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Petaluma Cycling Legend at Crossroads

Bruce Gordon is well-known in the cycling community for his sturdy steel frames and titanium racks, built in Petaluma. But with most bikes now manufactured in Asia, he's being edged out of the market and pondering his next step.

 

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.

Know a Petaluma business that deserves to be highlighted on Petaluma Patch? Drop us a line at karina@patch.com

Karina Ioffee January 09, 2013 at 05:24 PM
It's at 409 Petaluma Blvd. South, behind Clavey Sports. I've added this to the story.
Karma January 09, 2013 at 06:28 PM
Thank You if it was there before sorry I missed it. Oops!
MICHAEL P WILSON "Independent Kid" January 10, 2013 at 05:53 AM
A true American
Active Thinker January 10, 2013 at 05:15 PM
He does great stuff. Great shop I was there the other day. People need to hear what he is saying...it's not just buying local but from companies that don't import all of the stuff from China...
Bruce Gordon January 10, 2013 at 05:43 PM
Please note that the touring racks I make for Loaded Touring are 4130 Steel tubing - not Titanium as stated in the article - that was a misprint. I have made some Titanium racks on custom frames for light loads, but, for loaded touring we use 4130 Steel tubing. Just trying to set the record straight. Regards, Bruce Gordon

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