Wrapping up our coverage (for now) that showcases the celebrated work and career of San Diego-based framebuilder Rob Roberson, today we take a look at one of Rob’s most recent builds – a custom gravel bike for his friend and co-worker Jon Pucci. Rob and Jon worked together for years in Joe Bell‘s storied paint shop and conspired together for a chunk of that time planning what would become Jon’s dream bike and one he could adorn with an equally fitting paint job. As with all of Rob’s builds (and Jon’s paint, too), there’s a lot to take in so let’s get to it!
Since the first day I showed up at Joe Bell’s paint shop (which was over ten years ago now) looking for a position in the niche world of custom bicycles, framebuilder Rob Roberson has been a constant presence. If you sent a frame to us that needed repair – braze-ons, cable guides added on, cable guides taken off, dropouts replaced, frame alignment, fork replacement, tube replacement, whatever the problem – Rob is the man that fixes it. Bikes that would otherwise go to the dumpster after the worst crashes and smashes, Rob can fix them.
For decades he’s been JB’s man. At the 1981 Red Zinger race, when a team rider crashed and bent their frame, Rob was the man who re-aligned her bike with a rock and a couple of logs. If you bought a California-made Masi between 1979 and 1981, there’s a good chance Rob was your man. At the 1996 Summer Olympics when Jeannie Longo won gold in the women’s road race, Rob was her man. For the past 50 years, to a small group of people in the know, Rob has been their man. And now after more than a decade of hanging with this relatively unknown wizard of framebuilding, I get to say that he’s my man too.
Rob is the kind of fabricator that can build just about any bike you want out of steel, but will only do it if it’s something he really wants to do. I’ve seen him build road bikes, touring bikes, track bikes, tricycles, old-school mountain bikes, you name it.
If he can’t find a lug that works for the project, he makes his own. If you can’t find a fork crown that works for you, he’ll fabricate his own version of that too. Rob can make any and all of your wildest bicycle fantasies come true, but only if he wants to.
In the twelve years that I’ve witnessed Rob create functioning works of art, I’ve also seen him turn plenty of work down or cancel a job in the middle over seemingly small design disagreements. If you try to light a fire under him, that heat just gets redirected back at you. But if you are patient, and have a request that strikes him as interesting, he can build you the two-wheeled machine of your dreams.
My personal feelings and ego aside, the bike that Rob has built for me is an exquisite example of what 50 years of bicycle-building experience looks like. The lugs were all custom-made by welding heavy gauge tubing together to create angles that are unavailable in stock lugs and feature design elements that are uniquely Roberson, including the industrial-looking seat binder and the “proud” height of the lug points which are consistent throughout.
The twin plate fork crown matched to beefy track blades creates a front end that looks simultaneously elegant and tough and, since Rob machined the bi-level plates himself, there is enough room for a 48mm tire and a fender without looking too heavy or chonky. To keep things consistent, tire clearance between the seatstays and the chainstays is exactly the same as it is for the fork down to the millimeter.
His signature seat stay caps are the cherries on top and create a nice opportunity for paint accents to make them pop. Finally, Rob hand-cuts each and every stainless steel head badge that adorns his frames and, until recently, served as his only form of “branding” or graphics.
There’s no question that it’s a beautiful bike. But, when it comes to bicycles, beauty is only half the equation. The artwork must function to the highest standards of today’s modern gravel enthusiast. Given Rob’s pedigree (Masi, Ibis, Hooker, etc.) along with custom design numbers and fitting from Cody Stevenson of Holland Cycles, I am extremely pleased to report that this dream bike rides, well, like a dream.
Comfortable for long days on pavement, its true magic comes out in the dirt as this bike is an absolute ripper in singletrack and on gravel roads. It climbs great, descends even better, and, paired with a nice fresh set of Ultradynamico Rose tires, I can corner with confidence that I never knew I had. Which brings me to the nitty gritty: the build.
Underbiking is a term that’s getting thrown around a lot these days, and to those in the mainstream, this bike would likely fall right into that category. First of all, it’s steel. Heavy, reliable, and beautiful steel. The tubing is a blend of Columbus and Kaisei which is why in lieu of a little white bird on a red background, I created my own “Dope Tubes” insignia to convey the materials in use.
If you’re reading this and fall in the “steel is real heavy” camp then I’m sure the combination of quick-release skewers, V-brakes, Campagnolo 11-speed drivetrain, and an old Suntour triple will be enough to induce heavy eye rolls and a lot of scoffing (that’s not even mentioning the one-inch steer tube). And if cycling was all about being the lightest, fastest, strongest, and most efficient two-wheeled blend of person and machine that modern technology can allow for, then I would agree with the naysayers.
But luckily for me, and for a lot of us out there, that is not what cycling is all about. There are no rules, there are no must haves or must not haves. The best bike is the one that makes you smile while you’re riding, the one that motivates you to go for a ride, the one that makes you look back as you walk away and exclaim, “Gattdamn look at her!”
This Roberson is all of the above to me. Not only does it fit me perfectly and ride just the way I want it to, but this bike also represents the culmination of over a decade in the custom bicycle industry. Painted in the shop where I began my career and with design input from my mentor JB, with ultra-lightweight rims from my friends Matt and Cheech at Crust bikes, tires from the Ultradynamic duo Ron and Coach Patrick, a Sim Works stem from the always sweet (and amazing chef) Rie Sawada, a Brooks test saddle long ago gifted by my bestie Rachael Cook at Specialized Austin, and a combination of components from my favorite Italian and Japanese parts manufacturers. This custom Rob Roberson gravel bike truly is my own personal two-wheeled dream machine.
- Frame/fork: Custom Roberson
- Front derailleur: Campy Centaur 11-Speed
- Rear derailleur: Campy Centaur 11-Speed
- Shifters: Campy Centaur 11-Speed triple
- Brakes: TRP CX8.4 Mini
- Hubs: Campy Centaur 10-Speed
- Cassette: Campy Centaur 11-Speed
- Chain: Campy Centaur 11-Speed
- Rims: Crust Rim Brake 650b
- Crank: Suntour XC pro w/ Specialties TA chainrings
- Bottom bracket: Suntour XC pro
- Headset: Chris King 1” threadless pink
- Handlebars: Nitto Noodle 46
- Stem: Sim Works Anna Lee-S
- Seat post: Nitto Jaguar
- Saddle: Brooks C17
- Front Rack: Nitto Campee
- Tires: Ultradynamico Rose 650b