Many people know Grant Petersen as the chief bike designer and outspoken owner of California-based Rivendell Bicycle Works. But word is starting to spread that the man who eschews carbon for steel, gel for leather, and Lycra for wool is quite the wordsmith. He’s followed up his 2012 bestseller “Just Ride” with another one published by Workman called “Eat Bacon, Don’t Jog: Get Strong. Get Lean. No Bullshit.” We grabbed him for a quick interview to find out why the 60-year-old Walnut Creek resident went out on a limb to write a 240-page diet and exercise book.
Boulanger: Grant, you published two northern California-specific guidebooks in the 1980s, and enjoyed some regional notoriety while putting some coin in your pocket. Your writing was honed with the popular Bridgestone Cycles catalogs and Bridgestone Owners Bunch Gazettes in the early `90s, followed by 15 solid years or so of the semi quarterly publication, Rivendell Reader. Then “Just Ride” gets published by Workman, a big New York outfit who put you on planes and sent you on a proper book tour of the United States. How many copies have been sold?
Petersen: The three printings were 26,000, 10,000, and 7,500, so right now 43,500 are in print, and I’m guessing 35,000 have sold. The cover price is $13.95, and I get 10 percent of that on books sold to booksellers, and less than that on books sold to Amazon, but Amazon sells a lot of them, so I’m both pro-indie and pro-Amazon, if that’s possible.
Boulanger: When did you draft an outline of “Eat Bacon”? And when did you pitch it to Workman? Did you consider other publishers, or are they still your first love?
Petersen: Well, most authors have agents who do the pitching and selling for them, but in my case one of the Workman editors rides one of our bikes, and was familiar with my bike thoughts and writing…and he called me up and asked me if I’d like to write a book, which led to “Just Ride”.
The contract for “Just Ride” said I had to give Workman first rights of refusal of a second book, if there was to be one, so I had no choice…but I am actually in love with Workman, and they treat me so well, and … I’m happy there. My editor, Mary Ellen O’Neill, is a good friend now.
Boulanger: How many drafts did it take to get everything to your (and your editor’s) satisfaction? How long did it take to write and research?
Petersen: “Just Ride” took like three and a half years, went from 55,000 to 90,000 words, and ended up at about 32,000. Along the way it went from scattered to crazy to good, and that’s where it ended up. Thanks to my editor. I actually had two editors—the first guy, David, who signed me up, and then I wore him out and got Mary Ellen, who’s still here.
If you’re a typical active, athletic middle-aged adult and eat low-fat and high carb, you are constantly hungry, you poop a lot, and you’re gaining weight. The book explains that.
“Eat Bacon, Don’t Jog” took about two and a half years. The three printings were 26,000, 10,000, and 7,500, so right now 43,500 are in print, and I’m guessing 35,000 have sold. But remember, I have a full time job, too.
I read lots of books and studies, consulted with a few doctors and scientists and other with big chops. A pro in the field can lie and get away with it, but if you’re me you have to be careful with what you say, and so I was, I am. My lack of professional chops don’t make it any less true that the human digestive system thrives on fat and protein, and kicks and screams when you feed it horse chow. If you’re a typical active, athletic middle-aged adult and eat low-fat and high carb, you are constantly hungry, you poop a lot, and you’re gaining weight. The book explains that.
Boulanger: I’ve always known you as a health nut, staying fit through jogging, riding, calisthenics and more of a whole food diet, well before I was aware of Whole Foods. You certainly debunk plenty in “Eat Bacon”; who or what set you on this path?
Petersen: About seven years ago one of our employees, Rich, sent me a link that lead me to Mark Sisson’s site—Marksdailyapple.com. Mark makes sense, it struck a chord with me, so much seemed so familiar—and lead to a dozen or more tributaries that I followed and … long story short, it ALL made sense and shook some sense into me.
Boulanger: You’re almost into your 61st year on this planet. Do your tidbits of advice apply to readers of all ages, or…?
Petersen: Any age. In “Eat Bacon”, I address teenagers and old people and – yes, all ages. The thing is, some teenagers have the internal combustion—in the form of testosterone (males only) and insulin sensitivity and growth hormone—that lets them get by eating garbage, but then they form bad habits and in their thirties they may weigh the same as they did in college, but the muscle’s gone and they’re flabby. Or in the case of people who keep up their athleticism like I did, you become a food-eating robot who’s always hungry, and ends up exercising just to slow the weight gain. It’s all wrong, the wrong way to go, it doesn’t work, and it’s a miserable life—to ride only to eat.
Boulanger: Does (your wife) Mary notice the difference in the strong, lean, no bullshit Grant after knowing you half your life?
Petersen: I’m leaner now than I was 25 years ago, and I’m never hungry, and I ride fewer miles, but like them more. My bike is my friend, not my boss.
Boulanger: Why do you think humans are so obsessed with health, fitness and living a long life?
Petersen: I’m not a philosopher, but I’ll take a stab at that one. Nobody wants to die of cancer or Alzheimers or other somewhat avoidable diseases. People want to look…desirable, too, probably because the grossest cave men and women didn’t get the chance to pass on their genes. And then, you know, by the time you’ve lived well over half of your life, you’ve known friends and relatives who degraded so much before dying, and you want to avoid that. I think health is a good obsession, unless you’re a nut job about it.
Boulanger: Are you concerned about any public ramifications of someone misdiagnosing their current physical state and making dramatic eating or diet changes, failing, then blaming you? “There he is, officer! There’s the man who made me eat bacon and stop jogging!!”
Petersen: The world is full of medical professionals and health organizations that for decades have given out deadly advice, and are still doing it. The book title is “Eat Bacon, Don’t Jog”, and that’s a synopsis of what’s inside, but it’s not the whole story. A title like “Quit the carbs and exercise with intensity and for a short time” fills in the back story better than simply “Eat Bacon, Don’t Jog”, but since most people LIKE bacon and DON’T LIKE jogging, I went with the shorter, more positive title.
Boulanger: Is there another book tour planned for 2015? If so, where will it take you? You certainly made the rounds for “Just Ride”; do you enjoy getting the chance to speak about your published words to total strangers?
Petersen: I went all over for “Just Ride” because I’m known in the bike world, but I’m not known in the food and exercise world, so I’m not touring—although I have some radio spots lined up. I was both relieved and bummed about not touring. Relieved, because I’m not a natural public speaker and I get nervous all the time, and bummed because I thought it was a sign that the publisher didn’t have as much faith in the book. But it does, because the first printing is bigger… so I’m OK with not touring. If I were to tour, also, I’d have to really hone the body instead of just being my normal self.
Petersen’s latest book can be found wherever books are sold, including at the Rivendell website.
UPDATE: Listen to Petersen’s January 2 podcast with San Diego’s KOGO AM’s Sully here.