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