Fairly shortly after our trip to the Chilcotin’s in the fall of 2014 I was offered a 22” Surly Ogre at an amazing price by the good folks at the best bike shop in Vancouver, Mighty Riders. After some deliberation I went for it and so for the past months I have been gradually breaking in ‘Fram’ (the machine is named after the great Colin Archer designed vessel which carried Nansen, Sverdrup and Amundsen on their explorations of the Poles). I think bike names should be totemic in some way, they should carry a part of their riders personalities – their desires and dreams for the bike. This sounds fluffy, but if you’ve ever seen a picture of the original Fram or read about her you will understand that far from being overly sentimental, I simply wanted to encapsulate what Nansen said when he christened her in the Oslo Fjord, “For the ice you were made and in the ice you will do service.” My Ogre is meant to be my everything bike, the bike that I ride in the city, the one that climbs mountains and the one that flows down them.
Fram was bought with the intention that this would be my only bike and so far I have only regretted that on occasions when I feel an unholy urge to don lycra and shave myself (though I could in theory do this and still ride a rigid 29’er). When I was looking for a new bike I was focused on this category of 29’er rigid MTB/dirt touring and it came down to Salsa’s Fargo or the Surly Ogre. At about 6’2” or so, I was very keen to make the switch to a 29’er for the sake of fit, so the only question in my mind was whether I was interested in flat bars or the sort of dirt drop style around which the Fargo is designed. Upon reflection it seems to me that ultimately the question I asked myself was whether this bike was about riding trails or dirt touring. I wanted it to do both, but especially coming off the back of an amazing trip to the Chilocotins, I was reliving the mountain biking of my younger days in Toronto’s Don Valley and very keen to have a bike on which I could actually rattle my way down steeper stuff with reckless abandon. In the end, I decided I wanted a mountain bike that could tour – this to me meant a flat-bar focused bike, as I’m just happier with that cockpit setup when the going gets steep. Guitar Ted has an excellent post about his thoughts and feelings on the Salsa Fargo. It’s undoubtedly an excellent bike and if I was doing a ride like the Great Divide I might well rethink my choice, but the end of the story is that ultimately I’m not yet sold on dirt drops. At the moment I’m just running an old mountain bike riser (Easton Monkey Bar I think) with no-name ergo grips, but I think concepts like the Jones Loop Bar and others open up some really interesting terrain in terms of attempting to get the ergonomics of drops and the multiple hand positions. I’ve been very intrigued to watch more and more distance cyclists move towards bars with more sweep – I’m keen on that idea myself – being able to combine a little bit of extra wrist comfort with an upright position.
I was initially hesitant to get a 22” frame (Surly’s XL) as I was concerned that with larger tires it would give me less than ideal stand-over for anything other than touring and put me in danger of doing some serious damage when I ride on the North Shore or in Squamish. So far this has proved to be a baseless concern. There isn’t a lot of stand-over, but there is enough, and I think in the longterm the tradeoff will prove to be worth it as the frame space in the XL is enormous – wait until you see the frame bag size (more to come on this!)!
For the past couple of months I have been switching between running 700*32 road tires and 29*2.25 CST Caballero MTB tires. Even with the skinny 32c tires the BB height is sufficient that I don’t feel too close to the pavement and Fram is transformed into a capable commuter. With the 2.25” tires on Fram feels like a totally different machine – it feels decidedly more normal – clearly this is a bike with a soul that cries out for chubby rubber. The 32c Kenda tires I’ve been running are bog-standard run-of-the-mill cheapies and not worth commenting on, but the Caballero’s have been an excellent highly affordable knobby which I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.
In closing this is a bike choice I’m psyched on. With a rapidly growing market for adventure touring bikes there are plenty of options out there that give you all the braze-ons you could ever desire – for me the choice was about having a bike burly enough to properly ride trails on but also something that could morph into a generally comfortable and efficient bicycle when things got smoother. As Fram and I get gradually better acquainted I will post more longterm reviews and more photos.