There’s a famous adage in the bicycle industry, confirmed by a good dose of reality: if you want to make a million dollars, start out with 2 million.
Conventional wisdom holds that to maintain profits, you must meet the specific demands of the marketplace, be flexible with these shifting demands and, if possible, do it for lower cost than your competitors. Or, put another way, you must chase trends.
Rivendell Bicycle Works proprietor Grant Petersen began his enterprise in 1994 with $89,000 in capital: a mix of retirement money, savings and funds raised from stock sales to friends.
Today, Rivendell’s annual sales are 2.8 million, and their ten person staff works from a 6,000 square foot facility in Walnut Creek, California, close to some of the best cycling in the country.
While it’s safe to say that Petersen’s annual compensation is far south of one million dollars, and the threat of losses looms close (“cash flow is our own personal wolf-at-the-door,” he writes), Rivendell has been profitable 10 of its 25 years of existence.
The paradigm of industry insolvency is just one of many trends that Petersen and Rivendell choose not to follow. Their bicycles and gear are iconoclastic examples of timeless products, meant to be cherished and ridden into the ground, and then passed on to the next generation to do the same.
Racing bikes and gear are by nature trendy, and Rivendell rejects the “racing-centric” orientation of the bicycle industry. You’re not likely to see a Rivendell bicycle on the start line of a race, but you might see one leaning against a wooden fence, or at the door of an old-time general store, icons of the timeless and pleasurable experience that a day of leisurely cycling in the countryside provides.
Classic and traditional (read timeless) lines define the look of Rivendell’s bikes. Case in point is the A. Homer Hilsen, what Rivendell calls a “country bike”, meaning it can handle a variety of road surfaces that one might encounter during a pastoral jaunt. The A. Homer Hilsen is available as a frameset, or as a complete bike with an “a la carte” build. Besides its stately good looks, what’s particularly smart about the Hilsen is the use of 650b wheels on frame sizes 58cm and smaller, and larger, 700c wheels on the rangy 61.5 and 64cm sizes. Rivendell has not made the switch to disc brakes, so you can’t switch out wheel sizes, but as with all Rivendell’s products, design has been thought out very well, and the wheel size choice makes perfect sense out on the road or trail.
As you might expect, Rivendell rejects the categorization of bicycles these days (in particular the gravel bike trend), preferring to see their bikes as each having individual personalities (this is reflected in the proper names many of their models have). For marketing purposes, however, they have created three categories for their bikes, all of which are made of steel: The Road bikes (Roadini and Roadeo), the Country bikes (A. Homer Hilsen, Sam Hillborne, Cheviot) and the Hill bikes, which are something like mountain bikes and/or loaded touring bikes (Gus Boots-Willsen, Susie W. Longbolts, Clem Smith Jr.) All of Rivendell’s bikes start as bare framesets, which the buyer can then outfit with a custom parts selection from the many compatible components Rivendell stocks.
Supporting the pleasure cycling lifestyle are a whole range of products Rivendell offers at its website, everything from bandannas to bells. Rivendell even sells the venerable kickstand, de rigeur for bikes during my 1970s youth, but often eschewed these days by “serious” cyclists.
Being serious about aerodynamics or light weight is not part of Rivendell’s approach to cycling. Petersen is famous for his well-written catalogues from the 1980s and early 90s when he was at the helm of Bridgestone USA, and his light-hearted approach and self-deprecation infuses the Rivendell website and blog, which is well worth the visit.
If you’re looking to rediscover your love for cycling, visit Rivendell’s website or, better yet, swing your leg over one of their bicycles and truly enjoy your ride.