Ever wonder who comes up with the names for bikes? We did. It turns out the process can be one of the most fun, and frustrating, jobs in the bike industry.
We asked a few friends at various bike brands to share their favorite stories.
By Mike Reimer, Salsa Cycles
Salsa typically tries to have maybe a little more entertaining type of names for some of our bike models than what some other bike companies might consider. I’d like to think that’s true at least. I think one of the best ones that we’ve ever had is Fargo. We knew what the product was: a drop bar mountain bike, Tour Divide inspired, and we were thinking, “This is a bike for going long distances and for going to out of the way places,” and that made us think of—no offense to North Dakotans—but that made us think of Fargo, being kind of out of the way, and the beauty of the name Fargo is that is says Far Go, Go Far. And to me that’s a really wonderful culmination of many things coming together and really working to solidify around that product idea. They don’t all go that well of course…
I’ll share the story of the bike that wound up being called the Cutthroat. We didn’t start with Cutthroat. We actually had to go back to the drawing board because we did our brainstorming process and actually in this case I remember even reaching out to some key influences across the country who had a lot of experience with the Tour Divide. The name that we were very close to using, but was getting a lot of “love it / hate it” was Pie Town. A very unusual name for a bike, which I kind of like, but be- cause it’s meaningful to the event, it’s meaningful therefore to that bike, because the Tour Divide route is intrinsic to the Cutthroat. [Pie Town is a popular stop along the route. With pie.] But some people really hated that name. I mean, they were remaining vocal about it. So in this case we decided, “You know what, we need to just go back to the drawing board.” Actually the name Cutthroat, which I’m pretty dang fond of, actually came from sitting in the lunchroom eating my lunch and I was reading a magazine, and there was an article that had something to do with cutthroat trout and I just thought gosh, “cutthroat,” that’s a cool word.
And then I went back after lunch to my desk and looked on Wikipedia or whatever, and started reading and saw the list of states that cutthroat was the state fish for, or a variation of cutthroat because there’s different ones. All the U.S. states that the Tour Divide touches, the cutthroat trout is the state fish, and so then I thought, “Wow that’s kind of magical, what are the odds?” and so we checked into that one and wound up using that. So it kind of can come from anywhere.
I feel like our names, especially of bikes, should have some personality and maybe then that helps people relate to them or, frankly, even enjoy them more. Maybe you just enjoy them more when it seems a little more like a living creature or something.
By Eric Sovern, Surly Bikes
The Surly brand came about in ‘98. There were a bunch of people at Quality Bicycle Products who rode singlespeeds and got weird. There wasn’t a lot of singlespeed stuff out there. People had to weld in track dropouts and do all sorts of other cobbly sorts of things. And so the Singleator was our first product, something to turn a regular frame into a singlespeed, and it was in that environment and with that in mind that we added products: hubs, the Singleator and eventually the 1×1 frame. Somebody finally just said, “What if we just put this all under one [brand],” and the joke is that there was kind of a cheesy contest at Q and Matt Moore— also known as the Cross Wizard—lore has it that [Surly] was his idea, and he won 25 bucks or something. Or a bag of donuts. Who knows?
Then there would be times when we’d change the color name but the color would stay the same. Just to mess with people, really. I mean, just because it’s fun. And it doesn’t really hurt anybody. There’s a couple good stories there actually. There was a sort of metallic brown Karate Monkey that we did, and the color name on the palette we picked it from was called Pearl Coffee so we called it Pearl Coffee at first, then we just changed the name of the color in the catalog for no other reason than to amuse ourselves to Skid Mark Brown, and then it became a thing and we changed it to Chocolate Squirrel.
Our Cross Check, at one point the color was Beef Gravy Brown, because it looked like beef gravy. You know some of those things are just obvious. We actually got a stern letter once from a vegan who said they weren’t going to buy that bike for that reason, and I had to remind them that there was not any actual beef in the color. Nor was that color name printed anywhere other than a catalog. It’s not like it’s on the bike. But we got a good kick out of that. And then we actually did start putting meat into the paint after that.
People get weird about it. You know, all of our black colors are the same gloss black. That started early on, and that was one of my favorite things. People would call and ask for the RAL color code for that, and I mean, it’s gloss black. A Sharpie will touch it up as good as anything. But yeah, people would be like, “I don’t have Stretch Pants Black; I have Cash Black.” Or Darque Black with a d-a-r-q-u-e.
The Karate Monkey actually comes directly from a quote from “News-Radio,” remember that TV show? It’s from an episode where Jimmy James, who was the rich owner of the radio station, wrote a business book, and then he was going to do a reading at a book shop, and he read the copy that had been translated into Japanese and then back into English. And it was this weird translation that made no sense, and one of the things he said was: “So I got in my karate monkey death car.” That was just one of those things that we said to each other for a couple years, and so Karate Monkey Death Car was going to be full name, but it wasn’t, for the sake of brevity or maybe it wouldn’t fit in the Excel spreadsheet or whatever …
We stopped trying to make everybody happy with colors and names and things like that a long time ago. There have been some colors picked really out of spite. But it’s a fun part of the job. We’ve made mistakes naming things too. We had a Steamroller that was Meth Teeth Green, and a guy sent an email that said: “You know, that’s kind of making fun of addiction.” So we changed that one because that was a guy that had a point.
There was a pretty big argument over Ice Cream Truck. People digging in their heels on both sides. And one of the nice things about working at Surly is that we sort of pride ourselves on being able to call bullshit on each other. “That’s a terrible idea and I’ll tell you why,” but we’re still able to high five and drink beers together later.
It really is the part that’s fun, and you get to show your true colors and our true colors. It’s just a bunch of goofball idiots trying to make it fun, for us. And will it sell, I guess we have to have that too.
This is Part 1 of an article that was originally published in Bicycle Times 45. We’ll be publishing Part 2 on the web tomorrow. Stay tuned!
Words and photos by Jeff Archer. This post originally appeared in Bicycle Times #6.
Almost everyone in the bike industry has a love of all bikes. Some prefer the road while others prefer the trails, but each rider can also appreciate the other. Many of the famous mountain bike makers, such as Jeff Lindsay, Gary Fisher and Ross Shafer, started out building and/or racing road bikes.
Most cyclists also appreciate the utilitarian possibilities of the bicycle. There’s something appealing about accomplishing some of your daily tasks on two wheels. Joe Breeze may be the best example of promoting the utilitarian bike. Back around 1977, Joe created a purpose-built mountain bike from scratch and is acknowledged as the first person to do so. His Breezer mountain bikes were available through 1998, when Joe quit distributing them. In 2003, Breezer came back with a full line of utilitarian bikes with the tag line, “transportation for a healthy planet.”
While Breezer became known for a wide range of transportation bikes, there was at least one earlier effort from another one of mountain biking’s founding fathers, Ross Shafer. Ross began building frames on his own starting in 1976. Then, in the early 1980s, he began building bikes for Santana during the day, while continuing to build for himself at night. These initial frames were sold under the Red Bush name, which was changed to Salsa Cycles in 1982. The Salsa frames were highly sought after, but many riders were more familiar with Salsa stems, which were available in an almost infinite variety of lengths and rises and seemed to be on nearly every custom bike of the era.
Manufacturers often liked to roll out special projects for the annual bicycle trade shows. In 1994, Ross had made a 24”-wheel frame for his son’s 9th birthday and took it to the trade show to present the concept. When attendees saw the bike, Salsa started fielding calls from people asking for a production version. Not wanting to let a niche go unfilled, a total of 10 frames were built and offered up for sale…to the sound of crickets chirping. The “demand” dried up before the paint had dried on the frames!
For the 1996 show, Ross, once again, wanted to have something new and unique for dealers. This show bike was the aforementioned town bike. The idea was to offer a complete bike with internal gearing, eccentric bottom bracket, rack, fenders, lights and a kickstand for well under $1,000. While the price obviously precluded the use of a custom U.S.-built frame, the show bike was made in-house using Columbus tubing. Many of the parts, such as the Shimano Nexus 7-speed internal hub and dual-leg kickstand, were production-ready parts, but others, such as the King headset and MAFAC cantilever brake, wouldn’t have been found on the production version. The prototype was finished in a unique metallic blue-to-clear-coat finish. Once again, the response from the show goers was very positive. Based on his previous experience with the 24” wheel, Ross asked buyers for deposits, which once again resulted in those chirping crickets. The prototype was the only Salsa town bike ever produced.
The next year, the Salsa name was sold to Quality Bike Parts and the town bike project never saw the light of day. With the recent popularity of similar bikes, it appears as if Ross was about a dozen years ahead of the curve.
To see what Ross has been up to lately, check out his newest creations at Six-Nine Design. To see a virtual tour of the Museum of Mountain Bike Art & Technology, including one of the 24”-wheel Salsa bikes mentioned above, check out MOMBAT.org.
From Issue #37
Words and Photos by Emily Walley and Justin Steiner
The thought of committing to a four-day, three-night touring adventure aboard the Salsa Powderkeg with almost zero tandem experience was a little bit intimidating. Would we be able to comfortably carry all of our gear? How would we manage some of the rougher dirt roads and trails we planned to traverse in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest?
Despite these reservations, our excitement to share this new experience was thrilling, and we quickly got to work acclimating to life aboard a bicycle built for two. Not long into the first road ride, our confidence swelled as it became apparent we were aboard a very competent and capable rig. But, we also realized that we needed to recalibrate our approach slightly. As independent cyclists we’ve grown accustomed to making forceful and sometimes aggressive maneuvers on the bike. Those inputs don’t jive well in tandem land. Subtle inputs and smooth transitions are the name of the game.
With one road ride under our belt, we jumped to the next logical step: mountain biking. On the Powderkeg, our standard weekly Thursday ride became a whole new adventure and a barrel of fun. Dropping into the first trail was a little rough as trail features we haven’t thought about in years suddenly tested our capability. We were both tense and our inputs were fighting each other. It’s amazing how much influence the stoker has on the bike, despite the lack of ability to steer. The stoker’s wide bar provided a lot of leverage. We occasionally found it helpful for Emily to move her hands to the center of the bars, minimizing her upper body input. Riding as a stoker requires a lot of leg input and a very relaxed upper body.
Not long after we ran poor Emily into the first tree, forcing us to jointly dismount, we began to relax and started into a rhythm together. Amazingly, that first near-crash (and the many that followed) made us realize abrupt dismounts were totally manageable, as was dabbing a foot when necessary to right the ship. We found it helpful for the stoker to remain on the bike and let the captain dab whenever possible. This way Emily could help propel the bike forward on an ascent or technical terrain while Justin resumed his position. From that point on, we were golden, at least once the captain came to terms with just how wide he had to turn so as to not run his stoker into any more trees.
Throughout that first mountain bike ride, we continued to be amazed by the capability of the Powderkeg. With such a long wheelbase the stability is incredible. As long as we kept the pedals turning, we could crank, albeit slowly, up just about anything. We knew we were ready to tackle some reasonably rough and tumble terrain, so long as it didn’t involve a lot of big rocks and logs as it’s awfully easy to high-center.
A Blessing and a Curse
With our confidence high and our communication dialed, we began planning and packing for our tour of a portion of the more than 500,000-acre Allegheny National Forest (ANF). Like most of our National Forests, the ANF is a “working forest,” meaning managed natural gas and oil extraction as well as selective timber harvests provide operational revenue and economic impact within the local community.
While the harvesting of natural resources may be a point of contention now, this forest’s history is far uglier than today’s sustainability managed approach. By the early 1900’s, nearly all of this land, and most all of Pennsylvania for that matter, was clear cut by private companies trying to meet burgeoning demand for lumber for everything from construction to wood pulp for paper to wood chemical production—acetic acid, wood alcohol and acetate of lime. During the Civil War, tanneries used immense amounts of hemlock bark to keep up with leather production.
After the trees were gone, the land was abandoned. In 1923, the Federal Government purchased this land and established the ANF, as authorized by the Weeks Act of 1911. At the time, locals called this shrub-filled wasteland the “Allegheny Brush-patch.”
Unfortunately, when the Federal Government purchased the ANF, funding limitations lead to purchasing only the surface rights. Ninety-three percent of the ANF’s subsurface rights are privately held, which has led to extensive oil and natural gas extraction. In 1981, this region produced roughly 17 percent of Pennsylvania’s total crude oil output.
While there are many undeniable downsides to these industries, one of the upsides comes in the form of forest roads. After decades of drilling and logging, forest roads criss-cross a majority of the forest. Some are open to vehicular traffic, others have long since been closed to motor vehicles. Some barely even exist.
So long as you’re away from extraction traffic, these roads are perfect for touring. You’re off the beaten path, but the terrain is mellow enough that you’re able to comfortably cover ground on a loaded touring bike. But, it’s also just technical enough to keep things interesting. For the most part, forest roads tend to be well signed, so they’re easily navigable. For this trip, the ANF’s administrative map proved to be the right tool for for planning and navigating. These administrative maps show all of the forest roads, whether they’re gated or open to the public. Online maps and gazetteers can’t always be trusted when it comes to showing which roads are navigable and which aren’t.
After spending way too many hours staring at maps drawing and redrawing routes, we settled on three beautiful, remote locations to camp and connected the dots with as much dirt and as little hike-a-bike as possible.
Packing turned out to be easier than feared. With racks and panniers at both ends, a frame bag up front, one Salsa Anything Cage and Anything Bag, six water bottles and a snack bag, we were set. (Visit bicycletimesmag.com/tandem_anf to see detailed setup info.) Here, the Powderkeg again impressed us with its versatility and plethora of options for mounting and hauling gear.
On the Road
Day one consisted of a long, long climb from the reservoir’s edge up a drainage to the top of the plateau, rolling ridgetop pavement, and a steep descent back to the water’s edge to a boat-in-only campsite. Toward the end of the day, we experienced the first of many mini-frustrations. Know how you tend to get fidgety toward the end of a long day in the saddle? Well, that mutual fidgeting and fatigue isn’t the best for morale when every little wiggle and wobble is transmitted to your partner in crime.
After a fitful night’s sleep trying to keep a portly raccoon out of our food stash—Blackburn’s awesome Outpost Top Tube bag may be water resistant, but it’s not coon-proof—we made a fatigued pushed up out of the valley.
In the late afternoon, we rolled into a beautiful, secluded campsite upstream from a fish hatchery. Water rumbling over a small dam provided the perfect soundtrack for a good night’s sleep.
Day three took us to Heart’s Content Scenic Area, one of approximately 20 stands of old-growth forest remaining in all of Pennsylvania. Walking through this forest, it’s hard to believe the entire state was once covered by these giants. Shame of it is, many of these trees are nearing the end of their lifecycle. Each year a few more fall down.
The highlight of this day was bombing five miles down hill on an old timber-era, narrow-gauge rail corridor. All loaded down and traveling on this sometimes-rough surface, the Powderkeg rolled with a confidence that encouraged more speed, despite the rain. This and many other downhills made me thankful for the large disc brake rotors. Even with those big rotors, we often smelled hot brakes on descents.
After a big day in the saddle and one lengthy, uphill, bushwhacking hike-a-bike, our last night camping was by far the most spectacular, right at the base of an underappreciated and positively gorgeous waterfall. We hustled to beat the rain into camp, which hammered down just moments after we finalized our tarp setup. Thanks to the day’s rain, it only took a dozen attempts to get a decent fire going. With nearly a month of rain prior to our trip, the falls were running ample and loudly, making for another good night’s sleep.
After a short trip back to the car on day four, we were happy to be easing back into civilization. It’s funny how being mostly remote for not even four full days provides a whole different perspective on your day-to-day existence.
In all, this trip was everything we had hoped it would be. We had a blast sharing a local adventure, but more importantly, touring on a tandem undoubtedly made us both more connected, conscientious, considerate partners.
Continue reading with our full field review of the Salsa Powderkeg.
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From Issue #37
Testers: Justin Steiner and Emily Walley
To see action photos and learn more about this bike, check out the multi-day bikepacking adventure that begat this review by reading “Allegheny National Forest touring tandemonium” from the same issue.
Salsa first began prototyping tandems back in 2010 when former Salsa Engineer Tim Krueger and his wife Odia saw other couples racing the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival’s Short and Fat Race on tandems. Now, many prototype miles later, including a trip down the Tour Divide,the production Powderkeg is here.
While the Powderkeg is inspired by Salsa’s El Mariachi 29er mountain bike, the construction is much burlier. Salsa utilizes downright huge Cobra Kai tubes custom drawn for this project on the frame and fork to minimize flex. Despite the heavy-duty construction, the complete bike weighs just 42 pounds.
Three frame sizes are available; medium/small, large/small and large/medium. According to Salsa, those offerings will fit captains from five feet, eight inches to six feet, three inches. Stokers from five feet, five inches to six feet even. It’s worth noting we’re both one inch shorter than the minimum stated fit range but had no issues fitting on the bike. Emily ran the standard stoker stem and Justin swapped to a 60 mm stem.
Salsa bills the Powderkeg as a mountain, gravel and touring bike. Big brakes and aggressive knobby tires hold up the mountain bike end of the bargain so long as you’re willing. On the touring side, a plethora of rack, water bottle and three-pack mounts provide ample options for hauling stuff and mounting fenders. Salsa’s Alternator rear dropout system works incredibly well with the company’s Alternator Rack, but doesn’t play as nicely with other racks.
The rest of the Powderkeg’s spec is well thought out and reliable without being overly pricey. The Shimano SLX 3×10 drivetrain worked flawlessly and provided all the gearing range we needed. Avid BB7 cable-actuated brakes with 200 mm rotors provided ample stopping power and resisted fading throughout our testing.
It’s clear Salsa invested and lot of time and energy in this project and their hard work has paid off. The Powderkeg is a cohesive, rough and ready package. I’m so impressed with the ride quality and stiffness of this frame. Fully loaded for camping or on technical singletrack we never perceived a bit of fork or frame flex, which is incredible considering the length of the bike and the force two people can apply.
The Powderkeg’s handling is similarly impressive. Of course, riding a tandem requires some adjustment, this bike’s 70-degree headtube angle and long wheelbase blend low-speed maneuverability and high-speed stability very well, regardless of whether bombing singletrack or cruising dirt roads. At tandem-friendly-speeds off road, I never felt much need for a suspension fork, but a 100 mm tandem-rated suspension fork may be used. Unlike a single bike, each person is only really dealing with the impacts from one wheel. The other wheel is so far away the bump forces are much smaller.
The Powderkeg is one of just a few off-the-shelf mountain tandems available. Cannondale offers the Tandem 29er for $3,125 with some compelling component spec, but it doesn’t offer comparable touring versatility and has a strangely steep 72.5-degree headtube angle.
Aside from that, nearly every other tandem in this category hails from a smaller company and commands a premium. For instance, Co-Motion’s Java 29er starts at $5,595. Ventana offers a handful of tandems; the full suspension El Conquistador de Montañas 29er starts at $6,000 and the rigid, fat-wheel El Gran Jefe ranges from $3,200 to $6,500. All of these make the adventure-ready Powderkeg seem like a pretty good deal at $3,999.
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