Ode to Bruce Gordon

I saw a kid riding a 29er today. It reminded me of a toddler on a big wheel. It also reminded me of Bruce Gordon, framebuilder extraordinaire and visionary.

Bruce retired recently. He built bike frames in a small shop in Petaluma CA (the chicken capital of the world). He built racing bikes but was especially sought out for his touring bikes.

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the Bruce Gordon – my bike, my photo

I’ve been riding one of his bikes for 28 years. It was an experiment in “mass” marketing. Bruce had always built bikes by hand but, in the mid-late 80s, designed a bike that he had built for him in Japan. This was the “Hikari“, and it came in one color. It was named after the Japanese “bullet” train. I put mass in quotation marks, as it was mass marketing on a very small scale, but bigger than one man could build.

After a short time, he tried another pre-built bike, the “Rock ‘n’ Road”. (The apostrophe in Rock n Road seems to move. Since it is a contraction of “and”, it seems to me there should be one on each end. Bruce sometimes puts one before, sometimes after.) They were built in Petaluma.  Bruce hired a welder from the aerospace industry. He hand-brazed his custom frames but told me that TIG welding is environmentally friendlier. Not being a welder himself, he hired one. He also told me that powder coating was better for the air than painting, so he powder coated his frames.

The big deal with the Rock ‘n’ Road is that he designed an all-purpose bike. He figured that some folks want to do some riding on the road, and maybe a little off-road. Rather than own a stable of bikes, he figured you could get by with one with a few changes.

Common wisdom at the time was that mountain bikes had to have 26 inch wheels, while road bikes had 700c wheels. Bruce explained why the bigger 700c wheel was suited to off-road travel. The industry made fun of him. Ten years later,  the 29er was born (an even bigger wheel). A few years later, another wheel size came out, pretty close to a 700c. Gosh, I guess Bruce was on to something.

How do you switch from pavement to trails? He invented something called the QS2. This

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Photo from BGCycles.com – QS2s

made it easy to swap drop bars for flat bars and quickly re-connect cables without adjustment. He found some tires and had them adapted to his design. He wanted a tire that could be used on or off-road. If I remember right, the first iteration had lugs that were sunken to provide a smoother running surface but still some off-road traction. The current model has raised lugs, which shed mud better.

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Photo from BGCycles. com – Rock n’ Road tire

He later designed and built some beautiful cantilever brakes.

Since he had someone else to build his standard bike, he could devote time to designing new products and building one-off bikes. He won myriad prizes at frame builder’s shows. He designed another bike, the BLT (Basic Loaded Tourer). to keep a reasonable price for a great bike. He designed racks and panniers for touring. (OK, the racks have been around for a long time, still among the best.)

BG cockpithead joint

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Details of Bruce Gordon bikes
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Bruce Gordon
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BG cantilever brake

Bruce has retired, but his bikes ride on. I’m riding one today. See you on the road.

Geting paid to ride

We tend to romanticize getting paid to do something, despite the fact that “amateur” comes from the Latin root “amare”, “to love”.

Bicycling is no different, with movies such as Quicksilver, with Kevin Bacon starring as a stockbroker-turned- bike messenger. (Or my personal favorite, Major Bedhead the unicycle courier from the Canadian children’s TV show “The Big Comfy Couch“.)

I guess I was a professional bicyclist a long time ago, without thinking about it. When I was 12 I began delivering newspapers by bike. Like mail carriers, “neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night stayed [me] from the swift completion of [my] appointed rounds”.

There was one day when it was too icy to ride my bike and I streetskateskated my “appointed rounds” and there were a few days when it was colder than -20 degrees, which entitled me to a ride in a car according to house rules. Otherwise, I rode 364 days per year (no newspaper on Christmas in those days).  When it was a little less cold, my eyelashes would freeze and clink when I blinked. The lenses of my glasses would fog, then freeze, and I’d have to take off a mitten to scrape the ice off with a fingernail. For those who doubt it was really that cold, I offer this:

On the other hand, there were beautifGlenn-Shil-webul summer days when it was not yet hot, though you knew it would get that way. The lake was like glass and I dreamed of what it would be like to be skiing as the sun rose. (I suspect those who lived on the lake would not have appreciated it in the same way.)

At 5 AM, the only people out on the streets were the newspaper carriers and the milkman. Milk was delivered to our house every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Bread was delivered Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The “Omar Man” had a handy carrying rack for bread. It was cleverly designed with an upper rack for breads and a lower rack that cantilevered out with pastries. It was right at eye level for little kids so we could beg mom for pastries, which we could never afford. He never gave up.

I did my best thinking when I was out early in the morning on my bike. I wished for a portable tape recorder and a microphone mounted on my handlebars so I could record my thoughts as I rode. Alas, my best thoughts are lost to the world. I would probably be a famous inventor now, retired and living on my royalties, had I been able to record those ideas – or at least that’s what my 12 year old self thought.

I spent some time as a bicycle traveling salesman. When I was in Cub Scouts we had an annual candy sale to raise money. My dad encouraged me to venture farther from home to hit territories other kids wouldn’t get to. When I was 9 he dropped me and my bike at an apartment complex 6 miles from home and told me to hit all 216 apartments, then ride home. I found my way home (without a trail of bread crumbs) and won a prize for the most sales.

Now I am an amateur – unless you readers want to pay me for this ride.

 

Tim

Rereading the posts about David and Curtis, I realized there was someone else to acknowledge. I met Tim shortly before meeting Curtis and David. Tim was a journalist, writing for the underground newspaper Kaleidoscope. When editor Mark Knops went to jail for contempt when he refused to disclose sources for a story on the New Year’s Gang (which bombed the Army Math Research Center on the UW campus), the paper morphed into Takeover. Tim wrote for that paper until there was a split in the staff and he was part of the group which started the King Street Trolley, which later became freeforall.

(Among Takeover’s exploits was a front page when Paul Soglin was first elected mayor. The headline read: “Red Mayor Elected: Thousands Flee Lake City”. V.I. Lenin was pictured wearing a “Soglinovitch” button. They also published a special double issue. Viewed from one side it was a parody of the Wisconsin State Journal [the AM Republican newspaper]. From the other side it was a parody of the Capital Times [the PM Democratic newspaper].)

But that’s not why I’m writing about Tim here. Tim never owned a car. To the best of my knowledge, he didn’t ever drive one. Tim’s bike was not a toy or a hobby. It was his primary means of transportation. He served on various city committees and commissions helping to represent the interests of bicyclists.

If you look up “curmudgeon” you might find a picture of Tim. He referred to cars as Tim“deathmobiles”. He was once the editor of the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation newsletter but they moved him out to bring in a more moderate voice. Tim was the person who raised issues others were afraid to raise and spoke in terms others were afraid to use. I don’t think he worried about alienating others very often.

When he edited the Bike Fed newsletter, he once pulled up next to me at a stoplight on a snowy evening. My son was on the trailerbike behind me and my daughter in the trailer behind that. Tim asked my son if he was cold. (He wasn’t.) He then asked if he could take a picture of us to use in an article he wanted to write on bike commuting. The caption would read, “What’s your excuse?” (PS Both of my kids still ride for transportation  – my son got his driver’s license just before he turned 24. My daughter doesn’t have one, but is only 21.)

Tim died June 26, 2017.