Recollections on My Cycling Adventures So Far, Part VII

Death Valley Bike Tour, Feb 26 to Mar 5, 2022. I had wanted to participate in one of Adventure Cycling’s bike tours for some time and had signed up for a self-contained long weekend tour of Lake Tahoe, to be held in September 2021. Fire and smoke canceled this tour, so I applied my credits to a longer tour in 2022, in part because I would not be able to ride in RAGBRAI 49 due to a family commitment.

I chose the Death Valley tour because I had never been there, and it was close enough I could drive there and not have to ship my bike. This tour was limited to about a dozen riders, plus two tour leaders, and van-supported, meaning the van would carry everyone’s equipment from place to place. All we’d need to do is carry what we needed for the day and just ride.

The tour also looked to be challenging, including such cyclist favorites as wind, dry humidity, and elevation. Despite the fact that most of Death Valley is well below sea level, the route included a number of fairly tough climbs. Yet it was a wonderful cycling experience, comprised of riders mostly like me – casual riding outfits and steel frame bikes (including three Surly LHT and one Rivendell). A week-long ride in Death Valley, well-organized and staffed, is a great way to meet riders of a similar type and forge new friendships.

You can read my detailed post about my experiences on this tour here:

Meet Homer

I definitely observe what bikes cyclists are riding. And wearing. But when it comes to bikes, I’m always on the lookout for a ride like mine, made of quality, durable steel. There are bike manufacturers that build exclusively in steel, companies like Surly, the brand I ride. Another steel frame brand is Rivendell Bicycle Works in Walnut Creek, CA, founded by Grant Peterson (more about him later).

So, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen bike at a rest stop during the Lighthouse Century a few weeks ago. Rivendell bikes are known for their beautifully lugged steel frames. Take a look:

Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen
Example of the art that goes into a Rivendell nameplate

As I’m admiring the A. Homer Hilsen the owner comes and takes it out of the bike rack, so I immediately struck up a conversation with him and learned we had something in common: the love of a high-quality, durable and inexpensive (comparatively) but beautifully crafted steel bike that’s meant to last a lifetime.

I first learned of Rivendell bikes during an Adventure Cycling Tour in Death Valley, earlier this year. Of the dozen or so riders, three of us were riding Surly’s, with one Rivendell. Not long after that I watched Russ Roca of Path Less Pedaled interview Grant Peterson, Rivendell’s founder. The title of the YouTube video is “The Future of Rivendell Bikes?” Notice the question mark. You can view it here.

In the interview, Grant Peterson comes across as a guy who cares about his product and the people he employs. A small niche bike manufacturer, Rivendell doesn’t make a lot of money, so its future is dependent upon a steady but growing customer base. For more insight, read the history of Rivendell here. Just the mere fact that Rivendell named one of its bikes A. Homer Hilsen tells you a lot about the company and the people.

Grant Peterson is also the author of “Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding a Bike”. I downloaded the Kindle version, read it and it has become one of the most influential books in my library. Just Ride is a love letter to the joy of riding a bike, before cyclists became obsessed with racing, weight, speed, distance and spandex outfits.