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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: Just Ride, A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike

I've known Grant Petersen since his Bridgestone days, and have ridden with him several times, as well as contributed to his newsletter, The Rivdendell Reader. I am a fan of Petersen's bikes (my current ride is a copy of his '93 Bridgestone RB-1 geometry with a few personal tweaks), and a lifetime member of the Rivendell club. I say all this up front because try as I might, I couldn't recommend this book.

Just Ride is a guide to cycling for non-racers. That's the claim. There's a shortage of such a book, and as someone who raced his bike once in his life and decided it wasn't all that interesting, you would think I would like the book. I'm also a league cycling instructor (LCI #1040), and am always looking for good books to recommend to people who like cycling.

First of all, the book's organization is a pain. Petersen discusses bike fitting at the end of the book, for instance, rather than at the beginning, which is the natural place for people who aren't already devoted cyclists. It seems crazy to go through 7 entire sections of the book (including secionts on bike safety) before you get to making the bike fit you. I'd practically have to rewrite the table of contents for it to be a book that you can read cover to cover to decide whether cycling is for you.

Secondly, the book's a reaction to racing, but tries too hard to define itself against racing, as opposed to defining what cycling is for. As a result, it manages to offend commuters and tourists though its implied assumptions! For instance, there's a deep assumption in this book that you would only ride for fun, and you should only ride for fun, and riding for maximum speed or something like that is racing-wannabe. I know many bike commuters. Getting to work faster is a goal for many of them, just like car drivers who don't want to race might still want to minimize their time spent commuting. Eric House (who is mentioned in the book) once said something like, "Just because I'm on a bicycle doesn't mean that I can't occasionally be late for a meeting and want to go as hard as I can."

Then there are these technical errors. For instance, Grant espouses using rain ponchos (also known as rain capes), but makes no mention that if you use them, you must also use fenders. Sure, he mentions fenders later on in the book, but there's not even a cross reference. It's real obvious to an old-timer like Grant, but it might not be to his target audience. He recommends riding in the door zone, and then when someone opens a door in front of you, "hit the brakes, swerve out of the way, and hope the driver behind you saw this coming." Hope is not a plan, and it's probably a good thing that this book will most likely not be read by many newbies, because that sort of advice will get Petersen sued.

Similarly, the advice on quick release sounds good, but follows the "impression on palm" advice, which is unreliable. It seems as though Petersen did not get any other person to read this book and check it for technical accuracy before publishing it!

Then finally, there's lots of advice about not riding your bicycle: it makes you fat (yes, he says that), it causes all sorts of other health problems, and you shouldn't ride your bike too much. I'm not sure anyone reading this book who's not already a cyclist would be persuaded to become one. There's diet advice (Petersen's jumped onto the low carb bandwagon), and exercise advice (don't ride your bike, do cross fit instead), and health advice (get a blood glucose monitor!).

Is there stuff I agree with in the book? Yes. I like saddlebags and panniers over carrying stuff on your back. Petersen and I see eye to eye there. I like fenders, and I don't think carbon fiber is suitable for the kind of riding I do. I agree with Grant that helmets are not an unmitigated good thing. But all in all, there's a lot not to like about the book. One would think that Petersen was selling cross-fit sessions rather than bicycles, and I can't imagine why any cyclist would support such an anti-cycling point of view.

Not recommended. I'm going to see if I can get Amazon to give me the $9.99 I paid for the Kindle edition back.

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