Bruce Gordon: a Gallery

Bruce Gordon: a Gallery

I’d had this intent to ride down to Petaluma one sunny day and spend it with Bruce Gordon, talking with him about his craft. Talking business was never much fun because Bruce knew what it cost to turn the lights on in his shop each morning and knew to the penny what his hourly rate needed to be to make his monthly nut. So that conversation was never much fun, and I had it with him, somehow unavoidably, at least a half dozen times in the 20 years I knew him.

I never did that ride down and he closed his shop, retired and passed in such short order, visiting him is still on one of my to-do lists. This is the tragedy of living so close to someone; you keep thinking you’ll get to it as they are just down the street.

That’s not to say I never visited, though. For a while, Bruce had a museum to himself comprising the bikes he’d made for himself over the years. As very few people are as tall as Bruce was, he’d kept all his bikes, or nearly all of them. That shot above is from one of my visits; that’s old friend Joe Breeze with him.

This is the first frame Bruce built; it was constructed under Albert Eisentraut’s tutelage, in the second frame building class he ever taught, the first in Oakland.

That’s a photocopy of Bruce’s receipt for the frame class; $50 to set him on his way to greatness.

Aero bikes have been a thing for much longer than most riders understand. Part of that may have to do with the fact that we understand much more clearly just what makes for an aerodynamic product and some efforts, like the steel tubing in this bike, probably wasn’t worth the effort. But the shaped tubing and matched lugs made for a beautiful frame.

One of the hallmarks of many of Bruce’s frames, were the nearly squared-off seatstays. He’d plug the end of the mitered tube and take only enough material off to give the seatstay plenty of contact at the lug. And he thinned the points, though this seat lug is unusual in that it is especially thick behind the seatpost.

Shimano released an aero variant of Dura-Ace with a Delta-like brake (that worked reasonably well) and this downtube shifter mount that did its best to hide the shifters behind the narrow downtube.

The internal routing on the rear derailleur cable is clean and I love how the derailleur included a guide to wrap the cable around the arc of the dropout so there wouldn’t be a big loop of housing sticking in the wind. Especially cool are the scalloped ends of the seatstay and chainstay. Filling that with brass without having it build up between the points is not easy.

This is a frame Bruce build during his time at Eisentraut and it’s a marvel.

The lug work on this bike, as well as the fork crown is as good as any work being done today, and this frame was made in 1975.

When I first saw this touring bike my mind nearly melted. I’ve done some bike touring and it didn’t take me long to become a fan of lowrider racks that allowed two panniers to be placed on either side of the front wheel. Having the weight down low on a stiff fork made for a touring bike that was calm at high speed, like coming down some Rocky Mountain pass. What I’d never seen before was the rear equivalent to low riders. It’s essentially impossible to mount two panniers on exactly either side of the rear wheel because of the rear derailleur. So rear panniers are usually mounted high, above the rear wheel, but centered over the rear axle. This rack did away with that idea and moved the panniers behind the rear axle, but lowered them a good 12-14cm, thereby substantially lowering the loaded bike’s center of gravity. That one idea is a perfect illustration of just how original Bruce could be.

Touches like this stainless chromed accent (something he later did in stainless steel) made it easy to spot one of Bruce’s bikes from a single lug.

Bruce invented the 29er in the 1980s. For some reason, no one was listening.

Bruce also did gravel bikes before gravel bikes were cool.

That arc of five round windows decreasing in diameter as they sweep toward the lug’s point was another signature move from Bruce. There’s no way to see that and not be in the presence of one of Bruce’s bikes.

Quintessential Bruce: the squared off seatstays, the stainless steel accent and the seatstay-positioned seatpost clamp, which was no simple piece of work.

Painted in that celeste green so identified with Bianchi, you might think this bike was Italian, until you got up close.

And on short-point lugs, he’d drop the fifth window.

Bruce had interests beyond just the bike and this was one of his two, prized Triumphs.

This one, with the left-hand sidecar (because England), is a real looker. I tried to talk him into taking me for a ride. Alas.

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  1. John Holmes

    Thank you Patrick! All of this tribute will help the handmade bike world understand the innovations and the steadfast pursuit of them that BG brought to the craft. Over a beer, I think Wes Willits might say he had a few 29ers back in the day, as well…

  2. Jon Spangler

    The gathering yesterday (Sunday. 6/30/2019) in Petaluma was a sight to behold and a laughter-filled celebration of our departed master frame builder and friend, Bruce Gordon. I counted approximately 50 riders at 8:00 am for the memorial ride; about 200
    people were in and out of McNear Park all afternoon.

    Bruce had hair — lots of it — back in the day. In the 1970s, Bruce and I always started together — as the slowest riders with the biggest handicap — at the Thursday night 26-mile training races just outside Eugene, OR. After he finished complaining that he had not been riding because he was working so hard, Bruce and I would leave in the first handicap group. Soon thereafter, hw would pick up his pace and I would watch him inexorably ride away from me, his waist-length ponytail swinging in the breeze across his jersey as he rode out of view…

    Being unable to afford a made-to-measure Bruce Gordon (and I need made-to-measure frames) is one of my deepest regrets in 60 years of cycling.

  3. John Luthe

    Thank you for this gallery and the The Pull: Remembering Bruce Gordon.
    That Eisentraut frame is almost identical to mine (save for the size, paint job, cable guides, and pump peg). I ordered it just after I finished grad school early fall 1975 and received it in 1976.
    I first saw a Gordon frame ~1980, the similarities were striking.
    Wish I’d bought one.

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