Schnozola is easily the most mysterious brand to grace the show list this year. Very little about the brand has made it to the public sphere. The short, consistent version of the story? It’s a collaboration between powerhouses Bruce Gordon (Bruce Gordon Cycles) and Paul Sadoff (Rock Lobster). The head badge, decals, and name (especially!) uniquely inspired. And that’s really it. No website or social media presence, just a short spot here, a few photos there.
Why was this project kept so quiet? Were they gearing up for some massive reveal? (Would there be a launch party?) What dark magic were these wizards cooking up in their lairs? With my imagination running wild, I put Paul Sadoff on the top of the pre-coverage call interview list (we’re interviewing several builders by phone this year).
As it turns out, the story of Schnozola is four decades in the making… and pretty entertaining.
BIKERUMOR: So you and Bruce Gordon… you’ve been friends forever?
PAUL: No we have not. And you know why? His reputation. The reason why I started building bikes is because I started working in a shop in 1977 called the Bicycle Center here in Santa Cruz. The Bicycle Center was this guy named Roger Sands and he wanted to be like HIS mentor who was Spence Wolf who had Cupertino Bike Shop. And Cupertino Bike Shop was a place where if you knew something about racing bikes, you would go to Cupertino Bike Shop because he was the only guy for hundreds, hundreds of miles in any direction who could get you a Cinelli, who could get you a Masi or Campagnolo shop or whatever, nice wool clothing, real shoes. He had all the connections.
My boss at the time, Roger Sands kind of did a little internship there and wanted to get out of – he was working for Lockheed, you know, defense contractor. “I can’t do this anymore,” you know, “it’s just unhealthy. I want to do something fun.” And so he put together a bike shop and in kind of the mold of Cupertino Bike Shop. He had the walls covered in these really nice frames. He had a bunch of money because he sold a bunch of property he bought because he was a high paid engineer at Lockheed and he bought all these frames. Somebody would come by and, “Hey, I’ve got these frames.” “Yeah sure, I want some.” Masis and whatever. And then he got a bunch of Eisentrauts. And then he got a Bruce Gordon frame.
And I remember the first day I worked there he kind of led me around the shop and showed me all this stuff. Before then, I’d been working at Hollywood Schwinn. We didn’t have that stuff. We had Schwinn, we had Peugeot, we had Centurion. And that’s pretty much it. I’d only been working in the bike business for a year and a half when I came up to Santa Cruz.
My first day I looked at all these frames. And I was a big time Colnago fan. I liked Italian racing bikes and some English ones. I thought Bob Jacksons were really cool. So I look at all these frames and I look at this Bruce Gordon, and I think, “What is this? This is the most beautiful frame I’ve ever seen.” I thought, “The detail, and the attention to detail and the way it was constructed and the paint.” Everything was perfect. I’d never seen anything like this. My Colnago looked like a freaking Kmart bike next to this. So at that point I went, wow, this is an American. I didn’t know there was anyone building custom frames in America. I just thought there were big companies like Murray and Schwinn and whatever building bikes. I thought small production stuff and little shops were over in Europe. No, no! This is Albert Eisentraut who had a production line but he had some custom stuff that was beautiful. But here was Bruce Gordon…
BIKERUMOR: Bruce Gordon worked for Eisentraut for a minute, right?
PAUL: A number of years, actually. I think three or four years. They were business partners. He took one of Albert’s frame building classes in Chicago. That’s where Bruce is from. Then he came to California and worked for Eisentraut and then he started his own thing. He kind of had a falling out with Albert because Albert wanted to do less super high-end stuff and do more production. You know, get more units out there and try to make a little bit more of a company. A lot of builders want to try to do that and I don’t think Bruce was all that into that.
Bruce was starting to feel to the point where he was brave enough to go out on his own. He moved up to Eugene Oregon and started Bruce Gordon Cycles. And that was a long time ago. I don’t know, ‘76 or something like that. Whatever. But he took that class, I think it was 1972. It was him and Mark Nobilette and a few other guys that were all in Eisentraut classes. Nobilette worked for Eisentraut then too, as a matter a fact, Bruce fired Mark… they still joke about it. They’re really good friends. Mark is also is another one of those guys that builds just stunning stuff. But for some reason or another, they don’t go out and buy a Mark Nobilette, but they’ll buy a Rene Herse built by Mark Nobilette. He stays pretty busy.
So I saw this Bruce Gordon. And then I saw what was like $585 for a frame. I was making like $2.35 and hour. So this was the 70’s, you know.
BIKERUMOR: Not a cheap date
PAUL: So I saw a Bob Jackson machine in two-tone. Real nice like blue with white panels. “Can I put a down payment on it?” “Sure, yeah, that frame has been hanging there for three years. You don’t have to worry. I’ll take your $50 and you can pay it off slowly.” So it hung up there for awhile and I had some sort of problem, and I had to get the $50 back. “Yeah, just take it back. That frame isn’t going anywhere.” So he gave my $50 back. Two weeks later that Bob Jackson sold. Some guy bought it. I went “SHIT! What am I going to do?!” And so at that point, the boss’s son in law, this guy Dean Hoevy, one of the people responsible for developing the mouse for computers. You know that mouse thing everyone uses? He’d been building frames and he decided to quit after 50, 55 frames. He had all this tubing and he came into the shop. Myself and the other two bike mechanics that were working there. He said, “You can have a Reynolds tubeset for $20, Columbus tubeset for $30. And you can have the lugs and dropouts for free.”
BIKERUMOR: Boom. Bike.
PAUL: So we all got tubesets and started filing lugs and stuff like that. But none of us had a torch or tanks or any knowledge of brazing. We didn’t get that far. And then Ross Shafer moved to town. This was way before Salsa… he’d only built about eight frames by that point. And he started working at the shop part time.
And I said, “Yeah, I have a tubeset, I want to build a frame.”
He said, “I have a little shop set up, if you want to use my tools and want to help out with silver solder or flux or filling tanks.”
He was way more broke than me. So after seeing that Bruce Gordon, I had my set of Reynolds tubes and I built myself a track frame. It took about six weeks of time, but I still have it.
So Bruce was the initial inspiration for me to build a track frame, so I’ve always held him in high regard. He shared a shop and was next door neighbors with Ross way back in the 80’s or whatever.
I said, “That’s Bruce’s shop!”
And he said, “Yeah, don’t go in there.”
I said, “Why?”
“You don’t want to be around him. He’s not a nice guy. You really don’t want to be around him.”
So I took Ross’s word for it. So I avoided Bruce. I was on the other side of the wall from Bruce’s shop many, many, many, many times. Never said a word to him. Never saw him.
And so the Handbuilt show in 2005 or 2006 in San Jose, I put together a band to play there and we were playing music. And then there is this guy leaning up against the wall watching the band, having a good time. I walk up to him and it’s Bruce Gordon.
“Hey Paul, man, good to meet you.”
We had this great conversation. What the fuck!? I spent the last whatever 15, 20 years avoiding this guy and he’s great! You know? I caught him on one of his up moments and we’ve been friends ever since.
BIKERUMOR: He makes such good stuff. Like his racks. Like that little pillow flask he made a few years ago… like shit… why didn’t I think of that?
PAUL: He’s kind of one of those brilliant people and he can be really really really hilarious too. He has an incredible sense of humor.
BIKERUMOR: VERY dry.
PAUL: Extremely. Yeah, I mean, whenever – he just started showing up to these places where I’m showing up. Like the Grasshopper ride. He was there! I was like “Oh shit!” Or the Meet Your Maker rides that people are doing in the Bay Area. He’s just… I don’t know, I just keep seeing him in a lot of those places. Been hanging out with him. We can both be negative in a funny way. Sometimes not so funny but yeah, I mean, I’ve thrown tools at the wall too, many, many times, but I work by myself. I’m not doing it because I’m pissed at something, I’m doing just because I’m pissed. Mostly at myself.
But yeah, I admire Bruce because of the impeccable manner in which he makes stuff and approaches crafting anything. I think he likes me because he goes, “Holy shit, look at all the work this guy has!” I think he’s just kind of dumbfounded. He just figures that I’m some kind of savant. “I know what people want… and I will give it to them!” “How do you do that?” “I listen to people! That’s how I do that!”
BIKERUMOR: “I take their orders!”
PAUL: Exactly! They say, “I want this. Can you do that?” I don’t say, “No I can’t do that.” I say, “Yes! I can do that!” almost every time. I don’t do recumbents and stuff like that. This – I’m on my fucking soap box – this is a fucking service. It’s not a privilege for someone to have a bike built by me. It’s a privilege for me to have people that want my bikes. Really. And people will see it and you’ve got such a reputation! You’ve been doing it for so long! You are the only one that does what you do! Yeah? The guy next door only does what he does, too. Everyone has something to offer.
I’m just happy that something that I have to offer is in demand. I never set out to be a bike builder. I set out to build myself a bike and build one for my sister. And after that I was like “I’ll build another one and another one.” I had a job I didn’t like and I quit it, and I became a bike builder… because I came up with these goofy decals.
BIKERUMOR: Was it the decals? Is that the thing that did it? “Look at this sweet set of decals. I guess I should start a bike brand?”
PAUL: I did decals mainly for myself because I wanted my bikes to have an identity. Before that, I used to hand paint my name on the bikes but in 1984 I started building mountain bike frames. I thought, “Well, they can’t have my name on them. They have to have some sort of other name.” And I came up with the name of using Rock Lobster because I thought, “There’s Rockhopper, there’s Stumpjumper, Diamondback… all these macho names.” I thought, “Screw that. I want something that’s irreverent. Call it a Rock Lobster. It has nothing to do with riding in the dirt but it has the name ‘rock’ in there.” And then I thought, “I’ll design the decals so it looks like these square blocks kids play with, but they are kind of not really in a cohesive order- they are kind of all tilted and stuff.” Because of the nature of mountain biking back then, it was, “Let’s see what we can ride down and not get killed.” And we were riding down hillsides that were for like horse endurance events. Not meant for bicycles. We’d look at it and go, “We’ll never be able to ride this.”
And two weeks later we were riding it. You’re riding down this trail and stuff is getting dislodged and rocks and dirt and stuff, and it’s rolling alongside you as you’re rolling down this trail.
BIKERUMOR: Like a cartoon!
PAUL: Yeah, like a cartoon. So I wanted my decal to reflect that.
BIKERUMOR: That’s amazing. I love it.
PAUL: And it wasn’t like a long thought process. I woke up one morning and there was a picture of the decal in my head. “The bike’s going to be ‘Rock Lobster’ and the decal is going to be like this.” The decals came out in ‘84 and I didn’t start full time until ‘89 because at that point I had 17 people waiting for bike frames and I went, “Okay, this is legit.” Because I could barely push out a frame a week, you know. They were fillet brazed, they took time to do.
So yeah! So I thought, I’d try being a frame builder and see where that went. I had been in a band playing weddings and playing corporate parties and stuff like that. I went from working at bike shops to being a musician. I really wanted to be a musician. Part of me still wants to be a musician. But I did a couple gigs where – over 200 gigs a year – where I was like most of this is like bullshit. Most of this is without pleasure whatsoever. It’s a privilege to get paid money to be playing music, but it can still suck just as bad. And the wage can be just as bad too.
BIKERUMOR: And the groupies at the corporate events were probably not making it worth your while.
PAUL: I wasn’t having luck with groupies at all. I was terrified. Cause this is the 80’s.
BIKERUMOR: We should talk about the actual project-project that you’re doing. So Bruce Gordon has tires. You want to do something. And then you got this head badge… so now it’s a bike?
PAUL: The headbadge and decals, yeah. I did the same thing. It was kind of like, “Okay, we’re going to call it Schnozola. Because someone is doing a bike called Shinola.” I kind of make fun of everyone. I made fun of Speedvagen.
BIKERUMOR: How did you make fun of Speedvagen?
PAUL: I built a bike that was a very very elaborate single speed cyclocross bike. Really really elaborate with a seatmast and everything like that and cable going through the top tube and out the wishbone extension. No one has ever done anything before or since. It was really unique. But it was called the “Douchevagen.”
But then I had to email Sasha because I consider him a friend. He’s always been nice to me. “Hey, I created this thing.” “I already heard.” He said “I think it’s very clever but can you do me a favor and not let the magazines or media get ahold of this because they are totally going to discredit me and make fun of me.” I said, “Don’t worry.”
PAUL: Yeah. So I did a Douchevagen and I did a Dumpstervagen because it was made out of tubing from my scrap pile, which is a bike that I raced on Sunday because my cross bike was still being shipped back from Nationals. So I make fun of all sorts of stuff. So Shinola… so how about Schnozola? Schnozola is kind of a Yiddish slang for a really large nose.
BIKERUMOR: It’s subtle in how… not subtle it is.
PAUL: Exactly. And the head badge is – I used to do cartooning when I was in high school, and this high school character was Sidney. Sidney was the name of my father. My father didn’t have that big of a noise, but I gave him a really gigantic nose because we did not get along so I might as well make this guy look ridiculous. So his nose starts at the top of his head, so half his face is a nose. It’s just gigantic. So I made the head badge and people seemed to like the head badge, and I did the font – I got the font. It’s like a fake Hebrew font for the downtube.
PAUL: So I called Bruce and said we should do this. And amazingly he agreed. But he told me “this is your craziness.” He actually said, “this is your mishegoss. This is your craziness so you gotta manage it.” “Great. So how do we want to do this?” He said, “Well, how do you want to do this?” “I’ll tell you what.” Cause he’s not a TIG welder. He can tack stuff and stuff. He can weld a rack together but he really prefers not to do it because he says his hands shake too much, his eyesight’s bad. Bruce, that’s everybody who is our age, you know? Come on. So he didn’t want to do the welding, but he would do it – for the first one, I tacked it down here, but he gave me geometry numbers, which we kind of went back and forth on, but I kind of let him take the lead on it, mostly because it’s for his tires. He’s done way more bikes like this than I have, you know, touring bikes. This is a big tire touring bike. And was totally in agreement. Like, “Let’s do the disc brakes.”
PAUL: Let’s give it a threadless steerer.
PAUL: Yeah, I know..
BIKERUMOR: This is bananas. I don’t even know what I’m hearing here!
PAUL: And so we did that and then the first one was built for my next door neighbor who is a guitar builder who has built lots of bikes. He’s always wanted a Bruce Gordon too, but he didn’t have the money. This way he’s gonna get a bike that’s partially Bruce Gordon. So I tack it, I built the fork down here and I tacked the frame and I brought it up to his shop and welded in his shop. Then he did all the braze-ons and he did the final alignment and the powdercoat. Then I brought it back down here and assembled it. Yeah so we – I wouldn’t say it’s 50-50, depends on the bike. But he’s got one he’s building right now where he is going to cut all the tubes and put it all in a jig and tack it and I’m just going to go up there and weld it. It’s his design. It’s built completely in his shop, but the other three were all built here. As a matter of fact, two of them were built here and never were in his shop except to get painted.
BIKE RUMOR: So you guys basically – is this going to be an ongoing thing where you get together for the finish of every bike? Because that’s interesting.
PAUL: Um, it’s really hard to say where it’s going to go but, but we’re just going to run it up the flagpole and see what happens. If people want them, then we have to worry about, like, okay, how are we going to build these? But we want to offer them as complete bikes. We both do complete bikes, but mostly I sell just frames. I do some complete bikes. I mean, I have a big rack of rims here, I build wheels, I do all that stuff because I’m like bike shop guy from forever.
BIKERUMOR: It’s therapeutic.
PAUL: You know, it’s pretty good. Especially when the power goes out and your welder doesn’t work. There are some days where it just doesn’t feel good to weld and it’s better to do something mechanical. Assemble a bike or build a wheel. So yeah, that’s the essentially what we’re doing.
BIKERUMOR: So what are you bringing to the show? Are they all the same bike? Is this just a single model product for NAHBS and you’re just seeing what’s happening?
PAUL: We’re bringing four bikes and they are all a little different. The very first Schnozola was a trail bike. It wasn’t meant for racing. It was meant for exploring mountains. It wasn’t meant for touring. It doesn’t have eyelets for racks or anything like that. It’s a trail bike. The second one we built is the one for the Grinduro. That one’s a little bit more of a gravel grinder competition because it’s got a carbon fork, it’s got thru-axle front and rear, it’s a little bit of a lighter frame, and it’s got a 1x… it’s much more current. And then the third one, I built that one out of aluminum and it’s an aluminum frame, carbon fork. It’s like the super duper competition but 650-sized wheel.
PAUL: That one’s also going to have an integrated headset so it’s going to be as modern as a welded bike can get. I didn’t do Di2. I figure we don’t have the money for that. I haven’t even really figured out what parts we’re going to put on it, but the very first one is all Shimano. The second one is all SRAM and ZIPP. The third one, the aluminum one, I don’t know what I’m going to put on it. Probably Shimano but it depends. And then the last one, the one that Bruce is putting together in his shop is a full on Bruce Gordon touring bike for his tires, so it’s going to have the rack eyelets and stuff front and rear. It’ll probably have his racks on it too.
BIKERUMOR: Okay, so, what makes a Schnozola a Schnozola? What makes it that and not a Bruce Gordon or a Rock Lobster?
PAUL: Well, I think it’s because it’s both of us. It’s not really a Rock Lobster because Rock Lobster – it would be a little different I think. It would be closer to a Rock Lobster than a Bruce Gordon because, well, they’re all – most of them are made for tapered steerer. Bruce doesn’t give a shit about that whereas I’m like, yeah, it’s gotta have tapered steerers and a carbon fork. So Bruce has been really slow on the uptake for stuff like the tapered steerer. Although he’s doing it now on this bike. So, you know, it’s got that going on for it. Plus, if I’m welding all these things, then that’s pretty “Rock Lobster” right there. But the fact that it is a vehicle for his tires means that the geometry has to be suited to them. Clearances have to be adequate. He’s figured out chainstay length and front end geometry that work with those tires and so I defer to him on that.
The touring version might have a 1 in threaded steerer. It might have a quill stem.
So it’s a product of the two of our combined experience of 80 or 90 years. It’s an opportunity for us to come up with another product.
BIKERUMOR: So for this NAHBS… you should do monogrammed yarmulkes!
PAUL: I’ll be there, with the yarmulke on. And you’ll be like, “Can you make me one of these out of stainless.” And I’ll go, “Oi, meshuga! We don’t do stainless!”
BIKERUMOR: There’s just so much opportunity here!
PAUL: I wanted to do a kosher bike. I didn’t grow up in a kosher household at all. I wanted to do a kosher bike. I thought it would be fucking hilarious to make a kosher bike. So I talked to a rabbi he says, “What’s the name of your bike.” I say, “Rock Lobster.” He goes “You can’t do a Rock Lobster kosher bike! Lobster’s not kosher! It’s a bottom feeder! It’s not going to work! You can’t do it! Do you have images of lobsters at your place?” I go, “I do.” “Well, you’re going to have to take them all down and change the name of your bike!” I go, “I’m not going to change the name of my bike.” But now, with Schnozola, if we build it at Bruce’s shop, we can get the rabbi to bless it!
BIKERUMOR: That would be amazing!
PAUL: The only kosher bike around!
BIKERUMOR: They should all be kosher!
PAUL: Well, we’ll see what we can work out. I don’t know. I don’t think I can get the Santa Cruz rabbi to bless anything at my shop because there are lobsters all over the place.