Rivendell Bicycle Works

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Anonymous's picture

Interesting article on new boutique bike firm in Walnut Creek CA with 8 workers producing steel bikes with manual derailleurs. 2003 sales were $2 million--600 hand built bikes. The company also publishes a literary quarterly called the Rivendell Reader covering interesting biking articles.

Anonymous's picture
Evan Marks (not verified)
Why buy the cow when milk is free?

Or, why buy the magazine when the article is online?


Anonymous's picture
Mordecai Silver (not verified)
Forbes article

"The writer says that G.P. prefers ""manual derailleurs over electronic gear shifters."" He doesn't know that the latter are not (yet) common on bicycles, even those made of titanium and carbon fiber. Almost every derailleur on the market is of the manual kind.

To subscribe to the Rivendell Reader, go to their website. It's one of the best cycling periodicals today and very well worth reading.

I copied the article below. To me it was informative about Rivendell's financial affairs.


Easy Rider
David Whelan, 04.19.04

High-end Rivendell bicycles are as intriguing--and quirky--as the guy who makes them.
He is known in the bicycle industry as the ""reto-grouch."" Grant Petersen doesn't like the label, but he pleads guilty to spurning titanium and carbon fiber in favor of good old-fashioned steel and preferring manual derailleurs over electronic gear shifters. ""Our whole business is based on selling things that are unpopular,"" says the 49-year-old founder and sole owner of Rivendell Bicycle Works. Selling 600 or so hand-built bikes a year, Rivendell had an operating profit of $70,000 on sales of $2 million in 2003. (He also retired $200,000 in debt early.) The signature model is easy to spot: wide leather seat, frame joints formed by decorative lugs (intended to evoke Rivendell's namesake, the elf haven in Lord of the Rings) and a spiffy paint job.

Having stopped losses two years ago, Petersen still keeps costs low. He rents space for $3,000 a month in an unheated garage in Walnut Creek, Calif. His eight workers--including his wife, who keeps the books--make $30,000 on average, though they should get bonuses this year if revenue tops $2.6 million as hoped. The beeswax lubricant he sells for bolt threads ($3 a Dixie-cupful) he still makes in his kitchen.

Such habits formed early. A college dropout, Petersen joined Japanese conglomerate Bridgestone in 1984 as the in-house American bike nut, getting involved in production and sales. His qualifications: He had been a clerk for outdoor retailer REI in Berkeley and had written two books about California bike trails. While helping to design bicycles, he so complained about Bridgestone's advertising that his Japanese boss dumped the job in his lap and fired the agency.

""He's very strong-headed,"" says Ariadne Scott, a former Bridgestone colleague who now works for the $200 million (sales) bike company Specialized. Bridgestone became known for making the ""thinking man's bicycle"" because each ad spotlighted a different piece of equipment instead of a racing finish. Models from that era still command resale values of a few hundred bucks. When Bridgestone folded its U.S. bike unit in 1994--it blamed currency woes--Petersen received four offers to double his $55,000 salary.

Instead, he rode off on his own, raising $90,000 by cashing out half his 401(k) plan and selling shares of Rivendell at $1 apiece to friends. He used a mailing list of former Bridgestone customers to rustle up orders for bikes he designed himself. Dissatisfied with the quality of work on his flagship bikes ($2,500 for just the frame; $4,000 fully loaded), Petersen went through several artisans--and $2,500 casting a set of lugs that didn't fit well--before settling on a single frame builder and but one painter for his bikes. ""I can detect the land mines pretty well after having stepped on several,"" he says.

To scare up more business, Petersen started publishing a literary quarterly called the Rivendell Reader. For $20 a year ($200 for 99 years), subscribers get treated to idiosyncratic bits of biking lore (""Comparing Centerpulls & Cantilevers""), medical advice on such maladies as ""cyclist's palsy"" (who knew?) by a contributor from the Mayo Clinic and essays on riding"

Anonymous's picture
David R (not verified)
"""manual"" shifting"

"By ""manual"" shifting, Grant means non-indexed, or friction shifting. It's very hard to find shifters these days that don't ""click"" into place with each shift, but about 16 years ago, it was a novelty. The problem with them is that they require a specific brand of freewheel, dropout spacing, chainrings and even chain to work as intended. Friction shifters don't care what brand or model you are using--you can use Shimano shifters with a Campagnolo cassette and a no-name chain. It will work, it just won't be indexed, so if you overshift, you'll go right past the gear you were shifting into.

Grant's arguement is that it's not all that hard to learn friction shifting, and then you can use any part on any bike without worry. This is a particularly good point regarding touring, since you could have a mishap that forces you to buy some part at a local bike store that just won't work with your set-up. If your bike has shifters with no provision for friction shifting, you are SOL.

The only shifters that offer both indexing and friction are downtube and bar-end shifters--sorry, no brake lever shifters. Personally, I prefer indexing because I'm strong enough (well, at least large enough) to flex frames to the point where they tug at the cables, causing, for example, an upshift when I'm climbing a hill out of the saddle (the last place I want an unplanned shift).

Grant's philosophy is based on his reaction to current marketing, which tends to steer people new to cycling towards a bike built for racing, yet 90% of us never race. If you're interested, check out www.rivbike.com and look for Opinions 101. At lot of what he says applies pretty well to the club (right, Rob??)."

Anonymous's picture
Mordecai Silver (not verified)
"""Manual"" shifting"

"I know that's what Grant means by ""manual"" shifting, but the Forbes reporter thought that ""manual"" is opposed to ""electronic,"" not ""indexed."" Mavic Zap systems are not exactly common on high-end bikes, and Campagnolo's technology is still in the testing stage.

Indexed derailleur shifting was invented (I think) by Suntour, then popularized by Shimano around 1985. (Of course, Sturmey-Archer was already making index-shifting hub gears many, many years before.) Yet click-shifting wasn't used throughout the peloton until the end of the C-Record era (ca. 1992).

Personally, I don't find friction shifting difficult in any way. The great majority of miles I have ridden this year have been with a friction-shifting transmission."

Anonymous's picture
David R (not verified)
electronic shifting

I can't figure out why anyone would bother with electronic shifting. At least two other batteries to worry about. Cables work, don't they??!?

What's next, body temperature displayed on the cyclometer? Guess where that sensor goes!

Anonymous's picture
Judith Tripp (not verified)
Friction shifting w/downtube levers moved to aerobar?

"I have put my Syntace aerobar, with the shifters on the ""aerolink"", back on my road bike (sorry, but it helps my arthritic thumb joint). Before I put it back the shifters were on the downtube and I was using friction shifting as the index shifting had given up the ghost. Now, the index shifting seems to be working semi-OK but there is some skipping. My question is, what will happen if I switch to friction shifting? Will it work, even though the levers are not on the downtube or the bar-end, as explained by David R. above?"

Anonymous's picture
Christian Edstrom (not verified)

It will work fine. The friction/index selection is within the (right) shifter. Whether you put it on the downtube, bar-end, or aerobar has no impact.

- Christian

Anonymous's picture
David Regen (not verified)
lube those cables

It will help if you have clean cables and housings. One of the biggest breakthroughs brought about by indexed shifting is REALLY good cables and housings--the cables are pre-stretched, the housings barely compress. At least start with new cables, and make sure they are lubed (Dura Ace cable/housing sets come pre-lubricated.

If you don't want to replace anything, at least clean and lube the cables--that will go a long way to improving performance.


Anonymous's picture
Judith Tripp (not verified)
Thank you both very much! (nm)
Anonymous's picture
DC (not verified)

The signature Rivendell bikes, made by Curt Goodrich, are as good as any (steel) bike going. Buying a custom Riv, however, is like buying a Richard Sachs, Moon, etc. Like a custom tailored suit, you get what these guys make for you. Now that is normally a good thing, but it is not for everyone. As with Sachs, the wait for a true custom Rivendell is about 2 years now, I believe.

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