The One Bike

28 Mar 2017

We love to hear your stories around bikes and cycling, occasionally with a view to featuring here. Recently one of our customers mentioned how he'd been on something of a journey with regards to his bike so we asked him if he would be happy to share his experiences. After all we live in a world now where cycling has developed niches within niches, and we're told by marketing departments that we need not only cyclocross bikes but gravel bikes, and adventure bikes, and it's not enough to have a road bike any more.. we need, apparently, race bikes, and endurance bikes, and sportive bikes. You may or may not know the accepted formula for determining the correct number of bicycles (x, say) to own.. i.e x = n + 1 where n is the current number of cycles in your fleet. What follows is a rather nice piece from someone looking to go the other way, i.e. following a path defined by x = (n+1) - n ... 

My first new bike was a steel purple BSA drop bar with 3 speed sturmy archer gears. I used to ride this to school. At weekends I would cycle to the shops and the beach with friends and to far flung fishing spots on the cliffs, with my rod strapped to the crossbar and bait and sandwiches slung over my shoulder in a bag. A single bike to do lots of things.

As I got older I got into racing and saved money  to buy a lovely steel 531 Mercian road frame set. This bike was only used for racing or Sunday cycling club rides. I bought a second hand clunker for cycling to work. My stable had grown to two steeds. One for commuting, one for racing and training. As I got into time-trialling , I felt the need to improve my chances in events so purchased a Pat Rohan steel low pro and built it up. It went really well and I even entered an RTTC National 25 mile event on it. Three bikes now. One for training, one for racing and one for work.As family life and work became more important, my cycling activities slipped away for a good few years. The bikes were sold and my Mercian frame stored but not used.

Later in life my interest in cycling was reignited. I do not think it ever went away really, just into stasis for a few years. Things in cycling had changed in the intervening years. Most notably the use of aluminium and carbon fibre in frame construction and big developments in aero kit for time-trialling. My new phase of bike buying again followed a similar trend. Initially a new aluminium road bike which I used for commuting ,weekend rides and time trials. This was followed by a mountain bike for off-road and then a carbon road bike and finally a more traditional hand built steel 653 time trial bike with aero bars and deep section wheels.
Suddenly I had four bikes each of which did a single thing. The N+1 (number of bikes you need where N is the number of bikes you have) phenomenon had taken a grip.

I had a few years where I trained and raced hard for time-trials. I did some personal bests at a range of distances but eventually I stopped racing as it was becoming a bit obsessive. I was also riding my carbon road bike less and less and the same with my mountain bike. One weekend I looked at my collection of bikes and thought, what is the point of all these bikes that generally all do one thing and I am not riding most of them? I was still an active cyclist but I really only needed a decent bike that did lots of things, a generalist not a specialist. I sold up my stable and pooled the proceeds for reinvesting.

My cycling focus had also changed. Racing was now history as was thrashing myself silly around the Cornish lanes on my carbon road bike with some bizzare desire to keep my average speed up - for what ? Commuting and weekend rides were still on the agenda for fun, social/cafe rides and fitness. The idea of riding dirt tracks and touring and bikepacking was also becoming more appealing. Self contained camping under your own steam traversing road and off road routes. Was there a bike that could do all of these things? The concept of the 'One' bike had landed, but where to start, did it exist and what exactly did I want?

A friend of mine, also into cycling, mentioned that he had a bike called a Surly Cross Check which was quite versatile. I had never heard of this bike or what it looked like or could do. I made some enquiries on the Surly website and went to check out the Cross Check. It was an understated road bike, steel Cro-Mo frame and with lots of braze-ons. Quite heavy compared to a carbon bike, but clearly well made and very durable and with clearance for bigger tyres than normal road bikes. My friend who is an experienced cycle traveller showed me photos of where he had taken the Cross Check in touring mode. Hmmmm.

I started to think about the specification for my new bike. Carbon is stiff and of course light but hard to repair if it gets knocked or damaged in transit. I was not overly concerned with frame weight anymore, especially when bike-packing, so light weight was not a must have. Aluminium is a great frame material but harsh on longer rides. Back to steel then. All my early bikes had been steel. Durable, repairable, great ride quality and plenty of strength for load-lugging and off road riding.

Braking systems were also in evolution. Disc brakes only seen previously on mountain bikes had now migrated across to road bikes. No more worn rims, super stopping power and longer lasting brake pads. Fatter road tyres were also growing in popularity. In my early time trialling days, thin was king and I used 18mm hutchinson tyres on my Pat Rohan low pro. These new gravel bikes had tyres up to 45c and bigger on the 'monster cross' , road bikes. My One bike kit list was growing.

I looked again at the Surly website. As well as the Cross Check model, Surly had also produced a disc brake version called the 'Straggler'. This frame had One Bike potential. Steel road frame and forks, relaxed angles, multiple braze-on points for bottles and panniers, disc brakes, wide tyre clearance (up to 45c) and competivitve price. I also liked the Surly brand philosophy - quirky and sort of non-conformist. Another tick in the box.I had found my frame.


Surly Straggler

Surly Straggler... useful!


I went down to Hayle Cycles to see if they could order me a Surly Straggler frame set. I explained what I wanted and why and the order was placed. I knew that Ash was also a dab hand at wheel building, so discussed with him the parts suitable to make a bomb-proof all purpose wheelset. The Straggler is a 700c wheelsize, but interestingly could take a range of wheel hub widths up to and including mtb hubs. Lots of options which is a good thing. I settled on some shimano XT hubs with 32 spokes, triple crossed and matched to Ryde Taurus 19mm rims. A bombproof wheelset and able to take big tyres.

While I was waiting for the frame to arrive, I collected all the other bike components ready for the new build. Building your bike from the frame up used to be a common way for cyclists to construct their new machines. You learnt a lot about how bikes work doing this. Sadly this has now largely been overtaken by the purchase of complete, ready to ride bikes and a lot of cyclists these days do not know how to fix even simple things.

Gearing for my One Bike also needed some careful consideration. The One Bike needed to be simple and functional. Avoidance of complexity was desireable. A lot of the new gravel bikes were using single small tooth chainrings (no front shifter mechanism) matched to big rear cassettes to give huge gear ranges. I liked this idea and decided on a 40 tooth front ring matched with a 11-36 rear cassette. For loaded bikepacking I would swop the 40t ring for a 34t front ring. Taking an idea from cyclo-cross, I decided to add an indexed bar end shifter to the drop bars as only shifting for the rear mechanism would be required. Simple, effective, nothing to go wrong and cheap.

After a few weeks Ash contacted me to say that the frame had arrived and that the wheels were ready. Build on! The frame was gloss black with white Surly logos. It looked great. All of the components I had sourced were also black, including the bar tape, so this One Bike was going to look stealthy. After a weekend locked in my man-cave, the One Bike was finished. Pristine with not a speck of dirt, although this would not last long.


Surly Straggler

Surly Straggler in lightweight weekend away camping/touring/bikepacking mode.


My first test ride was planned for the following weekend. The bike was heavy as it was steel and aluminium, not a speck of carbon in sight, but with the gearing range and 40c tyres it floated over rough lane surfaces and tracks and even the steep Cornish hills were quite tolerable as long as you chose the right gear and right pace. This was not a bike for racing up hills!

I have owned and ridden this bike for over 6 months now and each time I take it out I have fun. It is a great commuter bike, very sure footed and comfortable and brilliant on tracks and dirt. Weekend rides of 50-100km are regular features and as spring and summer arrive the One Bike will become a lightly packed overnighter for mini adventures into the Cornish countryside and coast and in due course some longer bike-packing camping trips to destinations further afield.

Truly a One Bike for lots of things, lots of miles and plenty of smiles.

Incidentally.. the Surly Cross Check mentioned is perhaps the 'original' adventure bike. It's been around for a number of years and like its more recent sibling the Straggler is a fantastic do it all bike. I have one... I have used it as a road winter trainer with 25mm slicks on, I've raced cyclocross on it with 35c knobbies on, I've enjoyed big offroad days out on it with 45C knobby tyres fitted, and made long trans-continental mixed terrain journeys on it with fat tyres, racks and panniers on. Really if you want one bike that can do everything it would be hard to go wrong with either. Pop into the shop and have a chat if you'd like to know more.


Surly Cross Check

Surly Cross Check, perhaps the original do it all 'adventure' bicycle...