Bama Time! Thoughts on trikes and a FrankenSurly

And now, for your amusement, our roving sentinel of sanity ponders life, tricycle love, and a Surly you’ll never be able to buy. -Ed.
By Chris “Bama” Milucky

The steel-ular seat of my tricycle always felt cold under my jorts-clad butt cheeks. I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until I was at 6 or maybe 7, and not because I had a development issue, but because I had an issue with development. I didn’t feel the need to learn how to ride a bike. I was happily hunkered down on the trike.
I remember rolling the rubber-wound wheel on that red and white wonderfully rickety rust wagon all the way down the crummy concrete driveway of my sweet Alabama home. It was pretty scary and in all the right ways. I’d pedal around and watch the humid summer sun heat my skin even under the shadows of the oaks, melting my mind smoothly into a self-reflecting syrup. Why would anyone walk away from the working wheels of three-dom and pick up a bike with their delicate KneeCaptains locked in the shackles, cranium cheering for Skid Row!? I was beyond content on that tricycle– I was transcendental.
Eventually, parental guidance intervened and my folks brought home a two-wheeler for me. With training wheels a’ gunnel, I guess it was a 4wheeler. Either way, I still got around, and my little sister got her turn on the Radio Flyer, aka, MINE, specifically, “that’s still MINE!”
Just as on the trike, I mapped my bike rides in meditation, never in miles or blocks from the house. I never counted cross streets or corridors in a quest to chart my progress. I rode the bicycle to relieve the rope-knots wrestling my mind, and when I found that inner peace, when wonder had replaced reason, that’s when I could hear the woodpeckers, smell the freshly cut grass, and let the crawdads hold me captive until the cloudy moonlight cadence of cicadas went off like a metronome perfectly timed to the flicker of fireflies who’s green heinie’s glowed almost bright enough to illuminate the red Kool-aide stains on my t-shirt.
Now an adult, I still don’t track my rides in minutes or miles, or even in days, or years. I remember my saddle time by life chapters and colored feelings. I can remember the distinct dirt smell of 18 Road in Fruita when I was 18 and had violent sideburns, just as well I can remember the soft spongy moss on Mt Hood the year my Mom died, or odd sandy rocks on Long Island singletrack I discovered while on tour with Santa Cruz Bicycles. I have no idea how many times I rode my bike last week. Or where I went, what I did, or who I saw.

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This particular bike used to be a Surly Straggler, size medium, fitting 27.5″ rotate-ers, but things have changed. The frame was given to me by a friend and came with a super custom headtube which looks to be wire-welded by a sophomore student at the Voc/Tech school. Not bad, but not good. I’m guessing it’s about 70 degrees, because I endo’ed pretty easily on a stack of logs, kinda like you would have done on a late 90s Trek with bar-ends and canti brakes. I’m not complaining; I’m just telling you how it is. It’s not a super slack mountain bike angle, but it is trusty enough to try some things your friends would wanna watch.
The fork is a fine specimen as well. She came with a through-axle that was about two inches too long and cost me a box of Dremmel wheels to make fit. The fork is definitely steel and lots of it, too. Weight? I’m gonna say 1.8lbs, with Price Is Right rules where if you guess too high, you’re out. It’s good, though. I like the fork. Maybe Surly made it, maybe not. Don’t know. Who knows? Who cares? I spray-painted it pink.
Without a spec sheet, I had a hellacious time connecting the fork to the frame, and none of the five friendly bike shops in beautiful Boulder, Colorado had what I called for, so I phoned up to Cane Creek in North Cackalacky. There was a little bit of a language barrier– not at all because of a drawl– I was on the line with an engineer who wanted measurements and all I had was a handful of adjectives like, “One and one eighth-ish”. Patience prevailed, and they sold me the right size headset on the first try. Slick!
 
The bottom bracket shell measured 68mm, so “if” I had any old bike stuff in the basement, I’d be set to jet. I did not. I don’t even have a basement. I did find a new 73mm crankset and guessed that two, drive side 2.5mm spacers would make for a decent chain line. I don’t know if yinzers know anything about chain lines and bb spacing but it used to be a hot topic and getting it right was something to be proud of: I feel good about myself. Ask me about it sometime, but don’t nerd out on numbers too hard, yah feel me? Don’t chill my mellow.
The wheelset is also wacky. Not a lot of 650b stuff out there, and even less carries a Derby-rating. I needed a 15mm front // 135mm QR rear. Flotsam and jetsam all the way, and completely cutting Craigslist out of the question. ‘Spent a solid Saturday morning making moves, wheelin’, and dealin’, but things came together, and this SRAM hodgepodge seems sturdy and pretty fast. My favorite luddite gave me a thumbs down on the 24 spoke-count, but I don’t think it’ll ever take a truing wrench. I think it’ll last forever. Don’t tell the anyone at SRAM I said this, but when it comes to rim jobs, I like the way they move.
All of the tire reviews for gravel tires said Brand Y, Model Z was really nice. It’s not very helpful to have everything rated 4/5 stars. I just guessed on these 47c WTB Byways. I’d used 38c Surly Knards on a previous 650b Straggler, and they didn’t have quite enough Rambo to get me through an impromptu trail-ride; I knew I wanted a little more under the hood. The 47c Byways seemed like something that’d look good under the fenders of a 4wd Eagle sedan, but you don’t know until you try. At 45psi, they do the job on both pavement and singletrack. 30 pounds is risky, and 60 would work if you’re paranoid. Personally, I like to party. At 45 pounds, I’m pretty sure I can do what I want and with an attitude like that, you know I deserve a fist full of black eyes, so bring it.
The Byways corner much better than the cyclocross tires of yesteryear. They’re pretty light. They pumped up (tubeless style) with a floor pump, and I haven’t popped one yet. Gonna white-out the name and Sharpie “MYWAYS” on the sidewall.
I wish I could be more specific than that, but I really only notice when things suck, and these shoes fit.. yeah, ferries wear boots, and ya gotta believe me.
The brakes brake, the shifter shifts, and a Brooks sits atop the whole lot, proudly saluting any weather, whether or not I come here or go there.
 
Done with the digits, so how’s she ride? Sunday driver, 100%. Way too nice to take out for a night on the town, but perfect for the morning after when wooly boogers are stuck to my lip and I can’t shake the cobwebs.
Even though 2wheelers are good for my emotions and psycho-health, it can be difficult for me to saddle up and get out for for a spin, but this bike, which I’m now calling the Millennial Falcoon, is inspirational. She makes me wonder where different roads go. This bike hits me like a fresh pad of paper and a perfectly sharpened #2 Ticonderoga pencil. I feel excited to get out and do my mental exercises. It coasts down hills quietly, and she goes up pavement pretty well, too. She’s slower than a Cat 4 training ride, but nothing goes that fast. I dunno what drugs they’re getting away with on the Tour these days, but Category 4 might as well be referred to as the Fully Unlimted Nitromethane Class, or FUNC for short, but hey– the hyperdrive on the Millennial Falcoon is permanently out of order. Sorry. She’s not stabled and fed for racing. But we all know Joe Walsh’s Maserati never went 185. Don’t chew worry, this machine’s plenty fast. She has enough ammo to nuke anything you got: collarbones, arm rods, knuckleheads alike. Show her a dirt road, and she’ll put bugs in your teeth. She’s about the same speed on dirt roads as on pavement, which is pretty and amazing (pretty amazing). This bike has what it takes to find the magicalators and mysterious abandonment, and as far as I know, that was the whole point of the original mountain bike: you supply the fitness and skills, and the bike is simply an instrument. Your feelings are the notes. Your life is the song.
I realize this review is sort of for something you can’t buy, but reviews are really only a wayside story from a sideways school. You gotta do a lap on the menu. You have to have your own experiences before you can pick your fav. Here’s my suggestion: try a bunch of hobbies until you find one you like. Enjoy the feeling of not knowing what you’re doing, because you can only learn once, and after you know what you’re doing, you’ll never know anything else. Also: Kiss with your eyes open.
The Falcoon has a good vibe. She feels good in my hands– through my palm-sweat, I can imagine what the ground feels like, almost like wearing flip-flops in the desert sand. Nomesane? It’s like, I can step on Lego’s without crying, but I’ll know if I bump a snake. That’s a good quality for a head-trip. You wanna be aware of your surroundings but not feel threatened by them.  I’d say this bike is more than adequate, it’s thorough (Thoreau?).

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Bama’s Bio: Hi, I’m Bama. I believe that bicycles, motorcycles, and guitars are only instruments; emotions are the notes; and life is the song.
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Biking around the world and getting married along the way.

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Listen on Soundcloud to all 14 minutes!

Driving along “The Loneliest Highway In America” as determined by LIFE magazine back in the 80’s, Nancy and I came across a couple of characters riding their bicycles down the road. Out of curiosity, and my need to fill this space on the interwebs, we stopped and asked if we could ask a question. I know. That’s already a question, haha. Fortunately, they were not flip, but all-around nice. I caught a rough yet stereo, recording with my phone, which you can listen to in its entire 10 minutes here…

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BT: What are your guy’s names?

Mike: I’m Mike and this is Helen. We started 13 months ago today. 23,000 kilometers on the clock so far. We started in Scotland, Glasgow, went to the Netherlands, then Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Eastern Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Georgia. So. Central Asia.

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Helen: But then I got altitude sick, even though it wasn’t very high, but we didn’t have time for me to acclimatize. So it’s sort of going through central Asia. We flew to Beijing, cheapest flight we could get, to Siham Chung. So we kind of doubled back on ourselves a bit. And then, down to Vietnam, Saigon into Cambodia to Bangkok all the way down the coast of Thailand and Malaysia and Singapore. We just turned around again and went back to Kuala Lumpar to get our flight to Australia. Then flew to the west coast of America and we’ve cycled from San Diego.

BT: So you got married?

Mike: Yes, two weeks ago in Yosemite Valley in Cooks meadow.

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BT: How did you… did you find a justice of the peace?

Mike: My friends a minister, she actually lives in Kentucky, so she flew out to meet us there. And then we had a couple of friends come over. Parents each. Yeah.

BT: You had it all planned out?

Mike: Yeah, we actually started planning it before we left. There was a bit of a gamble, but we figured if we could make it a year on the road and not kill each other, we could go ahead.

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BT: Oh, that’s so awesome. Congratulations! Have you guys had many mechanical issues?

Mike: Yeah, but it’s mostly been ok. I mean a couple of things. We’ve been replaced like new drive train, new cassettes. Obviously lots of new chains, but Helen is still on her first set of brake pads.

BT: Brakes. They only slow you down.

Mike: Yeah, just tough. I think I’m on my fourth set of tires

Helen: I think I’m on my second set of tires. But nothing major. Everything’s built to last.

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BT: Meeting any nice people?

Overwhelmingly! We were quite concerned that we weren’t going to have enough water as we headed across the 50 here. And just didn’t quite make it as far as we wanted to yesterday. So this guy stopped this morning and was like, hey, guys, need some water? I’ve just been rafting in Utah, and have gallons of water in my van. So amazing timing. Um, but yeah, we have a story per day. China was amazing for that because they just want to give you food and take you home and take care of you.

BT: You guys blogging or anything like that?

Helen: A bit of writing and videoing as much as we can. I haven’t updated since the wedding, so I need to do that soon. Because we’re going east, it’s evereast.co.uk. We’re doing it for a charity, called MIND, they do mental health advocacy and awareness. They do a lot of lobbying the government for approved mental health services and they do awareness campaigns to just try and reduce the stigma within companies. They kind of go into offices and HR departments and stuff. So very, very nice. Very nice.

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BT: Well great. Great. Thank you so much for stopping. Bye!

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Frostbike ’18: Surly launches Midnight Special steel road bike

Surly has been coming out with a lot of new stuff lately, from the Pack Rat front-loader touring bike to the redesigned Pugsley fat bike. Here at Frostbike in Minneapolis, the brand launched yet another brand new bike, the Midnight Special.

The folks at Surly describe the Midnight Special as a bike that can ride “all roads, all day.” It was born out of the ashes of the Pacer, the only true road bike that was ever in the Surly lineup, and retains a lot of the same base design but adds a few features that make it more versatile and modernized. For instance, the Midnight Special features almost the same geometry and steel tubing as the Pacer did, but is 12 mm thru-axle, has flat mount brakes and a 44 mm head tube for compatibility with modern components. It also includes mounts for front and rear racks as well as three water bottles on the inner triangle.

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The Midnight Special is different from a lot of other road bikes in that it comes spec’d with 650b x 47 “road plus” rims and tires, which soak up the chatter of rough roads and increase the contact patch, meaning more traction. But never fear, it’ll also fit up to a 700 x 42 (or up to a 60 mm or 2.2 inch wide 650b tire).

According to Surly, the Midnight Special is ideal for someone who wants to go out and “live on their bike” all day, or for multiple days at a time, riding mostly paved roads but connecting routes with gravel, doubletrack and some smooth dirt.

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It comes in a range of sizes from 40 cm up to 64 cm. Full geometry chart:

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Full parts kit:

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Complete bikes retail for $1799 with the frame at $625. The Midnight Special is available from dealers around the country as of today. More info can be found on the Surly blog.

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The Name Game, Part 1.

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.


The Lunchroom

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.

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Photo: Evan Gross


‘Goofball Iditots’

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 …

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Photo: Helena Kotala

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!

 

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