That's Peter Johnson. Don't we all wish we had that smile? It's the best smile I've ever seen. It's not a practiced, fine-tuned Hollywood smile, it's a pure perfect honest human smile, and the thing is, that smile to me says everything about the person inside/behind it. If anybody else smiled exactly like that, I'd think what are you trying to be—as nice and as Peter Johnson-y as the real guy?
Peter is the all-time winner of the bicycle person with the highest ratio of skill to fame, of contribution to notoriety. He was born within in 1956 or 1957, same age as Tom Ritchey. They were neighbors in the south Bay Area (now Silicon Valley), competitors in racing and in the garage, and they drove one another to heights never before or since achieved by frame building punks. Nobody was better, nobody outdid them at anyting.
Peter died of a stroke a few weeks ago while he and his wife Jan were in Switzerland.
I want you to read this, please, because he was one of the most
...people I've known. The bike industry has a fair share of people who tick off two or three of those adjectives, a few may get four, Peter checks off all seven with a fat point Sharpie, and anybody who knew him knows it. Lots of people knew him better than I did, but I've known him for 25 to 30 years, I've been to his house, seen his bike stuff, know his bikes, know his history of riding and building, know his standards and approach, and it was high above mine.
Here's a bottom bracket shell he "fixed up." It's the most beautiful frame joint I've ever seen, and anybody who says it's not in their top two isn't telling the truth. This kind of metalwork is pretty enough to make a nun swear:
Peter was nice to me way before Rivendell, and my current state of name recognition. He was never dismissive, he gave of his time, he always treated me with respect, and in later years when I'd call him for some odd reason or other, he always sounded so happy to hear from me, and I couldn't figure out why he was so nice. When I called him about the derailer project--first I had to get his number, and I travel in high-brow bike circles, or at least I know people who do, so it wasn't hard to get his number. I was nervous calling, because I admired him so much, I just look WAY UP to him, and I didn't want to say anything stupid. He was jazzed to hear from me, as soon as I identified myself! He was so nice because he was so nice, is all..
Among bike people who knew him, talking one to another with him not present during the conversation, just saying "Peter Johnson" was kind of like bragging that you were in a secret club who knew about him. Knowing him personally was a next-level thing that automatically reflected good on you. If you knew the vibe Peter gave off, you'd understand that. That smiley face is a Windexed window to who he was. He means every nuance of it.
He was more influential than ..... boy, I don't even know how to begin to talk about it. He was making bikes and bike parts when he was sixteen and seventeen that Campagnolo copied when he was twenty-two and others copied (and got at least one patent on) when he was thirty. AMONG OTHER THINGS, Peter made the first allen-headed brake bolt...at age 17. Then Mark Nobilette saw it and did it, and Bruce Gordon, at about the same time. Then Eisentraut.
"We did it, but it wasn't as cool as Peter's." — Mark Nobilette.
He wasn't prolific, he was slow, he knew and admitted it, but he also had a full-time job as a prototype machinist, and that is how we (RBW) got involved with him lately. He made around a hundred frames, maybe a little more. But his torch and machine skills were active.
So about the rear derailer project: I think MY artistic taste in bicycle stuff is not horrible. I trust my taste and like that it's fairly consistent. I know my taste is not better than other tastes, all I'm saying is, in my private moments, I really like my sense of—what looks good. It's not never but it's not often that I trust others with certain things. But we "hired" Peter to make our rear derailer look beautiful, because I trusted him way more than me, and more than anybody else in the world. Anybody who knows him would have. He's Peter Johnson, and in the bicycle world you either revere him openly or secretly, and you wanted some of him to rub off on you, because it was only, only good. I always, always came away from every conversation with Peter feeling like I needed to isolate from my daily life for an hour or two and just soak him in. I felt like thanking him for the feeling he left in me, a feeling that's hard to describe, because it's not common enough to get a description.
It's a feeling of importance, reverence, respect, and knowledge, and of being changed for the better, and I just wanted to hang onto all of it, not fall back into how I was before that meeting or conversation. He made me look at bikes deeper and better, and he raised my standards. I hope you have somebody in your life that has that effect. I bet he had it on most people, not just me.
He was jazzed to take on our rear derailer project, and I was thrilled. For me, it was an opportunity to expose him to a bigger audience, and I was looking forward to it.
When talking about his fee, I asked, 'How much for five assemblable prototypes? And you've got to show us how to assemble them, and it's got to be easy for anybody, in case we sell them as kits."
He felt uncomfortable saying, because, he said he hadn't even thought about it. He just wanted to do it and have fun. But I wanted some kind of understanding, because the thought of bumming out Peter Johnson, just devastating, so I said, "OK, here's a game. You write your figure on this piece of scrap paper, then fold it in half, and I'll write my idea the same way, and we'll exchange scraps and open them up at the same time."
He still didn't want to, but I didn't want to go down the road too far unless weer were both kind of on the same money page. So, he agreed.
His scrap said $12,000, mine said $10,000, and we laughed at how close they were, both relieved. He said, "It might not even be $10,000, let's see how it goes, and I said, "If it goes over $12,000, that'll be OK, too." So that was settled. He absolutely didn't care about the money, he was into it for the opportunity. I wanted it to happen, I knew it'd look beautiful if he had a hand in it, and yes, as I said, I wanted to use the news of a new wackjob rear derailer as a way to expose Peter to more people.
He was going to take what amounted to a blank function part, like the outer parallelogram plate, and make it look nice. He said he wanted my input, but I trusted him to do it himself. There's no way Peter Johnson would make anything that didn't look beautiful, the right combination of flourish and spare, and I didn't want to muck it up. I'd have nothing to contribute.
The photo up there was from a couple of months ago, after the discussion, and Will took it with his Mamiya twin-lens reflex camera. I love that photo. Peter never even saw it. He's holding a left crank arm he machined out of titanium. The right one is gone. He lent it to a big local bike maker to inspect and never got it back, and he didn't make a stink about it.
It was obvious that Peter wasn't super healthy. He'd been standing a while and said his feet couldn't take a lot of standing. He hadn't been riding much. He had diabetes, but didn't talk about that. I don't know whether he'd been told dire news or anything, but he had stopped returning emails, which was a clue to me--because he was sincerely, obviously, enthused about the derailer project, and we did agree on a price, and it was going to happen.
For somebody like Peter to not respond—it had to mean something dire was up, and I backed off and waited, and then I heard he had a stroke in Switzerland, sometime in the first third of January. Maybe he wanted to see Switzerland again—was there with Jan, his wife, and you don't go to Switzerland on a whim. He'd ridden there a few times, long rides in the dirt roads in the Alps on road bikes with Carradice saddlebags and skinny tires, in the '70s and maybe early '80s, with a handful or other local riders.
Anyway, I'm so sorry he's gone, so glad to have known him, so glad to have seen him recently, so sorry for Jan, so glad Will got this photo.
Look. him up, Peter Johnson, frame builder. There's not tons on him, mostly guys like me writing his praise, gushing over everything he did. At this point, why? I don't know. We write this stuff as self-therapy, so it's kind of egocentric indulgence, or relief. I had so much respect for Peter that writing this feels partly like bragging for having known him, and that's not my intent. I'm feeling more than I'm saying, but this is just how I am dealing with no more Peter Johnson. I can't do anything else. We're going to enlarge Will's photo and hang it here for inspiration, and see if Jan wants one, too, and Peter's sister.
-------- on another note--------:
Baseball started in 1845 and the Baseball Hall of Fame (HOF) opened in 1936-- a 90+ year gap. You have to be retired five years to be eligible for it.
Football's dates are 1880s and 1963, a gap of 80+ years. You have to have been retired for 5 years before eligibility.
Basketball: 1891 and 1959, only 68 years. But still, a 68 year gap. Four years retired for eligibility
Wow: Bowling's the gap-champ. It started 7,222 years ago, around 5000 BCE--in Egypt, of course, and didn't get its HOF until 1993. Gap: about 6,993 years. Cheops and Tut and Hatshabpet or whover that other hotshot was never lived to get into it. Until 2008—I know you find this fascinating, I know this is what you come here for—a pro bowler had to have been retired for five years before eligibility, but in 2008 they said OK you're eligible even if you're still active, as long as you've been a hotshot pro for 20 years. And there are certain performance requirements, too.
There may be zillions of HsOF that aren't on my radar. I'm sure NASCAR has one, There's probably a UFC one, and a CrossFit one. Maybe a PALEO one, too.
This is serious. I am serious: There are Halls of Fame up the wazoo celebrating athletes (and, in the case of the Gravel HOF, storytellers, promoters, route-makers, and volunteers). Does everybody have to be recognized, honored, really? Is this a damn sign-o'-da-thymes?
Let's celebrate bicycle commuting and shopping, for the love of Jumpin' Jehoshaphat. Utility riding that keeps a car off the road isn't getting the respect it ought to. Let's fix that and make it a Hall of Anonymity, where nobody gets applauded or publicly recognized. But you will get something, just keep reading.
We need a name for this anonymous clan or group or whatever of bicycle commuters and / or shoppers. I would personally like it to have a pronounce-able acronym. For instance, just an example to get you started, to set the bar a a moderate starting height:
AGOBSAC: Anonymous Group Of Bicycle Shoppers And Commuters.
BICASO: Bicycle Commuting and Shopping Organization.
BICASA: Bicycle Commuting and Shopping Anonymous.
ABCASAUR Internationale: (oh, this is getting complicated...you get the idea.)
Can you beat AGOBSAC and BICASO? Or get UTILITY in there and see what you can do the with U. Go for it. Let's see what I can come up with instantly:
BURSAC: Bicycle Ultility Riders, Shoppers, and Commuters.
These are just examples where the bar is. But for the purpose of your acronym, you need to use other words, like, group, worldwide, international, and so on, go for it. I'd request that you steer away from clan or guild or anything else that sounds like an American trying to horn in on Scottish or Gaelic or Welsh-type things. No Ltd, either. If including anonymous is too hard, exclude it (but anonymity, as a thing, will still be part of the vibe). You can use "of" and "an" as part of the acronym, but it's not required. You can use bi for the bicycle, co for commuter, etc,,,as needed. The rules are loose, but don't go as far as
Just have a personal standard you're comfortable with, a code you can live with, one that won't make you cringe ten years from now. We're in this for the long hall.
The winning entry wins nothing, and we won't print your name. If that bums you out, don't enter.
There will be stickers, patches, buttons. If it goes big-time, badges, t-shirts, and hats. ALL PROCEEDS to charity, probably a woman who lives in the Bronx and we know her story and we send her money every now and then anyway, and she always sends a Thank You note:
This could be a good thing, fun and helpful all around.
There will be entry requirements. You'll have to be honest about your bike-shopping and bike-commuting. It doesn't have to be every day or even in all weather. It's not a toughness competition, not a ¿quien es mas macho? kind of thing, you don't have to "inspire others" with your tough commutes and utility trips. If you shop or commute twice a week, that's significant. If it's only half a mile away, it still counts as much as five miles or twenty.
It's possible that inductees will have to buy their own buttons and so forth. Our buttons, our badges and stickers and shirts, are going to be low-key. They'll look good, they'll have the acronym, but they might not have the whole name of the the group. That's getting a little boasty, shouty, and it might not fit, anyway. If you are nominated, or nominate yourself, and you don't get enough votes, we'll send you an online Certificate of Rejection, which you can print out and thumb-tac to the wall. This is a plan, anyway. If you're the kind of psychotic who'd revel in collecting Certificates of Rejection and you think you'll get a fresh one for every joke submission, you don't know me at all. But if you get one Certificate of Rejection, it doesn't mean you can't ramp up your commuting or shopping and try again six months or whatever later. More than a month, I mean. Come on, figure it all out.
Any contesting gets you permanently barred from future opportunities, It's going to be hard core.
In keeping with "the anonymity thing," we won't list inductees. If you want to wear or display your button or sticker or whatever on your bike or bag or shirt or iPhone, that's up to you. I'd encourage you to go for it, tho. It can be like the Masons. What did they do, anyway? Were they good or bad? Psychotics or philanthropists? Was it a cult?
Check these pages for updates, rules, requirements, etc. Meanwhile, send your entries to
She may or may not be part of the selection process. It will probably be a committee of seven. She may be one of them.
Janis Ian: If you're over 64 you'll know the name, and if you've never heard of her, well, here's your chance.The story below is from the NYT. It's not easy to get this article. I can't link to it b/c you can't open it if you don't subscribe, so there's a lot of copying and pasting.
By Jim Farber
Jan. 17, 2022
On a recent morning, Janis Ian spoke expansively from her work space in Florida about a 50-year career marked by literary lyrics, social activism and major hits. Just one subject brought her up short. When pondering younger artists who’ve publicly cited her as an inspiration, she paused and threw up her arms. “I can’t think of one. So many people say, ‘Joni Mitchell is my big influence,’” she said. “And I thought, wait a minute. Didn’t I influence anybody?”
She might not get the loudest shout-outs, but there’s no denying that Ian has often served as a cultural clairvoyant.
In 1967, she became one of the first fully self-determined female singer-songwriters in pop, having penned every track on her debut album, which was released one month before Laura Nyro’s, a year before Joni Mitchell’s and three before Carole King’s.
The subjects she became most famous for writing about, outliers at the time, have since become ubiquitous. Her breakthrough hit, “Society’s Child,” written in 1965 when she was 14, was one of the first charting songs to center on an interracial romance.
Her biggest score, "At Seventeen," which reached No. 2 in 1975, confronted lookism and bullying with a candor that anticipated the work of contemporary artists including Billie Eilish, Demi Lovato and Lizzo. Ian was also one of the first gay pop stars to come out in the early ’90s, and she championed free downloads as a promotional device back when the industry did everything it could to shut them down.
Ian had few role models for her self-determined path, citing only Nina Simone and Victoria Spivey, a blues singer and writer who made her first impact in the 1920s. Otherwise, she said, “everything was male-identified.”
The disparity between the world in which she carved her path and today has been on Ian’s mind lately because of a major decision she made in the last year. At 70, she will release her final album, “The Light at the End of the Line,” this Friday, followed by a valedictory tour. “I’m done,” she said, with a mixture of relief and anticipation. Ian said the wear and tear of serving as her own manager and song publisher, along with life as a touring musician, left little time for the thing she loves most.
“I’m a writer first,” she said. “I care desperately about writing — any kind of writing.”
That includes haiku, short stories and a novel she hopes to finish in her coming life. She’ll work on everything in a nearly completed addition to her home, on an island in Tampa Bay where she lives with her wife of 19 years, Patricia Snyder, a retired criminal defense lawyer.
Her final songs have a summary mission. In the title track, an elegant acoustic ballad, she bids adieu to her fans. “Some of them have stuck with me for 56 years,” she said. “That’s longer than I’ve known most of my family.” In “I’m Still Standing,” the stalwart melody underscores lyrics that embrace the physical changes brought by time, which, Ian said, explains the white hair and lack of makeup she proudly sported in our interview. In the classically influenced piano piece “Nina,” she salutes one of the artists she most admires, her friend, Nina Simone, who cut a bracingly rueful version of Ian’s song “Stars” in 1976.
“Nina was so complicated,” Ian said. “She could be the most astonishing friend and also the most horrible person. But, as a solo performer, she was the single best I’ve ever seen.”
Some of the new songs are more expressly political. “Perfect Little Girl” extends the theme of “At 17,” (<--that's a live version from 1976, so if you want to hear it again, there you go.) while in “Resist” she repurposes the social protest of earlier songs with lyrics that, among other things, use raw language to capture the violence of female genital mutilation. As with “Society’s Child,” some radio stations have told her they won’t play it. “They said it’s too suggestive,” Ian said. “Is the song sexual in some way I’m not aware of?”
Ian was reared to raise such questions. Her father, a music teacher, and her mother, a secretary at a college, ran a progressive summer camp in upstate New York. Because of her parents’ politics, the FBI tapped the family phone, tracked their activities and discouraged schools from hiring her father, which she wrote about on the 2000 album “God and the FBI.”
Ian’s upbringing in the mainly Black area of East Orange, N.J., helped inspire her to write “Society’s Child” in 1965, one year after the Civil Rights Act was passed. Her producer, Shadow Morton, a key shaper of the girl group sound, had a deal with Atlantic Records that financed the recording, but the label declined to release it. Ian was never told why, though she said Jerry Wexler, the Atlantic president at the time, later apologized for the decision. Verve Records picked up the song and released it twice in 1966, without success.
A major break came the next year when she was invited to appear on a CBS-TV special, “Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution,” for which the host Leonard Bernstein used his enormous cultural currency to lend legitimacy to the explosive new music of the ’60s. Ian said her song “wouldn’t have gone anywhere without the show.” Yet its focus on race scared off enough radio stations to halt its charge up the Billboard chart at No. 14.
After “Society’s Child,” Verve released three more Ian albums that failed, but in 1973, Roberta Flack covered her song “Jesse” and scored a hit, which helped Ian get a contract with Columbia Records. “Janis Ian wrote songs that touch my heart,” Flack wrote in an email. “She tells stories in her songs that many of us can relate to — tender experiences that help us articulate what we feel about how the world treats us in so many ways.”
Ian’s second album for the label, “Between the Lines,” featured “At Seventeen,” with lyrics capturing the naked shame Ian felt at being considered “an ugly duckling” with an honesty so brutal, it made some people uncomfortable — including its author. “That song was scary to write and scary to sing,” she said. “I would sing it with my eyes closed because I was so sure the audience would laugh at me. It was astonishing to me to realize, first, that they weren’t laughing. And, second, that it applied to boys too.”
The song’s nuanced and erudite lyrics also accounted for the loss of self that can be suffered by women considered the most desirable — the very type who bullied Ian. “Their lives are an eternal beauty contest,” she said.
Ian believes her willingness to write about uncomfortable subjects has become her métier. “Plenty of other artists have a gift for melody and vocals and great lyrics,” she said. “The only thing I think I do better is to talk about things that people have a hard time voicing. I give them a safe way to voice them.”
Though Ian finds it distressing that the difficult subjects she has written about remain relevant decades later, as she prepares to leave the music business, she believes the world has changed considerably from when she started. “It’s too easy to fall down that rabbit hole of saying ‘nothing has improved,’” she said. “I can no longer be arrested in this country for being gay. That’s a huge difference. I firmly believe that things work out the way they’re supposed to. Whether that will be in my lifetime, I don’t know. But I do believe things will be better.”
Local Manny famously misuses, possibly abuses, at least overtests every bike he gets, which is just another way of saying he, uhm, stretches them a little thin. I don't say this to glorify him, and certainly not the opposite, which I could never in a million years do. It is just a good way to introduce these photos I took after he got back from a mucky trail ride on, naturally, his Roadini. When we put "road" somewhere in the name, we figure. it'll sink in, drive home the point, and be respected. We pick the tubes to be suitable for road riding, design the steering and clearances for road riding, and so on.
But even on our road bikes, we build in more tire/fender clearance, because we assume 32mm tires minimum. Manny pushing things gives me an opportunity to say what I say below these two photos, and if you look at the photos, you're required to read the stuff below them, please.
Manny's Roadini front brake. That curlique with the dots has never looked better.
We're STILL on a mission to save the rim brake, but the photo op was irresistible.
Here's the deal: The tires rolled free thru all of it. I should have shot a video of the wheel spinning silently. No doubt it got a little jammed on the ride, but the tire creates its own tunnel thought all kinds of muck, and the rim brakes still work remarkably well. In mud like this, disc brakes...OK, sure, I'll fold 'em...but I think people who don't ride in muck usually think it's more hopeless than it is. I HATE muck, and it's not good for trails to ride in it, but something you're on a ride that's going just fine, and you come to the low and shady side of the hill and suddenly everything is jamming up.
No biggie, you get a stick and pry it out and get on with it, then hose the bike off when you get home, and relube the chain. Manny knows all this. He didn't even point out the muck when he got back here. Riding a bike means dealing with less than ideal circumstances now and then. Not looking for the tool that prevents them when there isn't one, not blaming gear for jamming up when you ride in muck. Manny'd never do that, he'd just laugh and fix it and go.
By the way, 28 percent of the Charlies born in recent years have been biologically female, and spelled C-H-A-R-L-I-E, not Charly or Charlize or Charli.
Two emailers have reminded me of this, too:
Charlie is cool for a boy or a girl.
More squawking about modern front derailers, but this time by showing you a typical early-'90s model, and how great it is:
HELMETS: I"m shocked at the lack of mean-mail I've received for being openly helmet-skeptical. Thank you. I know it sounds horrid to say this, but I think I know more about the whole helmet story than many of the people who trust them to death, and when I don't wear one, which is most of the time, I am comfortable with that. I am glad Daughter No. 2 wears one. I wish Daughter No. 1 would. I wish my wife would. They all know the deal with daddy, they know he thinks he knows, they believe he's probably right about his logic against helmets, and then, whatever.
Well anyway, there's ONE helmet I LIKE. I won't wear it all the time, but when I ride at night and those reflecto-dots can do what the good Lord intended them to do, I'll wear it probably a lot. On trails, no. I think all helmets on trails give off an aggressive vibe, although this one, I don't think so. It's ROUND, it has a stubby bill, it's unpretentious, it's not trying to make you look fast, and it has all kinds of room for stickers:
Two more to go, different views, but you've got the idea by now:
It looks like a polkadotted gumball decorated with life-saving (via collision-preventing) reflector dots, and I think we can all agree—even Joe Manchin and Stacy Abrams would agree—that's the best helmet-look of all time.
Here's the same view, backside of the same damn helmet, showing how great the reflective stuff works.
We sell the reflective tape by the 18-inch section. This is my helmet, I rode it home last night and rode 4:50 up a hill that usually takes me 5:05 to 5:15, but I usually have a load of stuff in the bags and baskets and rack, and this time I was on Charlie H. Gallop, the speed-demon of the world.
We give ALL of our profit from sales of the helmet to charity—like, $45 per helmet. This isn't "virtue signaling," it's just a fact, knowing it will help the causes. It means that if you're going to get a THOUSAND brand helmet and you can live with the ONLY color we sell, which is that shiny gray, then we're your people for it, that's all. But the shiny gray is just your blank canvas, right? If you want to get a THOUSAND helmet from us...
Word is traveling fast about Peter Johnson. Twice I've been asked, "Did you hear yet?" No need to even say his name, if you knew Peter, no need for that.