Some things are awesome. And, by awesome I mean great, and not the literal meaning “inspiring a sense of awe.” This is modern usage, and I don’t want to convey the idea that these things are necessarily Grand Canyon-huge or alien-mothership-in-boiling-clouds-over-San-Francisco-frightening or second-coming-holy-shit-awesome. They’re just great stuff.
Okay, semantics out of the way, here’s the stuff:
#1 Surly Products
Surly makes a living attaching a sense of cool to what are, at heart, pretty normal things. They take something that is pretty common and do it differently. QBP (Surly’s owner) is attempting the same magic with their other brand, Salsa, but the jury’s still out. Still, there’s some nice stuff with the ragged Surly logo slapped across it. Check out the Pugsley, the Big Dummy, and my recent favorite: my Surly Karate Monkey, the Supermonkey.
I have been experimenting with “all ’rounder” bikes–the sort of bikes that work well in many areas. The truth is, good all-rounder bikes are just as specialized in their performance as the discipline-specific bikes; if you deviate from the weird mix of terrain and conditions that you’re trying to address with your all-rounder, you’re back to “this-doesn’t-work-well-I-wish-I-was-riding-my-….” My Bob Brown custom sport-tourer is an all-rounder that works well for long rides at a middling pace. It’s not a pack mule, but it’ll carry a bit. It’s not a dirt bike, but it’ll go down a packed dirt road with no problems, so long as there’s no sand. It’s plenty quick with a fast group, but you wouldn’t want to race it, especially uphill. Around here, dirt roads mean sand traps, short stretches in low areas where all the sand and bits are washed during heavy rains. These eat tires and force walkies on anything skinnier than a 1.75″ tire, unless you’re just damn lucky and can focus on the idea of “floating” so much you start levitating. It looks like I need another “all ’rounder.”
Considering this, I really wanted a bike to ride the dirt-road segments of the local century ride, the Spaghetti 100. Given the nature of South Georgia and North Florida, a bike that could handle these dirt roads with aplomb would also open up vast numbers of new routes and fun. To this end, I purchased a Karate Monkey after strongly considering the Salsa Fargo. The Fargo is really designed for this sort of project, with a 68mm bottom bracket and even a big “designed for drop bars” plug in its ad copy. The sadly lacking availability of the Fargo, however, removed it from serious consideration before it even gained a foothold. I own a Pug and a Steamroller, so I was pretty happy to jump right onto a Karate Monkey project with no hesitation.
Originally, I went with an Ultegra triple road group. The longer spindle length of the triple crank fit the 73mm Chris King MTB bottom bracket pretty well, but the front derailleur bottomed out just short of engaging the big ring. Removing the bottom bracket spacer might have allowed enough room, but the chainrings wouldn’t have cleared the stays. Thus, the XT group from the Cinelli went on. I kept the road shifters and cassette and added Avid BB7 road discs (160mm rotors) and Velocity’s Blunt 29er wheelset (XT hubs). I was surprised how my road setup really didn’t feel good on a dirt road, so the stem was shortened to a 90mm Specialized with a LOT of rise (16 degrees). The more upright position made the drop bars feel much more stable in the dirt and sand, yet still allowed for some down-in-the-drops road action when desired. Just to be nasty, the sprung Brooks flyer and giant Carradice saddle bag made the cut. (Comfort and convenience are paramount, of course, so no more mocking my “purse.”)
From the viewpoints of both a mountain-biker and a road cyclist, the Supermonkey does nothing particularly well. It’s big and heavy and oddly proportioned. However, put the Monkey on a long dirt-road and fire-trail ride, one with lots of sand traps and loose material that isn’t very technical interspersed with stretches of paved road, and you quickly realize you’ve got a winner. It’s rigid with drop bars, which makes you faster than the MTBs on the ride, and you’ve got lots of nice hand positions to move to. It’s got fat ole’ funky tires so the sand doesn’t suck you up (I pity the cyclocross bike with 35mm tires in a sand trap), and it’s comparatively low tire pressures make it a pretty nice ride in the bumps (although you feel some of that rigidity shining through, and the saddle squeaks like an old mattress).
Supermonkey is a weird, heavy bike. It’s slow on the road, and not-too-good on singletrack. However, in its little niche as a fun bike that can cover most terrain comfortably at lower speeds, it’s an absolute blast to ride. It’d probably make a great commuter, too. So, why is this monkey “super?” Because it’s awesome and “Awesomemonkey” doesn’t have the same ring. I love Supermonkey!