In case you hadn’t noticed, Surly is now a bike brand. Actually, we’ve been a bike brand for years, but to me Surly is still pretty much the same brand it was when I became the brand manager in 2006. When I started this job we had one complete bike: the Cross Check. It sold well and helped to pay the bills, but it wasn’t where we had our passion focused at the time. Back then we were all neck deep in development of the Big Dummy frame, Mr. Whirly cranks, and other tidbits. Those were exciting times for sure and I wouldn’t go back and change anything if I could. But around that time we started discussing adding some complete bikes to our repertoire. For years our dealers had been telling us they wanted bikes, but we were not sure we wanted them. Why were we so reluctant? Because doing complete bikes required a lot of work and effort, and we wanted to stay focused on building cool frames and parts. Time spent managing bikes meant time away from nerding out on the stuff we wanted to do. And besides that, bike companies were big corporations for the most part, and none of us ever wanted to be one of those.
We were just five people back then and we were already overworked. When I started here I was the brand manager, the buyer, and the international sales guy. Sov was the sales guy who also managed our demo fleet and organized our events. Corson did all of the marketing. Dave and Nick designed all of the products (we also had the part-time help of QBP engineer Josh Yablon). All of us answered Surly phones and email and whatever else needed doing.
The fall that we showed the Big Dummy at Interbike. It was a hit. Folks really responded well to this strange creature of a bike. Who would have thunk? And the following year we decided to offer two additional complete bikes to our lineup: the Long Haul Trucker and the Steamroller. Sov was assigned the added responsibility of managing the complete bikes. He managed the spec, mainly, but also had a big say in how many we would order the completes and the other tiny details that fade with time. When we took our first delivery of these bikes they sold out in less than a week, which sounds really good, but it created another problem: angry dealers who wanted to buy our bikes but could not. It was clear that we needed to hire someone who could help us get better at ordering the right quantities, so shortly after Jim came on board as our buyer. Things got better but we still had some failures in our forecasting. That was painful but we learned a lot and started to get good at it, so we decided to add some more completes. The Karate Monkey and the Big Dummy were added.
I won’t bore you with the entire story of complete bikes. You get the picture. Bottom line is that bikes have become the product line that has put us in more bike shops and made them more attainable. We still get complaints from people like you who tell us it is still hard to find our bikes, but we have come a long way since it was just a few of us working here and trying to keep you happy.
Not that much has changed though. Most of us now have more specialized job duties and we now have 17 bike models and 16 employees. We still feel overworked at times. I doubt that will ever change. The main thing, however, is that we are still just a bunch of bike nerds who geek out on bike stuff and dream about what we want to make next. None of us have strict work schedules and all of us are free to voice our opinions about the brand’s future. No one in the brand wants the brand to lose our ability to determine our own destiny as a brand. Profits don’t motivate what we do. We are motivated by making stuff that we want to ride. As it were the stuff we want to ride is also the stuff you want to ride, so we have had success as a bike company. That’s pretty cool if you ask me. We might not be “cool” but that is another thing we have never been motivated to be. We’re a bike company and we’re not just any bike company. We’re Surly Bikes.