ViseGrips, The best tool in the world. I could go on and on about them. I feel like doing that, but I just can't now.
Last year or so Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, a first for a songwriter, and well-deserved no matter what you may think. Simon & Schuster published his lecture as a book, the skinny black clothbound hardcover you see here. I didn't know there was such thing as a Nobel Prize lecture. Acceptance speech, that I understand (he didn't attend, and Patti Smith went in his place). But this book is called the Nobel Prize Lecture, so as they say, go figure.
Here's the first page:
It's 23 pages long and costs $18 and it's worth it. We're getting thirty of them. It's magnificent. I don't want to spoil it for you. It's worth more than a buck a page.
Books in general are a bargain. You can see a movie in a theater in two hours and come out easily $15 poorer and forget what you saw a month later. I'm not against movies, I'm just super-pro books as entertainment value per dollar, if that's the category we're discussing. This Bob Dylan lecture book doesn't come off great in that way, since you'll read it in half an hour or fifteen minutes. At that point you've got to compare it to the cost of three cups of coffee at a fancy place. Or, better yet and clearly best of all, what you get out of it. Insights, information, history, questions answered, and in this case, the prose, not poetry this time, of a man who is as comfortable with words as most people are with eyeblinks or breathing. How does he say what he says? What does he say about his life in music, his influences, and Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey? If you've heard of those books but haven't read any of them (like me), read this and....you'll understand them, at least.
Anyway, a hardback, brand-new, cloth-bound book by Bob has got to be worth $18. Any used book store would buy it for $4, so count it as $14. We got thirty of them in, and won't reorder. You can buy it cheaper from Amazon, no doubt, and Bob doesn't need the money. The gross profit, about $7 per book, will go into our lunch fund. Tryna give you reasons to buy it. It's really excellent. HERE.
On a dogwalk again, in the goat-grazing area, found no goats this time, but they left some wool for me. Do you see it?
Oh yep. It's MINE. I'll de-sticker it and wash it and make it into ye olde woole balle. Goat wool, always the best kind. Sorry to drag you through my goat stuff. When I finish the wool ball I'll show that, and that'll be that.
A few more worthwhile pages from the Boy Scout cycling booklet.
Pour on the coal.. Now there's "rolling coal," that obnoxious thing where pickuip truck drivers (I'm not against pickup truck drivers) push a button or do something in front of cyclists and unleash a thick cloud of poison exhaust.
I like the crackers and raisins part, gotta say. No doubt Ritz or Nabisco Saltines. That's all they had back then, in '65. Nobody eats cheap crackers and raisins as snacks anymore...and I think that's probably progress.
WARNING: Following is 2,400 words about my history and Rivendell, which may explain some things, It's a 15-minute read, so it may come off to some people as egotistical for its subject matter and length, a risk I'll take, because I am writing it for catharsis, which these days I find necessary.
I was never into cars, maybe because my dad wasn’t and the only toy car I ever had was a blue, all-steel (!) dump truck that fell down a hill almost into a creek and slashed me near my belly button when I went down to get it and tumbled onto it. I don’t make any more of that than I should, and I bring it up only as a starting point. Was I being imprinted?
In 1964 when the country was dealing with civil rights, all I cared about was getting a Schwinn Sting-Ray. Huffy had introduced the first sting-ray style bike in 1962, the Penguin, and Schwinn took over the genre in 1963, and had all those gorgeous metallic colors—lime green, deep purple, gold, blue, and red. That was 59 years ago as I write this, and I remember them all exactly. That Christmas, I got a dull-gold Murray, one of the cheap department store brands. I was gracious, not a little turd. I think I have always been sensitive and sometimes hyper-sensitive to hurting feelings. (I am “painfully aware” of the challenges of owning a business that necessitates expressing opinions about bicycles while not pissing off or bumming out those whose opinions differ. )
When somebody stole my Murray, that Christmas (1966, the year of the Oakland Black Panthers, and a year after Malcom X was assassinated), I wanted a ten-speed but got a Sears three-speed with the then-new radical technology of twist grips. (1) I still had Schwinn lust; (2) Damn!; (3) I didn’t mean to leave it unlocked by the ball field. I swear to God, but at the same time I wasn’t heartbroken. My dad offered to get me another bike, but I declined. My dad, by the way, was born in 1921, grew up in Bronxville, NY, spent his summers working on a farm upstate, and looking back, I think he never learned how to ride a bike. His free time was spent working, hunting, fishing. I think this about him and bikes because I offered to get him a bike in the 1990s, and he wasn’t interested, not even enough to take a spin on one of mine around an empty parking lot.
I gave up bikes whenI turned thirteen in 1967. I got to middle school by walking, and I got to high school by hitchhiking, back in the days when it was acceptable for young men to hitchhike. I was the only high-schooler who hitchhiked to school my freshman and most of my sophomore year.
I was deeeeep into fly-fishing at the time, and at age 14 in 1968, after having an L.L.Bean fiberglass fly rod, I used money I’d earned from odd jobs and paper-routing to buy myself a bamboo fly rod for $150. It was a seminal moment in my gearhood and I was comfortable doing things the hard and oddball way (I was the only one of my fishing friends who used flies). And with traditional materials and craftsmanship or whatever. It affected my bike-thinking.
That L.L.Bean fiberglass fly rod got run over by a car and wrecked. That eventually happened to the Orvis bamboo rod, but in case you don't know, bamboo is tough and they put it together hexagonally like a pencil, and there was no air to crush it into, and it hardly suffered and was easily fixed. My dad ran over it, and he fixed it. I remember in the Orvis catalog in the decades before they "went all graphite (carbon fiber)," they used to say, and again--good, trustable memory on this one— whack a bamboo rode against a rock with a blow that would shatter a fiberglass rod, and it's hardly damaged. I liked that, and there are parallels to steel and carbon bikes.
That's the fix. When I die I will regret not having continued trout fishing at the same rate I did it from age 14 to 22. It's because I've never dug driving, and then hitchhiking and work and family weren't compatible with it. I wouldn't trade...but it is still something I bum over.
There was an oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara (California, about 400 miles south of me) on January 28, 1969. Offshore drilling to supply cars with fuel. It was a big deal and led to the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. Originally, Earth Day intended to rally-up college-age students, the same age group that was already in various states of rebellion against the older generation for it’s conservatism, it’s past support of Joseph McCarthy, its rejection of rock-and-roll, it’s role in environmental destruction, it’s hatred of tie-dyed clothing, flowers in hair, and “hippie-ism” in general. But people 19 and 20 and 21 couldn’t get behind this movement at a time when they (or in the case of women) their boyfriends were worried about going to Vietnam to fight in a war they weren’t supportive of.
At Woodstock in 1969, Country Joe sang a song that got the whole assemblage dancing, and summed up the feelings for the draft:
One, two, three, what are we fightin’ for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn, next stop is Viet Nam.
Five, six, seven, open up the pearly gates
Ain’t no time to wonder why, whoopee, we’re all gonna die.
This isn't relevant, but two years ago I attended a book signing and sat next to Country Joe. The book (not written by him) was called, I think, Boots on the Ground, and it was about Viet Nam, and he sang that song.
........So the Earth Day organizer, a fellow named Denis Hayes (who is still alive and doing great work with his Bullitt Foundation) went after high-schoolers who weren’t immediately afraid of the draft. One of Earth Day’s “rules” was to get to school without gasoline. My dad tolerated my hitchhiking, but offered to buy me a bike, and this time I got that Schwinn, a brown Varsity.
Now I could get around easily, was not dependent on strangers for a lift, AND better late than never on the Schwinn. I still cared nothing about cars, and with a bike, I didn’t need to. I didn’t date in high school, so I didn’t need a make-out vehicle or anything like that.
Earth Day started the 1970s bicycle comeback/revolution. By 1971, Phil Wood, Bullseye, Blackburn, and dozens of other bike-businesses started up. Bike shops sold bikes before they arrived. At first, the “good” bikes were Schwinn and whatever came from England or France.
Crossing the main street in town one day in 1971, I got creamed by a car going 35mph. My head smashed the windshield, (well, the windshield exploded when it hit my head), I tumbled through the air expecting to be run over, but that didn't happen. It wrecked my Varsity and I got my a low-end Peugeot, a UO-8 with lugs.
By 1972, my senior year, the draft was over. I went to the local Junior (now “community”) college, a hilly six-mile-one-way ride. I had no idea what I wanted to do, all I knew is I didn’t have a girlfriend and I liked riding my bike and fishing. By this time I’d given up on becoming a pro baseball player, although I was really good.
(All through my life up to then and ending in my early 20s, I had kind of an embarrassing secret that affected me profoundly and permanently, and that is too personal to go into here, but just for the record, it was NOT a micro-penis or a "bent carrot" or anything so obvious, in case some of you were wondering, and I KNOW you are.)
I worked hard through my pre-teen and teen years, earning money as I could, and I wasn’t particularly academic. I knew I’d never go away to school no matter what (see above), it just wasn't an option, so I buried myself in fishing (I got to the rivers by hitchhiking), and climbing, outdoorsy stuff, and riding my bike. While my school friends were serious about life and graduating four-year schools with degrees in stuff that sounded horrifically boring to me, in 1975 at age 21 I got a job at REI in Berkeley, and stayed there living the outdoor life, for about ten years.
By the mid-'70s (after going to a legal pro in Nevada to break the ice), I'd had a girlfriend or two. One of them might be reading this now. We rode across the country together in 1976, I on a Raleigh Competition with 52 x 42 and a 14x32 5speed freewheel, she on a Motobecane Grand Record, 52 x 40 with a 5 speed 14x32.
The Raleigh was my first upper-endish bike, and it came with a Huret Jubilee rear derailer. I still have a Huret fixation today.I was still at REI at age 30 in late 1984. That meant working holidays and at least one weekend day, and I wanted to get married and settle down and not have to work Christmas Eves forever. Plus, although I was “good on the floor,” and had written two bike books by then, I wasn’t management material.
REI was a great place to work, but I was a rogue, I didn’t follow the rules (“No handwritten signs” was a rule they made up just for me, because if I liked something I’d tout it on paper or cardboard in sometimes a thousand words. These things always sold well, so management was not sure whether to gag the rule breaker or lose sales? The Berkeley store management always stuck by me, and my obsession with information about cool stuff had sunk in.)
In Dec 1984 my local positive notoriety, with my books and connections, helped get me a job at Bridgestone. I was hired to handle technical questions and data entry. Within a year I had input on bicycles, and it grew every year. I never liked generic bikes, the kind that seemed to me to be spec’d by businessmen, not riders.
Maybe I should have had respect for them, but I didn't. I was riding my bike round trip over roads and trails 50 miles a day, and was in a good position to know what worked, I thought, or to at least have confidence in my opinions. I knew the other people in my position at other companies weren't doing that. Don't tell me what works. I couldn't do my rides on 25mm tires, or on bikes that didn't work with saddlebags for carrying stuff.
The local Bridgestone management either ignored or supported me (various managers had different styles), and they were all Japanese, often from the car-tire division, and trusted that I knew what I was doing. My early design efforts worked, the bikes got good reviews, and I was confident. I got cocky, actually.
Between 1985 and 1994, bicycles changed a lot. Motocross technology, radicalism, stuff that didn’t ring my bell, and the Japanese part of Bridgestone was, shockingly, on the same page. The U.S. sales staff wasn’t always, but overall I was tolerate but not venerated, because the bikes worked well and got a good reputation even though, or maybe partly because, they were different. At this point, I was used to being an odd duck in the bike world.
When Bstone closed its U.S. operation in September 1994 (we’d lost money for years, after the exchange rate made it impossible for a Japanese maker to profit from exports to the U.S.).
Before you say I killed it, as some have implied, let me point out that 1985 was the year Japanese products in all fields took a huge hit—because the dollar-to-yen exchange rate changed and made it really hard to export the products of Japanese labor to the U.S., whose dollar was weak. Most of the Japanese exports that survived were those that could be made with robots, and bikes weren’t one of them.)
By then my wife and I had a six-year old daughter, another one due two weeks after I lost my job, and a house with a 13.5 percent loan that we had no way of paying. The last year at Bridestone my small marketing team and I started the Bridgestone Owners Bunch (BOB) as a way to sell the stuff we had that was good, but dealers weren’t buying. Instead of selling it at cost or less, then giving 90-day payment terms, we sold at full pop and got the money up front.
It worked, but it was not enough money and way too late. But by the time Bstone closed, Sept 30, 1994, I’d made enough connections in the U.S. and Japan (Nitto, etc.) to garner some support and supply, and I was naïve enough about business to start one myself.
But, behind it all was the fear that I’d fail my family, and then, ye olde lacke of options would ruin my life. When I left Bstone I was making $55,000 a year. A good sales rep there would make $80K to $100K. I had two job offers from other bike makers, but we’d just gotten into our house, and family was local, and I knew I wouldn’t be happy (or appreciated) at a business making the kinds of bikes I wasn’t into.
Rivendell’s purpose from the start was to make the kinds of bikes I liked and rode, without the constraints of dealers who didn’t get them, or sales reps who didn’t like them, and without influence of trends that I wasn’t into. I started in in late 1994 when I was 40, and by that time I knew my values. Publicly staying true to those values, especially when social media and the realities of finding customers and kindred spirits in modern times makes it a requirement to stick out your neck, has been a major bummer.
It’s hard to hear, read, get mail, and read more from people who find me obnoxious or even merely “polarizing” because in the big niche of bicycles, we occupy a smaller niche that would be closer to extinction if we disappeared. Not to overstate our importance in it. We aren’t the only players, but we continue to be significant. We were the early high-endish basket adopters.
My goal and hope is to establish the kind of stability that can make us keep going, even without me. I think we’re nearly there. Our in-house crew—Will, Mark, Spencer, Rich, Sergio, Antonio, James, and Saturday-only Harry—are all capable of keeping it going without me, but I also don’t underestimate my contribution.
The worst part of work is being too sensitive to personal or professional attacts by people who don’t know me but dislike me and Rivendell because, in the words of Sly Stone, “don’t think, or wear my hair” the same way they do. I really do believe that carbon bikes and forks are dangerous and shouldn't be made. I don't believe that for no reason; I believe it for excellent reasons, and I say it, like now.
But somebody out there, maybe somebody just reading "me" for the first time will have bought a carbon bike earlier today, or maybe his or her children saved up for one and gave it to dad or mom as a super special thing. I think that's a wonderful sentiment, and nobody's doing anything bad, but it doesn't change how I feel about carbon fiber, and it doesn't wipe out the reasons I feel that way.
We are locked into steel, locked out of suspension and disc brakes, are increasingly suspect of racing’s influence, and we “value,” I guess is the closest word I can think of, bicycles as non-elitist daily transportation, and yet we still make them as beautiful‑by our standards—as we can. Some people see inconsistency there. Expensive, finely crafted bikes for daily use. I can’t help that. There are people out there who are threatened by that. Because, I've been scolded and called a hypocrite for it
. I figure the low-end bikes are already super competitive, and I don't want to go toe-to-toe with all those huge powerful massive high volume lowISH quality bike brands. No way to survive doing that.
Last but not least, and maybe related to that, in the past decade or so I’ve become more aware (critics would say “woke”) about social and political histories and policies that -- without conspicuous intent--have made bicycles for mostly white people. Not just bikes, but any equipment-intensive sport or pasttime that depends on a nice place to do it and a lifestyle that makes it easy and reasonable to adopt.
I buy into all of that left-wing stuff. I’m far left, sorry. And I’ve realized, only lately, that I’ve spent my life and energy and passion at best ignorant of that, and at worst contributing to it.
At this stage of my life it is important to me to try to make up for it. My/our efforts are sometimes not popular, sometimes go unrecognized, sometimes get us into trouble with our customers and the political right, and have, sometimes, come off just the wrong way.
Anything about race is sensitive, and no matter what your intentions are, it's just easy to say the wrong thing, present something the wrong way to the wrong person at the wrong time or the right person at the wrong time. We're figuring it out, and it's a bumpy road.
But we have raised and donated a lot of money (for a small company) for some really good causes--as part of the apology and payback, whatever you call it. The plan is to continue with all of this, as long as we can, as part of business. It helps to have a supportive staff, and we do.
You still here?
We're goofing around, if that's what it is, with front derailers. It's safe to say we understand them at a level that for most of my life I never even knew existed. THE INDUSTRY is against them. It wants them gone in a decade or less. It wants self-driving automatic bicycles for everybody, with internal everything. No visible chainrings or cogs or chains, stuff it all inside a smooth tube and program your bike to shift when your cadence reaches a specified speed, or maybe program your bike to assist your pedaling when your cadence falls below a customizable number of rpms.
As the English might say it, We're Digging Bloody In.
Here's some stuff. THe comments weren't written for YOU, they're "internal documents," so...if they seem ununderstandable or irrelevant, that's cool, just don't look or read. To me, it's all so monumental.
And all of those observations (and experiences and experiments with all of them) led us to thinking about this:
I don't care about secrets, I hate secrets, and I don't also care what anybody thinks about the worthwhileness of thinking about this. I am so glad we don't have a comments section here. Nothing's promised or guaranteed, everything may fizzle out, people may die, business relationships may go the wrong way, communication might muddle and sabotage everything. But IF all goes well, we'll have a groovy front derailer in a year or two. It'd be SO EASY for any of the big derailermakers to do this. They have the brains, the money, the understanding of what it would do...but it would throw a monkeywrench into front indexing, the LEAST necessary thing on any bike.
The adjustability isn't the important thing--changing the pull lever angle or length, which would affect everything. Bike and parts makers would rather not have adjustable parts, because hacks will do it wrong and get hurt and sue, and it's just not worth it. If we get an adjustomatic front prototype, it may affirm some suspicions, but if we then get it made for production, we'd probably lock in on one non-adjustable way to rig it up, which will take out the tinkerer's fun, but also reduce out liability, which trumps tinkerer's fun.
You know what a "container" is in the context of ocean shipments? A standard (big) container is 40 feet. You know what it costs to get one of those in, from Taiwan to California? About three times as much as it used to, just pre-Covid. I don't know whether Covid has anything to do with the price hike, but everything is blamed on Covid, so let's just say it does.
It now costs $30K. Our frames and bikes come in big boxes. Blame it on the long chainstays or whatever. If we have 100 frames in that container, plus some cranks and 1,400 tightly packed Skeleton Key front derailers (not shown above), it means each frame costs us, with tarrifs and insurance and everything added, almost $280 MORE than the FOB (freight on board) price, the cost to get that bad boy into a box and on a ship in the dock in Taiwan. So we can either not get bikes, lose money and close down, or raise. prices. There is no other way.
Our Hillibikes (Gus and Susie) arrive in a week or so. IF you shift friction, you could do way worse than to get yours with a Shimano Nexave RR rear derailer, Silver2 shifters, and a 7-speed freewheel. A 9-speed works great, too. The main thing is the rear derailer. We have the last of these in the world, I think, and we don't sell them separately. You can buy one for $90 only if you put it on a complete bike. Here's what one looks like. It's a large rear derailer, which will scare off some, but shouldn't:
I THINK, which means I strong suspect, that Shimano put more of itself into this derailer than any other derailer it has ever made. It was not "market-driven" or influenced by racers, trends, responding to the competition, or a need to be perceived as planning for the future.
This is the ideal shifter for it and many other derailers. Any derailer with a 1:1.7 pull ratio, which is any 9sp or under Shimano or SunRace. SRAM's 9-speeders tend to to 1:1, which works but isn't ideal, so let's not talk about it.
This crank is just right for lots of riding. It passes mtb ISO tests, which means it may be slightly overbuilt...but it's still a hair lighter than a Sugino XD2, a wonderful crank we sold for 20 years. We have a SILVER two-piece/modern style crank, too--easily the best-looking one around in the world.
Snapshot of the clamp of a JIM stem, a good choice for most bike and certainly the Susie.
MUSA shorts, knickers, and pants are coming in the end of this month:
Shorts: Black and Ranger Green
Knickers: Gray and Ranger Green
Pants: Black and Coyote Tan
All fabric is military-spec, made in U.S.A. Labor of course is U.S.A., made about 18 miles west of here. These, by any standards, are too costly to make. We're somewhat committed to making clothes in the U.S. Not as committed as we were a year ago, but when you have a brand called MUSA, for Made in the USA, it's kind of hard to get around that. It's easy to come up with another brand, though, and by god if these don't sell at what we have to sell them for, we'll do that.
Shorts cost us $55, and we're selling for $95
Knickers cost us $67, selling for $115
Pants cost us $65, we're selling for $105.
This is a little more than Patagonia and L.L. Bean equivalents, from ten to twenty percent less than other U.S.A.-made brands by smaller groovy companies whose names I won't mention, because we're rooting for them too, and we don't want to make theirs seem like cruddier values.
Patagonia is a groovy company, we all know that. The way they promote mountain biking on their site is inconsistent with their green vibe, but as companies go, they're as good as they get, I think. L.L. Bean is cool, too, but not sure about their politics. Does it matter? Of course.
How DOES a company so dependent on selling clothing "to help you get out and enjoy the outdoors" justify ... well, I'm going to drop this one right here.
Bikes with triangles.
Morning pre-work work station.
This is what this trail looked like. That's me.
Recent ride first time on this trail, it's completely bike-legal and accessible, and we walked about 90 minutes on a 120 minute ride. Dan phone-short me. Here's a B/w photo of it, not a great picture, but that's fine:
This is what that same spot on that trail felt like. That's Dan.
No more long Blahgs.
THere are certain people who, I wonder if they read it. Certain old friends. You may know who you are.