In his new book Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike, Grant Petersen, the founder of Rivendell Bicycle Works, explains what an “Unracer” is and why we should all strive to be one. “Unracing” is a riding lifestyle that affects everything from how you ride to what you eat, what you wear, and even what sort of pump you carry. Unracers avoid the spandex-clad posturing of competitive cycling and ride for the pure joy of it. Carbon-fiber? Nope. It’s steel for them, thanks. Counting miles? Um, I don’t think so. Tight-fitting jersey? They’ll take a long-sleeved seersucker, please. (Yes, seersucker. Or a cowboy shirt.) Unracers reject what they see as the growing commercialism of today’s cycling scene and the cycling industry’s emphasis on pro-racing-style gear and apparel for everyone—even newbies and amateurs, who will likely never race in their lives. Embracing the Unracing philosophy means you get to rediscover the joy you felt as a kid when you rode your three-speed around the block barefoot on hot summer nights. In the words of Peterson, “riding is best for you when it’s fun.”
Petersen’s overall message might be “Get out there and have fun,” but the rest of the book is devoted to practical advice for riders of all types (from an Unracer’s perspective, of course). You might be thinking, “I already know how to ride my bike, so why would I read a book about it?” Good question. For someone like me who doesn’t know squat about cycling, this book is helpful. It provides handy tips from a decidedly unique perspective (I don’t know how I feel about intentionally swerving my bike to force a passing car to give me more room ["The Predictability Ruse," page 38]). For what it’s worth, I didn’t know what a “masher” was or what “KOPS” stood for or that the nose of a bicycle seat acts as a rudder (try riding on a noseless seat). Petersen explains all that. He covers how to ride, what to wear, how to be safe, how to fuel your body, how to perform proper bike maintenance, how to deal with vicious dogs, and other subjects like “The Dark Side of Charity Rides” (page 186) or “How to Make Your Family Hate Riding” (or what NOT to do when trying to get loved ones to ride with you) (page 190).
For an experienced cyclist, this book is probably less informative than it is entertaining. Even if you disagree with Petersen’s Unracing stance, you can still appreciate his honesty. Petersen knows his book will piss people off, but he feels compelled to point out what he sees as “bike racing’s bad influence on bicycles, equipment, and attitudes.” And as the founder of a major bike company and a cyclist for over 40 years, he also has serious knowledge to dispense.
The book is portable and easy to digest. It’s broken into eight parts with 10–15 tiny chapters in each. You could read this book in one night and hit the streets like an Unracing pro the next morning. The long and narrow shape of the printed book means you can easily stow it in a pocket or pannier for convenient retrieval if, say, you need advice on “Putting Your Chain Back On if It Falls Off” (page 121).
Not everyone will agree with Petersen that the racing mentality is killing cycling. There’s something to be said for setting mileage goals, going for long training rides, and riding competitively. While not everyone can pull off spandex bib shorts and a tight jersey, not everyone can pull off a long-sleeved seersucker shirt on a steel-frame bike with a Brooks saddle. The key is finding your niche, whether you are an Unracer or a “serious cyclist.” Just Ride might become your bible. It might help you reconnect with your inner child and rediscover the joy you once felt riding your bike off into the sunset. Or it might leave you annoyed and ready to ride 50 miles on your carbon-frame bike. Whatever your take on it, it’s undeniable that Just Ride serves an important function by removing some of the intimidation factor surrounding cycling. If Petersen’s book gets more people riding their bikes, that’s a good thing.
Tina Roselle is the webmaster of this little rag. She doesn’t ride her bikes as much as she should. If you have any questions about the article, feel free to ask her.