My trawls of Sheldon Brown’s website have revealed to me the most incredible bicycle catalogues I’ve ever come across. I’ve seen a few catalogues in my time, such as early 1980s Sakae Ringyo and Tange Champion, and more recent Sturmey Archer catalogues, and they’re all vaguely similar. “Look at this stuff, it’s the latest, the best, it’ll make you faster, here’s a page full of specs.” They’re all like this. I’ve never seen anything like the Bridgestone USA catalogues of 1992, 1993 and 1994. Of course, they have bikes in, and pages of detailed technical specifications. But they have SO MUCH MORE BESIDES.
Have you ever, for example, seen a catalogue showing you the areas where your frame is most likely to fail? Or a detailed description of the hum-drum processes by which individual components are manufactured, and an examination of the ecological impact of material production? Or two whole pages dedicated purely to the art of a well-designed fork crown lug (and that at a time where lugged forks were becoming about as fashionable as smallpox)? Or a description of alternative methods of lubricating your chain, using wax?
Or a catalogue that comes along right in the middle of the paradigm shift to indexed gears and says words to the effect of; yeah, but friction works better once you’ve learned how to use it, and you feel more involved in the bike – it’s better if you learn friction. “You get the blame when you blow it and the satisfaction when you don’t.” For that matter, what bicycle catalogue would take two pages, empty because a frame-only option they were hoping to offer wasn’t ready in time, and fill it instead with an article about hand-made baseball gloves? “Sure, they catch the ball as they should, but at their best, they can remind you why old-fashioned craftsmanship still matters.” It’s supposed to be a bicycle catalogue…
They understandably got something of a cult following, and formed the Bridgestone Owners Bunch, or BOB. I’ve looked through all the issues of the BOB Gazette I can find, and again, the same philosophy comes through. On page 2 young Bob will have an article on why some new-fangled tech like dual-pivot callipers are great, then on page 3 old Bob will refute this, pointing out that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with single pivots, never has been, in some respects they’re still better, so why change? All through the tone is as if they’re not even trying to sell you a bicycle, more that they’re interested in bicycles, and so are you, they know a lot about them, and maybe you don’t, so here’s what they think on the matter and if you agree, good, and if you would maybe consider buying one of their bicycles, then great.
There’s an advert, an April fool I think it must be, where they boast of having “a semi-retired frame builder from the Basque region of Spain, who apprenticed in England, then Italy, before becoming one of France’s most prestigious builders… Our builder has never guaranteed any of his bikes, believing that only those who doubted both his skill and his personal integrity required one.” Now this ad is obviously a joke, but I really wish someone had the balls to say “nope, no guarantee. I’ll build the best frame I know how, and if I say so myself, I know how to make a good frame. And if anything should go awry, if you can’t trust in my integrity to make good then I find that highly disrespectful, and you can sod off.” And I get the feeling the guys at Bridgestone would have said so if they had a free choice.
And this is all from Bridgestone, a very large, pretty straight-laced company, which seems for all the world to have experienced a St Trinians-style coup in its US bicycle division. It’s weird, but it’s wonderful. Of course, it couldn’t last. Bridgestone USA was closed down at the end of 1994, because exchange rates between Yen and Dollar meant they just weren’t making money. What they were making, though, were some incredibly thoughtful bicycles. Thankfully, all is not lost. Grant Petersen, the main driver behind Bridgestone USA, started up Rivendell Cycles as soon as he knew the Bridgestone game was up, and they still build bikes that they think are the best, most well-thought-out bikes they can make. Beautiful, mainly lugged-steel creations with room for fenders and wider tyres. They don’t recommend any tyre under 28mm for the road, and think 32 is probably better still. They want their bikes to be comfortable. I think they’re right.
I’ve found a few issues of the Rivendell Reader, successor to the BOB Gazzette, and it’s a hoot. They seem to have cast off some of the shackles, and really say what they think. “Upgrade your fork from Carbon to Steel!” reads the title of one article. They really like ramming this point home – that carbon forks are doomed to break someday through fatigue, whereas steel ones, if well-made, should last a lifetime. They talk a lot about fatigue. It’s just generally interesting, including an article on a guy who has racked up over a million miles in the saddle, raising over a million dollars for charity as he did so. They’re not slaves to the products they’re trying to sell, anything that’s interesting has a place.
I’ve found some invaluable tips that show me little things I’ve been doing wrong all these years (such as not sanding far enough into the inner tube when applying patches), and just a million tiny little things that make me smile. “Beausage” is a word you come across a few times, and it means something along the lines of “beauty as a result of long-term use”, i.e. the charm of something that’s a bit worn or tatty or shiny because it’s been well-used for a long time. It’s a good word, I’ll use it more often. My bikes have plenty of beausage on show. Also, you know how the distance between pedals on a setup is called the Q-factor, yeah? I found out this is because a big Q-factor makes you more duck-like, and Q stands for quack…
So anyway, why are you reading this when you could be reading the Rivendell Reader?!