Bikes. Parts. Chaos.

Abner at the Loading Dock

Name: Abner Z. Rangel-Leal

Location: 

Salt Lake City Metro Area (Pleasant Grove, UT)

Who do you think you are anyway? 

I’m Abner. I was born and raised in Mexico. Specifically, Mexico City. I moved to the US in my youth and have lived in Texas and Oregon but have settled in the Salt Lake City Metro Area in Utah. Data analysis is what keeps the lights on around my house.

Abner and his kids

I find it important to talk about me as a bike dad. You think of your average Humanoid cyclist and images of pristine singletrack, desolate deserts panoramas, pubs and IPAs, flannel and Merino come to mind. What we don’t always see are the ‘ride fully loaded’ trips to the store to pick up cereal, the ‘go kill some time with the kids before I kill them’ rides in the trailer, or the ‘kids are in bed so the next couple of hours are for me and my bike’ mini-tours of a mid-week ride. And while one day I hope to be the person in those epic pictures that capture the imagination, when my day comes to be in that picture, it will be because my son(s) is there to take it. For now, I’m okay doing fatherly tasks with a cycling twist. That’s my world. Anyone else out there fantasizing about their bike tour to some remote wilderness while you stare out the window of your cubicle/home office; or to the dad/mom who can’t find their torque wrench because your kid was playing with it. You’re not alone. Sure, trekking into the wilderness with nothing but your thoughts is exciting, but the singular opportunity to directly pass our love of cycling to a new generation now aint so bad either. In fact, it’s one of the highest highs a person can reach. But I digress… Anyways, bikes!

At one point I was an avid mountain biker. Before that a gritty ultra-runner. Further before that I was thinking about getting a Harvard MBA and working for a Boston-based consulting firm… yikes!

Life, much like the trails and paths we love, seldom stretch out before us in a straight line. 

 

How’d you get into bikes?

Growing up in a bustling metropolis, I didn’t have the Leave it to Beaver lay-your-bike-down-on-your-friend’s-front-lawn relationship with my bike that is typical of suburban America as portrayed by Hollywood.

I was raised in a six-story apartment building where there wasn’t much open space to properly learn how to ride. Luckily, my dad was a teacher at a boarding school so we had access to their athletic fields and could use the parking lots on the weekends.

I don’t have specific memories of learning how to ride, just that I did.

Abner as a young sprout

After learning how to ride a bike, I mostly left bikes behind until my early teens. X-games and extreme sports were the cool thing to do in the late 90s early 00s so after going through an ‘aggressive skating’ stint I asked my dad for a new bike: a gray and black Diamondback joker.

At $250, it was a huge amount of coin for ‘just a bike’ (and thus the complicated relationship between biking and personal finances started), let alone for an immigrant family trying to build a new life in a new country. My dad relented and soon I was terrorizing the neighborhood and flagrantly vandalizing public property…Nah really, I would use it to go to the store and buy Gatorades and hot Cheetos. That aside, the mundanity of my escapades didn’t stop me from untucking my button up shirt, messing up my hair, and ‘sagging’ my pants before throwing a leg over my shiny BMX steed. Even then, I knew you had to look the part to be taken seriously.

Mere months into my budding BMX career, to my horror and dismay, I was cruelly introduced to one crucial aspect of bike stewardship: get a quality lock or store your bike indoors. Spirits crushed and preteen ego bruised, I begged for another bike and got what I would now call a ‘townie’. I wasn’t in love with it but hey, it got me to school and made the two-mile round trip quickly.

Then I partook of a ritual as old as time. Some cultures have spirit quests, stick-fighting duels, bullet-ant-encrusted gloves of misery. Here in the US of A we send sixteen-year-olds to the DMV to get their license and thus prove their desire to detach from their childhood ways and take their first step towards adulthood. Keys to a 1990 Ford Tempo in hand, I left bikes behind and didn’t look back.

It wasn’t until my senior year of college that I reacquainted myself with bikes in the form of a used Trek hardtail that I got off the local classifieds. I started bike commuting to work and riding the local single-track.

The local single-track was amazing and although my skills had by no means ‘outgrown’ my hardtail, I was hungry for a more capable bike.

Looking for a full-suspension mountain bike is like playing 3D chess. Even after doing my research I was still confused. My head was spinning. I decided to cut the crap and say: What bike looks like the most fun? I had seen some hunters ride what I could only then describe as mountain bikes with moto tires and that’s how fat bikes entered my consciousness. A night of googling later and I had my eyes set on the 2016 Salsa Bucksaw XO1 build. People tried to discourage me from buying it, telling me there are lighter bikes out there with more travel, a better build kit, more capable. Surly owners know these arguments all too well, but we just say, “ah screw it, the heart wants what it wants.” So it went with my Salsa.

Abner at theTrailhead

I took my full-sus Clydesdale everywhere from my backyard XC trails, to Slickrock in Moab, DH-ing in Park City, a few trips to the store here and there, it never got old. Then life happened.

We all have those revolving door moments. This happened to me when I missed the orientation for a Goldman Sachs internship in NYC and instead went to the tech company based out of Utah. Several years after graduation and working for an exciting SF-based startup life was ready to present me with another revolving door moment except this one involved a car and my prized bike.

Well, my bike-related revolving door moment involved a bout of months-long unemployment, a new job, and an expensive car repair. It goes a little like this: 80-mile round trip commute with no car= rock; selling your most prized possession to make it possible to get to work = hard place. You get the picture. Except in this story I didn’t sell my bike to pay for a pricy repair. I sold my bike to pay for a more dependable, healthier, more fun mode of transportation. I bought a Surly.

Out of the ashes of my apparent loss, rose the steel-clad phoenix that is my Surly Bridge Club.

 

Tell us about your Surly

Before I tell you about my Surly, let me tell you about the first Surly I ever saw in the wild.

Northern Utah is home to the Wasatch Crest, a 16 or so mile trail in the Wasatch Mountains just above Park City. One of the defining features of the crest is a rocky spine that drops off hundreds of feet on either side. During my first attempt to cross the Spine, I bailed halfway and walked down, tail tucked between my legs.

In a moment that can only be described as that scene in Space Jam where the alien spaceship touches down, hatches open and out of the fog walks out Michael Jordan; I saw some guy on a yellow, fully rigid bike, float down without missing a beat and ride past us cool as a cucumber. What a badass. I don’t remember much else other than he was wearing a white tee shirt and frayed jorts and that his tires said, “Dirt Wizard”. I got home that day and googled dirt wizard tires and like a bolt of lightning hitting Dr. Frankenstein’s monster: a Surly fanboy was born.

That was 2017. Fast forward to 2019. A busted car, a fat-tire MTB, a cash transaction in the shady part of a WinCo parking lot, and a trip to my local Surly dealer later, and I ended up with one of my ‘forever’ bikes: A 2x Dark Black Bridge Club.

Why the Bridge Club? Honestly, the price mostly. And drop bars were uncharted waters to me. I could have bought a Cross-Check which looks cool and it’s aged like fine wine but I didn’t know what to do with skinny tires and I’d rather drink horchata over fine wine so I went with something that had chunky tires and MTB bars over the ‘wisdom’ of going with a traditional commuter.

All I knew at the time was that the numbers after the dollar sign matched my bank account and this bike-shaped item was similar enough to the last bike-shaped object I owned. So, I took the plunge.

I tell people the Bridge Club is like Surly’s version of a 4Runner. Yeah, you’re probably gonna spend most of your time on it bouncing around from parking lot to parking lot, but when it’s time to hit some off-road riding, this thing’s got the chops to get you out and back, pants unsoiled. So yeah, my bridge club is like my soccer mom SUV you frequently see terrorizing the streets around your local Target: grossly overequipped for all the banal duties of a work-from-home dad … except for the few –sweet– moments when it’s not.

Like an intern climbing the corporate ladder to become CEO, my Bridge Club has increased in responsibilities the longer I’ve had it. It started exclusively as a machine on which to get my kicks. But it has now ascended from that to making quick trips to the store to pick up Chorizo for Chilaquiles (look it up … or DM me for a recipe… you won’t regret it), or towing our Chariot trailer so my boys and I can head out for a quick fishing trip to the local pond, to hitting the local black diamond single-track (albeit very slowly, chain a-slappin and sounding like a stainless steel maraca), and even therapeutic rides around Utah lake. Point this bike and start pedaling and it does its thing. After that, it’s like you’re riding on rails.   

My Bridge Club has helped me rediscover and find new appreciation for life and where I live. I take pride in that most of my riding and most of the images of my bike all take place within a 5 to 15-mile radius of where I live. In other words: the world is infinitely more intricate, nuanced and, when you stop and appreciate it at 15 mph, more beautiful from the saddle of my bike. I’ve sold off my commuter car – the mere mention of the word commuter sends a chill down my spine– and try to replace as many other car rides as possible with bike rides. My toddlers think I’m cleaning the air as I ride, and they see me as someone who cares about taking care of mother earth rather than taking from her. Did I mention my resting heart rate is lower now than when I was ultrarunning? To say that a single bike changed my entire life for the better might seem a bit much but hey, I’m just one guy telling you my side of one story. And I’m being real with you. And I don’t think any of these changes to my lifestyle would have been possible without such an endlessly adaptable platform. Really. I’m not speaking in hyperbole here. The Bridge Club has been THAT good to me.

So what are the parts that make the whole of my bike?? Well for starters, storage. This bike rolled out the shop with a 24-pack rack already on it. For six months I strapped my backpack to the rack and, well, commuted. Easy peasy with nary a flinch from the 24-pack. I paired my rack with Surly’s Porteur House Bag just as work-from-home started for me in early March. A veritable trunk of a bag, I’ve fit more groceries than I care to list. Just trust me, it’s big. A jones bar wrapped in cloth bar tape takes care of the handling while ergon cork grips take care of hand comfort. Leather sprung Brooks saddle cause I’m trying to turn this bike into a Cadillac not a Ferrari. A saddlebag from Swift Industries, a female-founded and very punk rock company out of Seattle, complements and accentuates Surly’s counterculture, against-the-grain, forward-looking while unapologetically pragmatic craftsmanship. But like peanut butter and jelly, or a Cinnabon without frosting, my Bridge Club would not be complete without those plump, juicy, supple, tubeless, 27.5” x 2.5” slate-wall Surly Extraterrestrials. One time I ran over a four-inch construction nail and my rear wheel only slightly bled out air until I got home. That’s just what’s on the bike at the moment. Like most Surly humanoids, I have nearly endless permutations (1,320 if you must know) available based on my parts on-hand.

As far as fixes and upgrades down the line, increasing storage capacity; frame bag, basket bags, top tube bags, stem pouches, anything cages is top priority. That’s all in the horizon for me. All other specs will be replaced as needed. But seriously, everything on this bike is bomb-proof and easily serviceable even for me.  

Next step in my journey to steel nirvana: **whispers** Big Easy**drops mic**.

 

What's your favorite bike-related memory?

There are so many memories. In a way every ride is memorable and that’s kinda the beauty of cycling; discovering the world anew. One overlooked detail at a time. Those old train tracks? That’s where I ate sh*t that one winter morning and discovered my 24-pack rack is nearly indestructible. The old warehouse that’s the city’s ‘eyesore’? When the sun hits it just right one wall is completely illuminated and the other is entirely shaded like my very own small-town version of the dawn wall of El Cap.

The beauty of life hidden in those little details is what makes me want to throw a leg over my bike when I could be driving. The culmination of all these moments was when my 4-year-old took his first unassisted pedal-strokes on his mountain bike. Olympic gold medalist? Sold out entertainer at Madison Square Garden? Summiting the Seven summits? I may never attain that type of glory but for one infinitesimally small moment in the constant white-water rapids of time, I felt that triumph as my son took his first steps towards a life of cycling. Maybe he’ll grow up to love/hate cycling or be indifferent about it. What does it matter? What matters is that he grew up seeing his dad rebel, even in an almost insignificant way, against the status quo.

Maybe I didn’t change the world, maybe all that happened that day was that he learned to ride a bike, but that independence, that world-expanding knowledge, that feeling, is what most of us spend our entire lives chasing. And if I was instrumental in bringing to pass one of those moments for anyone living on this earth, much less my son, well, then I think that’s all right.

 

If you could ride anywhere in the world, where would it be? And why?

I’ve lived in Utah most of my adult life. I’ve enjoyed some of what southern Utah has to offer: slickrock trail, canyonlands, parts of The Whole Enchilada. One thing still on my list is The White Rim Trail. I’ve read enough of Everett Ruess’s memoirs to feel drawn to the overwhelming beauty of the west’s deserts. Something in the quiet solitude and barrenness of the Southwest is endlessly enchanting and daunting. I want to live where that line is blurred. At least for a few days with my bike in tow. Lucky for me the southern Utah desert is overflowing with that type of mesmerizing beauty and solitude.

I also have fantasies of riding through an old-growth pine forest, humid ocean air in my hair, my two sons with me on their bikes, and steadily growing more and more excited as we catch glimpses of the ocean through breaks in the trees. The Oregon Coast. I lived in and around Portland, Oregon during a hugely formative stage of my life and I fell in love with the scenery and allure of the PNW’s rainforests. I dream of regaling my sons with stories of times spent in that beautiful corner of our country that is now suffering incalculable loss from the effects of our actions on this planet.

Where can people follow along with you? 

Follow along on my Instagram: @abners_bike_rides

Editor's Note: As a thank you to Abner for sharing his story and time with us, Surly has donated to provide a goodwill bike to an adult in need through the Bicycle Collective in Utah, on Abner's behalf. Bicycle Collective is designed to increase affordable access and education to those in their bike shop communities in Salt Lake City, Ogden, Provo, and St. George Utah. We also sent Abner a small trove or Surly oddities that he has had his eyes on. Thank you again for sharing your wonderful words and images with us!