While I’ve always liked riding bikes, since I began paying attention 7 or 8 years ago I’ve never been especially fond on the industry which produces them. Outdoor “sports” are generally more prone than your average cultural entity to zenophobic navel-gazing, but cycling has (along with skiing) always struck me as particularly outstanding in the way it cultivates a culture of puerile elitism. Rock climbing and backpacking don’t have the same at-large ubiquity, nor the same need to defend themselves against the unwashed masses of Wal-mart bikes and ski area vacationers. If you’re trying to find some clannish douchebaggery, the only place better than a high-end bike shop is a gathering of backcountry skiers. No wonder serious cycling is in America a stagnant wasteland with a massive gender gap.
The evident corollary to this is that most bike companies don’t think about what they do in especially interesting ways. The answers are already set, with all that is left mere variation. Hence the comparable gearing ranges, tire sizes, and amount of suspension on 95% of mountain bikes. All these things may be the best answers to the question of how to best ride on a given surface in a given way, but the lack of other options shows that no one yet knows if this is the case. The questions can’t be asked because the answers always already exist. On the rare occasions when this is not the case, we see that most often the answers have dictated the questions, that technology and materials have dictated where and how we ride, rather than the reverse.
Photo by emptybeer.
Surly takes a different approach. Seven years ago they invented the first new category in cycling since the mountain bike itself when they introduced the Pugsley, Endomorph, and Large Marge. Yes other fat bikes existed before, but just as with Joe Breeze not inventing the mountain bike, Surly (and Breeze) get credit anyway for making it available to enough people. People who would think to use them in ways not previously contemplated. Which is the only way to legitimately ask and answer questions about the best uses of mountain bikes in the first place.
In 2005 Surly created a new market and has no doubt patiently reaped the profits. It took awhile for things to gather momentum, but now they have and while the variety of frames and rims have proliferated, Surly still enjoys near total hegemony of the fat tire market. I hope they’ve enjoyed the financial and spiritual rewards.
I think we can expect something similar to happen with their latest project. It will take a while, possibly a long while, but we’ll see other frames, other tires, and eventually suspension forks designed for 3 inch 700c wheels. Is such a big tire good for “general” mountain biking? I have no idea, but I’m excited that I might be able to eventually find out. The double diamond may be one for the ages, but when it comes to off-paved and off-piste there are plenty of details still to iron out.