Surly Bikes is a group of guys that run a unique shop and do it for the love. Their varied bike designs and low prices make them a great pick for the Blue Collar rider. I have a huge crush on anything Surly so I requested an interview and they agreed.
Blue Collar: How long has Surly been in business?
Andy: About 7 years. Surly started with one thing, the Singleator, before there was even a brand name.
Blue Collar: Where are you located?
Andy: Surly Intergalactic Domination Headquarters is just south of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in Bloomington, but the three of us all live in MPLS proper.
Blue Collar: Who makes up Surly? How many people do you have on staff and what are their positions? Who is the sexiest?
Andy:Nick Sande, Dave Gray, and me. We donï¿½t exactly have job titles, but Dave is our Captain Ahab, heï¿½s in charge of steering the boat. Nick and Dave do a lot of the design work, I handle a lot of the customer service and marketing, and we all have input into all aspects of the business. It isnï¿½t strictly egalitarian, but everybody generally has to green-light most projects before they become reality.
Surlyï¿½s ï¿½parentï¿½ company is Quality Bicycle Products, a big components distribution company, and we work closely with some people there, like Colin Floyd, who maintains our website and handles a lot of our media stuff. We also work pretty closely with some other QBP people, like Peter Redin and Devon Russell, QBPï¿½s main international accounts people. Colin, Devon and Peter are not on the Surly payroll but they play a big role in getting our stuff into new places and helping us look good. Whoï¿½s the sexiest? Me. Definitely. Chicks dig beer guts.
Nick: Donï¿½t forget Yafro. We also rely heavily on the talented Mr. Josh “Yafro” Yablon for engineering, mechanical issues, frame design and non-work related political rants.
Andy: True, that. Dave and Nick do a lot of the designs, but Josh and his crew are incredibly valuable on the engineering side of things.
Blue Collar: What is the worst thing about working for Surly? The best thing?
Dave: The worst thing, for me, is dealing with manufacturers who canï¿½t deliver our products on time. Itï¿½s frustrating to not have a product in stock when our dealers and customers are asking for it. The best thing is the amount of thanks we get. Surlys have literally changed the lives of some of our customers. That sounds dramatic, but itï¿½s true. A positive e-mail or phone call from somebody whoï¿½s super ampï¿½d about their Surly makes up for all the not-so-positive stuff that can be part of the Surly day.
Nick: The best thing is the amount of hot groupie chicks that throw themselves at us. No really, itï¿½s the only job Iï¿½ve ever had that I donï¿½t dread when I wake up in the morning. As far as working 40 hours a week goes, itï¿½s about the best situation I could imagine. The worst thing is just keeping up with old products while trying to develop new products. Just because there is a solid design out on the market, doesnï¿½t mean there arenï¿½t problems with production, supply, pricing, raw material availability, etc.
Andy: The best thing for me is getting paid to do something I love. Iï¿½ve worked in the bike business for a long time and this is just about ideal for me. We get to design and produce stuff weï¿½d like to ride. It doesnï¿½t get much better than that for a bike geek. The worst thing? I donï¿½t know. That changes from day to day. Thereï¿½s always more to do than we have time for and that gets frustrating, but I always keep in mind that Iï¿½m very lucky to be doing this. The day-to-day stuff can wear a person down, but thatï¿½s true of any job. When I go home at night, I think about work, but nothing really keeps me awake at night.
Blue Collar: The bike industry is a hard industry to be in and takes a lot of work. What is your motivation to keep Surly going?
Andy:Itï¿½s a sweet job, man. We make stuff thatï¿½s appreciated by experienced riders as well as people who just want a bike. I may not be able to change the world, but I can contribute to the greater good by helping produce good quality stuff that brings health and personal happiness to people. Iï¿½m proud of that. Plus I love it when people write to say that since getting a Surly, their high-zoot, unobtainium, one crash, uber-expensive bike sits collecting dust in the garage.
Dave: Iï¿½m selfishly motivated. Surly products are products that I want to use. And, I can rest assured that Iï¿½m doing a job that can make positive changes to our environment.
Nick: Like Andy said, the battle Iï¿½ve chosen to fight in this world is getting more people to ride bikes and become self sufficient. If I didnï¿½t ride, I couldnï¿½t do this job with nearly the same amount of passion. Surly has a unique opportunity to get weird ass products to people who find the world lacking in creative and functional bike parts.
Blue Collar: What was the first frame you put on the market?
Andy: The 1×1 single speed frame. It came out a year after the Singleator and was originally called the 1×1 Rat Ride. And itï¿½s pretty much the same as when it first came out, which I think is pretty cool in a market where most stuff is obsolete before the sun goes down.
Blue Collar: Let’s see… you got the Steam Roller, Karate Monkey, Instigator and the Pugsley on the way. Each bike seems to have its own unique personality. What goes into a new design for a frame?
Andy: …and the Long Haul Trucker, Pacer, Crosscheck… We look for niches where there either isnï¿½t anything available or the products that already exist are lacking in some way. In the case of the Karate Monkey, we took a lot of shit for jumping on the 29″ bandwagon, but we thought we could improve on a lot of the designs already out there and make it affordable enough that lots of people could try riding 29″ without completely breaking the bank. We look at what each frame will be used for primarily and design around that.
Blue Collar: What’s your favorite Surly frame?
Andy: Itï¿½s a toss up for me between the Steamroller and 1×1.
Nick: By far the Karate Monkey. It took me a few rides to get accustomed to the big wheels and what they can do better, but I couldnï¿½t imagine choosing any other bike for a ride that involves singletrack.
Dave: Iï¿½m torn between the Long Haul Trucker and the Pugsley.
Blue Collar: What kind of testing do you do on a new frame?
Andy: We ride the shit out of prototypes. We put in a lot of miles to test for everything from durability to geometry before we sign off on the final design. The local Wednesday night ride is a great test too because there is often a fair amount of rough housing, if not full on carnage, on the WNR. Bikes that canï¿½t hack it donï¿½t survive long.
Nick: We also know a couple of really big tall dudes that ride a lot that always receive a free prototype to try and break.
Dave: I tend to ride a new frame sample, almost exclusively, until that frame goes into production. Thereï¿½s nothing like lots of real-world testing to find potential problems. Machine testing data never tells the whole story.
Blue Collar: What’s the stress load on your frames? Well I’ll just ask it… how fat can I be and still safely ride your bikes?
Andy: Is there something youï¿½d like to share with us Tim? Has it been a long winter with lots of cookies, cakes, and soda? The answer depends on the model of course, but in general we design our stuff to be durable but still responsive. We do not make stupid-light racer geek crap. One guy in Atlanta, Dr. Ray, writes me every once in a while. I donï¿½t know his specific weight, but itï¿½s somewhere over 225 pounds and he rides his Instigator hard. The last letter I got from him, he said heï¿½d broken almost everything on his bike, including 3 beefy cranksets, but the frame was fine, with just some scratches.
Actually that reminds me of a bizarre story. A guy wrote in a while ago asking what Fatties Fit Fine means (this appears on the chainstays of all our frames). Seems heï¿½d gotten a Surly for his wife and as it turns out they were having some troubles in their relationship and she got offended, thinking heï¿½d bought her a bike meant for fat people.
Blue Collar: Ever gotten a new design to the point of prototype and scrapped it? If so, why?
Dave: We made some thread-on disc brake adapters for our non-disc hubs, years ago. But, they never made it to production. We decided to produce disc-compatible hubs, instead.
Andy: By the time we get to prototype stage weï¿½re pretty damn sure itï¿½s going to happen and have spent a lot of time on the design. There are sometimes little things that we find after something is in production. We saw some Instigators come back a while ago, broken at the disc side rear dropout. The disc rotors were putting a lot of stress on the weld, but since we didnï¿½t have any break in prototype stage, we didnï¿½t think it would be a problem. We added a brace between the stays and the problem was solved.
Blue Collar: Obviously the Pugsley has been through a long planning and design process. The Large Marge rims, 3.7″ tires and now the frame. What makes this such a pet project? Why the hell did you name it “Pugsley”?
Nick: Actually, the evolution of any part from pencil rendering to actual product for sale takes at least one year. Weï¿½ve gotten into the habit of openly discussing our development process via the blog throughout this evolution of Pugsley because itï¿½s a freaky project and hopefully itï¿½s been entertaining. If it comes out in July as planned, it will have been about a year since we OKï¿½d the start of the design.
Andy: It may seem like an inordinate amount of attention was paid to this project, but it requires a lot of specialized stuff to do itï¿½s job right. The rims, frame and tires were all sort of necessary to do the kind of riding that itï¿½s really meant for. No one was doing big, fat snow tires anymore, for example. As for the name, well we tossed around a lot of names, and in fact almost went with Soccer Mom (for the SUVs soccer moms tend to drive) but eventually settled on Pugsley, after the kid on the Addams Family, the dark, short, weird kid who liked blowing things up and being generally creepy. Itï¿½s not deep, it just seemed to fit.
Blue Collar: It is obvious in your website, bike designs and overall attitude that you run things differently then most in your industry. What is it about Surly’s business philosophy and future goals that sets you apart from your competitors?
Andy:I donï¿½t know that weï¿½re all that different from a lot of people in this industry, itï¿½s just that we let our freak flag fly. Weï¿½re just us, man, and the website is a reflection of that. Our basic business philosophy comes in two parts: (a) Make stuff people can actually afford and want to use and that will last, and (b) have fun doing it. The website is not overly-cautious, politically correct, or market-targeted because thatï¿½s not how we are. We trust that people will be able to make a decision about whether a Surly is right for them based on more than some dumb image on a website. Life is full of absurdity…you can laugh or cry. We laugh.
Nick: Iï¿½m just doing what my scientific research-based marketing scheme magic 8-ball is telling me to do. Shit, I wasnï¿½t supposed to let on about that.
Dave: We donï¿½t chase trends. We make products that we believe in and want to use. When it stops being fun, itï¿½s time to close up shop.
Blue Collar: Your prices are consistently low and in the Blue Collar price range. How do you keep the prices so reasonable? What are your plans to continue this in the future?
Andy:Thatï¿½s part of the Surly business philosophy, make good stuff and make it so people can actually afford it. Honestly, a big part of being able to price our stuff low is achieved by having our frames made in Taiwan. Occasionally we take some shit for having stuff made in Taiwan, but most bike companies do this, itï¿½s just that they charge a lot anyway. Some people have this knee jerk reactionary aversion to it, but then balk if they have to pay too much for a bike. I mean, come on! If we could reliably source material and make our frames here and be able to even come close to the prices we offer, we would gladly do it. But that isnï¿½t how the world works.
We work closely with our Taiwan builders…they do really excellent work, in part because they make so many frames there. Weï¿½ve looked into having stuff made in the US many times and it just isnï¿½t feasible.
Besides that, Iï¿½d say a lot of it is the small choices we make [like] simple plastic or paper bags instead of glossy header-carded, shrink wrapped packaging, powder coat paint instead of wet paint, that sort of thing.
Nick: I could write a fat chapter about the intricacies of domestic versus Taiwanese production. The bottom line for us is quality. If the quality is good, then at least weï¿½re riding good shit. Cost, making things to our specifications, making things on time, proper communication, environmental responsibility and good working conditions are the secondary issues that make or break a project. Iï¿½m almost ashamed to say this, but weï¿½ve been fï¿½ed over by domestic manufacturers so many times, itï¿½s a no-brainer to look to Taiwanese production. If North American manufacturers keep shooting themselves in the feet like this, nothing will be made in this country before too long. For example, I just put a brand new really expensive hand built American made steel frame on our frame alignment jig this morning out of curiosity. It was by far the most poorly aligned frame Iï¿½ve seen in this building and Iï¿½m sure the customer paid a lot of cash for it.
Blue Collar: If I were trying to build up a Surly mountain bike from the ground up and wanted to get the most bang for my buck, what would you suggest?
Andy: Iï¿½d suggest a credit card and an understanding spouse. We design our stuff to be compatible with popular sizing standards so that you can use a lot of stuff you already have. Other than that, though, itï¿½s really up to you and your budget. One thing I will say is that middle of the road stuff is really under-rated. For example, everybody seems to think they need full XTR, but youï¿½re going to get a lot more miles out of LX or XT and neither is really very heavy. Middle of the road stuff works well but it doesnï¿½t have the Bling Factor that XTR has. Super light, expensive stuff may give some advantage in actual racing, but for the most part people seem to buy it for social recognition & status. Personally, I donï¿½t care about that shit, so I buy what works and what I wonï¿½t have to replace every year.
Blue Collar: If Surly had a theme song, what would it be?
Andy:Are we talking about a song that already exists? Maybe Night Train by GNR.
Nick: No way, itï¿½s Deep Purpleï¿½s Space Truckinï¿½. Yaaa yaaa yaaa space truckinï¿½ï¿½.
Dave: Lunatic Fringeï¿½Red Rider
Andy: Some people call Dave the Space Cowboy. Nickï¿½s the Gangster of Love. Iï¿½m Maurice, but I also have dibs on Midnight Toker.
Blue Collar: Besides riding, what do you do as a past time?
Andy:Reading, listening to music, spending time with my lady and pets, eternally renovating my house, camping when I can make time. Oh, and of course drinking.
Nick: I make a lot of beer
Dave: My wife and I have a 19-month-old son, Noah The Buttonpusher. He occupies most of our free time. I build and modify thingsï¿½bike-related and not-bike-related. I paint and draw. I like metalworking, sewing, and airbrushing. In the summer, I like working in the yardï¿½pulling weeds, composting, landscaping. I love camping, but I need to set aside more time to do it.
Blue Collar: If Surly ruled the world, what kind of world would that be?
Andy:What do you mean ï¿½ifï¿½? Oops, Iï¿½ve said too much already!
Nick: A world where Judge Dread could prosecute our national President for being a dumbass.
Dave: It would be a world where politicians would actually earn their salaries. Solar, wind, and geothermal energy production would be the norm, instead of the exception. Americans, as a population, wouldnï¿½t be so fat and greedy. All guns would be eliminated. And, Iï¿½d wear a crown made of Cheetos.
Andy: Also, Daveï¿½s been known to ride a unicycle while wearing a smoking jacket and rollerblades. Yes, at the same time.
Be sure to check out Surly’s site for info on all their frames and other products.