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!