Autumn Gear Guide
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Bikes built by the philosophy of fun.
Tucked behind Kevin’s Noodle House in Walnut Creek, CA, 28 miles (45 kilometers) east of San Francisco, is the home of Rivendell Bicycle Works. “Our mission is to make things that wouldn’t be made if we weren’t here,” wrote founder Grant Petersen about his company dedicated to an accessible and relaxed approach to cycling. Rivendell bicycles are beautifully made – assembled with good-looking, well made parts. They are also probably the largest American dealer in pine tar soap.
Named in homage to the producers of the legendary hiker’s backpack, the Jensen Pack by Rivendell Mountain Works, (which took its name from the fictional refuge in The Lord of the Rings), Petersen’s approach to bicycles aims to mimic that of the famous bag maker. “At no time in [Rivendell Mountain Works’] brief history did it exaggerate claims, cave in to market pressures, or veer off the path it started on,” wrote Petersen, “it was something to live up to.”
Petersen’s distinctive voice can be heard throughout Rivendell’s website, on Blug (their lug blog), and within the company’s exceptionally detailed catalogs. His honest and personable writing style makes you feel like you are sitting down for a coffee, casually talking wheels and hubs with a passionate expert. In an industry that can be overwhelmingly focused on the latest technologies and constant competition, Petersen’s approach is casual, detailed, and welcoming.
“I think of the process of questioning racing’s ways and coming up with more livable alternatives as unracing … you give up posturing and quit the pecking order. You enjoy bikes again, the way you did as a kid, before you got so serious,” wrote Petersen in his book, Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike. “And when you’re fully self-actualized as a rider, you’re an Unracer.”
Petersen’s philosophy and personality often take center stage when Rivendell is written about, something that the founder has recently made an effort to change. In the short film Rivendell People, by Jay Bird Films, Petersen introduced viewers to the employees who proudly and passionately work to keep Rivendell effectively and efficiently on its feet. The team at Rivendell is dedicated to the business – each person bringing their expertise and passions to their role whether it is assembling bikes, assisting customers with the intricate process of finding the best bike for them, packaging and shipping, or ordering parts sourced from around the world. “My biggest concern with the business is keeping good people employed,” said Petersen in the film. “When I worry about the business, I worry about the people that work here.”
This team routinely takes to trails in the hills surrounding Walnut Creek, packing up for an overnight camping trip on their bikes, something that Petersen has named an S24O, a sub 24-hour overnight. “We load up the bags and baskets with what we need for the night … just one mile of pavement-free earth between you and the city lights and noise is enough isolation to let you pretend you’re in the boonies,” wrote Petersen of the inspiration for these short trips.
When it comes to the bicycles designed, customized, and fully outfitted by Rivendell, the focus is clearly built around Petersen’s philosophy of riding because it is fun, whether for commuting, recreation, camping, or any other reason. 2013 saw the opening of Rivendell Bike Book and Hatchet, a retail store in Walnut Creek. The space features bicycling products from Rivendell and many of their preferred component suppliers such as Japanese brand Nitto. What makes it a unique bicycle shop is the selection of hatchets and purposely chosen books.
Rivendell’s product range consists of a variety of frames, each of which can be built upon and personalized through customer choices with guidance from the Rivendell team. As detailed in the catalog and online, the selection of parts are carefully chosen for specific reasons of quality and practicality. Peterson is the first to admit that this caliber of product is not cheap. In Rivendell’s latest catalog, The Twentieth Catalog, Peterson reminded us that with the perfect quality parts, “The right switch makes a bike that felt crappy feel great. Pains go away immediately. Doctor bills fly out the door. Suddenly you’re rich.”
In 2014, Rivendell introduced the Cheviot, a step-through frame described as their “most all-around useful, comfortable, democratic bike.” Designed for upright, everyday riding, the Cheviot features beautifully considered details including small, blue hearts on frame lugs and a custom head badge embossed with a stoic Cheviot sheep. Like all Rivendell bicycles, the Cheviot is sold as a steel frame, fork, headset, and bottom bracket from where the team at Rivendell, in particular Keven, helps you determine the right direction for selecting components including wheels, hubs, dynamo lighting, handlebars, and more. Built kits can be selected when ordering online, but customers are welcome to customize to their heart’s content.
As a company built on a philosophy of eliminating the fuss over trends, growth, and marketplace expectations, Rivendell has carved out a unique space to focus on what they and their customers are interested in: having a good time on a great bike.