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 the 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.
This particular bike used to be a Surly Straggler, size medium, fitting 27.5″ rotate-ers, but things has 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 for 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 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 “MYWAY” 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 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 Falcon 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?).
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.