An Amusement & Diversion for The Genteel Cyclist. Daily.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Compared to what? A conversation with Surly's Dave Gray

The first time we met Dave Gray, it was after a marathon mountain bike race in 90 degree heat. He was wearing one of the ugliest wool jerseys we'd ever seen -- a color something like blueberry yogurt -- and he was riding some sort of mysterious prototype singlespeed with vicious welds in weird places. It was a Frankenstein-looking thing. We chatted for a while — we, in our ignorance, clueless that we were yakking with one of the bike industry's most companionable fellows. He was much too modest then to put us firmly in our place, so we finally got around to giving him another opportunity.

Give us a little background on Surly, how did the brand get launched and why?

Wakeman Massie was hired by Quality Bicycle Products, our parent company and US distributor, to design proprietary products and start up several proprietary brands. He started Surly, originally called 1x1, in 1998 with the introduction of the Singleator. The desire for well-designed, reasonably-priced single-speed components was the seed for the brand. Hurl and I were hired on a couple years later. Hurl was responsible for marketing, I concentrated on design and qc, and Wakeman played the role of GM and product designer. We all handled customer service and day-to-day duties. When Wakeman and Hurl left Surly, I took over as GM and hired Nick and Andy. Eric was brought in a couple years later. Peter was hired as GM when I got sick of the role. Emily, Alix, and Jim are the latest crew members.

How many bikes are being shipped each year now?

We sell more framesets than complete bikes. I estimate we'll sell 4000 - 5000 frames and 2000 complete bikes in 2007.

Do you get a lot of requests from dirtbag cyclists looking for free stuff, sponsorships, events?

Sure. And some of those dirtbags turn out to be the best ambassadors for the brand. But we turn down lots of requests. A person or group has to be doing something special to get our attention and goods. We have a pretty small sponsorship budget, so we spend our pennies wisely.

You're way into utility biking, commuting, and bike camping. Why?

There are so many reasons: I like the health benefits (mental, physical, spiritual) that cycling provides. I'd rather buy good food, good drink, or toys than pay for gasoline and all the other automotive-related operating costs. Cars make the planet dirty and ugly, and cars make people sick. I like the challenge of transporting things by bike. Sitting in traffic sucks ass. And leading by example is the best way to turn people on to alternative forms of transportaion.

If we remember correctly, you frequently win the "most bike days commuting"
award at QBP. True? If so, what's your record?

I'm not sure. It was between 240 and 250 days. I don't get the award for frequency anymore, because I travel quite a bit. But I still win the "total distance" award...5888 miles last year.

You're also well known as the creator of vast quantities of "grog" for events like the Homie Fall Fest. Your recipe, please.

I usually freestyle it a bit. But it goes something like this.

Heat the contents of a cheap box 'o wine in a kettle or stock pot, but don't boil it. When it’s close to boiling, reduce the heat, and add the following:

Whole cloves, Whole Allspice, and Cinnamon sticks wrapped in cheesecloth.. Orange and lemon slices. Lemon juice. Sugar (optional…depends on the sweetness of the wine).

Let is simmer for 15-30 minutes.

Add cheap vodka or rum for extra cheer.

Serve hot in the company of good friends.

Besides Pinch Flat News, of course, what are some of your favorite bike publications and websites?

I regularly read Velovision, the Rivendell Reader, Bicycle Quarterly, A to B, and Dirt Rag. I don’t have much love for the mainstream glossy U.S. bike mags. I typically don’t use the products they are pushing.

The bicycle-related websites I surf usually contain information about unique human-powered vehicles or framebuilding techniques.

"Bikes are the new punk rock"-- your reaction?

I disagree. I don't think most bikes are ridden as an anti-establishment statement.

"Fixies Are for Pussies and Poseurs" is the name of a band here in Minneapolis. Do you like 'em?[...he asked, provocatively.]

I haven't heard them [... he answered, diplomatically.]

You had a horrific and freakish accident a few weeks ago. How did it happen?

A few of us were derbying behind One On One, and I fell over on a not-so-smooth section of pavement while clipped into my pedals. My hip took the majority of the impact, spiral-fracturing my femur. My surgeon put me back together with a long steel plate and a dozen screws.

Any great new products you need to leak to "the press" right now?

No. We usually let the Surly cats out of their bags at the Interbike tradeshow late in September. Sorry.

Why is the Jethro Tool so goddam expensive?

Compared to what?

Do you guys make that bottle opener that screws into a standard bottle cage mount? Where can I get one of those?

No. Pedros sold those for a while. I don't know if they are still available. They don't work very well unless you turn your bike upside-down.

What's your day-to-day gig at Surly like? Yammering into the blower a lot, or drinking beer?

There's some yammering and some beer drinking at times. But I spend most of my time answering e-mail from our customers, manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and our agent in Taiwan. The rest of the day is spent on research and developement...sourcing materials and manufacturers, testing sample parts, designing parts on paper and in the computer, and tracking costs of product developement.


Anonymous said...

gray boy is a mensch and a maven.

cool interview, i never knew Hurl was a surly employee.

Susan said...

Don't you mean the local band "Fixed Gears Are For Jerks and Lesbians"?

Eric said...

Thanks, Suse.

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