The Urban Dictionary defines "Retrogrouch" as:
1. One who is skeptical of technological developments until their usefulness and reliability have been proven.
2. One who insists on minimalist equipment that may be user-serviced.
3. Sagacious but irritable expert.
4. A person who prefers natural and/or organic materials over metals and synthetics.
All of those definitions describe me. Even the "irritable" one. In every discussion I have about bikes with other riders, I am the one who comes across as the skeptical wet blanket, always doubtful about the latest "breakthrough," the latest "improvement," or the newest upgrade that we all "just have to have." I may even be too young to be that guy, but that's the guy I've been for a long time now. So rather than fight it or deny it, I decided to embrace it. Of course, I'm not the only retrogrouch. There are lots of us. We're a breed. A tribe of sorts. So I did some searching to see if there was anyone else out there blogging for the bicycling retrogrouches of the world (the Original Retrogrouches), and I couldn't find one. So here I am.
Look up the term "retrogrouch" today, and you'll find thousands of references to (the rejection of) any kind of technology, but the term originated in the bicycling press in the context of changing bicycle technology. I assume there might be some dispute about exactly when (and by whom) the word was first coined, but I found a convincing claim by Fred Zahradnik, who believes that it was he who came up with it. Zahradnik writes, "I believe I am the first person to use the word, in an editorial titled Techies Unite! in the May 1990 edition of Bicycling Magazine." (http://retrogrouch-fzahradnik.blogspot.com/2008/09/retrogrouch-etymology-definition.html). I remember that Bicycling article, and the claim rings true to my memory. Zahradnik goes on to say about his original article, "Those who resisted the march of technology, I contended, were 'retrogrouches' who were holding us back. The word just popped into my head as I thought about how to label the techno-skeptics."
One of the first people to be widely labeled as a retrogrouch was Grant Petersen, who was the head of marketing for the American operations of Bridgestone Bicycles. Petersen became famous (well, in the bicycling world, anyhow) for resisting the popular trends that were spreading through the industry at the time -- like integrated brake/shift levers (brifters) on road bikes, under-bar trigger shifters on mountain bikes, suspension forks, and more. Bridgestone's top-of-the-line road bike, the RB-1, was conspicuous among its competition for sporting downtube shift levers, and at one point bar-end shifters, when everyone else was using Shimano's STI brifters. That particular instance may have been a losing battle, considering that it's darn near impossible to find an off-the-rack road bike these days that isn't equipped with brifters. Then again, Shimano, Campagnolo, SRAM, and even the new kids Microshift, all still make bar-end shift levers. Okay, so they claim they make the levers for time trial bikes (to mount at the ends of aero bars), but I think we all know that they sell a lot of them to us retrogrouches. And I think that Petersen played at least some role in keeping that market alive, as well as many other retrogrouch favorites like all-leather saddles and waxed-cotton saddlebags.
|Bridgestone X0-1 from the '93 catalog.|
Was it a road bike? A mountain bike? A cult classic!
Regardless, Grant Petersen greatly influenced my attitudes about bicycles -- and I gladly embrace the retrogrouch name. I remember first becoming aware of Petersen when reading ads that he wrote for Bridgestone in the mid '80s. I didn't know back then who the person was behind the ads, but I remember being struck by the unusual nature of those ads. They were worth reading. They were informative. The catalogs he did for Bridgestone from 1992 - 1994 were full of info not only about the bikes, but also with interesting articles about everything from bicycle riding to the virtues of wool. Those catalogs provide some great reading, and copies of them actually come up for sale on eBay with a surprising level of demand. His Bridgestone Owners Bunch (BOB) newsletters, and then later the Rivendell Readers, continued to extol the benefits of simple bicycles, beautiful craftsmanship, leather saddles, lugged steel frames, wool clothing, beeswax, natural shellac, and much more. His philosophy on bicycle fit was also a big departure for me. I recommend reading his recently published book Just Ride (Workman Publishing, 2012). I'm not saying it's the gospel or anything, and even I don't agree with everything he says -- but it is definitely an all-you-can-eat buffet of food-for-thought for today's cyclists.
Bicycles are -- or should be -- fundamentally simple machines. That simplicity makes them beautiful. There are real benefits to time-tested technologies, and efforts to "improve" on them don't always live up to the marketing hype. I think that's the creed of the Retrogrouch. In Fred Zahradnik's 2008 assessment of his 1990 Techies Unite! article, he says, "Turned out that retrogrouches were proud of their insistence on time-tested quality, and components they could actually work on." I'd say that sums it up fairly well.
Yep -- Retrogrouch -- that's me.