Making a bicycle is an art.
Design and functionality are part of the equation—Is it light enough? What is the frame made of?— but so is aesthetic value.
A good bicycle has to be easy on the eyes.
Yet building a bike is expensive, which is why many companies now design their cycles in the U.S. or Italy, but build them in China or Taiwan, where labor and parts are significantly cheaper.
But Petaluma resident and bicycling legend Bruce Gordon is trying to resist the global shift of manufacturing to Asia, stubbornly making more than 80 percent of his parts in America.
“I’m sort of old fashioned that way. If I want a table, I go to a guy who builds them instead of IKEA,” says the 64-year-old Gordon.
Gordon is well known in the cycling community.
He dropped out of the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago in 1970 to focus on bicycles full-time. Since then, he has won plenty of awards and accolades for his work, evidenced by the trophies and certificates that line the walls of his office on Petaluma Boulevard South.
“He has some really beautifully made bikes,” said Andrew Christensen, owner of a downtown cycling store. “He is one of the first people who made 29-er tires (which have a bigger diameter and have more air volume than traditional road tires). His steel racing frames and titanium racks were incredible.”
But now the legend is at a crossroads.
He’s getting older and his bicycles, which start at $3,000, are not selling like they used to.
“My mom keeps telling me ‘Get a job,’” Gordon says, chuckling. “But when you’ve been doing this your whole life, what else can I do? Put on an orange vest and sell cheaply-made Chinese goods at Home Depot?”
Chinese goods are a source of great annoyance for Gordon, whose business has taken a beating because of the lower priced competition. He still makes his frames, racks and toe clips in his machine shop, although the tires are now made in Japan.
Among Gordon’s most famous designs is the Rock ‘n Road tour bike, with racks in front and back, a sort of scaled-down version of a mountain bike. It’s a machine that’s perfect for cycling through the vineyards of Napa, picnic entow, or doing the cross-country cycling adventure you’ve always talked about.
One idea Gordon has for his business is to spruce up his shop by turning it into a mini bicycling museum and boutique bike shop, the kind that would lure cycling enthusiasts and hand-built cycling snobs. Another is to bring in a partner who could buy out the business, but keep him on staff.
“It’s been a great ride and I’m just not ready to end it,” he says.
Bruce Gordon Cycles is located at 409 Petaluma Boulevard South. For more information, call (707) 762-5601.
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