip-less pedals, there is no need to go back to platforms, unless it is on a different bike with platform pedals on it. Even then, I recommend clip-less pedals on long rides because of the tendency to become flat footed if a rider vigorously applies pressure to the wrong part of the foot. On most of his advice regarding fitting, I felt it was targeted at older riders with back problems instead of a general fitting guide for everybody. One example of this is the author's recommendation to ride with the handlebars at even height to the saddle. On frames that are too big for me I will usually employ this method. However, most of the time my handlebars are about an inch lower than my saddle, because I can handle that position and I am more comfortable on it. When making these recommendations, I felt that the author made them taking his own aging body into account, something that I can't blame him for, however a little open mindedness goes a long way.

Overall, I really, really enjoyed this book. It reminded me of everything that got me into riding bikes in the first place. It also reminded me of the poor maintenance my neighbor used to give his clunky mountain bikes growing up but how he would always smoke me up and down the mountain bike trail. There are other topics the author talks about, or rather "velosophizes". Topics in his book such as "racing ruins the breed" and "how to get your family to hate cycling" are good for analyzing whether one has adopted the elitist attitude of an entitled, self absorbed wanna be bike racer and how that can ruin good relationships with other people. 

I recommend any deep thinker and passionate cyclist to pick up a copy of this book. If someone is new to cycling, they should go ahead and pick up this book immediately. It has a lot of good advice that will help develop a love for cycling and a passive interest into a lifelong passion.

1 comment:

  1. This is a nice read. I definitely enjoyed it.
    And, so is your post.
    Peace :)