It’s my first day back in the office since Eurobike. I’m here ridiculously early (started work at 5:30 this morning)(damn you jetlag) which allows me to see this place when it’s quiet and I’m alone. I’m going through all my notes and thoughts from Eurobike and my trip to places around/near there and I realize how much I learned (really how much I learn every time I go to one of these).
Most people I know come back from a trip overseas and talk of the differences in culture. One of the things I am continually struck by when I take a trip for Surly isn’t the differences, (those are obvious and right out there for everyone to see) but instead the sames. Which is to say, those things that we/I from our culture have in common with they/them from another. They struck me in Japan last year, and they struck me in France and Germany last week. The underling themes that are common in so many societies are so buried or engrained that we/I tend not to notice them. There are a few, but the one that I’m going to talk about a bit today is conformity.
The reason that most of my friends don’t often find themselves visiting non-English speaking countries is because they are stressed out by the ”language barrier”. For some reason that’s never really stressed me out too much. When I can’t communicate with words, acting things out has never failed to get me what I needed. Grunts, gestures, hip gyrations, whatever. I was very successful in getting receipts for purchases by typing on an imaginary cash register in the air, making the printing sound and tearing the imaginary receipt out of the air. I even saw my wife once get a French pharmacist in his 70’s (who didn’t speak a word of English, and my wife not a word of French) to supply her with eucalyptus Epsom salt to soak her feet in.
When I do communicate with someone for whom English is a second language, I always find that there lack of understanding of the nuances of the language, allows them to much more clearly convey their actual thinking to me. When speaking to a native speaker, I find myself so often concerned with the subtext, knowing as I do, that most people don’t really say what they are thinking or mean; but a watered down version that has other meanings stuffed inside, like a holiday Turduckin.
And so at last I get to my point. (sort of) I met many people at Eurobike who came to the Surly booth and had (what seemed to me) to be the oddest questions they possibly could have asked.
“Why don’t you try harder to make bikes that are lighter?”
“Why don’t you make bikes out of carbon fiber?”
“Why don’t you make road bikes with taller headtubes and slopping toptubes?”
“Why aren’t you more concerned with race performance?”
“Why don’t you make racing bikes?”
This was the experience that struck the “conformity” chord with me. All of the bikes that people were asking Surly to manufacture were at Eurobike in spades. They were all over the place. Light bikes, racing bikes, carbon bikes, slopping toptubed road bikes, bikes that had been “engineered for speed” in every possible way, and all in every category that Surly lives inside of.
I found myself asking the question, “Why would we make the same bike that everyone else is making?” I told many of the people I talked to, “You can find that bike all over here, why don’t you buy one of those?” And most of the time, the answer was that they wanted to buy a Surly. When I asked why, the told me that it was the “brand” that they liked.
They liked the “brand”, just not the bikes.
To me Surly is the bikes. That’s what it’s all about. (at least after you put it in the middle and shake it all about)
I hope I never live to see Surly take advantage of this kind of thinking. It would be easy to do just that. It’s so often what companies do. They build their equity, and then spend it.
They spend it on tricks and gimmicks to get you and me and everyone we know to buy their shit. And usually (at least in the short run) it pays off for them.
Surly has been built on making things that the people inside of it (the people inside Surly that is), want to ride. Or want to make work better. When we make something there is a process involved. With the exception of t-shirts, socks and ball caps (okay flasks, and probably a couple other “marketing” bits I’m forgetting about) we don’t find a product and slap our name on it. If someone is making something that works well, and we like, we tend to use that. Why wouldn’t we?
If not, we design our own, then we test it and then (if we’re happy with it, if it makes us proud) we release it. We’re not perfect (far fucking from it) and sometimes we make things that hit and sometimes they miss. Sometimes we refine our work and sometimes we throw it out and start over. The personnel at Surly has changed over the years, but that basic concept has not.
I love Surly, I’m a huge Surly nerd, and I see how “cool” it might be to have my Surly bike, with Surly fenders, Surly racks, Surly bags, Surly grips, Surly whatevers all over it. I can see it. I just can’t think of a reason for it. Unless we really feel like we can do it better.
There is no reason for us to build/design/imagine bikes that everyone else makes. If we wanted to ride those, they’re out there, we could. (If Eurobike is any indication, in huge abundance). There are simply things that the rest of the industry is really really concerned with, that we are not. And vice versa.
And that’s okay.
It really is.
Eurobike was huge and had lots and lots of neat stuff to look at, and lots and lots of repetitive shit to look at. I could show you the pictures I took there, but were many really great photographers out there so look at some of these galleries instead.
Now here’s a cool picture of Skoglund, riping through the snow from last winter. Soon we’ll be able to ride like this, so get out and ride while it’s warm, and now is the time to start thinking about getting your winter gear ready.