Bruce Gordon’s Custom Ti/Carbon Bike

Bruce Gordon is a codger. He’s not one to suffer fools. His swipes at the industry  with his SOPWAMTOS (Society of People Who Actually Make Their Own Shit) awards have inspired laughs as well as ruffled feathers. But that’s the kind of guy Bruce is. He does what he does because it makes sense to him.

That crusty exterior of his has been known, on occasion, to make him a touch less marketable. I’ve been talking to the guy for more than 10 years and his skeptical, cynical edge has been tough to chip away at. That said, I’ve made some progress and these days he talks to me honestly about what he enjoys doing.

Here’s the thing about his work. He knows it’s not just good, but great. And when people don’t get just how good it is, he can seem a touch irascible. When you’re as inventive as Bruce is, it’s fair to think your work should be appreciated.

For the 2010 San Diego Custom Bicycle Show, Bruce built a special bike. He has made a number of bikes and components over the years that have used titanium to great effect. The bike he showed at this year’s show went to truly unusual lengths.

The bike looked very familiar due to the fact that the lug lines and windows recall Bruce’s previous work. At first glance, the bike definitely looks like a Bruce Gordon. And then there’s fact that the bike is huge; Bruce makes all bikes he’s not sure he’ll sell at market rate in his size—61cm—just to be assured the bike will get ridden. But the fact that all this bike’s tubes were carbon fiber made it quite unusual.

Carbon tubes have been bonded to aluminum lugs for a generation. It’s been so done, it isn’t done anymore, generally speaking. And carbon tubes have been bonded to titanium lugs on occasion. One of the most notable examples was the limited edition Specialized Epic that featured titanium lugs. That Specialized has a familial relationship to this bike as it turns out.

The carbon fiber bottom bracket lug show above came from Serotta. In order to create this bike, Bruce—who has zero experience crafting tubes from carbon fiber—had to partner with someone. In the strictest sense this bike is a collaboration, rather than just a Bruce Gordon creation. Bruce worked with Mike Lopez, who runs Serotta’s composites facility in San Diego. Lopez has an interesting history in the industry. For more than 30years Lopez has been involved in bicycles that use carbon fiber. He has worked for Serotta, Reynolds and way back when, Specialized. He was involved in the carbon fiber Epics. As a matter of fact, the jig on which this bike was assembled used to be used for Epics.

Bruce says he likes the look of a bike with classic design elements and modern materials. In achieving his aesthetic of a touring bike with fenders he, Lopez and a few other people invested more than two months in the bike. Bruce says he has no idea what he would charge for the bike but is committed to making one more—for Lopez.

Bruce had to enlist the help of another guy as well. Salsa founder Ross Schafer did the CAD work that resulted in the lugs that were machined to Bruce’s specs from bar stock. Chris Hayes welded those pieces into actual lugs. On details like the rake of the forks, Bruce had to show Lopez just how to shape the blades both in taper and curve.

Jason Lilly shaped the fenders, shown below. The paint, which turned out to be more challenging than expected, was applied by painter-to-the-stars, Joe Bell.

Sean Walling of Soulcraft, Mark Norstadt of Paragon Machine Works and Doug White of White Industries lent advice on machining the many parts involved in the frame, including the special dropouts and fork crown. Basically, nothing in the frame is off-the-shelf.

I saw a great many very fine bicycles at the San Diego show. I can’t think of a single one that showed as much individuality, practicality and beauty balanced as elegantly as this bike. Unique is a word that is used much too often. This is one of those times when it is absolutely appropriate. At least, until the other one is built.

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    1. Author

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments everyone, and to Bruce for dropping by even before I had a chance to give him a heads-up.

      Torben: In theory, the points do create stress riders, but I’ve seen a number of carbon tubes bonded to pointy lugs over the years and haven’t once seen a failure at the location. I can’t say it never happens, but I haven’t seen it and I suspect Lopez, with his vast experience, would have suggested something different to Bruce if he thought there was a problem.

      Jason: It was a limited production run and they were especially expensive at the time. I’d have to dig a bit to find details. We’re talking early ’90s.

  1. Jason

    A limited edition Specialized Epic with carbon/ti???? I have a 1991 carbon/aluminum version still hanging in my garage. When/where/how did this special version come about????

  2. Souleur

    At first, its very unassuming, then I noticed the carbon fenders, then the stem, then the cable guides….which revealed this guys a genius!

    do you have a website for him??

  3. showgoer

    thanks for writing this. i saw the bike in person and thought it was interesting, but it wasn’t at all obvious how much thought, skill and experience went into making it. it looks much more effortless than it apparently was. i have a much greater appreciation for it now.

  4. Bruce Gordon

    I have heard many things from the “Internet Engineers”. I was an Art Major.
    This was the first Carbon Fiber bike I have ever ridden, let alone constructed.
    It was done with Mike Lopez of Serotta Composites – one of the best carbon people in the business – he has been doing carbon for 34 years.
    He designed a tubeset for my size and weight. If he thought the construction was a material problem, the bike would never have happened.
    I hope people enjoy looking at it as much as I enjoy riding it – by the way, It rides Great.

    Bruce Gordon

  5. wvcycling

    Its amazing how someone can put so much style and persona into a bike that isn’t playing around. That bike has ‘no compromise’ written all over it, but at the same time whispers ‘no nonsense.’

  6. todd k

    Definitely a highlights the strengths of the custom process.

    Can anyone elaborate on what appears to be a head light coming off the front rack?

    Living in the Pacific Northwest I love the fenders …would love to see more carbon bikes properly integrating them…

    1. Author

      Todd K: Yes, that is a small headlight mounted to the front rack. Bruce has done a number of front racks with a light integrated into it. Only someone who knows how big bags are and where they go would know to mount a light there. I can’t say that I know how you adjust the aim though. Bruce, can you enlighten us?

  7. blacksocks

    Just….wow. Terrific bike, Bruce!

    And a wonderful example of not only Bruce’s exceptional skills and vision, but also a terrific reminder of the capabilities and spirit of the builders and fabricators who craft beautiful bikes in Northern California. Amazing people doing such inspired work!

    I only wish I was worthy…

  8. Rich R

    Tell Bruce the world is full of hard working folks whose work is not appreciated. At least he has a talent he can pursue and see the immediate results from and he should be thankful for that rather than be a crusty old fart who seems to be unappreciated. I never did much care for how good something was if the creator has so much ego that they can not bring it to the ” little people” who just dont seem to get it. Sounds like something out of Ayn Rand’s fiction. Tortured and underappreciated???? I would think be thankful to be able to create in a medium that brings joy to many and has an aesthetic that many would call artful form and function combined. Society of people who create their own shit, what a crock. I suppose that means any collaborative effort of many people and machines is just so much crap in the eyes of Bruce? Does he make his own tubing? It may be harder to collaborate tis true. It is actually easier to create your own shit. And of course that shit can be bad or good. And you may have to work at a colloaborative effort of man and machine to survive and find the time to do that. I think in our modern society those who have the means and talent to be creative often do so on the backs of factory workers and rather than look down on them they should appreciate that. Somewhere some miner got the iron ore out of the ground and to a foundry…and this allows the Bruce’s of the world the luxury of time to whittle away at a vision. A vision that in all ways has been a collobarative effort between Bruce and all that has gone before. After all he did not invent the bicycle, just made it prettier.

  9. Brian Jackson


    I feel I need to buy one of those t-shirts now, you know, the one with SOPWAMTOS emblazoned across the front. Perhaps you would be appeased if the ‘S’ at the end was changed to an ‘A’ to stand for Art. The miner got the ore from the ground, true. To say that he had anything to do with this much creativity is beyond just a stretch.

    I have ridden all of my life, and now need and want a touring bike. I have poured over every available article for weeks, looking for the best FOR THE MONEY. Not from anyone else’s point of view mind you, but from mine alone. Bruce’s bikes are expensive compared to most. But the mind that created that carbon bike is going to be the same mind that creates, cuts, welds, and assembles mine. I did something nearly unheard of yesterday. I actually called the owner of the company, talked to him directly about my needs, arranged to send him a deposit in a couple of weeks, and when I do he will PERSONALLY ensure that I will have as fine a bike as he can make, one that he would be proud to ride himself, to put his name on. There will be no ‘well, what did you expect for $1,199.00?’ He has made the conscious decision to allow no compromise, to charge what it is worth, and if you don’t want it, well, thanks for stopping by. Art is not about the canvas, the paint, the brush. It’s about the mind, and I want Mr. Gordon’s to be the one making my last ride. I can buy components anywhere. Excellence in design is in short supply.

    When people make it look easy, everyone thinks that they are just as capable of something, of having something to contribute. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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