My introduction to cycling was during the late ages of European steel. I was awarded this introduction during appeasable times as both wrench and cyclist for Domenic Malvestuto and Domenic’s Cycling Imports. It was under his tutelage that I learned of the old-world heritage that would fuel my dedication to “old steel” which is everlasting. Like fine art, I absorbed its meaning over time. Yet in that time, Bridgestone Bicycles, and the elusive RB-1 distracted focus from the Italians; Colnago, Tommasini, Pinarello, Whateverelli… I often noticed the cult dedication to Bridgestone bicycles, and notably, the legendary RB-1. It was a peculiar tire manufacturer’s name on a sleek set of steel tubes. I always wondered about this allure. It was an elusive thing, Due to its un-Italian’ness, I suspect the Old Man would have scoffed. In combination, that was fuel enough for my curiosity to swage. As with anything, the knowledge of “why” is in the details and is what defines the force of attraction. For Bridgestone’s Bicycle Division, those details of a more eloquent mass produced racing frame are wholly attributed to the creator of the line. And that person is Grant Petersen. A man known around the annals of cycling history.
Grant Petersen – as Sheldon Brown defines him – was a man cut of his own jib. He worked within the corporate experience while having angst for lack of control for what he was in charge of. The trickle down of that created what might be defined as the Hors Categorie of Blue Collar design & mass manufacturing. Fundamentally, the Bridgestone RB-1 is nothing more than old world Italian cycling ideals piped into exquisite and cheap, Japanese production. Petersen eschewed the bloated multiform technology of the day (sound ever-familiar?) in order to stick to the business end of what he thought a great bicycle should be. The RB-1 is the ultimate result of that agenda coupled with Bridgestone’s foray into cycling. Remember, Bridgestone is (was) a Japanese company. In the historical lens, Petersen’s independence and ability wasn’t appreciated by the pecking order over time. This is an appropriate demise. It was Bridgestone’s desire to monetize while, it seems, Petersen’s desires were to maximize his ideals of cycling. Petersen’s ideals, over time, were not adaptable, and so they parted ways and with that separation, the end of the Bridgestone RB-1 was imminent. Today, Grant Petersen is the MC of Rivendell Bicycle Works while Bridgestone Bicycles, after repetitive folly in the bike biz, is no longer. Check out the late great Sheldon Brown’s insights for greater detail.
And as the world’s economy has evolved, and manufacture of whatnot and bicycle has followed the dollar arguably through a spiral of variable quality, there is still a heavy nostalgia for the Japanese craftsmanship of cycling’s middle ages. It is whispered about in the dimly lit hovels where the waning aficionados of steel reside. In that, the RB-1 was, and still is, a good bike. The Ishiwata Quattro butted tubes formed, welded and brazed by Japanese craftsmen rivaled anything coming out of Europe in that time. Furthermore, their efficiency most certainly surpassed that of the Italians like so many injection molded ciabatta might do. This is the allure. The convergence of a lost moment in which a tenacious and tenured Japanese focus met an incorrigible cycling passion for consumption the world over. It can be surmised then, that the RB-1 and Bridgestone’s dabble in the cycling market was a zenith of the methods and the means of those days. Well, perhaps, anyway. It can also be said that the Bridgestone RB-1 isn’t magical. it is, rather, simply, sensible and that is that. Nonetheless, this is the answer to the “why” of the cult of the Bridgestone RB-1.