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Pedaling to the Mall
By Neil Gunton and Chiho Sakamoto - (contact)

Review: Bruce Gordon Rock N' Road Tour

Saturday August 2, 2003

I ordered this top-of-the-line Bruce Gordon bike back in January 2003, in preparation for what I thought would be a full, coast-to-coast Northern Tier tour this summer. However time and money conspired against me so that we had to shorten our plans. Anyway, how did the bike do?

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Bruce Gordon Rock N' Road Tour

First Impressions

First of all, let me say that the bike seems very solid and well made. The racks are bomb-proof. I had chosen Bruce Gordon because of his reputation for building strong touring bikes, and he seemed to deliver on that.

So, how about the "experience" of getting a bike from Bruce? Well, first of all you need to talk to him to figure out what size bike you need. He has a number of different "stock" frame sizes which he makes, and based on your inner leg measurement and height etc he (and you) attempt to determine what the right size is for you. In my case we couldn't really decide between a 53 and a 56 cm frame (distance from the center of the bottom bracket to the center of the intersection of the top tube and the seat tube). In the end, I went to my local bike store (Bay City Cycles in Ashland) and got Karl to look at me on my racing bike and talk to Bruce on the phone for me. I think this is a pretty good idea in general, since you can get two guys who know about this sort of thing communicating, rather than you taking wild and uneducated guesses. Of course even better would be to go to Bruce's shop yourself, but that wasn't feasible for me (living in Wisconsin, he's in California). Anyway, I finally opted for the smaller frame - Bruce assured me it would make no difference, I seemed to be bang in between the two.

When the bike arrived, I took it to Karl at Bay Cycles to be built (it's recommended to have this done by a bike shop unless you know what you're doing, since there is quite a lot of assembly required) and he had a good time with it - he had heard of Bruce's bikes and was curious about how it was built. He told me that he thought it was a beautiful bike.

Riding the Bike

The bike rides very well, and is rock solid as a touring bike should be. It is extremely stable. There was a slight shimmy that I experienced at first with my fully loaded panniers, but I am aware that this can happen with any bike, no matter how strong it is - shimmy can have many different causes, among them being distribution of weight in the panniers, handlebar bags, tires, or even the relationship between the height of the rider and the bike geometry. I managed to rearrange things so that the shimmy pretty much disappeared - it certainly wasn't a major issue.

More of an issue for me was the fact that over the two weeks of riding on this tour, I experienced quite a lot of pain through my palms and hands. Part of this could be attributed to the big freeze-thaw cracks in the road up here in northern Minnesota - these are quite a chore to ride on, every ten yards or so there is a big KERHUNCK as your bike goes over yet another mini-chasm in the road. However I thought that the stem was perhaps both too low and also made my riding position too far forward - so I resolved to experiment with some different stem setups in order to get my riding position more comfortable. This kind of thing is very difficult to work out ahead of time, so often you really need to go on a few long rides (or a multi-week ride) in order to discover these things. It was too late at that point to expect Bruce to change stuff around, so I decided to look around for solutions to the problem myself. My eventual solution was to use a Softride Suspension Stem with Butterfly Handlebars. See the last couple of pages in this journal for updates on this - I've added a review of the Softride suspension stem and also changed to butterfly handlebars.

Gearing

The gearing on touring bikes (particularly Trek) tends to be too high, which means the gears seem to be made for going at much faster speeds than is generally the case in the real world. I noticed that my wife on her Trek 520 was always pedaling more slowly when in the equivalent front chainring/rear cog as me. Bruce Gordon puts a very reasonable gear ration on his bikes, I think that it's more realistic given the hillclimbing and slow speeds that you have on an average fully-loaded tour. Of course you can change the components, but all in all I'd say you don't really have to in this case.

Front Rack

The custom front rack was very successful. It cost an additional $100 for the customization of the light mount. But then, it is a hand-done custom job and extremely well finished, so I am very happy with it.

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The original sketch that I sent Bruce to specify what I wanted on the front rack

Rear Rack

The rear rack was nice and rock solid, as per reputation, but I found that I had to shift my Ortlieb panniers all the way back to stop them from hitting my heels while pedaling. You should be careful about mounting your panniers - look out for heel clearance. Also, a solid platform would have been nice on the rear rack, like the Jandd has. This would stop clothing and other soft stuff from sagging through onto the top of the wheel, if that's all you have on there.

However, Bruce builds really strong racks, no doubt about it, and that's the main thing you want from this piece of equipment - strength and reliability. I particularly liked the little braze-on points for mounting fenders - these are in such a position that the fender struts are much shorter than they usually are, which makes them much more rigid.

One final thing - there is no reflector or attachment for one on the rear rack. This surprised me a bit, but we were able to improvise something for the rear light on the fender that seemed to work pretty well. Bruce might like to think about brazing something on there for us to attach a rear light or reflector.

Conclusions

So, after all that, would I recommend Bruce Gordon cycles? The answer is "Yes". There's no doubt about it, Bruce does build excellent bikes, very sturdy and beautifully made, no issues there. We did have some interesting (and sometimes heated!) discussions about riding position and other issues, and it's pretty easy to stay on the phone talking to this guy for hours on end. I think he spent a good seven hours or so talking to me before the sale, which is nice. He can be a strong character, but he is by no means a bad guy, and since he is one of the few remaining small bike builders left in the USA, I would recommend that people support him by giving him your business. He may not be all that adept at dealing with people, but you know, I would rather deal with a character like Bruce than any of these huge multinational corporations that have their bikes built abroad by people working for pennies an hour. Talk to him, Bruce can certainly use the business and I would heartily recommend him. We had our disagreements about some technical issues, but there's no doubt that he is the real deal.

Anyway - for other specific aspects and pictures, read on below...

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The custom lightmount on the front rack - $100 extra for custom rack from Bruce, but it was a good job and seemed to work well

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Bruce Gordon rear rack. Rock solid and bomb-proof. Only thing is that it doesn't have a solid platform on top, so it's a little harder to strap, say, your wool jersey on the back if you're just out for a day ride (since clothing tends to sag through the bars and down onto the top of the wheel). In contrast, the Jandd Mountaineering rear rack on Chiho's bike has such a platform (here's a pic), which is quite nice. But otherwise, a very strong and capable touring rack.

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Bruce positioned the braze-ons for the underneath bottle cage too high - the bottle would conflict with the front fender. So I put a Zefal Gizmo clamp below it, and used the bottom brazeon for the top bolt, thus shifting the entire cage down enough to clear the fender. I also used the Gizmo's risers to raise the cage from the frame, so that it didn't interfere with the cables. The resulting setup didn't conflict with the front chainrings at all, and was just clear now of the front fender (even with a tall Polar bottle). You can see the now unused top brazeon above the bottle cage. All in all, the modification worked very well.

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Bruce Gordon front low rider rack, with custom front light attachment

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The Bruce Gordon Rock N' Road: Closeup of handlebar, stem setup. I put the Sigma computer on the stem instead of handlebars to leave more room for hand positions and the Ortlieb handlebar bag (I had already removed the Ortlieb attachment when this photo was taken, and was in the process of changing the stem, so the handlebar position isn't quite right either)

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Rear light and fenders by Planet Bike, worked well. Karl, from Bay City Cycles in Ashland, improvised this rear light fitting by rivetting a rack mount attachment to the fender, which worked just fine. It was a little odd that Bruce Gordon didn't provide any reflectors or mounts for lights on his bike or racks, but we worked around it.

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The Planet Bike rear fender, a very good idea all around. Recommended. You can see that the fender has been attached on the sides to the rack rather than the frame mounts, which makes it much more rigid, because the stays can be shorter. I don't know if this is what Bruce intended for the racks (since he seems to think fenders are unnecessary) but whatever, it worked well for these fenders.

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The excellent, excellent Greenfield rear kickstand. Essential for any touring bike, in my humble opinion. I just don't understand why anyone would be satisfied with a bike where you have to throw it on the ground whenever you stop! This kickstand is well able to support a fully loaded bicycle - you just have to be careful sometimes about the angle of the bike, if you're on a sloping surface or hill. But that becomes second nature. Finally, I have found that the bolt holding the stand onto its mount can come loose - this is simply fixed with a spring loaded washer. All in all, highly recommended!

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The Cat Eye mirror which I modified to attach to the brake lever. This looks like it would move when you use the brake, and it does, but in practice this is not noticeable at all. The mirror is light, and doesn't vibrate as much as others, and is very unintrusive. I used standard washers to raise the mirror out from the brake housing a bit more, and bolted it onto the hole which is left for tightening the brake onto the handlebar (you can still get to this by releasing the brake cable, so that the brake lever can be fully depressed).

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Another closeup of my modified Cat Eye mirror arrangement. A custom job by yours truly, that works pretty well in practice.

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"Pedaling to the Mall" Copyright © 2003-2014 By Neil Gunton and Chiho Sakamoto - (contact). All rights reserved.
Page was created on August 2, 2003 10:37 PDT, last updated on February 5, 2010 12:00 PDT
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