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Grandma Joan vs. Peter Sagan

Posted by Carol Sicbaldi

Ciclismo Classico guest Joan Reinhardt Reiss tells this amazing story of the making of the Specialized e-bike TV ad with Slovak pro cyclist "Three Pete." The slogan reads: "Are you faster than the World Champion, Peter Sagan? With a Turbo e-bike, you could be."


Joan tells her story:

Several months ago, I was returning to San Francisco from a glorious ride on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge with two good biking friends when an exciting opportunity came up.

“I brought my Specialized bike into Mike’s Bikes last week,” Layne said. “The mechanic asked if I knew a grandmother type who could ride a Specialized electric bike and race against some Serbian Tour de France guy”

“What’s his name?” I asked. Layne, Stacey and I are avid fans of the tour.

“Peter Sagan,” she replied.

We screamed at the mention of Peter, a world champion road and mountain bike racer. Stacey and I have been in love him for years, even after he cut his ponytail. Fifty-year-old Stacey shouted, ”I’ll dye my hair white!”

“Forget it Stacey. I’ve got white hair, four grandchildren and I’m 80. I’m it!” That settled it.

"I’ll give your contact info to the Executive Producer at Goodbye, Silverstein & Partners,” Layne said.

This was big time! GS&P produced the famous “Got Milk?” ads. An agency Producer directed me to Mike’s Bikes for my maiden eBike voyage.

My first eBike was on a small tank with a high cross bar. I leaned the bike to one side to get my leg over. Since cyclist Joan was to be disguised as Granny Joan there were just plain pedals, no clip-ins. Gearing was a learning experience but easily mastered, and cruising down a small one-way street gave me confidence. The Specialized selling point is that anyone, regardless of experience, can easily ride this eBike.

A few days later, the Producer called to tell me that a new, smaller eBike was waiting at Mike’s. I stepped easily across the upright white Como, which was heavy but easily maneuverable with a pedal start. It turned on with the push of a button, and five glowing green lights on the Garmin monitor indicated a full charge.

Rich Silverstein, a cyclist himself, and staff came to see my next test-drive. They videoed me riding and relating the Stacey-Layne story, and decided that I was IT! But- Specialized, the key sponsor had to agree. My video was shown at an intimate gathering of 200 Specialized staff and their approval landed me a serious contract. Now I really practiced to easily and fearlessly manage this eBike.

A number of GS&P staff are excellent road cyclists and Adrian Hernandez became my guide and mentor. With him I confidently rode the eBike up and down the hills. The race course was on a steep section of De Haro Street (15% grade), in San Francisco. I rode the eBike alongside Adrian on his road bike. He was fast but my Specialized Como eBike was faster. With steely assurance I rode to the top. Hooray! A few hill repeats sealed my confidence.

Late in the afternoon before race day, I met the enormous staff at the Sheraton Hotel lobby. Two long cafeteria tables held 50+ staff members, each with their own laptop. A Granny wardrobe hung nearby, a red velour pant set with a hooded jacket. This outfit, a hot fashion item from the 70’s and something completely unsuitable for the bike, was my only source of concern. I politely explained, “I’ve been practicing on the bike with regular pedals and sneakers, tights and bike shorts.”

“Can you wear the bike shorts under?” they suggested.

“No, because I won’t be able to breathe as well.”

“How about this San Francisco hoodie?”

“Too long in the sleeves, and too warm,” I explained. We finally selected an over-sized orange shirt with tiny cable cars.

“What about those white shoes with the Velcro straps?”

“No! I need my sneakers that I trained in.”

"Joan, we spent several months creating the script and your wardrobe.”

“I appreciate that effort, but you’ve given me one hour for my bike wardrobe.”

We compromised, adding mid-calf white socks and  black biking gloves to the wardrobe, and voila! All was settled.

                                                                                                          ~ ~ ~ ~


Finally, Race Day arrived! My alarm went off at 5am , and two hours later I was driven to a trailer caravan parked near the De Haro starting line. The trailers held equipment, computers, and catering for the cast and crew. At the wardrobe trailer, stylists did my hair and makeup, and I changed into my ready-to-wear Granny outfit. Peter drove up in a large, black SUV.

“Hi Peter, I’m Joan the Grandma on the eBike. I want you to know that your appeal at the Tour de France should have been heard and Mark Cavendish is a brat.”  

Peter laughed. This meeting was as exciting as my Robert Redford encounter before an environmental hearing!

Crowds gathered behind the spectator ropes. Many Grizzlies (my cycling club in San Francisco) came, some in bike regalia. Both Peter and I did some separate warm-up runs on the course with the crowd screaming support.

Around 9 am, Peter and his sleek Specialized bike moved through a cloud of red smoke to the starting line. Rolling through a cloud of white smoke, I emerged on my Specialized eBike. We raced up the hill, stopping in sections with wild applause from the paid extras as they moved along the course. This was repeated several times. On our last run, we ended in a dead heat!  

As part of my eBike training, Granny Joan was filmed racing (and beating) a motorized cable car up Hyde street with a glorious background of San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz. Through editing magic, this will appear before the De Haro race.


Pre-race day also shows Granny Joan at home where the red velour 1970s suit debuts along with the white shoes. In this disguise Joan vanished and “Gladys” emerged in full red velour splendor.

The Specialized eBike ad launched in June 2018. What a fun time I had!  Many thanks to all the Grizzlies that came to the race!

                                                                                                         ~ ~ ~ ~

About Joan:

Joan’s accomplishments are as diverse as her passions―policy advocate for the environment and environmental health, scientist, teacher, writer, radio and television commentator, athlete, devoted wife, mother, and proud grandma (aka Bubba).

Her public radio commentaries have been featured on NPR’s Marketplace as well as The California Report. She is a regular contributor to the KQED Perspectives series. An inveterate world traveler, Joan’s journeys have also aired on NPR’s Savvy Traveler




Written by Carol Sicbaldi

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