Monday, June 17, 2019

RIP Bruce Gordon

In a short space of time since the loss of framebuilder Roland Della Santa, the cycling world has lost another of the great ones. Framebuilding legend Bruce Gordon died in his home on Friday, June 7th. This was just barely more than a year after he officially retired from the bike business.

Gordon got started building frames in the 1970s, learning at the side of no less a legend than Albert Eisentraut. He became a part of a well-known and vibrant Northern California/San Francisco Bay area bike scene, though he also spent a few years in Oregon. He was an artist, a craftsman and an innovator. He built bikes of all types, but may have been best known for touring bikes, for which he also made unique and beautiful custom components and racks that were fully integrated into his bikes. He also designed and marketed items such as racks and tires for general sale. His "Rock 'n Road" tires probably helped kick off a trend towards "29er" mountain bikes.

From Gordon's website - one of his beautiful touring bikes - notice the racks that are lovely works of art in their own right.
Gordon had developed a reputation for being somewhat gruff - a "curmudgeon" - not exactly a "people person." Too innovative, perhaps, to be properly called a "retrogrouch" (though he mainly worked in lugs and steel), I'm pretty sure some may have referred to him as a grouch, at the very least. I never met him - though I wish I had. I have a feeling we'd have gotten along fine. And he knew the reputation. He even poked fun at it - at one point handing out buttons at trade shows that said "Bruce Gordon Was Rude To Me."

(from the Belgian Knee Warmers site, which went quiet about 10 years ago)
Given his wry sense of humor, he also liked to mess around with people's expectations. In subsequent years, he had new buttons made:

He was also known as a co-founder of the Society of People Who Actually Make Their Own S#!t, or SOPWAMTOS, which was sort of a tongue-in-cheek reaction against soulless automation, mass production, and marketing. They would hold parades and give awards at shows like Interbike, or the North American Handmade Bike Show. The "awards" tended to poke fun at the bike industry, and were probably not the kinds of awards that were prized by their recipients. The "trophies" were gold-painted toilet seats, and prizes were given for things like "Excellence in Litigation" or "Rip-Off and Duplicate" (both apparently "won" by Specialized). Some of that gets covered in a really interesting interview that appeared in BikeRumor the day after Gordon's death.

Sad to say, I am afraid Gordon may not have been particularly happy in his brief retirement. Looking at the posts on his blog from the past year (which he did continue updating up through May of this year), among posts about a SOPWAMTOS party at this year's NAHBS, and a trip to France, there was also this one from February:

"It has been over a Year since I quit the shop in February 1st 2018. I miss my machines and making stuff. It has been almost 3 years since I rode a Bicycle (my sense of balance is gone). I really miss riding my Rock 'n Road . . . I guess I will live the rest of my life through the pictures of other people riding through the glorious countryside and my memories."

Bruce Gordon was a complex man. Many would say he was hard to get to know, and some would say he pissed people off - but he was remembered by others as a warm and humorous man. His work as a bicycle builder showed him to be someone who strove for perfection. His bicycles will speak for him long after he's gone.

For those who are in the Bay Area, there will be a memorial gathering, or life and work celebration, for Bruce on June 30th in Petaluma.


  1. When Bruce was closing down his shop he had a lot of nice stuff to sell at really good prices. I bought some stuff and he included a note and one of his "nice" buttons. He was a true legend and was ahead of his time in many ways.

  2. So sad... people like him is a rare breed these days. We live in a politically correct world that doesn't care about ripping off people's creations if they can be being copied and sold for pennies.

  3. One thing I found so interesting about Bruce was how he was a traditionalist and avant garde at the same time, both in his life and work.

    1. I agree with that - like I said, he mainly worked in steel and lugs, but then he'd do a bike with carbon fiber tubs bonded into lugs he'd fabricate out of titanium or something. So it would be fully modern materials with a traditional aesthetic.

  4. I had the pleasure of meeting the man at Interbike 2013 and he was very friendly. He was pleased to learn that one of his BLTs was still on the road and was seeing yearly service at our shop. This is a big loss for the cycling community.

  5. I just learned about his passing today. I remember meeting Mr. Gordon in 1991, after I had started working at UC Davis. I test rode one of his touring bikes at his shop. He told me that I was too short to ride the bike. Anyway, I walked out with a low-rider front rack and a standard rear rack. I put those on my Bridgestone XO-1 that I bought in 1993. I appreciated his honesty about sizing with 700c wheels. I still fit 26 inch wheel bikes best.