I liked that bike a lot and rode it all over, all year 'round. It was comfortable and stable and matched quite well with my slow style of riding. I enjoyed the crazy feeling that I could go anywhere and that it popped wheelies like a boss.
What I didn't like I didn't really know until Mr. Black made the scene:
Mr. Black is Whitey's replacement. You see, Surly has had a run of Whitey's on crack. That is to say: the frame is prone to cracking where the seat stays join the seat tube. Mine had two such cracks to which my local bike shop guy, Jim Thill, responded "What color frame do you want?"
And so begins a tale of upgrading that is familiar to anyone who has ever owned a bike.
My first thought was, "I would like black please. As inky and light-sucking as you can get. Oh, and see if they will replace my offset fork with a symmetrical one."
The response was a good one. Surly's excellent customer service people got me a Necromancer frame (subtle gray decals and all) and Moonlander fork at no charge. UPGRADE!
Of course, no bike upgrade ever happens in a vacuum. It was simply not possible to leave well enough alone only the fork and frame, I needed a new front wheel. Jim sensibly suggested the Surly Clown Show rim. At 100mm wide, it represented a substantial UPGRADE! from the stock 65mm rims, as anemic and skinny a rim as ever made, by comparison.
Here is a standard Larry tire on a stock rim (left) vs. a Big Fat Larry tire on the Clown Shoe (right):
Photo: Jim Thill, Hiawatha Cyclery
Tell me who wouldn't want that kind of girth?
Although it's not in stock yet, a new rear wheel is in the works, too.
A Rolling Daryl rim, at 80mm wide, is not as girthy as the sublime Clown Shoe, but it's going to put a lot more rubber on the road than the current skinny rims. I'm looking forward to riding this when it comes in. UPGRADE!
While I was thinking of wheels, it seemed as if my mechanical disc brakes were not working as well as they had. "What do you recommend, Jim?" Hydraulic discs are nice, so UPGRADE!
They are Avid Code R, for those who geek out about such things, and they are excellent.
The old rear tire was worn out. Answer? A Surly Nate that Jim had kicking around. UPGRADE!
So after all of these upgrades, what's the big deal?
It's like this: the old bike was great and I enjoyed it, but as I mentioned, I didn't know what it didn't do well until Mr. Black made the scene.
Mr. Black floats on the wider wheels. In place where I used to have trouble corning, the new set up provides stable, sure footing. Nate tires have traction for DAYS, the only limit being my puny leg muscles and having the forethought to stick the bike in the right gear. With the worn-out Endomorph tires I could count on wheelspin in the snow to give me an extra second to jam it into the right gear. Those days are gone as the Nate's just grab hold of the ground in a deathgrip and don't let go. Wrong gear? Not Nate's problem.
Mr. Black stops better, with better control and less gritty cable-y feedback. Less squealing, too.
But here's the biggest payoff of all: the symmetrical fork on Mr. Black makes riding narrow tracks—a very common task in the winter—much, much easier. Just today I was riding in an icy wheel track exactly one truck tire wide. Maybe twice as wide as my front tire, but I doubt it. Tight single track. Ice. No room for the shakes, man.
I only heaved out of the track one time in about a mile. Once. With the old set up I would have been walking. The snow was too deep to ride outside of the track and the old setup was too squirrelly to stay inside the track. I know, I tried it a week ago, same place.
I'm glad I owned Whitey. He was a good bike. But Mr. Black? He's dynamite.