“It’s just a bike.” The late Bruce Gordon built bicycle frames to enhance his customers’ lives. Through all my interactions over the years, up until his passing in June of 2019, he would take praise for his work, but would always end the conversation with: “It’s just a bike.”
To talk about this bike in particular, you first have to know Bruce. Who he was, his ethos, the mythos, and what he brought to the “g” word: gravel. Bruce was making fat-tire road bikes for a long time. Long before many. He developed tires, toe clips, and helped foster an entire movement of makers in the Petaluma, California area and beyond.
But just like that, he was gone, and he left behind a legacy…
A Lifelong Legacy
On June 7, 2019 Bruce Gordon died unexpectedly at age 71. He left behind decades of innovation, piles of tires, and other remnants from his lifelong pursuit of making.
Gordon was an OG. I think he’d appreciate that term. He was an Original Gangster of the North American framebuilding world, learning the art form from the great Albert Eisentraut. Bruce picked up the torch in the very first framebuilding class Eisentraut taught after relocating his operations to Oakland, California from Chicago. Some time after, Bruce invested in Eisentraut’s brand and helped run the show, managing the frames that were being cranked out of the Oakland shop.
Later, after a short stint in Oregon, Bruce moved to Petaluma where he began making his own bikes.
Photo by James Mason
He started making frames in 1974 but found his voice in the early 1980s. Along with Jim Merz and Mark Dinucci (pictured above), Bruce would go on long road rides throughout the Western United States. Later, in the mid-1980s, Bruce began making fat-tire road bikes. In August of 1988, he debuted a beautiful Rock ‘n’ Road.
Lugged, with generous tire clearances, MTB drivetrain, wild paint job by Sean Walling of Soulcraft/White Industries, and touring accouterments made the Rock ‘n’ Road distinct amongst its peers. This very bike inspired me to build my Geekhouse Woodville back in 2012, which was made to clear the exact same Rock ‘n’ Road tires. Bruce’s work later evolved into putting an actual mountain bike suspension fork–RockShox Mag21 fork modified to fit a 700c wheel–on one of these bikes a full year before the pros did it at Roubaix in 1994.
Looking back at that 1988 Rock ‘n’ Road bike, and Bruce’s own 43mm Rock n Road tires, many argue that Bruce is the grandfather of the 29er wheel platform.
Bruce Gordon and Paul Sadoff (Rock Lobster) at NAHBS 2016 talking about the Schnozola project.
Settling into life in Petaluma and getting to know its rich maker community, Bruce began connecting with Mark Norstad of Paragon Machine Works, Doug from White Industries, and more. Together with Mark, Bruce created the semi-serious SOPWAMTOS, the Society of People Who Actually Make Their Own Stuff, that debuted at Interbike.
Documenting builders’ work at handmade shows is a lifelong passion of mine. Here’s that Schnozola from 2016 that I shot at NAHBS.
Bruce and others in SOPWAMTOS were opposed to the big companies running the bike industry. Initially, it had a grouchy edge but, eventually, it evolved into a celebration of framebuilders. SOPWAMTOS went from the industry-wide venue of Interbike to the more appropriate framebuilder and maker celebratory venue of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS).
In 2018, Bruce held a retirement sale, where he offloaded almost all of his bikes. Collectors from various nooks of the country swooped in and people drove from all over to buy Bruce Gordon memorabilia and tooling for their own shops, and longtime fans rolled through to show support. What wasn’t sold or given away at the show could and would fill a warehouse still.
Our friend Nick spent many years working alongside Bruce, helping him out with framebuilding, and marketing (like the Rock ‘n’ Road video above.) Here’s Nick’s flier for the Bruce Gordon Retirement Sale.
When Bruce passed, he left it all–the estate–with longtime shopmate David di Falco, an automotive fabricator who shared space with Bruce for decades. In March of 2023, David reached out, asking if I’d like to buy one of Bruce’s personal bikes. At that time, what David wanted and what I could afford weren’t aligned, so I passed on the frame.
Then at the MADE showcase, David pulled me aside in the middle of this year’s hustle with Josh to document as many bikes as we could from as many builders as we could and said he wanted me to have the frame. He told me “Let’s connect once you’re back home…” and we did. David made me a very reasonable offer and I immediately scrambled to secure the funds.
About the Frame
Now, I’ve written about the notion of “ceremony” as it relates to a vintage road bike but I’ll argue the same pursuits apply to any vintage bike (technically this is from 2012 but is vintage in spirit), including a rim brake, 1″ headset, friction barcon, “gravel” bike like this beaut. I looked at my long-owned and loved Sklar with its disc brakes, electronic shifting, and stout headtube and said goodbye, letting it go.
I moved to Santa Fe for its ease of access to mountain biking. Riding roads, including dirt roads, is a completely different experience here from any of the other places I’ve lived. It’s not great but we have one gem. I’ve waxed poetic about my favorite gravel climb in town that’s only accessible from the late spring until late fall and I began to ask myself “Am I doing this ride to break records, or to disconnect from the world and reconnect with myself?”
Modern gravel bikes are practically mountain bikes with smaller tires. I wanted a road bike with bigger tires and a 43mm tire is pretty near perfect for my local terrain. If I need something bigger, I’ll just ride my rigid 29er Black Cat. Ultimately, what I wanted was a bike that offered a classic experience like my old Geekhouse Woodville, in a lightweight and light-footed package.
Bruce built this bike in 2012 as a showpiece for his newly landed Rock ‘n’ Road 43mm gravel tires, which are featured on this build. His original kit was from Shimano, who made him a custom rear mech with a longer cage to reach the extent of his mountain bike cassette.
It’s built with a combination of fillet brazing and bilam construction. The latter is when you carve a lug and fillet braze a tube, or tubes, into that lug, leaving the rest of the lug exposed, like this seat tube cluster. Bruce used a Pacenti Paris-Brest fork crown for the fork and an elegant rake.
He came to call these bikes “Monster Cross,” when in reality, they should be called “Monster Road” bikes. My reason for saying this is due to the tubing he elected to use: .8/.5/.8 butting Chromoly tubes. The numbers refer to the thickness of the butting profiles. On double-butted tubes the thickness of the tubes at both ends is thicker than in the center, so a typical double-butted tube (0.8/0.5/0.8) would have a thickness of 0.8mm at the end (1), a taper portion, then a center section of 0.5mm, a taper portion, and a thickness of 0.8mm at the end (2). This tubing profile is typically used on road bikes. Not off-road bikes.
Bruce used straight gauge tubing on the seat stays, allowing him to bend them in an elegant form, and he crimped the chainstays to clear a triple crank and a 43mm Rock ‘n’ Road.
This profile suggests a frame that will be very flexy–in the right ways–but not as strong as a bike with beefier tubing wall thicknesses (i.e. a road bike with bigger tires, not a mountain bike with smaller tires). Bruce built stout bikes, under the Rock ‘n’ Road banner, engineered to carry everything you’d need for an off-road tour and withstand the terrain you’d encounter on one. The Monster Cross bikes were not that. As such, I have to tell myself “If you want to keep a frame like this from folding, ride it with kid gloves, John!”
Note the flaring of the head tube at each end, offering a bit more strength to a crucial juncture.
Bruce made a red Monster Cross in 2012 (you can see that frame and others in my 2012 NAHBS coverage) and people wanted more frames, so he began making a small batch of bikes, including this one in 2012 with the serial number G010912, denoting it was G for Bruce Gordon’s personal bike, 01 for the first personal bike of 2012. Built in September.
My Build Kit
Shimano USA was always nice to Bruce Gordon, so I wanted to tip my cap to them for their long-term support. I built this bike specifically for my home terrain here in Santa Fe, where I know every steep dirt pitch, every deep rut, and every ripping piece of pavement in between. As such, 8-speed felt about the right gear range.
I chose an 8-speed XTR rear mech, with the titanium HG cassette, an earlier 8-speed triple front mech, 9-speed Dura Ace barcons (set up friction), and Sugino PX crank arms with TA 46/26 chainrings. The seatpost is a 7410 Dura-Ace Easton; an icon of the era.
For bars, I felt like Bruce would be into what the team at Crust Bikes has been doing, so I chose their 52cm wide Nullabar. These have a nice, shallow drop with a wide flare, perfect for giving the Monster Cross an iconic look. I even added a Ti Cable Bone to keep the front shifter cables neat and tidy. TRP levers and CampAndGoSlow bar tape round off the cockpit.
The original stem to the bike is intact and fits me perfectly. It’s a 130mm, 15º rise fillet brazed quill stem. The asymmetric noodle allows for a clean entry for the front brake cable and the 1″ Chris King GripNut felt appropriate. While riding in the drops and cranking out of the saddle, the stem offers a nice side-to-side swap, further elevating the “dancing experience.”
A Bruce Gordon bike should have Bruce Gordon brakes but that’s easier said than done. These stunning cantilevers come with a custom cable yoke, custom machined Kool Stop shoes and one of the sleekest profiles of any rim brake. Once I got the frame, Steve Rex asked if I’d like to buy his NOS brakes he bought from Bruce when he made them, around 2006 or so when they debuted at NAHBS.
These fetch upwards of $1200 on eBay, so Steve’s offer was exceptionally generous and they really make the build. I wish the Bruce Gordon brand would make more but they’d be very expensive to machine these days.
Speaking of “long gone” components, these White Industries pedals went out of production right around the time Japanese component maker MKS knocked them off. The White pedals paired with Bruce Gordon Stainless Strapless Toe Clips (that are still available for purchase!) were Bruce’s preferred pedal system.
Funny anecdote: I was at a SOPWAMTOS party one year when MKS showed up and were eyeing Bruce’s Toe Clips. He grabbed the clips from their hands and kicked them out of the party in an uproar that was applauded. He was wary of the Japanese brand copying his designs. Rightfully so…
I ride this bike in Vans and plain clothes, so these pedals and clips are great for that sort of ceremonial effort.
Speaking of White Industries, Bruce loved the Mi5 hubs, so I had Bailey at Sincere Cycles lace them up to Crust Bikes 700c rims, and Travis T from Paul Components sent over Paul quick releases. Anything else would have been a travesty, right, Travis T? The modern, California-made polished bits elevate this build.
Naturally, this bike dons a set of Rock ‘n’ Road 43mm tires, set up tubeless. All of the current Rock n Road tires, available at the Bruce Gordon Brand Store, are now tubeless compatible! With gravel bikes going in the extreme tire spectrum these days, a 43mm tire is plenty for how I’ll be riding this bike. Bruce also made 48mm Rock n Roads which I rode for years on my Geekhouse, my Firefly, and that nice Cotic I reviewed! They were and still are some of the nicest riding tires for all-terrain pursuits.
Riding the Monster Cross
I’ve come to call this bike the “Green Chile” after the “Monkey Vomit Green” color and have gotten in a few rides since documenting the build as shown. As I laid out before, modern gravel bikes feel like a mountain bike with smaller tires, rather than a road bike with bigger tires. The tubing profiles Bruce chose for these bikes put them firmly in the latter category. Imagine your favorite steel road bike, made from Columbus SLX tubing or the like. Now imagine that bike with a fat, 43mm tire and a geometry tuned for dirt road riding with a long, flexy stem and wide bars.
That’s what the Monster Cross rides like. It planes, flexes, and careens. Road corrugations send the fork dancing fore and aft, in a harmonic resonance. Out of the saddle, it dances while being sure-footed. It’s nimble, responsive, and secure. Just lifting this massive bike causes people to exclaim “wow” as it barely tips the scale at 22lbs. I spend the majority of my riding time in the drops, while using the tops for resting on long climbs.
Overall, it’s exactly what I wanted in a bike for riding these stunning Rocky Mountain roads here in Santa Fe.
Ride in Peace, Bruce
Bruce Gordon was always nice to me but he certainly did have an edge about him, as one who touched as many lives and steered the dirt road bike industry from a small shop in Petaluma would. This bike is a true homage to a lost builder. An industry confidant, a monthly check-in phone call friend, and more. I know this bike means a lot to many people and as its current steward, I promise to take care of it, while riding it as often as I can!
Yet, all this hemming and hawing would most certainly result in Bruce leaving a comment below:
“It’s just a bike.”
Miss you, Bruce.
- Frame: 2012 Bruce Gordon Monster Cross
- Fork: 2012 Bruce Gordon Monster Cross
- Stem: 2012 Bruce Gordon Monster Cross
- Bars: Crust Nullabar
- Headset: Chris King Gripnut
- Brake Levers: TRP
- Brake Calipers: Bruce Gordon Cantilevers
- Bar Tape: Campandgoslow
- Shifter: Dura Ace 7800
- Seat Post: Dura Ace
- Saddle: Cinelli Unicanitor
- Cranks: Sugino PX 175
- Chainrings: 46/26 TA
- Pedals: White Industries (no longer in production)
- BB: Sugino
- Front Derailleur: XTR 8 Speed
- Rear Derailleur: XTR 8 Speed
- Cassette: XTR 8 Speed
- Chain: KMC 8 Speed
- Hubs: White Industries Mi5
- Rims: Crust Bikes
- Tires: Bruce Gordon Rock N Road 43mm
Many thanks to David, Nicholas, Steve Rex, Alec at White Industries, Travis from Paul, Bailey at Sincere Cycles for letting me use his work stand and for wrapping the bars. If you have a Bruce Gordon bike, or a story, drop them in the comments!