The other day an iBOB list serve member shared this little essay about what it means to be a BOB, or a member of the Bridgestone Owners Bunch. I've owned numerous Bridgestones over the years and the general values of BOBs still are good values to keep in mind. This explanatory essay is still a good reference point and clearly sets the stage for what would become Rivendell Bicycle Works in 1994.
What the Hell is a Bob?
He wrote the advertisements for the company, and they were a bit unusual by including very little or any marketing hype. Instead, Grant took the effort to explain why the bicycles he helped design were good. He did this without puffery and without running down the competition. They were...thoughtful...advertisements. Thought-provoking. Cyclists who took the time to read and ponder them almost always found something of value. Sometimes, that led to purchasing a Bridgestone bicycle.
The Bridgestone bicycles Grant helped design were also unusual in bucking fashionable cycling trends. His felt bicycles should remain functional and high in value. Part of that value came from selecting parts and components that worked reliably, were repairable, and were proven. This philosophy was controversial, and Grant/Bridgestone were labeled anachronistic by some magazine editors and industry insiders. One magazine editor labeled Grant a "retro-grouch" -- someone who crabbily held onto old stuff instead of embracing the new.
In many ways, time vindicated Grant and Bridgestone. His mountain bikes led the field in many areas -- short chainstays, steeper angles, more lively handling, repairability. His road bikes -- The RB-1, RB-2 and RB-T -- were solid values that road well and were prized for their handling. Grant took the risky but courageous step of specing components outside the groups offered by a single manufacturer. As a result, Bridgestones often sported an eclectic parts mix. For example, the MB-0 (it slotted in above the MB-1) had a Mavic crank and hubs, Dia-Compe brakes and SunTour derailleurs. It may seem a bit ironic, but Bridgestone lead the industry in these key areas while holding fast to a philosophy that bucked cycling fashion for fashion's sake. For a small player in the American bicycle market, Bridgestone set some real standards -- practical standards -- for the competition that shaped the development of MTBs in particular.
Along the way, Grant introduced an early hybrid to the market. Actually, there were several models, and they were called the XO-1, XO-2, and XO-3. Instead of equipping a road bike with flat handlebars and knobby 700C tires, Grant's XOs (pronounced Eks-Ohs) used slick 26" tires and lightweight road bike frames. This was unusual in and of itself, but whatreally made the bicycles controversial was their handlebars. Grant designed them, inspired by the semi-drop handlebars used by Japanese schoolchildren (full drops were considered a temptation to speed contests and the flattened type was a compromise). Imagine a drop-type road handlebar that has been squashed almost perfectly flat. He called it the Moustache Handlebar.
Some people really like these handlebars, and they are still available through Grant as an aftermarket component, made by Nitto and Hsin Ling, depending on the model. They require a willingness to adapt to the new shape, and their comfort and utility depends on a combination of stem height and reach as well as creative placement of the brake levers.
Unfortunately, many people were unable or unwilling to adapt to Moustache 'bars and some of the most vocal worked as magazine editors. The handlebars were loudly panned in the press, and it was in one road test of an XO-1 that an editor coined the "Retro-grouch" label and applied it to Grant. When Bridgestone sales fell off, some industry insiders cited the Moustache 'bars as an example of Grant's retrogrouch philosophy, and an example of the "adapt or die" rule of market share.. Some went so far as to blame the company's pullout on Grant's excessive sense of ownership. While there is a grain of truth to that there were larger reasons for Bridgestone leaving the American market, including a changing economic climate and Yen-Dollar valuation. I'll come back to this in a moment.
Grant was unique in the industry, and his input made Bridgestones different from other bicycles. They embodied a philosophy of lasting value, function and craftsmanship.
Certain kinds of cyclists found this philosophy appealing and liked their Bridgestone a great deal. Grant wanted to create a community spirit and feel for the owners of Bridgestones, so he started the Bridgestone Owner's Bunch, or "BOB". For an annual fee, subscribers (or "members" as he called them) would receive a newsletter and the opportunity to purchase some unique merchandise, like a Kwickoin coin purse imprinted with the BOB logo, hats, T-shirts, canvas wallets, Brooks saddles imprinted with the BOB logo, and so forth. In the newsletters, Grant shared his thoughts and philosophy and views as an insider in the bicycle industry. As a community, BOB was a real success. This was quite remarkable, as the community was based on the newsletters that arrived by post. The organizers (Grant and B'stone employees) were readily accessible by telephone or in person to local members.
Bridgestone was never a major player in terms of American bicycle sales. Because the bicycles were different and didn't sport the latest components, they required a great deal of explanation in order to sell. They were a great value, but that value wasn't immediately obvious to many potential buyers, especially in an industry that was increasingly dependent on creating and selling "the latest". Also, there were price breaks available to manufacturers who speced one company's components throughout their product line. There were a number of other reasons why Bridgestone lost market share, all related to changes in the industry.
Shimano introduced whole component groups designed to work well as a system. The market changed and buyers demanded easy shifting that made it easy to master the mechanics of shifting. Bicycles that didn't sport the latest innovation also did not catch the buyer's eye, and dealers found that "If it doesn't click, it won't sell". Much the same thing happened when MTB suspension forks were introduced.
All of these and more were factors in Bridgestone leaving. When the Yen gained in value compared to the American dollar, many Japanese companies felt the pinch. Miyata pulled out. SunTour eventually went bankrupt. Manufacturers switched production to other countries with cheaper labor rates. Materials other than steel were introduced to the market. TiG welding often replaced brazing and lugs in mass-production assembly. Glued composites became viable as the cost of production declined and the technology matured. Taiwan bloomed as a bicycle producer. In this climate. Bridgestone found it was uneconomical to continuing selling bikes in this country, so they closed their American operations.
When Bridgestone closed, it liquidated its remaining stock of bicycles and frames. Some were sold through dealers, but much of the warehouse stock was sold to BOBs at reduced prices through the last several newsletters. Grant lost his job, as did the other people involved in Bridgestone's American operation. Of course, this also meant the end of the BOB group and newsletter-based community.
A Stanford graduate named Piaw Na started the newsletter anew as an e-mail listserv, using the Internet. Because it was Internet-based, it became known as iBOB or I-BOB. There was no membership fee, but it did foster and maintain much of the same sense of community among Bridgestone bicycle owners. More importantly, it attracted other bicyclists and those people interested in the same basic philosophy espoused in the bikes Bridgestone marketed under Grant's direction.
What is this philosophy? In a nutshell, BOBs value proven equipment that is repairable or long-lived, which adds to the value of a component. BOBs recognize that expertise comes from involvement, and it can be satisfying to learn enough about an activity to become good at it. BOBs also realize that expertise can be bought -- but if one does, it sometimes comes at the cost of personal involvement. There is a long list of things that fit these general categories and philosophy: Wool over synthetic insulation, waxed cotton canvas over nylon with a urethane coating, indexed shifters with a friction option or pure friction shifting over dedicated drivetrains.
In several of the BOB newsletters (called the "BOB Gazette"), Grant waxed eloquent on the uses of beeswax, and told how to prepare it by kneading the raw beeswax until it was soft. After kneading, it wouldn't flake and could be used for any number of things. For example, beeswax makes a dandy thread-locking compound for threaded headsets and other threaded fasteners. Beeswax typifies the BOB philosophy, and so it has earned the term "BOBbish". In many ways, you could say BOB is about beeswax!
Grant was careful to craft the original BOB on sterling values, and these (hopefully) continue to the iBOB list of today. BOBs are friendly. BOBs are tolerant of other's views. BOBs are always willing to help new cyclists or fellow cyclists. BOBs are honest, and they never, ever lie. They're probably also thrifty and loyal. iBOB is -- or =should= be-- a safe place to ask and ponder questions and philosiophies as they relate to things BOBbish.
After several years of very dedicated effort, Piaw stepped down as list administrator and the position was assumed by Canadian iBOB Michael Slavitch. Michael did a terrific job of transferring Piaw's archives and put up a web-based site for the archives and list administration. He ran the list on some older equipment that sometimes failed. The list was actually down for awhile until it found its present home.
iBOBs have a lot to be thankful for, including the creation and continuance of a pleasant community of like-minded cyclists. I know I look forward to reading my iBOB email each time I turn on my computer. It is amazing how much I have come to care for my FellowBOBs, and I am pleased to consider them among my circle of friends. I have met several in person and it is gratifying to find iBOBs are nice folks in Real Life too!
No explanation of BOB would be complete without a postscript about Grant Petersen. After he left Bridgestone, he founded Rivendell Bicycle Works. In many ways, it is fair to say Rivendell (or "Riv") is the successor to both Grant's Bridgestone and the mail-based Bridgestone Owner's Bunch. In his catalogs, flyers and website, Grant continues to espouse a BOBbish philosophy, and _all_ of the products he offers are, well, BOBbish. You can expect to find Nitto stems, Brooks leather saddles, waxed-canvas Carradice saddle bags and wallets made of tin cloth. Rivendell offers a newsletter full of interesting articles and interviews with industry members and history. In many ways, it is the old BOB _Gazette_ come to fruition and full flower.
Grant has full creative control of his company and this has allowed him to produce some products wholly unique to Riv. This now includes framesets built to his philosophy. They range from semi-production to full custom and have been produced by several contractors, including Waterford, Joe Starck and match (little "m"). There are several models, ranging from a pair of road bikes to an All-Rounder, a sort of spiritual successor to the Bridgestone XO- series. Rivendell has offered mountain bike frames and cyclocross frames in the past and are willing to consider a rider's needs within their fit, design and build philosophy. All Rivendell frames are known for their beautiful and intricate lugwork and fork crowns and are considered by many to be among the most aesthetically beautiful frames available.
And so BOB has grown and continued from Grant's early efforts at Bridgestone. It is a loose club of sorts, with a membership that is based on a shared philosophy. Its members are an involved and resourceful lot, willing to share their knowledge freely with others. There are riders, dealers, frame builders, distributors, collectors, painters, mechanics, messengers, commercial and fine artists, historians and academics in the field. iBOBs have designed the BOB logo, the Rivendell logo, and the first Rivendell website. Lots of iBOBs own Rivendells and Bridgestones, but you don't have to own or ride a Bridgestone to be a BOB.
So. That's what BOB is all about. That and beeswax.
Dan, Eugene, OR
A little verbiage from the venerable Sheldon Brown, on the MB line in the Bridgestone bike models history. Back in the day I scanned a big chunk of the catalogs, reviews, and other literature produced by the company to make them available to the many fans.
The predominant style of mountain bikes in the early-mid '80s was the "California cruiser" geometry inspired by the Schwinn Excelsior "klunkers", with 44 inch wheel bases, 18 inch or longer chain stays, and frame angles in the high 60 degree range. These bikes were very stable for downhill use on Repack hill, but were not very good climbers. Petersen's Bridgestones had much steeper frame angles and much shorter chain stays, which made them considerably more maneuverable and nimble than the older designs, and considerably better climbers. In the '80s this design was considered "radical" but it proved itself on the trail, and was copied by everybody a few years later. This Bridgestone design still is the standard for rigid frame MTBs."
All this is to say, I lucked into replacing a bike that I've regretted selling for years. And it turned out to be a local easy purchase at a very low price. My 1993 Bridgestone MB-2 was originally purchased new from Deluxe Bicycle Works and was a great bike for the Midwestern single track. I converted it over the years into something of a more citified bike with narrower city tires not unlike the ones put on by the original owner of this newly acquired MB-2. It's not quite as in nice shape as mine from year's back. But, a little elbow grease and love should get it back into good riding shape. It still has a sweet Shimano XT group on it, nice Ritchey components, and that beautiful biplane fork crown. A few photos to peruse until I spend some more time getting it all set up.
For over 12 Years I wrote the Reno Rambler Blog covering everything from Bicycle Advocacy, Reno Politics, Popular Culture, and my experiences as a long-time cyclist.