GUNNAR BICYCLES – MY IMPRESSIONS
by Jim Weaver, Service Manager
Fit Werx, VT
I have now worked at Fit Werx full-time for getting close to 3 1/2 years and I have had the privilege of building many, many bicycles, some of them truly dream machines. These "dream machines" were custom-built, lust-inducing bikes from the likes of Serotta, Parlee, Seven, Guru, Cyfac, Independent Fabrications, Bedford, and Gunnar. Gunnar, you ask? Well, most custom-built bikes start at higher model levels than stock bikes and that makes it hard to get a fully-built custom bike for under $4,000. However, there is a exception, and that is Gunnar. I have had the chance to build and test ride many Gunnars (we just delivered two within the past couple weeks), and I thought I would give my impressions of these bikes.
Gunnar is a frame builder in Waterford, Wisconsin. Some of you may recognize the name of the town "Waterford". That is because it is the home of Waterford Bicycles, a custom frame builder and the parent company of Gunnar. Another name that may be recognized by many of you is Richard Schwinn, President of Waterford. Yes, that Schwinn. So, there is a long history of bicycle building behind the Gunnar name, with DNA extending back to the hallowed Schwinn Paramount frames of the 1960's and 70's.
Gunnar offers what I term "stock geometry" frames in a wide variety of sizes, as well as custom frames. Prices for the custom frames that we see most often, the Crosshairs and Roadie, are in the $1,250 to $1,300 range, so they are a bargain in the world of custom-built frames. All Gunnars are made of TIG-welded chromoly. A wide variety of frames are available, from pure road machines, to touring frames, to cross bikes, to fixed gears and everything in-between. If you want a bike built with a mix of light road tubing and reinforced touring capable tubing where needed and with full eyelets and disc brakes, Gunnar can do it. With careful selection of components and wheels, a fully-built, custom Gunnar can be had for less than $3,000. So, for the price of a mid-level bike from the mass manufacturers of the world, you can have a bike built to the exact geometry you need for proper positioning and exact ride and handling quality for your use. I know what many might think, that steel is passé, that the only steel bikes are department stores specials, or ultra exotics such as Richard Sachs or Kelly Bedford. While steel may not be trendy, it is still a very viable alternative to carbon fiber for frame construction and the durability and ride quality are hard to fault. The mass manufacturers shun steel because carbon fiber is easier to market and produce frames in the Far East than training artisans to produce smooth steel welds and helping riders understand the details of what truly makes a bike special. This means chromoly is the sole domain of those handcrafted builders who still build frames out of their passion and art for bikes.
So, how does a Gunnar ride? While Gunnar offers a selection of rider matched tubing options, so they are tunable to the individual rider’s wishes to a wide degree. However, most of the Gunnars we build offer a very comfortable, compliant and lively ride. A single word description might be "plush", but without the potentially negative connotations that word might imply. These frames, while perhaps not as stiff as the most rigid out there, are certainly not wimpy or flexible, and ride much better than many mass-marketed carbon bikes I have ridden. Another descriptive word would be "smooth". These bikes seem to glide over the road imperfections of Route 100 here in the Waitsfield area. As they say, "steel is real", and the ride of a Gunnar backs up this statement. There is a liveliness to the feel of steel frames that is simply missing from frames of other materials; only titanium comes close to the ride feel of a quality steel frame. As for toughness, one of our clients just completed a fully loaded, cross country trip on his Gunnar Grand Tour without a hitch from the bike, so they can take whatever the roads of New England and well beyond can dish out.
Gunnar proves that you do not need to spend a ton to get a very comfortable, fine handling, classically designed bike designed to last decades. There is a beauty in the pure simplicity and ride of a Gunnar. Truly classic designs do not go out of style, nor does the performance of a traditionally designed and constructed frame built by people who are passionate about building bikes. I doubt that can be said of many of the bikes being produced in large factories where the folks building them would be building stereo systems or washing machines if that was what was asked. Gunnar builds a great riding and fitting bike at a very reasonable price and that has a very important place in today’s often disposable world.