Thursday, December 13, 2007

I love Rivendell

It’s a little hard to describe the utter joy I feel when the Rivendell Bicycle Works catalogue or Rivendell Reader arrives in the mail. You could see this as a shameless plug, but it’s sincere. As sincere as I think Rivendell Bicycle Works is. Yes, they sell things. And yes, the sell things to make money. But they’re really not in it just to sell things. Maybe I’ve drunk their Kool Aid, but it sure tastes good.

Rivendell is so much more. If you want to learn about bikes and how to like your bike more, read Rivendell. They have a definite editorial position: old school. They love wool, fenders, high handlebars, friction shifters, steel frames, things that work, things that aren’t trendy, bike bags, riding bikes every day and not in spandex, lugs, and, most of all, bikes that people will ride. Did I mention they make bikes? I assume damn good ones. I’ve never ridden a Rivendell. Maybe one day I will.

If the whole world had their philosophy, the world would be better. It would have to be wealthy, because their bikes aren’t cheap. But they’re not overpriced. But having two-thousand dollars burning a whole in pocket is a good place to start if you want their bike. I don’t have that money, so I don’t have their bike. But I still love them.

The Rivendell Reader is one of the great sources of bike knowledge, both arcane and practical. If you like food, imagine Cooks Illustrated without the annoying pitch from Christopher Kimball every month about the Lake Fucking Wobegon ideals of life in (car driving) rural Vermont.

The catalogue is great because it’s so much more than a sales pitch. They have articles. Read it and learn. The latest (#19) talks about: picking a handlebar, how to care for leather seats, thoughts on socks, a short history of the power ratchet (and thoughts on friction shifting in general), crank design and gearing, tips for happy riding, an ode to brake clearance, and safety on bicycles. Some of the stuff you may care about, the rest you find you may learn about after reading what they have to say. Everything is accessible. Everything is knowledgeable. Everything is specifically not for bike geeks (even though it’s hard to imagine somebody who isn’t a bike geek curling up in bed with their latest catalogue).

As I’ve said, I’ve never bought a Rivendell bike, but I do buy stuff from their catalogue. Along with 650B tires, mostly little stuff: velcro wheel reflectors ($5), hemp twine, wool beany caps (the best for biking. And it’s they only thing I’ve ever worn that inspired my sister-in-law to say, surprised, given my general wardrobe... “that actually looks cool!”). They also sell beeswax and pine tar soap. I believe them when they say they don’t really make money on a lot of this stuff. They sell this stuff because they like this stuff. And somehow, all put together, I guess they make enough to live on. Good on ’em, I say.

As the years go buy (I’ve been reading Rivendell for probably 10 years now), I find I disagree with them more and more on the details, but still love their philosophy. And I’ve only come to disagree after learning from them and trying out what they preach.

Most people’s handlebars should be higher (at least as high as the seat). But I’m that 1 in 100 that actually lowered my handlebars again, at least on my main bike. It’s comfortable for me, so I’m sure they don’t object.

They don’t like skinny tires. I think they’re the best, at least on bikes meant to go fast. And I ride in potholed NYC and weigh 220 pounds. 700X23 Continentals, baby. I love ’em.

I love bike shoes. They don’t. What can I say?

I wish they were more urban, but they’re not.

But I can disagree with some of what they believe, and they’ll still like me. They’re right for most people, and I want more people to ride bikes, because my bike ride would be safer. If bike stores pushed sensible clothes along with bikes with bags, fenders, wide tires, and simple sifting mechanisms, the world would be better.

Go buy a membership today, I’m sure you’ll thank me later.


Anonymous said...

You know, I've been eyeballing their membership for at least a year. I think your essay just put me over the top. Thanks for the push!

PCM said...

Hope you like it. I hate being a shill for anybody, but it's worth the money. And even if you don't like it, it's not like it breaks the bank.