Guest Editorial by Harold McGruther, Jr. Known in the two-wheeler world, as "McGoo." I'm not asking for or accepting Guest Editorials, but I'll take just this one, and I'm printing it as received. —G
I suspect Grant will pen an introduction to this guest appearance on his blahg, but if he doesn’t, here’s mine:
Only one of us is likely to remember the circumstances so vividly, but I met Grant for the first time at Merida bicycle factory in Taiwan in the fall of 1989. I was the recently hired BMX product and marketing manager for Mongoose at the time, and my boss Bob Margevicius introduced me to his peer in the showroom at the factory where Bridgestones, Mongeese, and nearly a half-million other high-quality bicycles were manufactured. If memory serves, Ike and Grace Cheng—the siblings who founded and managed Taiwan’s second-largest OEM—were also present. Everyone was cordial to the 20-something BMX nerd in the room as I struggled to avoid embarrassing myself in front of my mentor and his friends, then we went back to hashing out specs and pricing for new models.
Grant and I met again a couple years later, this time in the Bridgestone booth at Interbike. Everyone’s ‘92 models were on display, but that’s not what had spoke sniffers like me buzzing. Bridgestone’s groundbreaking catalog (link to https://www.sheldonbrown.com/bridgestone/1992/1992.pdf ) debuted at that event, and it was a doozie. Jam packed with rich illustrations, inspiring descriptions, and an unprecedented number of tech primers, tack-sharp media reviews, and thought-provoking rants and raves, Grant’s magnum opus was the talk of the show among ad hacks and media scribes, this freshman member of that dubious club included. Before that day, everything I’d written for Mongoose, GT, and the half-dozen other BMX brands I’d shilled for in my short career was bloated, bombastic, and always rooted in competition or winning. Grant’s prose was—and is—friendly, informative, and fun. I was gobsmacked, and parked my BMX bike to noodle on analog, multi-speed steel mountain and road bikes immediately. I consummated my relationship with RBW at the turn of the new century by acquiring an Atlantis frameset and a dog’s breakfast of parts from Shimano, Campagnolo, Dia-Compe, Sun Tour, and Nitto. I’ve been a Rivendell fan and customer ever since.
Fast forward a decade or two. I had to sell my Atlantis to finance Real Life when a growing force called social media began pushing dinosaurs like me into the tar pits. Sensing a cultural and technical shift in the bike business I didn’t want to navigate, I started a small hard parts and riding gear brand for motorcyclers called Biltwell. Full disclosure: I got into BMX in 1974 after Santa shoved a Schwinn Orange Krate down my chimney, but had ridden minibikes and motorcycles since I was nine. Our company pinpointed and popularized a hidden niche in that space, one populated by riders who resist fads, abhor fake bad-boy tomfoolery, and take pride in riding, servicing, and customizing vintage American, Japanese, and British motorcycles. Through our brand’s digital and print media we promote overnight rides and campouts, DIY tips for home customizing, classically styled riding gear, and smart luggage for commuting and touring. Sound familiar?
Bicycles, that Bridgestone catalog, and Grant’s two-wheeled worldview deserve much of the credit for my current contentment and success. Grant’s Blahg compels me to slow down and think. In the fact-deprived, hyper-accelerated cyberworld we live in, how could that be a bad thing? Rivendell’s raison d'être impacts everything I try to do with my own business, however incongruous the two brands might seem. Every Silver shifter or Banana sack has inspired a similarly simple contraption for motorbikes at my own company. Not everything we do or make or say pleases everyone, but we never stop trying. Neither does Grant, and he’s been zigging while everyone else zags for half a century. If the man wants to sell artisan soap, talk about mailboxes, shoot black-and-white film, build boutique derailleurs, or offer discounts to black people, we should let him. Running a business that provides goods for like-minded customers and jobs for like-minded employees for 30 years isn’t easy, but Grant keeps doing it because it’s what he loves, and likely more than half of everything he knows. In a recent email I told the man I barely know but consider a lifelong friend I’d pinch hit for him on the blahg should he ever want a break—Lord knows he’s earned it. Vainglorious though my offer might have been, to my surprise and elation he said yes.
Now that everyone’s up to speed, let’s talk about swimming holes, Japanese scissors, a simple oatmeal recipe, and of course, bicycles.
My friend Duane Ballard is a leather crafter (link to https://dbcustomleather.com ) by trade and an OCD tinkerer by nature. While he respects the traditions of his time-honored profession, he’s not such a Luddite he’ll dismiss a high-tech tool if it might help him hone his craft. Example: Duane uses a desktop 3D printer and CAD software to design and make custom die stamps when customer projects demand it; a Masonic insignia for a wallet, for example, or a fluer-de-lys for the tooled saddle on a New Orleans Saint’s Harley. Duane rarely endorses his favorite tools of the trade on social media (he like to maintain some mystique, and considers it crass), so it stopped my wife in her tracks when he showcased his newest favorite tool on Instagram: a pair of Japanese-made, high-carbon steel scissors. I’m not on social media (I AM a proud Luddite), so Paula seized the opportunity to buy me a pair of Kai scissors, model 7250L. The L stands for left-handed, a malady I’ve endured since birth.
Last night I used my Kai scissors to cut some stainless-steel screen to make a spark arrestor for the chiminea in our backyard. Duane uses his 100 times a week to cut leather, sometimes chunks a quarter-inch thick. I’m not someone to tell anyone how to run their business, but I’d have bought a pair of these from Rivendell 20 years ago if Grant’s gang sold them. Like Nitto racks, cartridge bottom brackets and Mary Poppins, they’re practically perfect in every way. Get two pair—one for work and another for home—here. (Link to https://kaiscissors.com/kai-7230-se-9-inch-serrated-professional-shears/
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
When doctors determined I needed multi-segmental maxilla/mandibular reconstructive surgery to cure my TMJ—a rare malady in middle-aged men—I ate like a billy goat for a year to fatten up for the 90 days I’d be wired shut and on a liquid diet post-op. In the 12 months leading to surgery I swelled up to 242 pounds. At the six-week mark during recuperation Doc cleared me for light exercise, so I put some mustache bars on a Schwinn road bike hanging in the rafters and started pedaling around my Southern California home. To mark my progress, I logged daily miles, body weight, and calories on a spreadsheet. Two years after surgery I had shed 72 pounds, and was averaging 500 miles per month. Thanks to some body-related self-shame on my part and Grant’s tips for better riding, I had become a cycler.
Part of joining that tribe meant eating better than I did when I was a BMX kid. Oatmeal became my go-to every morning, and sometimes as a savory snack at night. Here’s the recipe I’ve fine-tuned over the years with recommendations from vegan friends, and my health-conscious hippy wife Paula:
Microwave Oatmeal for Two
2/3-cup Quaker Oats (if you prefer fancier steel-cut brands, be my guest)
1 tablespoon each hemp hearts and chia seeds
2 tablespoons blue agave or maple syrup
A pinch of salt
More than a splash/less than a huge swig of lactose-free cow milk, soy milk, or any nut “milk” you please
2 cups water
Put everything in a big, microwave-safe glass bowl and stir. Cover with a plastic splatter guard for microwaves and cook on half power for 8 minutes. If you don’t have a splatter guard, sacrifice one snap-tight plastic lid that fits your bowl by slicing five or six two-sided triangle shapes in the lid and bending them down to create vents. Don’t put a tight lid on the bowl—the oatmeal will boil over and make a huge mess. If you’re plastic-averse, an inverted dinner plate on top will also create the steamy environment desired, but beware: boil-over might muck up the bottom of your microwave. After eight minutes remove your cauldron and give the contents a stir. Return to the microwave for 90 seconds on high. Throw a handful of berries—the frozen medley is my jam—into the bowl after heating and enjoy. For a more savory/less sweat gruel, delete the syrup and add a scoop of peanut butter and a fistful of spinach after heating—it tastes better than it sounds.
SUNSHINE STATE OF MIND
Florida gets a bad rap for the outrageous behavior of some of its less-savory citizens, but it was my childhood home. For a brief but telling sample of absurdities that occur in the Sunshine State every day, Google “Florida” and the day and month of your birth, then watch the fun. (Link to https://www.kiro7.com/news/trending/florida-man-known-monkey-whisperer-arrested-illegally-selling-primates/2JXFDADYOFETJIHRYKRAJGIZVY/ ). The natural habitat for flamingos, manatees, and recently retired narcissistic sociopaths is also home to nearly 800 freshwater springs. Few things are more satisfying than soaking your weary bones in 72° crystal-clear water after a sweaty ride. One of the smallest and most beautiful is Silver Glen Springs 25 miles northwest of Daytona Beach. Silver Glen used to be a privately operated campground, but when its owners ran aground on dire financial straits, the US Parks Service assumed ownership and turned the place of my youth into a nature preserve and swimming hole.
If you like your rides flat and your air steamy, you can’t do much better than a day trip to Silver Glen (link to https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/ocala/recarea/?recid=37199).
CHARIOTS OF FIRE
Last April, due to a mindless oversight on my part during a wood refinishing project, I burned our attached two-car garage to the ground.
The balance of everything we owned was destroyed by smoke, fire, water, or all three. Major losses included my wife’s stunning collection of mid-century modern dinnerware, my 10-year-old stepson’s Nerf arsenal, seven bicycles, and three motorcycles. We’re whole again after 11 months of hustle and hassle with insurance adjusters, contractors, city inspectors and HOAs, but my personal quiver is down to two bicycles: an FS MTB, and a steel city bike a lifelong friend and product manager at Jamis gifted me after the fire. The former bike survived because it was parked at the office with my co-workers’ full-suspension MTBs—remember, I’m in the motorcycle business now, and the 20-somethings in our talent pool grew up watching freestyle motocross and extreme mountain-biking on YouTube. When in Rome…
Anyway, I’m in the market for another Rivendell, and plan to build one after my knee replacement this fall. Swimming, walking, and cycling, doctors tell me, are the only things I can reasonably hope to continue doing without pain or fear of prosthetic failure. I’ll donate my basketball and tennis rackets to our kid’s middle school. Motorcycle rides in the desert surrounding my SoCal home are also out of the question. A shame, because it was machines like my ‘74 Hodaka Dirt Squirt that got me popping wheelies on an Orange Krate 50 years ago, and why I moved to California in ‘82 to work in the bicycle business. They say anything that doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. After our fire and the injuries to my knee it exacerbated during ten months on the job site, I feel wonderful. A Gus-Boots Willsen will make me feel immortal.
To Grant and everyone else at Rivendell, thanks for keeping me and others who love smart, practical bicycles on a solid path.
– Harold “McGoo” McGruther
NOT DOING MAILBOXES AGAIN, but this waaay too late submission got to me:
I imagine this is one of the most photographed scenes in this great land of ours. I'll take the one on the far right and sixth from the left, and ye olde antlers.
Now that telephone poles are on everybody's mind, a reader sent me this, which is seriously right up my alley:
Sorry if it's not right up yours. Maybe this is:
Fancy use for a particular kind of old telephone poles, of particular interest to those of you in Portland, Or.
The thinking in the bicycle bizness, not that we're that much in it, but I read the trade magazines for morsels, is that the bike industry leaders in motor-assist bikes (maBikes, I like that more than eBikes) are going to rule the electric motorcycle world of the future, and Harley, Yamaha, Ducati, BMW, Honda, Triump, and whoever else is in there, are going to be their breakfast.
It makes sense, doesn't it? Once smaller powerfuller motors are available, why go 30 when you can go 100? I am a motorcycle fan already, but they terrify me. Two bad experiences I don't need to go into.
This photo taken, it couldn't possibly matter, at about 7pm on Thurs July 8.
I am PRO motor-assist electic bicycles for any kind of road use. Not on trails, though. In my area, there are distinct and tons of (red-dotten above) "e-lanes." It COULD be normal mountain bikes, if there is such a thing still, but lots of these e-lanes are popping up on trails that normal bikes rarely go on because they're hard to get to. I see the motor-assisted riders making their own paths. I used to seek out the smoothest way on a bumpy trail, and that's still a good habit to have, but these days if the smooth way is an e-lane, I'm not taking it. This is my high-horse thing, just thought I'd throw it out there.
BSNYC always has interesting posts and comments. I like this one from July 7. It is about politics and bicycle forks, two things right down my aisle.
I like his speculations as to WHY, after three years, still. How many people have passed on the opportunity to point it out, y ¿por que?
1984 was the last year of the best values in bicycles, a year when $290 got you a bike that, if it were made today, would cost $1200. It was the last year without indexing, too, but that's not why I say it was the best-value year.
The dollar-yen exchange rate changed drastically against the dollar and the Great Cheapening began in 1985. Everybody had to reduce manufacturing costs. Shimano was pounding SunTour and had better indexing, so SunTour made the mistake of going the opposite direction of EVERYBODY else for the 1986 year. Instead of cheapening, they pulled out all the fancy stops and INCREASED the manufacturing costs throughout the line. They refined the power ratchet shifting mechanism (same one we have in the Silver shifters) and used it in the top two groups--Superbe Pro and Sprint. The equivalent Shimano Group, 600 EX, was good but not super duper. SunTour underpriced Shimano even tho it cost more to make, because they figured that with better parts, super nice finished, lower prices, they could get spec and loyalty, but it didn't happen. Shimano's 600EX cost more than SunTour Sprint, but the perception was that it was worse BECAUSE it cost less; plus it didn't index.
At Bstone we ordered about 4,000 bikes with SunTour Sprint. THe started coming to us in November, and by the next August we still had about 3,500. NOBODY bought them. When I found this Sprint derailer today and looked at it, it look to me, by 2021 standards and prices, like a $390 derailer. No derailer will ever be made with that attention to detail, finish, design, and value again. That stuff doesn't work in the regular market. Shimano's XTR of the early '90s was the closest. THere were lots of XTR derailers, all good, but some slicker than others.