Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Hey Surly, You Reading This?

Dear Surly,

In 2013 I bought a bike your company made. A Pugsley. White. Big. Fat. Like me. I bought it for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that it was fat and relatively cheap as far as fat bikes went at the time. I liked the 3X drive train and the double-wall Large Marge rims. Again, I'm a big, fat guy and I like to break things. Double wall = good.

I rode the hell out of that bike. It quickly became my only bike. I think maybe Surly sent an operative to my house to sabotage my other ride, a well loved Giant NRS that was my one and only until Pugsley came around.  See, I rode the Pugs for a week of daily commuting, then decided to give it a break and go back to the Giant. That very ride, on the way home from work, the frame broke clean in two on the seat tube, right by the suspension mount. Coincidence? Maybe, but either the Giant was heart broken by my splitting of affections or the Pugs wanted to be the one and only in my life.

From that day forward the Pugs was my only ride. And I rode daily. Well, almost daily. Generally six days a week. Sometimes all seven. I rode to work and home. I rode paved bike path. I rode single track. I rode XC ski trails and dog mushing and snowmachine trails. I rode in the rain. I rode in the sun. I rode during an ice storm once.

I once got myself into a spot of trouble - early October in Anchorage riding some dog mushing trails over a swamp that had not frozen over yet. One moment I'm hike a bike over the hummocks and the next I am crashing through the ice up to my groin in nearly frozen water and oozy black mud that smelled quite a bit like an Alaska outhouse that's baked in the midnight sun a touch too long. Air temps in the low thirties. Only five miles from home, but getting wetter with each step as I broke through the rime of ice over and over, each time going a bit deeper and deeper.

I rode miles and miles on that bike. I broke shit. A lot of shit. Derailleurs - front and rear. Cranksets. Hubs - I think I went through two hubs and countless axel rebuilds on the stock Shimano hub on the bike before I had the shop rebuild with a cassette bearing hub. Quick releases. Seat posts. Chains. Lots of chains. Saddles. I broke lots of parts. I eventually broke the frame itself. Though that was my own fault, really. Who knew that aluminum would fuse to steel after only a year if there wasn't a bit o' grease between the two? Not I. That's who. Or, rather, maybe I just got lazy. Doesn't matter. Trying to dig a seat post out of the seat tube when two become one … not fun and if one is not careful one tends to put large holes in the seat tube.

So what do I do? I buy a new frame. Same snow-blind white. A touch smaller, but a good, solid structure on which to rebuild my lovely Pugs. And in true Pugs fashion the virgin-busting ride resulted in my big, white ass flying through the air with the greatest of ease right over the handlebars and into a clump of blueberry bushes. Nothing on the bike was broken. Nothing on me was broken. Just the bike and me getting to know each other a bit better.

Then something happened. Something got in the way. Farley. Yes, fat and fun and aluminum. For some reason shiny was suddenly appealing to me and the Pugs was just a bit too pedestrian, too blasé, too mainstream. Or so I thought. Corporate brainwashing, maybe. But for some reason I had to have a new fat bike and the Farley was it. Maybe it was the name? Now that I think about it, the corporate bike slingers from Wisconsin really seemed to co-opt Surly's naming approach with that one.

So I got the Farley, but the Pugs stuck around the garage as the fat bike for the kids to ride along with. It didn't get much use overall. A few adventure rides, but not the way I thought it would. Until the Farley had to go into the shop for an extended period. Broke shit again - rear wheel set when to crap and the shop had to maneuver the corporate bs required to get the warranty validated. So Pugs and I were reunited.

It wasn't like rekindling a romance. Instead it was like being stuck in a room with an ex who you did not amicably separate from - we fought. I couldn't get comfortable and Pugs couldn't keep a tire inflated to save its life. After a week went by I was so happy to have the Farley back that I didn't realize that for the entire time I was on Pugs again my back never once hurt.

I almost sold Pugs. Had all but cash in hand when I decided that no, I couldn't sell it. I'd had too much fun on those times when my son and I would go exploring the world in the winter on the fatties and if I only had one portly beast in the garage we wouldn't be able to do that anymore. Yet I didn't take down the Craig's List posting I had made to sell the Farley. I had posted both bikes at the same time just to see what would happen. Maybe sell one and get a 9'er+.

In the mean time the Pugs got some use and I was riding the Farley daily. My back was killing me and rides longer than two hours generally resulted in barely being able to walk the next day.

Then one day, out of the blue, nearly two months after posting the ad, I get an email asking if the Farley's still for sale. "Sure" I say and we work out a deal. I got cash and figure I'll buy a new skinny bike for summer riding and ride the Pugs in the winter. Then I decide to just upgrade a few things on the Pugs to make it fit a bit better - super wide bars, a longer stem, a cushy saddle for my fat ass. Maybe a 9'er wheel set.

At first going back to the Pugs was hard. I still felt a bit like a bear riding a really tiny bike. The Farley felt so sporty all leaned over and such. The Pugs felt slow and awkward. But the data wasn't agreeing with that assessment. My daily commutes were as fast and even a touch faster than on the Farley. More importantly, I didn't feel like someone had been beating on my lower back at the end of a ride.

But I still wasn't completely sold on going back to the Pugs. While the bulk of my riding is commuting, the riding I love more than anything is riding the trails. The Farley was ace on the single track. It felt fast and capable and once I got comfortable on it, could climb and jump like a boss. For the first two weeks of being back on the Pugs I didn't ride any trail. I was worried that going back to trail on the Pugs would be a let down after the Farley.

Then I went for a nice long trail ride with my son.

Three hours on the bike. Riding pump track, flow trails, rooty-techy single track, and an old rail trail with a number of big assed rockslide sections. Three hours of riding and the entire time all I could think about was how much fun I was having riding with my boy. I wasn't thinking about how the bike felt under me. I wasn't thinking about limitations of the bike or things that I thought I should change to make the bike function better. I wasn't thinking about my back hurting because it wasn't. I was just riding.

It was brilliant.


And that's when it hit me. The entire time I had the Farley I was always focused on the things I wanted to improve on the bike and the things I didn't like about the bike rather than being present in the ride itself. For the first time since I sold the Farley I realized that it was absolutely the right choice given my riding style and what I look for in a bike - one bike to rule them all.

I know that the Pugs isn't as fast as some other bikes and a lot of people try to tell me that a fat bike is not the right bike for commuting or riding during the summer. I tell them phooey. When you find the right bike for you it is the right bike for you, regardless of what marketing BS is behind it. For me, a slightly upright riding steel fat bike with heavy, sturdy, durable wheels is the right bike for me spring, summer, fall, or winter.

Oh, and stripping Large Marge? She looks sexy naked. 


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