Saturday, March 5, 2016

Two worlds

Some time in 2014 I got the idea to do a project with Bruce Gordon that would be a new brand of bike specifically to fit his tires ( Rock 'n Road 700x43 c ) and to use our combined experience of nearly 90 years. I have been a fan of Bruce's work since 1977, a year before I built my first frame. Getting a chance to work with Bruce was a bit of inspiration that I could not pass up so I told a few folks about the project, named the soon to be built bike 'Schnozola' , came up with a logo and got to work.
As fate would have it, one of my friends was also a big fan of Bruce and reserved the first bike for himself so the prototype was sold before it was even started......a very good omen for a new brand. Bruce and I talked about the design and a few weeks later the first Schnozola was in the hands of the owner and getting ridden extensively in the hills above Santa Cruz.
Fast forward to the summer of the next year and I registered for the NAHBS looking to show bikes there for the first time in about four years. After I got the booth paid for I realized that I had so many orders for Rock Lobsters that I had no need to display my already oversold frames. At that point I called Bruce and asked if he wanted to do a Schnozola booth instead. This would involve making at least three more complete bikes for the show-something I had never done. Bruce agreed and we began putting together a set of five bikes in all, two that were already built and road ready.
When the bikes were all built ( not without an undue amount of stress ) we drove up to Sacramento and took our place in the show amongst all the other builders. I was thinking that Bruce and I were possibly the most experienced builders in the show and that our collaboration would be noteworthy in a show filled with the latest new and shiny offerings from builders hoping to get awards. We did not enter any of the competitions ( Maybe not the best move ) and hoped that our reputations and the bikes would speak for themselves.
After the show I got the feeling that our approach might have not been the best for this particular show as the bulk of the folks attending the show came there to be wowed by the artistry of the fancier bikes. Our more workman like bikes, all painted red and pretty much devoid of ornamentation were largely overlooked by a lot of the people walking by. Looking back on the show I am not all that surprised at this-in order to assess our bikes they would have to be ridden-something that does not happen at NAHBS for the most part. Our bikes did look pretty nice and we displayed them pretty well but there was little in our booth to impress people visually.
What I gleaned from the experience is something I already knew: With bikes as with all handmade goods there are two very distinct camps of fans-the ones that appreciate the visual aspect and the ones that most value the utility of the bikes. There is some overlapping between these groups but for the most part the bike show mainly caters to the folks who are all about the visual aspects of the bikes. This would pretty much make our presence at the bike show of little value to a big percentage of the visitors. There are two worlds of custom bike fans and I was in the wrong one for the most part at NAHBS. Not only were Bruce and I displaying pretty utilitarian bikes , all the same color but we were also eschewing the whole artistic competition aspect of the show. Who was going to 'get'  what we were doing with these bikes that we had busted our asses to get done before the show ? -Probably fewer than we thought going into the show.
Launching a new brand is something I had not done since starting Rock Lobster over 30 years ago. Even with Bruce's and my experience we were essentially putting out an unknown bike out there and were nearly as anonymous as the new builders at the show to a lot of people. It was a humbling experience. Time will tell if Schnozola will work as a bike that people want and both Bruce and I are in our 60's so starting something new is a lot of work for two guys who have already spent many years establishing themselves in the very competitive world of bike building. Either way, when we are both dead I'm sure that these bikes will be very collectable-it would be really nice if some folks thought that they were cool while we are still alive.

14 comments:

  1. You say:
    "Even with Bruce's and my experience we were essentially putting out an unknown bike out there and were nearly as anonymous as the new builders at the show to a lot of people. It was a humbling experience. "

    It seems like that anonymity was intentional. How else to explain abandoning two well known brand names that each have a legacy to build on?


    You also wrote:
    "With bikes as with all handmade goods there are two very distinct camps of fans-the ones that appreciate the visual aspect and the ones that most value the utility of the bikes."

    One of the things those of us in it for the utility (vs. the artistic) value is the quality of the construction. Without being present at the time the frame is built, how are we to judge what is under the paint? Well, I judge by reputation of the builder.

    I firmly believe that if you choose to rename to Rock Gordon or Lobster Bruce or something, and also be sure to mix or use the typefaces of those logos, then it will be much easier to "get" what you are trying to do with the bikes.

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  2. I should add that I wasn't at the show, so please let me know if I am way off base with my "intentional anonymity" comment.

    I saw some online coverage of Schnozola specifically and each article made sure to mention the connection to you and Bruce. But random pictures online taken by the public we much harder to figure out the background.

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  3. Actually, neither Bruce or I have abandoned our brands. We just decided to do something different -have a little fun with it-poke fun at the bike show while displaying some really solid bikes with some pretty cool features. We did not hide our identities, rather we were using them to show that there was a lot of experience behind the bikes. I can't expect everyone to get it.....time will tell if it will be viable. The aluminum 650 gravel bike we showed was unlike any other bike in the show........so was the big tire fixed gear in the photo. I guess I didn't want to die without doing some projects like this-maybe my motives were a bit too selfish. We did offer the bikes at really low prices though-that's for the people, not for us.

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    1. Thanks for the reply. You just seemed super bummed that Schnozola didn't get the attention you though it warranted -specifically because of your and Bruce's involvement.

      To an outsider, it seemed like your involvement was downplayed. Not hidden, but also not prominently displayed. It seemed like you were saying that if your stuff was outwardly fancier it would have gotten more attention, and I'm saying that there's another way to get attention too.

      I sincerely wish you and Bruce the best, and I hope that Schnozola is successful for you both.


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  5. I have read quite a bit about Schnozola since the show, all positive. Is the frame building a collaboration, who is doing what? Also, to jimmythefly, there isn't much to hide on welded bikes. What you see is what you get and there is no secret about who is behind Schnozola... Also, is there/will there be more info about Schnozola available somewhere?

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    1. There's plenty to hide on a welded bike. It's one of the big reasons why bike dorks like us actually DO care who the builder is.

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  6. Right now, this is the main source for Schnozola news-or you can just call Bruce or myself. I do the welding, Bruce does most of the brazing. Bruce does the powder coating and a lot of the alignment and prep. We both have geometry input and consult on all the design features. The amount of work that each one of us has depends on the bike.We have four complete show bikes for sale.

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  7. Oh, yeah......there is a Schnozola blog as well.

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  8. Thanks :^) Where might one find this alleged Schnozola blog?

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  9. schnozola! schnozola.blogspot.com

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  10. Your bikes looked rad! I think you guys had the only dirty/ridden bike on display and that gave it a lot of impact for the more utilitarian consumers like myself. I'm a Santa Cruz native and might have a bit of bias but if I could afford a Shnozola I'd buy one today. You guys are doing great work.

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