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 heritage of “old steel.” Like fine art in some cases, I absorbed its meaning over time. In that time however, Bridgestone Bicycles, and the now-somewhat elusive RB-1 was a domesticated high-performing workhorse. It was in the late 90’s that I recognized the peculiar cult dedication the RB-1 had. It was a peculiar tire manufacturer’s name on euro influenced steel tubes. I always wondered about this allure. Due to its not-Italian’ness, I’m pretty sure Domenic would have scoffed then laughed. For Bridgestone’s Bicycle Division, they wanted a part of the market. The produced a better mass produced racing frame. It’s tubes and geometry were on par with many euro builds of the time. In that era, it was Grant Petersen who had the knowledge of european steel and japanese efficiency.
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 efficient AF, 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 industrial might. But Petersen’s independence and ability wasn’t appreciated by the pecking order over time. 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 amenable to this, and so they parted ways and with that, Bridgestone RB-1 production died. Today, Grant Petersen is the MC of Rivendell Bicycle Works while Bridgestone Bicycles, after repetitive folly in the bike biz, is no longer at all. Check out the late Sheldon Brown’s insights for greater detail.
As the world’s economy has evolved, and manufacture of whatnot and bicycle has followed the dollar to better (insanely better) performance, there is still a heavy nostalgia for the Japanese craftsmanship of cycling’s late ferrous age. It is whispered about in the dimly lit hovels by waning aficionados of steel, and the occasional craigslist ads. 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. And the cost undercut. This is the allure. The convergence of a lost moment in which a tenacious and tenured Japanese focus met an incorrigible cycling passion, the world over. Maybe it can be surmised that the RB-1 and Bridgestone’s dabble in the cycling market was a zenith of steel bicycles.