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Remembering Bruce Gordon Aboard One of His Bikes

Bruce Gordon was known for his craftsmanship. He died unexpectedly in early June, so we decided to take a closer look at one of his creations.

Written by: Spencer Powlison

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As soon as I saw the initials "B.G." in art deco font on the lugged headtube of a small pink mountain bike in our stable of museum bikes, I felt a rush of excitement. This is what I had been looking for.

Unfortunately, my quest for a rare Bruce Gordon bike was a sad one.

On June 7, bicycle framebuilder, tire innovator, and all-around craftsman Bruce Gordon died unexpectedly at age 70. Bicycling and Bicycle Retailer and Industry News both published obituaries in the days following his passing. The stories highlight the large role Gordon played in the world of handbuilt bicycles. Both are worth a read to grasp the scope of his work and influence.

While I never had the chance to meet Gordon in person, I had access to one of his bikes that is housed in The Pro's Closet Bike Museum. To pay tribute to him, let's take a closer look at this 30-year-old bike and hear the story behind it from its first owner. 

Bruce Gordon

Built in the mid-1980s, this steel mountain bike combines a bit of the laid-back, stable feeling of an early Specialized Stumpjumper or a Breezer. But when you get out of the saddle, it is lively and quick. Perhaps that was a hint of things to come with more race-oriented mountain bikes that became popular in the late ‘80s and early '90s.

Of course, the componentry doesn't say much about Gordon or any framebuilder, but it influences the bike's personality on the trail. The narrow, 540mm titanium handlebars make things a bit nervous on the descents. Surprisingly, even though they're decades old, the IRC Tomahawk tires are pretty confident on loose corners. The U-brake, hidden beneath the chainstays, produces remarkably good feel and power.

Simply put, this little pink bike is fun to ride, well-mannered, and balanced. But a single ride is hardly enough time to say much about this beautiful lugged bike, which is one of less than 10 mountain bikes that Gordon fabricated.

So, I did a bit of research and discovered that this bike was originally made for Sky Yaeger, who has been in the bike industry for decades and is currently the Bicycle Director at Shinola. I called her up to hear about this special bike and her memories of riding it in the early days of mountain biking.

"Bruce and I dated for about two or three years in the ‘80s, and he built matching pink bikes, one for him and one for me," Yaeger said.

Bruce Gordon
Photo courtesy Sky Yaeger

"This would be ‘85, ‘86 or something like that. We were joking about how we’d see mountain bikes on cars but they never had any dirt on them so we decided that we needed to come up with a product that you could spray dirt on them so that you never had to ride them. So when he painted these, he put the brown paint on to have it look like dirt. That’s what the brown flecks are.

"We wanted to call it ‘Mud in a Can’ so you could just spray your bike and never have to ride it."

Bruce Gordon

"When I built the bike it was Shimano Deore, one of the first iterations of the Deore XT with the deer head on it. And then I got hired by Suntour in ‘88 so I had to ride Suntour, and I was racing for a women’s team then.

"There’s a Gary Helfrich titanium stem on it, one of the first."

Bruce Gordon 
"And then in sort of a nod to my Wisconsin background, I painted both of our saddles to look like Holstein cows. Those were the Turbo days, so I think I buffed them up a little bit, painted them, and clear-coated them. But of course, it wore off over the years."

Bruce Gordon

"I did lots of Oregon rides. I think I did Pearl Pass on it. This would have been during that time. Lots of crazy races — it was the early days so it was still pretty underground, mostly underground. We went to Crested Butte — I don’t know how we even found out about it without the Internet. I was riding in Moab, [Rim Cyclery founders] Bill and Robin Groff organized the first events out of Moab in the ‘80s on Slickrock. I’ve got photos of me on this bike with my dog on Slickrock."

Sky Yeager
Photo courtesy Sky Yaeger

"He made less than 10 of these. He was not a mountain biker, he was not into it — he was a roadie more or less. He made gorgeous mountain bikes, but there’s definitely less than 10."

Crested Butte
Photo courtesy Sky Yaeger

"He was, in those days, really, really fun. He was a real craftsman. He didn’t weld, he just brazed. The lug work is gorgeous. I still have a road bike and a track bike that he built me. And the rear dropouts, I love the scalloped rear dropouts.

"The geometry just always felt perfect to me. I had a lot of mountain bikes that I’d go over the bars — weird geometry because people were trying to figure it out. It was really stable — I’m thinking of coming down Pearl Pass and doing Porcupine Rim before suspension and all that. I don’t think I ever crashed the thing."

Bruce Gordon

Bruce Gordon

Bruce Gordon