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Interview with Dave Gray from Surly Bikes

In 2000, Dave Gray was hired as an industrial designer by, the original Surly gangster, Wakeman Massie. Dave was Surly’s second employee. He was hired along with Tommy HURL Everson, to help take Surly to the next level. He’s the designer of the Surly Pugsley and somewhere back in a hazy beer goggled memory, I heard that he was a man , one should fear and respect, should things really hit the fan and the situation calls for survival mode. Our amigo Colin and I got a chance to go for a ride with Dave a couple of years ago, along with Tyler and Andy, when the Ice Cream Truck made its debut. After that encounter, I came up with the idea to interview Dave and delve into the birth of the Pugsley. The Pugsley/Large Marge/Endomorph will be charter members of the Fat-Bike Hall of Fame, so I thought that this story needed to be told, and that the world wide fat-bike community would be interested to learn about the roots of the fat-bikes that are produced today. I knew that I wanted to do an old fashioned ‘magazine style interview’ and procrastinated for quite some time, to think about how to approach the most dangerous man, at Surly Bikes. I emailed Sov and Tyler about it, in a round-about, dysfunctional flanking maneuver that eventually, led me face to face with Dave at Frostbike 15. It was there, that we laid the groundwork for the interview and took some pictures. During the photo shoot, Dave pulled the original cad drawings for the pug from a cabinet in his office. The only thing missing was Angels Singing (or would speed metal be a better soundtrack for the unveiling of scrolls of such notoriety?) After Fostbike, there was more contemplation and deep thoughts about the direction of the interview that included a survey that we sent to all of our writers and testers about what questions, that they would ask Dave. After all of that, we posed the interview questions that Dave answers below. Try and think back to leafing through LIFE Magazine or something like that.

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FBC –  I guess what I think every one of our readers, would like to hear – is the Pugsley creation story. Maybe the best place to start is for you to explain the role that you played in the development and design of the Pugsley. (and perhaps) introduce us to the other players involved inside of Surly and what roles they played.

 

DG – The story really starts with the introduction of the Large Marge rim, which preceded the Pugsley.  John Evingson came to the office, in December of 2002, looking for someone to produce a wide rim that would support his custom fat-tire framesets.  The supply of 80mm-wide Remolino rims was quickly drying up, and it didn’t make sense for him to make fat frames if there weren’t any hoops to support the fat-tire platform.  After riding John’s bikes and having lots of discussions around the merits of “adventure bikes” (that’s how he/we originally referred to this genre of bikes), we decided to dive into the project, knowing that our rims would fit the Instigator and the 1×1 framesets…in addition to the offerings from the builders who were offering adventure framesets:  Evingson, Wildfire, Vicious Cycles, Moots, DeSalvo, and a few others.  We also knew that a Surly fat-tire-specific frameset would follow, if we could successfully develop the fat rim.

I started riding motorcycles through Minnesota winters when I was 12 years old, and I’ve been riding bicycles through Minnesota winters since 1991.  I wasn’t a stranger to the concept of riding through snow on two wheels.  So the opportunity to develop dedicated components for snow/sand/loose-condition- oriented adventure bikes was very exciting.

Nick Sande, Josh Yablon, and I started tackling the Large Marge engineering/design duties early in 2003.  It was a bit of a struggle, because it was uncharted territory.  But the Large Marge rim finally went into production late in 2003.  We knew we had a solid platform on which to base a frameset and a tire, so Josh, Nick, and I started working on the Pugsley and the Endomorph.

The biggest frame design hurdle involved getting the chain past the big tire, while maintaining full drivetrain compatibility.  A couple solutions were considered…  We could use a wide crankset and a wide rear hub, or we could use a wide crankset and an offset frame with a standard 135mm-spaced mountain rear hub.  We chose the latter, because we didn’t want to limit our hub choices. And we didn’t want to spend our time and dollars developing the wide bombproof cassette hub needed for a centered frame with a 100mm bottom bracket shell.  The 100mm bottom bracket was already a standard for DH bikes, and ISIS-compatible XC cranksets fit on 100mm-bottom-bracket-width DH spindles.  So we adopted that crankset standard for the Pug and did the simple math to figure out the offset.  The 17.5mm-offset Pugsley frame gave us the right chainline, while offering compatibility with literally 100’s of 135mm-spaced rear hub models.  BTW…a 17.5mm offset 135mm hub provides the same chainline as a centered 170/177mm hub, and a 28mm offset (found on the Moonlander frame) provides the same chainline as a centered 190/197mm hub.  Yes, Surly established the centered 170mm and 190mm hub chainline standards before 170mm and 190mm hubs were made available to the masses.

We knew that a wide front hub would allow easier wheel installation and removal.  135mm spacing was the logical choice…again, due to the vast availability of mountain hub models.  And since the front and rear hubs would be spaced the same, we figured it would be cool to offset the fork 17.5mm to match the frame…allowing wheel interchangeability.  This functionality gives the rider an ability to ride with redundant drivetrains (in anticipation of potential rear hub failure in extreme conditions) and/or readily-available single-speed gearing options.

We did our best to limit the number of proprietary parts needed for a complete Pugsley build.  Rims and tires would obviously have to be unique (and expensive).  But, other than the E-type front derailleur…a DH-oriented component, the drivetrain and cockpit parts required to build up a Pugsley were relatively standard.  Most of these XC mountain parts were/are readily available at any 1st-world bike shop.

Offsetting the frame posed some manufacturing challenges, but our manufacturing partners were already somewhat used to our unique design and manufacturing requests.  After a couple rounds of prototype frames and lots of real-world testing (I rode the first Pug proto frame, almost exclusively, for a long time), we signed off on drawings and moved toward production.

We showed the Pugsley at the 2004 Interbike show.  The Endomorph wasn’t ready yet, so we built the show bike up with Nokian Gazzaloddi 26 x 3.0 DH tires.  It was an impressive-looking rig…even with the “small” tires.

Pugsley framesets became available for sale in 2005.

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FBC – What was your original set of design criteria? What did you want this bike to be able to do that the 1×1 or Karate Monkey could not?

 

DG – The Pugsley needed to have more float than the 1×1 or KM could offer, which meant that it needed to accommodate a higher-volume tire…in this case, the Endomorph 3.7.

 

FBC – (Side Note:) What were some of the other names that were in the running for the Pugsley?

 

DG – I just found the original name list.  It contains 131 potential candidates.  A small sampling:  Soccer Mom, Slapfighter, Fat Bitch, American, Moosepaw, Flabalanche…  There are lots of really good names on the list that I won’t disclose, because we still might want to use them someday.  Other than Soccer Mom, I don’t remember which names made it to the final round.  The processes of choosing product names and frame colors were usually so taxing and painful that I subconsciously blocked them from memory.

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Dave and Pug proto #2 at the Arrowhead 135 in 2007.

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FBC – A man in your position should have some pretty interesting thoughts about where fat-bikes have come and perhaps where they’re going. Please tell us what you think about where fat bikes have evolved to… today?

 

DG – We’re already seeing variations of frame design and component spec, based on intended uses:  racing, off-the-beaten-path exploration, groomed-trail riding, agriculture/industrial uses, hunting/fishing/foraging, electric-motor-assisted riding, commuting, and off-road touring/bikecamping.  You can do anything on a fat tire that you can do on a comparatively-narrower tire.  Fatter tires simply allow you to do these things better on loose/slippery terrain.

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FBC – Can you give us your preview of where you think fat-bikes are going? What does the 2020 pugsley look like?

 

DG – Framesets and components will get lighter, and there will be more material choices and design options.  Larger tires and wider rims will be offered until we find the point of diminishing returns in regards to q-factor and rotating mass vs. float potential.  The 2020 Pugsley will be a plant/machine hybrid that repairs itself after crashes, secretes intoxicating beverages, and provides erotic massages with a gentle touch.

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FBC – Can we talk a little bit about frame offset? Why make your Pug and Moonlander frames offset? What would you say to those that say offset frames are a solution to a problem that no longer exists?

 

DG – Think about the millions of 135mm-spaced hubs in shops, on basement and garage shelves, and installed on dusty unused mountain, hybrid, and touring bikes.  The offset 135mm standard offers the most hub availability and compatibility options: multi-speed cassette-style, single-speed, internally-geared, and fixed.  Surly has always tried to give dealers and customers build options.  Sure…somebody might have to do a little bit more brain work while calculating spoke lengths to build up a wheel.  But it’s not a big deal, and wheel durability – or a lack thereof – hasn’t been a problem.  To those who say offset frames are a solution to a problem that no longer exists, I’d say… Good luck installing a Rohloff hub in a 5”tire/100mm rim-compatible centered frame.  Enjoy that vast selection of affordable 197mm-spaced hubs on the market.  Have fun finding a replacement 177mm- or 197mm-spaced hub – or parts for a similarly-spaced hub – when you experience hub failure issues away from mainstream America.  If you have money to burn, don’t break things or wear them out, don’t travel outside of fat-tire-bike-supported cities with your fat-tire bike, need to follow all the industry trends, have convinced yourself that an offset frame handles differently than a centered frame, don’t care about the ability to swap front and rear wheels, and always want to run a “standard” derailleured drivetrain, then an offset 135mm frame probably won’t make sense to you.

Somebody should make sure that an original Purple Pugs goes into the Smithsonian, along with a sample of Dave’s brain tissue. ~gomez~

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8 Responses to Interview with Dave Gray from Surly Bikes

  1. James May 25, 2015 at 9:22 am #

    Good interview guys!

    The last bit on offset frames is why I keep my Pugs and Moonlander. I also like the look of of the offset frame and fork.

  2. Aaron May 25, 2015 at 9:31 am #

    Loved this article! Am I the only one who now wants a fat tire unicycle?

  3. coastkid May 25, 2015 at 1:51 pm #

    Great article, all my Fatbikes are 135mm offsett (Pugs and Moonie) and will keep on rolling for years. I welcome all newer designs and materials. but Surly`s steel offset frame sets will always be `Fit for Purpose` 😀

  4. rog May 25, 2015 at 5:16 pm #

    now this interview i like!

    135 offset rear ftw!

    loving mine.

    • Mike May 26, 2015 at 11:50 am #

      I have just the first run purple Pugs for the Smithsonian.
      Can’t help with the Gray matter…

  5. Dean Macgeorge June 8, 2015 at 8:42 am #

    I feel very lucky to own a purple Pugs!

  6. Antoine June 13, 2015 at 3:55 am #

    I modeled my own 2006 Pug on that Gazzaloddied show bike. Still a favourite after nine years and apart from dropping dinglespeed for singlespeed I’ve hardly changed a thing.

  7. Brian MacLeod April 27, 2016 at 3:39 pm #

    The Pug is still a leading edge bike IMO.

    If it was invented today the mtb press would be all over it for its revolutionary features, eg:

    “It can use standard mtb hubs, no need for overpriced heavy fatbike specific hubs”

    “It’s got braze-ons for almost anything you want to fit to it, including full fenders”

    “It’s got a steep head angle for superior handling on long slow tech climbs and nimble cornering”

    etc etc