Re: Was[CR]Bruce Gordon ya gotta love him, now custom bikes

(Example: Racing)

From: <"">
Date: Wed, 8 Nov 2006 21:54:58 GMT
Subject: Re: Was[CR]Bruce Gordon ya gotta love him, now custom bikes

Lou and all,

First of all, you do gotta love Bruce Gordon. He's one of my best

friends and he is 100% sincere and passionate about what he does. He's

supremely talented and he does fantastic work and comes up with really

nice designs for everything he makes. He's a lifetime fixture in the

business, and regardless of what one might think; he's a gifted

framebuilder, knowledgable and wise beyond his years, looks just like

Joe Bell, and desreves respect in every way for what he does and the

fact that he has survived over 30 years in this tough business. If

anyone takes exception to that, stand in line because I'll punch every

one of you in the kneecap (my short person joke for the day).

Of course what you said about many framebuilders not knowing much

about actually designing a frame is quite true. Oftentimes it is the

one aspect of framebuilding that the builder may never really get a

handle on. Designing a frame to fit an indidual and their specific

needs for a specific bicycle is not rocket science; but it does

involve logical thinking and skilled question asking in order to

extract the information needed to make the subtle decisions that

ultimately result in a bike designed from the ground up for a certain

person. For the most part, there are three areas that the framebuilder

should take into consideration when designing a bike. The "fit" of the

frame, meaning the dimensions that relate to the body of the rider and

their position AND weight distribution on the bicycle. Some of this is

directly related to the use the bicycle is intended to suit. The

second would be the angles and dimensions that determine how the bike

will steer, considering again the weight distribution of the rider and

wheather the bike will be used with or without weight in addition to

the rider from time to time. The final part of the design takes into

consideration specific equiptment that may have an effect on various

parts of the bicycle, including the rider himself. Since I began

riding bikes in 1971 I have owned and ridden well over 150 different

bikes (built by other makers) my size and have built nearly 50 bikes

for myself. This type and amount of experience is the foundation I use

for designing bikes. I make each bike individually and there is no

your bike my way in my shop. I take into consideration everything I

can extract from the customer. If I get honest and accurate answers I

can design the bike that is required. Unfortunately, people vary

widely in what they think they want and sometimes are totally

convinced that only one way will work because they are "so sensitive"

to even the smallest dimensioal variations on a frame. This is

generally a mental condition. They believe this to be so to the degree

that they make it so. The fact is that the human body is a remarkably

adaptive unit and relatively small changes towards improvement can

easily be incorperated into the riders needs to their advantage, as

long as the mental block is removed. Frequently it can't be removed.

If I see improvements can be made based on the answers I get from my

quiz of the rider and they insist on not changing for the better, I

show them the door.

I'm sure there are a good number of ways any given framebuilder goes

about sizing up a rider and designing the steering geometry. I think

many builders simply copy something that is "known" to work. There are

different ways of copying existing frame designs, rangeing from making

a direct copy of another frame, or by just taking measurements off of

an existing bike for some slight tweeking. If the builder only offers

one basic design philosophy there is a very good chance they don't

have the experience to capture the whole picture and translate it into

a bike specifically for the rider. That is not to say that the bike

won't work for the rider, because, as I mentioned already, the body

can adapt to these things quite redily, in most cases. I suspect most

builders have charts or formulas that they work from to some degree. I

think most settle on certain dimesions as the foundation of the

design, like trail or front center, and then do what they can to make

the other measurements fit in or let them fall as they may. Some

believe a bike should never have toeclip overlap for example. I feel

that builders who consider that as a primary feature of the design are

making a huge design mistake, especially as it relates to smaller

frames. I suspect their main concern is some sort of liability issue.

The resulting poor steering from this is infinitely more dangerous

than a possible touch of the toe to the tire in a turn under 5 mph and

of very tight radius. Anyone who feels they should not have to get to

know the specific charactistics of their specialized piece of sports

equiptment nor pay attention to what they are doing at all times when

riding a high end bicycle has no business being out on the road (or

track). They are destined to have problems sooner or later regardless

of how "safe" they think they are. Cycling is an activity for those

who take responsibility for their own safety and pay acute attention

to everything around them at all times. It also requires a level of

skill, that if you do not have, will likely cause some major trauma

eventually. The bike is generally a vehicle that is meant to travel at

reasonable speeds. If you are going very slow one should actually be

paying MORE attention, just as you should when traveling at extra high

speeds. There is a way to do both with reasonable safety. PAY

ATTENTION!! Cycling is risky just like many other activities; it is

the responsibility of the rider to have enough skill to ride a bicycle.

As I mentioned earlier, I have owned probably approaching 200 bicycles

thus far; everything from track bikes (including tandem), time trial

bikes (for both road and track), racing trikes, road bikes of all

sorts (racing to randonneuring), tandems and triplets, and ladies

bikes and city or town bikes. Part of the reason I ride and collect

all of these bikes is for the experience that they give me, which aids

my understanding of how bikes act and react to various riders. During

this time I have also had the experiences of having other builders

build bikes for me. Some have hit the mark, others have failed. I

would like to relate some of these experiences to everyone, partially

because I am in a rather unique position when doing these projects. I

think many framebuilders refuse to ride anything other than what they

build once they begin to make bicycles as a profession. I feel this is

foolish and nearsighted; you will never learn what you don't know

doing that. Sometimes I have specified what to build, at other times

the builder "did it my way", meaning they decided to change something

about my request. So far, when this has happened I have been very

disappointed with the end results. One would think that if a builder

got a request for certain traits from another experienced

framebuilder, they would respect that. I did pay for these bicycles,

and I did not get what I asked for on two occassions, which still to

this day upsets me.

I shall begin with the first bike I had that was made for me to meet a

specific need. It was 1972 and was before I started building frames

myself (although I was already dabbling in paint stuff). I ordered an

English made frame specifically for riding criteriums here in SoCal. I

wanted short chainstays and verticle dropouts, high BB height, and not

too much rake. The frame was relatively cheap, and was Reynolds 531

and so on. When the bike arrived and I rode it, it just did not feel

good to me (since by that time I already had an Italian Masi GC, a

Colnago Super, a Schwinn Paramount (that I hated and offed

immediately), a Lelune track bike, a Pogliaghi track bike, and an

Eisentraut "A" bike (which was the best of the bunch for road bikes).

I offed the crit bike within a few weeks of taking delivery. I

attribute my complaints mainly to poor construction. The dropouts were

barely in the tubes and something just didn't work for me.

Although the Eisentraut was a great all around bike, the Colnago super

was my favorite for racing at the time. The Masi I had was a little on

the big side for me (54cm c-t), but it was not too bad; but as I found

out later that was partially due to the size. My Colnago fit me (50cm

c-t) and rode perfectly, whereas Masis my size were pure crap in my

opinion. They were designed not to have toe overlap. So by the time I

began to work at Masi I felt I knew at least a little about what I

liked in a bicycle. As it turned out I never got the "employee" bike I

was due when I worked there because my size never got made during the

early period of my first time at Masi. But when I did make my first

Wizard for myself (actually made from the tubes and lugs that were

going to be my Masi, I sort of built it to Masi geometry. It worked,

but it didn't ride like my Colnago, the steering was sluggish and the

bike could possibly be dangerous at high speeds on fast downhills with

tight turns, which we have some of here in SoCal. At that point I

adopted the general design of the Colnago super for bikes my size that

were intended for racing.

I made a number of Wizard bikes for myself during the time between my

two terms at Masi ( built Wizards between mid '74 to early '76). When

I worked at Masi the second time, this time as the painting foreman

and instructor to the lug shapers and filers, I took a frame off the

rack for myself, a 50 cm. I rode it and that was the first time I

experienced a Masi my size. Again, the steering was crap. I thought

maybe if I built one myself (even though we could not alter the

geometry) I figured I'd have better luck. The foundation for this

belief came from my experience with my Eisentraut, which convinced me

that a carefully handmade and silver brazed frame was superior to a

brass brazed one from the production line. Well, the second Masi, no

matter how carefully I built it, still had poor manners while steering

and decending fast downhills. That was the end of my trying to make

Masi geometry work. I even tried making one with super light tubing to

see how that felt. Poor steering is poor steering.

The next occassion I had for someone to build a bike for me came

sometime in the early 80's. By that time I really knew what I liked

and wanted in a bike for myself. I had the occassion in this case to

ride a bike my size from the builder before the frame was built. My

comments were that the steering was pretty much like the Masis I don't

like, and I requested that the frame have the steering geometry I knew

worked for me. To my surprize, the responce was "I only do it one way,

that's my way". OK, whatever you say. I was willing to accept that

answer and was willing to see if maybe I could learn something from

the situation. It is generally not wise to argue with your

framebuilder, they oftentimes know more than the customer under normal

circumstances. When the bike arrived and I built it up and rode it I

wasn't actually surprized, since I know what I rode before the build,

and the new bike was the same. The steering was just like the Masis I

don't like; and as a result I did not like the bike. It annoyed me

every time I rode it. I finally hung her up and haven't ridden it for

many years. I even tried an experiment after owning the bike for about

6 or 7 years. During the last repaint of the bike I disassembled the

fork by removing the fork blades, unbent them to lesser rake, cut off

the extra length that results from the unbending, and put the fork

back together. The steering impoved a bit, but because the head angle

was also too steep (at 74 degrees on a 50cm frame) it never really

made for a bike that I truely enjoyed riding. At that point I decided

to make sure to specify what I wanted and make sure that the builder

carried out my requests.

Prior to this experience I had a tandem built by a friend of mine.

Never having had a tandem before, I trusted this experienced builder

to design the frame. The tandem was and still is a great bike; it

steers and handles like a dream and I have had hundreds of really fun

times on it with lots of different people. So when the opportunity

came up to order another super fancy custom built tandem, I knew what

worked for me and sent the specs to the builder. They followed my

directions perfectly, EXCEPT for one critical measurement. Again, it

was the fork rake. What works for me is 73 degrees with 2 3/8" of

rake. I got the 73 degrees, but they delivered a fork with 3 1/4" of

rake. I'm not sure why. Either they felt they know what I needed

better than I did OR they only know how to build a fork of one

dimension. Regardless, I painted the frame (most of my deals like this

involve delivering an unpainted frame, since I like to paint my own

stuff for obvious reasons), a VERY elaborate job BTW, and then put the

bike together to ride. Within seconds my heart sank. It was quite

clearly a slug, the bike had MAJOR wheel flop and could not steer it's

way out of a paper bag. Because of the elaborate paint job with a lot

of custom mixed colors, I couldn't "adjust the fork" without a whole

new paint job. The bike is still in my collection with the original

paint on it and it looks amazing, but I have a hard time taking it out

to ride because it steers so poorly, and it annoys the crap out of me

and drives me crazy.

Prior to that experience, I had an opportunity to have a track bike

built to order. In this case I sent a full scale drawing, the tubes

for the main triangle (Columbus PL), some Campy track dropouts (they

were going to use ShimaNO), I paid the extra money to have the frame

silver brazed as opposed to brass brazed, and even sent a variation of

DT decal in a color they did not have. This one came painted. I picked

the colors from a color chart that wasn't very accurate, and when the

bike came I almost puked. The good part is that they followed my

drawing exactly and the bike rides fantastic and I'm really happy with

it. I repainted it and now it is one of the favorites in my collection

both as a rider and as a looker. I had a trike built at the same time,

and once I figured out the best setup for components on it, it has

provided me with some great trike experiences and tons of fun.

I also had the opportunity once to have a bike built to spec which

also had a very cool lug design, which was my primary interest in

having the bike built. I sent the dimensions and the tubing (Reynolds

653) to the builder. The bike was made to my specifications, but for

some reason it never quite performed to my expectations even though it

was pretty much a copy of the 650C wheel bike I built for myself that

I really like. I still don't know why this is. I actually should have

kept it to add to the "American Wing" of my collection, but since that

time I have aquired another bike to represent that builder.

I had Dave Tesch build me an S-22 track bike back in the early 90's

which was a unique project. Dave mitered the special S-22 tubes and

tacked the frame (to my specs) in his fixture. From there, I did the

fillet brazing, the filing, built the fork, and painted it. That bike

is one of the more unique bikes in my collection. As a track bike, it

is difficult to not make something that works properly. Needles to

say, I'm happy and proud to own this true one-of-a-kind piece.

Around the year 2000 I ordered a custom collectable road bike. Again

it came unpainted. I was rather shocked when the bike arrived because

there was a gnarley kink in one of the forkblades from (improper)

bending and the filing and brazing was hedious. At first I was

disappointed, but then decided to try and salvage the project to see

if I could do it. The kink in the forkblade altered my plans for how

much chrome I was going to use, but there wasn't much I could do with

it beyond bondo it and move the plans for chrome futher down the fork

blade. I spent two months excavating the lugs of excess brass,

sharpening the edges, and getting something I could file thin and

still have something pretty. After all that I did paint it and ride it

a little, but thus far am not impressed. I plan to change a few parts

and dial it in as much as possible; but this bike does have more rake

than it needs and it will never be one of my favorite riders.

There are probably some other experinces I could come up with, but

this should give you an idea what it's like to try to hit the

customers expectations. It is a somewhat difficult and esoteric aspect

of building custom frames. Some of the obsticles are mental ones that

the customer places in the way of potential success. From all of these

experiences over the years I have adopted a design sequence that does

not follow any formulas nor charts for train or any other dimensions.

I have found that the best way to have as good of luck as possible

begins with having experience with lots of bikes, both bikes built by

other builders and bikes you build for yourself. Every one can teach

you something, wheather it is what to do or what NOT to do. Following

formulas or trying to work within the limits of one design philosophy

is not as good as knowing a lot about lots of different bikes. In the

end most things will work pretty well, mainly because the customer and

the body are pretty adaptable. Saddles and stems and all kinds of

other things can be adjusted to hit the mark in the end. But a true

master understands much more than any number of formulas and charts

(most of which, when imputed with the same information give various

results) and takes into account much more than just numbers. The

relationship of bicycle to rider is something that is best understood

through many years of a wide variety of experiences with all kinds of

bikes. Talking amongst your colleuges is helpful as well. The

mechanics of frame construction is fairly easy to get a grasp upon and

some practice generally will bring you up to speed in a relatively

short time. Actually designing each frame one at a time specifically

for a particular person is an esoteric art and very little can be

taught to others. How do you translate experieces from contact with

thousands of bicycles to someone else? It isn't easy and many builders

may never end doing that. What I'm doing for my apprentice in this way

is thinking outloud as I mull over all the factors involved in any

given design so he can watch the process of thinking and reasoning

that goes on as I extract the answers I need from the customer. Much

of the calculations go on inside my head as I hone in on what is

required to accomplish the goal. Ironically, sizing up a customer can

be quite quick and easy and doesn't have to be complicated. I can even

do it over the phone quite easily of the customer has the accurate

answers to my questions. Which questions are asked of each customer

vary because obviously each customer is unique. You can not put which

questions to ask any given client into a formula or onto a chart if

you are going to really do this from experience. So to explain and/or

teach it to someone may be nearly impossible. Much of what can be

learned will depend on how the student thinks and learns himself.

Brian Baylis La Mesa, CA

P.S. Practice is good for learning the mechanics of framebuilding. Design

is a different animal. It does not have to be a bunch of meaurements

and calculating. Most of that is part of the "Dog and Pony Show" that

some builders learn to perform for the customer to convince them they

know what they're doing.

Also, if anyone has any questions about this just ask and I'll do my

best to answer. I have had 3 times in my past 30+ years when I had

issues with customers and frame design that I can relate as well. Just

don't want to write it all at once.

-- wrote:

Rob Dayton said: "To me one of the great skills a master frame

builder provides is the ability to design and FIT a bicycle to a rider for it's intended purpose."

Rob, that is a very good point. In the early 80s, when I would read

the magazine buyer guides, they talked about custom bikes being the

epitome of the cycling experience, for exactly the reason you state-- FIT and intended purpose. I wonder how many builders really have

developed the necessary skills to do both of these critical

functions. I think that we often grade builders by their ability to

prepare lugs and braze cleanly, providing a nice looking and aligned

frame, perhaps even providing a nice paint job. Grading them on

providing a quality custom bike that fits and fits the needs of the

rider is more elusive. Lou Deeter, Orlando FL

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