Friday, July 26, 2013

New Surly Bikes and other goodness from SaddleDrive

Quality Bicycle Products is the parent company of Surly Bikes, and also the largest distributor of bicycle parts and accessories. In the past couple of years, they have jumped on the summer tradeshow season bandwagon with an event they call SaddleDrive. This year, they invited me and Century Cycles Owner Scott Cowan to come out to Utah to play in the dirt and drink some fine Utah-brewed ales (no, that is not an oxymoron).

After flying into Salt Lake City, we caught the shuttle bus up to Ogden, the location of QBP's new western distribution center. The bike demos and most of the other festivities took place outside of town at the Snowbasin ski resort.

When I got there first thing Monday morning, I made a beeline for the Surly tent to check out the latest and greatest things that I can't live without. All the of the new bikes in my size were already taken, so I grabbed the new Moonlander, for this upcoming season available in Metallic Sand:

2014 Surly Moonlander in Metallic Sand
As expected, the 4.8-inch Surly Bud and Lou tires stuck to the trail like Velcro. For you not-so-fat Fat Bike fans, this season's Surly Pugsley will come in Blue (or, in Surly parlance, Real Blew):

2014 Surly Pugsley in Real Blew
When I brought the Moonlander back, one of Surly's new bikes was available in my size. The Surly ECR is a unique machine (as if you'd expect anything less from Surly). It can be best described as the Surly Ogre with the frame modified to fit the 29+ wheels from the Surly Krampus. Although, if you ask Surly, they wouldn't describe it that way, because they said the frame geometry is a little different from both the Krampus and the Ogre. It's meant as an all-surface touring bike, and it will come with a custom Jones H-Bar handlebar:

2014 Surly ECR
What does ECR stand for? Well, the legend goes that the Surly engineers had an internal name for it during development with the initials ECR, but one of the words in that name turned out to be a name trademarked by another bike company. They just decided to keep the name ECR without it standing for anything. Some of the suggestions thrown about were "Epic Camping Rig," "Endurance Camp Racer," or for you apocalyptic types, "Exit City Rapidly." Make up your own name; that would be the Surly thing to do.

How does this big boy ride? One word: FUN. I took it partway up the mountain on a combination of singletrack and gravel roads, then bombed back down. The 29x3.0-inch Surly Knard tires gobbled up the trail. The crankset is Surly's new 22/36 OD (Offset Double) to provide chain clearance on the rear tire, which gave me the REALLY low gears I needed to crank up the singletrack. With tires like that, you won't need any higher gears. The backwards sweep of the H-Bar puts your hands in a natural-feeling position; my hands never got numb even rattling over all the rocks and roots with the rigid fork. If you've ever seen the Surly Open Bar, it's pretty much the same shape, but with an extra loop of bar on the front, which gives you plenty of room to mount lights, bags, GPS, etc.

A couple of years ago, when Surly released the disc brake version of the Long Haul Trucker touring bike, you've been saying to yourself, "But Kevin, when will they make a disc brake version of the Cross-Check?" (Which, by the way, is a funny thing to say to yourself, unless your name also happens to be Kevin.) Ask no more, as coming in September is the Surly Straggler! To be available in a sweet sparkly Purple (and, rumor has it, also in Black), the bike sported Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes and Shimano Tiagra integrated brake/shift levers.

2014 Surly Straggler in Purple
Of course, the Surly guys preferred NOT to call it a "disc brake Cross-Check," because the frame geometry is not exactly like the Cross-Check. The bottom bracket height is a couple of millimeters lower than the Cross-Check, but that's mainly to account for the 700Cx40 Surly Knard tires that will come on the bike. Trevor from Surly told me that "It's a cyclocross bike for people who like mountain bikes, rather than for people who like road bikes, the way most cyclocross bikes are." Appropriately, I took it for a spin on one of the nearby singletrack loops. I've seen other ride 'cross bikes on singletrack before, but this was my first foray. I had to stand up and grind on the pedals more than usual to clear the steep climbs, but otherwise the bike handled itself quite well, and of course, the brakes gave me the last-second slowy-downiness that I needed on the twisty trail. The rear dropouts sport a new design that makes it easy to get the rear wheel on and off the bike and around the disc brake, whether you're running geared or singlespeed, quick-release or bolt-on.

Look for the Straggler to show up in all three Century Cycles stores. I think this will be a hot seller, and will meet the needs of anyone looking for a do-it-all rig for spring, summer, fall, and winter cruising on roads, trails, you name it in all weather.

Next up, just because it was the only thing available in my size after I was through with the Straggler, I took out a Surly Troll. This bike is basically unchanged for the coming year, still available in Purple or Black:

Surly Troll in Purple
As the smaller-wheeled little brother of the Ogre, and the purple cousin of the Straggler, the Troll doesn't get the respect it deserves, because it's got no new whiz-bang technology on it. It's a 26-inch wheeled, rigid bike for off-road or any-road touring. But that's exactly the reason why you'd want this bike if you were planning an around-the world bike trip. And on the singletrack, it proved surprisingly capable--zipping up the steeps and swooping its little badass self around the tight, curvy trail. Put some racks and bags on this baby, sell the kids, and hit the road.

Finally, the third new bike in the Surly stable is actually the return of an old bike. The Surly Instigator is meant for the big-hit set, whether it's a pump track, freeride park, or Ray's MTB Indoor Park. It's the first Surly bike to ever come stock with a suspension fork. Does this represent the End of the World as We Know It? Maybe. Of course, like all Surlys, the frame is still 4130 chromoly steel.

2014 Surly Instigator
What else is new about the new Instigator? It sports interchangeable rear dropouts, so you can set it up right for whatever kind of rear hub floats your boat. Geared or singlespeed, quick-release, bolt-on, or quick-release thru-axles. It will come with 50mm wide Rabbit Hole rims, a 26-inch version of the same rims that come on the 29+ Surly Krampus. The tires are a new 26x2.75 Surly Dirt Dragon (rumor has it they'll make a 29+ version of this tire for the Krampus). Will this bike fit 27.5-inch wheels? You didn't hear that from me...

I took this bike for a lap around the same singletrack as all the other bikes, and it was probably my fastest trip around. After riding all of those rigid bikes, I forget how much faster suspension makes me able to go, even with the added weight. No pussy-footing around the rocks and roots, just point and shoot. I'm the kind of rider who likes to keep both wheels firmly on the ground, but if you're the playful type who likes to get up in the air once in a while, this bike is for you.

I caught a glimpse of this Surly Pacer; it appears that the 2014 model will come in a sparkly Red, upgraded to Shimano 105 shifters and derailers. I didn't get a chance to ride it, but wanted to share it with you because I thought it looked cool:

2014 Surly Pacer in Red
Click here to read Surly's own take on their new lineup from their blog.

After a break for some lunch, I headed to the Salsa Cycles tent. Salsa is making a big splash this year with major upgrades throughout their line-up, especially with their full-suspension 29er mountain bikes. When they first introduced these bikes a couple of years ago, they went with a simple single-pivot rear suspension design, in order to provide lower maintenance and better durability for long backcountry rides and off-road touring. However, what the single-pivot design gained in simplicity it sacrificed in suspension performance. Not any more. Salsa teamed up with suspension pioneer Dave Weagle to totally revamp their bike design. The result was Split Pivot Technology, which adds a rotating rear suspension pivot point at the rear wheel axle. This maintains the elegant single-pivot design, while providing the same performance as more complex designs. Suspension, pedaling, and braking actions all operate independently, so you get full suspension performance whether you're going uphill, downhill, or just cruising along. A side benefit of the simple design is that it leaves plenty of space in the main frame triangle for a full-size water bottle.

2014 Salsa Spearfish 2
To be honest, I was skeptical at first, but when I finally had a chance to try the Salsa Spearfish 2 bike, I was hooked. I hadn't felt such a plush ride with pedaling efficiency since I tried the Giant Anthem X 29er 1 last fall at the Interbike trade show. The Spearfish is a medium-travel cross-country mountain bike, but the platform is also available in the longer-travel Salsa Horsethief for any-trail adventures.

Salsa also features a full line of snow bikes, or fat bikes if you prefer. They are much like their cousin the Surly Pugsley, but step it up a notch (or two or three) for those who want a little more performance on the snow. The Salsa Mukluk bikes feature aluminum frames and forks, and the Salsa Beargrease is a full-on race fat bike featuring a carbon fiber frame and fork!

2014 Salsa Mukluk 2 in Orange
I rode a Salsa Mukluk 2, and of course, it provided the same uber-traction as the Surly Moonlander or Pugsley, with a little more kick in the pants in the performance department. I also rode the Salsa Beargrease XX1, and it was so light that it almost made me feel like I could give up my regular "summer" mountain bike and be a full-time fat-biker!

Salsa Beargrease XX1
Other promising bikes from Salsa include the Vaya on-road touring bike, available in steel, titanium, and stainless steel version (the stainless steel one coming stock with S&S couplers for travel-ability); the Salsa Fargo off-road touring bike (also available in steel or titanium); Salsa Warbird gravel-road racing bike (steel or ti), Salsa Colossal disc-brake road bike (steel or ti); and the Salsa El Mariachi 29er hardtail mountain bike. Will you be seeing any of these bikes soon at Century Cycles? Stay tuned...

On Tuesday, it was time to hit the road. The road bike testing ground was not quite as extensive as the off-road; it consisted of a former resort access road that is now closed to car traffic because of several large sinkholes. They let us take the bikes down the road, but told us "Keep your hands on the brakes, as the sinkholes can show up all of a sudden." The road wound down about 3 miles, dropping 900 feet in elevation, and then you had to turn around and head back up.

Caution: rough road ahead
The first bike I tried was the All-City Space Horse. All-City is another one of Surly's and Salsa's "sister brands" at QBP, with a focus on urban-oriented bikes. The Space Horse is their touring/commuting bike, kind of a "Long Haul Trucker Lite." It features a 612 Select Chromoly Steel frame and fork, Tektro cantilever brakes and a full Shimano Tiagra drive train, including brake/shifter levers, derailers, and compact double crankset. The bike was comfortable and felt stable and solid on both the downhill and uphill. The brakes did feel a little anemic, making me hold back a little from "letting it all hang out" on the downhill, and I was wishing for a few less pounds to pull uphill.

All-City Space Horse

Next was the All-City Mr. Pink, their 612 Select Chromoly Steel road bike. It featured a full Shimano 105 group, including dual-pivot brakes, derailers, brake/shifter levers, and compact double crankset. This bike gives you the smooth, svelte feel of a classic steel road bike with modern technology as the icing on the cake. Any trouble I had getting back up that hill was the fault of the engine, not the bike.

All-City Mr. Pink
To top off the day and the trip, I headed back with my friend Brent to Surly, where they had the new ECR ready to go in our sizes again. We decided to do an "epic" ride, as far up the mountain as we could handle. The Surly ECR once again took the trail with ease as we pedaled our way up, up, up the mountain on Needles trail. At one point, this trail headed to the side and not as far up as we hoped, so we split off on the intermediate-level Porcupine Trail. This was a bit rougher and steeper, and we had to walk a few sections, but it took us up, up, and more up, as the air got thinner and breathing even got tougher. We got to an intersection of the trail and a gravel road, and decided to take the gravel up to where it went past the Mid-Mountain ski lift. The grade probably approached 25% or more in a couple of spots, but we cranked on, and finally reached the peak.

At the top of the Porcupine Trail at Snowbasin on the Surly ECR
After a snack and a photo-op, we headed all the way back down on the Porcupine Trail and Needles Trail. Needless to say, the way down was a lot easier, and a heck of a lot quicker than the way up, but once again, the Surly ECR handled both with poise. This, as I learned, was typical mountain biking in the Rockies--90 minutes uphill, 20 minutes downhill.

The perfect way to end a perfect day of riding was with a Fat Tire Ale, provided by Finish Line bicycle care products on the shuttle bus back to Ogden.

Beer on the Bus

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