Monday, April 6, 2009

San Diego Custom Bicycle Show, Part II

Bruce Gordon is a man with a Reputation. Whether you think him principled, unconventional or ornery, if you've crossed paths with him or anything written about him, one fact always gets conveyed: He doesn't care what you think. Not about him, his bikes, the weather, tea from China or the latest Britney melt-down. If ever there was an iconoclast, Bruce Gordon deserves the monicker.

Unfortunately, that label has obscured what his real reputation ought to be: Super-Genius, Wile E. Coyote notwithstanding. I came to a conclusion while looking at his bikes at the show and realized that perhaps I've been more obstinate than he. I've been amazed by his bikes for more than a dozen years. Amazed, I tell you. But for reasons I'm embarrassed to admit, I've never thought of him the way I think of Richard Sachs or Peter Weigle. Those guys are a delight to talk to. Hell, Brian Baylis can be crotchety and he's easier to talk to than Gordon. And for that reason, I don't think I've ever accorded the man the full measure of respect his work deserves.

Take this bike, for instance: a lugged-titanium, single-speed upright with disc brakes. Who would even want such a left-field rig? Well, me, for one. In a way, it sums him up. Fringe, from the wood-inlay headset courtesy of Peter Gilbert at Cane Creek to the asymetric lug design. Too pretty for the fixie crowd and too weird for most roadies. Yet it showcases abilities easily disguised by Gordon's incredible talent. I spent the better part of five minutes trying to find out how he constructed it.

Me: "Okay, so it's lugged ti. How'd you do it?"
Gordon: "It's press-fit."
Me: "Whoa. Wow. How'd you get the tolerances?"
Gordon: "Nah, I'm kidding."

And on and on. He pulled my leg three or four different ways before he admitted that the tubes were bonded to the lugs and the lugs were milled from bar stock. Beyond that, when I tried to ask about how the lugs were welded and cut he'd only say, "Nah, there are a lot more steps than that and I can't tell you all of them."

He did admit that he consulted with Ross Shafer about bonding the handlebar sections into the clamp. Shafer called back a short time later and said, (slow sucking sound) "Yeah man. It's Ross. I know how to do it."

At the San Diego show visitors to his booth were so blown away by his fabrication that several asked if he made the carbon fiber fork and the hydraulics as well. Gordon chuckled, and shrugged off the suggestion, and while anyone knowledgeable of framebuilding would find the idea of fabricating a disc brake system from scratch laughable, the misunderstanding is a testament to just how good his work is, just how capable he seems. Without a single weld bead visible anywhere on the bike, one can be forgiven for thinking he could machine tiny moving parts with a chopping block and a carving knife.

The crisp paint by Joe Bell does much to accentuate the frame's unusual construction and the exemplary surface finish of the titanium tubing.

Such simple details as the fastback seatstays understate the incredible workmanship that went into fitting the tapered ti seatstays into the seatstay plugs.

The carbon fiber fork was custom built for him to include the disc brake mount, by hand. While it used a mold from a now discontinued product line, the fork is a one-of-a-kind.

In his case, it's a point of pride. Gordon is a man dissatisfied that he hasn't sold more frames made to his exacting standards and lofty aspirations. Unlike Brian Baylis who seems to be able to find buyers for his most outlandish creations, Gordon's best work sometimes goes unsold. To the degree that he might be bitter about that, it shows. And that may be the key to his sales, unfortunately. To paraphrase Chris Farley, he's not a people person. That's okay, neither was Glenn Gould, and no one questions his genius.

Asymetric lug designs aren't exclusive to Gordon, but he's more likely than not to cut lugs in some fashion not reflected in playing cards. No harts, clubs, spades or diamonds in his work.

Compared to eye required to carve such artful lines, polishing the stainless steel in these lugs is easy.

Another touch for which Gordon is famous: fully integrated accessories. From braze-ons for fenders, racks and lugs to specially crafted cantilevers, racks and toe clips, Gordon often fabricates far more than just a frame. Were you to see a Gordon frame with no decals, you might not guess who built it. The same cannot be said of a Richard Sachs or even a Peter Weigle frame. Each builder's work is of a piece; you can tell a Sachs frame at 50 paces. You can also tell one while riding it. I can't tell you a thing about how a Bruce Gordon rides or even how he likes to fit a bike, but one thing is certain: Each new creation is unique. From the lug designs to the materials used, no two are quite alike these days. If you want to know who the most original, surprising and creative builder is out there, you'll need to find someone more original, more surprising and more creative than Bruce Gordon. Good luck.


Chris and Shannon said...

nice shots, but where are the overalls of the bikes?

Ski Bike Junkie said...

Am I the only person who thinks bikes like this are stupid? Maybe I'm just too philistine to appreciate them, but I can't see spending that kind of money on garage art, nor can I see riding something that nice around and mucking it up. No wonder Bruce Gordon can't sell his frames.

Jason Pearlman said...

Bikes like these may seem stupid, but the original intent is to showcase the beauty of the bicycle - something lost on the cyclists of today who are so used to aero carbon bling that perhaps they never experienced where all of this technology came from in the first place. I myself my love and appreciate my curvy, swoopy, high-tech carbon road bike, but it was celeste-painted chromoly, engraved fluted seatstays, chromed lugs, and pantographed Campy Super Record (the original Super Record), which helped me fall in love with the bicycle in the first place.

Bruce Gordon isn't about selling frames, he's about defining the art of the American bicycle. Trust me, there was a day and an age before Trek, where the bicycle was defined as "Italian" and American bikes like Serotta where a gimmick in the European Pro peleton. Now American bikes and American cycling is a fixture in cycling worldwide, and men like Bruce Gordon and his beautiful machines are one reason why.

Padraig said...

Chris and Shannon: I didn't do any overalls of the bikes because I've found they just don't show up well because the background is so cluttered; all you see is a stick figure while most of the frame is background.

Ski Bike Junkie: I can totally respect your unwillingness to ride such a bike and get it dirty, but let's give the man his props--the stuff is beautiful.

Jason: word.

HELL(cat) ON WHEELS said...

I don't think they are stupid... I think they are bee-u-tiful. Bikes are supposed to be shiny and pretty! They are BIKES for pete's sake... they should elicit ooohhhssss and ahhhhhhhhs and his do! I'm sick to death of every Tom, Dick and Harry riding a black bike...

and Chris and Shannon, I agree.. I want more pics.. BIG PICS of the full shabang!

HELL(cat) ON WHEELS said...

Here are more pics...

mathias_d said...

you know, posts like this should be banned without some kind of disclaimer...I woulda at least tried to put some saran wrap on my keyboard first ;)

bike pr0n!!!

sleestak said...

I have to agree. Bruce is one of the very greatest framebuilders ever. He is really a nice guy too. Maybe a bit gruff but I find it refreshing in a world of political correctness.

Realize that Bruce has a thriving business building down to earth TIG welded-powder coated touring machines and racks. They don't get more utilitarian than the rock n' road line of bicycles.

I look forward to every year when once and just once Bruce pulls out the stops and shows us what a bike can be and what the potential for fabrication is. Yes, he says he is frustrated that they don't sell but I don't think he really cares.

Maybe the fact they don't sell is that Bruce only builds one kind of bike like this. His size and he is like 6'4'':)

Dave Bohm
Bohemian Bicycles

Unknown said...

I got to meet Bruce @ Interbike a couple of years ago. He was playing around with a fart sound maker and talking about rigging it up to his bike so it would go off when you pulled the brake levers.

I don't care how ornery he may be, but you can't help but like an old guy that jokes about farts.

Jeff Bean said...

My first bike was a steel lugged Bianchi Professional, circa 1984 in Celeste. One of my old training buds rides one of Brian's creations. Another bud rides a custom Holland Ti. I now enjoy a hand-built Moots, as well as a "curvy" carbon rig for beyond category climbs and days of 10,000' of elevation gain. Seeing the artistry that bike builders make never gets old and will forever make sense to me. There should be a bike for every rider, right? Thanks for the wonderful post, Padraig. For those who question "why," maybe flip it and ask instead "why not?" It's more fun when considering the possibilities.

bg said...

Thanks for all the comments.
As for the "Stupid Bike" - It is my new Town Bike which I will ride everyday.
This kind of bike represents less than 1% of my work. 99% of my work is Loaded Touring bikes that get ridden all over the world.
About Pictures - I will have some Studio Photos of my new stuff taken next week. They should be up on my Webpage in 10 days or so (
Thanks to Brian, David, Chuck and all the volunteers for putting on such a fun show.
Bruce Gordon

howtostretch said...

For those that wish to know about how a Gordon rides: I have a Bruce Gordon road frame. Admittedly, it was not built for me (built for someone else who never rode it due to illness), but fits me like a glove. What blows me away about this bike is its steering. Precise, yet not so quick to be unstable, perfect as far as I am concerned.
What I love about the frame are the details: the seat cluster, the way the stays and forks are brazed to the dropouts, the profiling of the head lugs. I could go on, but it is a PERFECT frame.

bg said...

There are better Studio Photos on his web page at: