As I have written in this blog previously, a significant influence on my questionable path into frame building was Bruce Gordon. While I had some more direct help from the likes of Ross Shafer and Dean Hovey, seeing one of Bruce's frames in 1977 made me aware of the existence of bicycle frame building in America. The frame I saw at the shop I worked in definitely made a lasting impression.
Being a minimum wage worker back in my bike shop days there was no chance for me to be able to afford one of Bruce's frames, or for that matter any custom frame - unless of course I figured out how to build one myself. With the help of Ross I was able to cob together my first two frames-both of which I still have. As a matter of fact I still have many of the earliest efforts in my shop, although they are not all in riding shape.
I probably have about 37 rideable bikes in my shop and have owned a few bikes from other builders but the one bike that I wanted all these years was out of my reach-the rarity of Bruce Gordon's lugged frames and the chance of finding one my size made it unlikely that I would ever wind up with one. Well-40 years later I have a Bruce Gordon frame-a 1976 in a salmon-pink. It is my size and Bruce gave me a screaming deal on it as it had no fork and it had been hanging in his shop for a few decades. It has some miles on it for sure but structurally is sound. I had to clean quite a bit of dust and grime off of it and I had to build a fork for it. Fortunately, Bruce had some pre-raked blades with some dropouts already brazed in with his signature scallop so all I had to do was finish up the fork. Luckily, I had the correct Cinelli MC crown , the one that Bruce told me to use.
I had the paint touched up on the chain stays of the frame and the fork painted to match by Allan Neymark. This was not easy as the paint was over 40 years old and a bit faded. Allan pretty much nailed it as you can see in the photo.
I looked in all the old boxes of Campagnolo bits in my shop and culled together most of a late-70's early 80's Super Record group and assembled the bike. I built some wheels with some really old Phil Wood hubs and new Mavic Open-Pro rims. I really was not sure how the bike would ride-I was hoping that I would like the ride as much as the wonderful work that Bruce had put into it all those years ago.
Well, I did ride it-the gearing was not super friendly to my 62 year old legs and the brakes were predictably funky on the downhills but the road feel of the bike proved to be very nice indeed.The Columbus SL frame and fork really soaked up the bumps it the road and I have been commuting to work on the bike several days a week. I might have about 100 miles on it so far and plan to do the 85 mile version of the Eroica California this spring. It has been many years since I have ridden a bike that was not made in my shop-in this case I am doing it gladly and for what I think are very valid reasons. # 1, it rides great. # 2, I feel lucky to finally have it after all these years. # 3, there are things on this frame that I have never figured out how to do and it humbles me. # 4, Bruce has ceased making frames - I'm riding something that is unlikely to be built again. #5, Here is a bike that in my opinion ( along with a number of other US builders efforts ) really shows superior quality to many of the European highly sought after collectable bikes .
There are other builders who have pushed the quality and attention to detail envelope further-Roland Della Santa, Peter Weigel, Mark Nobliette, Peter Johnson, Mark Dinucci, Richard Sachs- all of these builders and others that followed raised the bar on how cleanly and impeccably a bicycle frame could be constructed. All of these builders distinguished themselves with stellar work. For one reason in my mind, Bruce stands alone. He not only built with stunning quality in terms of finish and ride, he created original distinctive artistic statements in his lug work-it was never overdone and the artistic component never got in the way of the utility of the bike. I am proud to have one of his bikes and feel very lucky to have been able to build a small run of bike frames with him.