Bicycle Industry Insider Profile: Grant Petersen

Aside from bicycles, of course, the main reason I choose to continue my futile search for fortune in the bicycle industry is because of the people I know and meet. There’s no shortage of extremely smart and passionate people who are insanely interesting, individualistic personalities. Sure it’s cool to be around famous athletes from time to time, but I much more deeply value the less publicly visible people that make the bicycle world go ’round. As such, I’ve decided to revive a special online series where we do a very brief standardized interview with some of these individuals: The Bicycle Industry Insider Profile Series. I want to share the stories of these people with the rest of the world through the Dirt Rag and Bicycle Times web sites. This week we have…

Grant Petersen

Lafayette, CA

Current location:
Walnut Creek, CA

What do you do for/with/to bicycles?
I started Rivendell Bicycle Works, and still work here.

What’s the best thing about your job?
I like the people I work with and our customers. And it’s nice to be able to recognize a need or want, then work on it and see it appear and have people like it. It’s a pretty good job—good and gratifying work. I like working with other small vendors. In five or six cases we’re a big part of their business, their biggest or near-biggest customer, and they like us, and that’s fun.

We’re still small…12 people, but we have just enough sway, or influence, or potential, to get neat stuff made that we couldn’t get made if we had to buy 100 and could sell only 20 a year.  So, we’re big enough to matter, to make a difference to small business who’ve lost customers over the years to cheaper competition. So yes, one of the best things about work is mattering to…and helping…other small fries and medium fries.

What’s the toughest part of your job?
Stress related to slow deliveries from those small vendors we love so much, and having a payroll we can barely afford, and so not being able to raise wages. And being stereotyped as a “retro” company, or “ha ha, Rivendell hates carbon…what a charming, quirky bunch!”

What was the path that led you to work with bicycles?
The Path of Luck & Least Resistance. I rode a bike, worked at REI, wrote two regional where-to-ride books, and knew some people who helped me get a job at Bridgestone despite my unqualifications. I was a 30-year old bike nut with no fantastic future, and Bridgestone treated me like a Buddha, educated me about bike stuff, and gave me tons of responsibility that opened up worlds for me. I never had an immediate boss there, or a department head to scold me, make me sad, and hold me down.

What was your first bicycle?
An all-steel all blue solid-rubber tired fixed-gear two-wheeler that could never be sold these days. Fixed-gear, no brake kid’s bike. Then a Murray sting-ray, a Sears 3sp, a Schwinn Varsity, a Peugeot UO-8, a Raleigh Competition, six Tom Ritcheys, and then a few Bridgestones. Now…our bikes.

What bike do you currently ride the most?
I fell off my A. Homer Hilsen and broke my thumb and can’t ride for another month. I get around on a Kickbike scooter. It’s a blast, but it limits my range.

Where is your favorite place to ride?
Mount Diablo, Shell Ridge, and Briones Regional Park. All close by. Not Moab..not Whistler—all local. It’s the best bicycle riding in the world.

What music goes through your head while you ride? (literally or figuratively)
Ninety-percent is Bob Dylan. Five percent English Romantic poetry…I have almost two hours of it memorized and I recite it to myself constantly. Five percent other poems. I don’t ride with an iPod or anything. That’s cheating, and it interferes with thinking.

What are your interests aside from bicycles?
Evolution, astronomy, Bob Dylan, fishing, poetry, film photography, behavior, hiking, pull-ups and dips, and most of all, my fantastic family and dog. Not so much, my cat.

If you weren’t working around bicycles, what do you think you’d be doing?
You know, even thinking about that scares me. I have 5 years of college, but no degree. I can’t wear suits and haven’t combed my hair for 42 years. I do keep it clean, and it’s not dreadlocked or matted or anything. But I don’t comb it, so I always look a bit unkempt. I don’t do well around authority figures, and I’m not that great at math unless it’s bike math (I’m a whiz at that). Ever since I was little I worried about how I’d support a family. This is the only way I can imagine.  I am truly a one-trick pony, with few skills marketable outside this bubble.

Please share one of your favorite stories you’ve seen or been a part of while involved with the bicycle industry:
Can’t think of any. Stuff happens, but it’s not like…hilarious or fascinating enough to retell.

Who would you choose for the next subject for the Bicycle Industry Insider Profile Series?
John and Tom Black, of Velocity Rims.

I like them because although they have a rim company, they’re accessible and have a “we can do it, sure” attitude. They don’t always ask the V-word (Volume). They lead the way for 650B rims, doing them when nobody else would. They’re interested in rims and bikes, not just numbers. If there’s a problem, they own it right now and deal with it. They’re honest—you can trust their noise to the letter. That is so rare.


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