Surly Saga

My wife and I originally bought Surly Long Haul Truckers in Philadelphia for a long distance trip. Originally, we both had back racks, but someone online suggested getting a front rack for me as well because I’d be back heavy, and I could fall backwards on a steep hill. So we went to Eastern Mountain Sports and bought a front rack. Before deciding on one, we asked if it was compatible with a Surly Long Haul Trucker. They insured us that it was–they even checked in the back room with an unseen “bicycle expert.”

During the ride from Philadelphia, PA to Dallas, TX, our Surlies served us well; we never had a mechanical problem with them. This trip was about two and a half months.
When we got to San Diego, we continued to ride them daily. We never did anything too crazy just some daily commuting and grocery shopping.

After about seven months of bicycling in San Diego, I noticed that it was harder to get into a gear and to stay there. I have friction gears so I need to tune the right gear. Usually this works quite well, but recently, I found tuning the gear to be impossible.
During around the same time, I found that the shock from riding over pot holes was worse than usual. Anyone familiar with cycling in San Diego will know that there are pot holes pretty much everywhere. They are just something you have to deal with. You can avoid some, but overall, you are going to hit a few. That’s OK because I had a great touring bicycle that was designed to withstand thousands of miles of heavy riding.

My bicycle doesn’t have shocks, but it usually handled rough conditions fairly well. I figured that the recent extra shock when riding over pot holes was lack of air in my tires, but each time I felt them they seemed to have enough air.

The next day, I hit a large bump on the street, and I took it far harder than usual. This is the type of bump that’s a real wake-up. The thing is the pot hole wasn’t really that big compared to how much of a shock hitting the pot hole was.

Since I this happened right outside my house, I parked my bicycle and got the air pump. When I got back out, I noticed the crack in my down tube. Instantly, I knew the truth: my bicycle was trashed. Not just a bit broken. Not an expensive part, but rather my entire frame had gone from being my way of getting around to a piece of heavy scrap

Suddenly, all the places I needed to be at seemed much further away. Many things that I liked to do such as group meditation, group rides, swimming in the ocean, and riding with my wife to work were unattainable. All this flashed through my head in a seconds.

Immediately, I emailed my wife the bad news. She called me and we talked about it. Then we contacted the manufacturer.

They took about a week to get back to us. When they did, they told us to take it a local bicycle shop, Adams Avenue.

When I got there, they all ready knew what was wrong with it as they had seen the photos we had posted on the bicycle forum. In the Age of the Internet, word travels fast in the bicycle community. I walked the frame up there and waited for about another week.

They told us the Deal: we could buy a “crash” frame from Surly for $300. Labor on the bicycle would cost $160 which would make the whole deal $460. This is a little less than half of what I spent for the bicycle new. This is also more than a hundred dollars more than what I had paid for a NEW bicycle, previously.

Ignorant of bicycles especially Very Expensive STEEL bicycles that crack apart in less than a year, I was not sure that this wasn’t the manufacturer’s fault. I was suspicious at the “deal” price for the frame I had been told that the price was near the cost price for bicycle shops. I was unhappy because I had not crashed my bicycle, and thus I didn’t feel like a “crash” frame was warranted. By the way the steel broke, I was pretty sure that the steel was not very good quality. I mean, steel bends, right? It’s not glass. I bought a metal that I thought was malleable; my bicycle wasn’t made of glass.

I went to pick up my bicycle from Adams. To my surprise, they had not yet stripped the frame, something they were going to charge me $40 for. I was a bit elated because I was able to roll out of there without paying anything. After all, I wasn’t going to deal with Surly after all.

Many people told me to write a stern letter to Surly so I did. We had heard great things about the company, and we wanted to see them in the best light. So to give them a chance to make things right, I wrote them a letter.

I got back a letter from Surly explaining that my front rack had smashed into my frame over and over again which had created a hole in my frame. This hole allowed water to leak into the frame which rusted.

Surly did explain that they thought that Adams had explained the situation to me, and they were sorry that communication wasn’t better. I appreciated this. I also appreciated them explaining that steel does indeed crack. OK, I’m not a metallurgist. I did not appreciate the way they explained this to me. I didn’t like the tone. They know more about steel than I do, OK.

I found this hard to believe as my bicycle was exposed to the rain only about three times while on the road.

I examined my frame, and I saw no evidence of rust. Angered, I took a digital photo of the frame. In the photo, it did show evidence of rust. Also, there were spots on the front rack with the paint completely chipped off due to collision with the frame.

Later on, people informed me that the place on the frame that cracked was not a common place to find a manufacturing defect. I was slowly accepting that my frame was broken, and I wasn’t going to get a replacement for a long time.

The San Diego bicycling community did not accept this assessment. No less than five people offered me bicycles. At first, I turned them all down. I feel scared enough riding a thousand dollar bicycle that I own around town. There’s wear and tear as well as risk of theft. I don’t wish to risk someone else’s bicycle. Other volunteers included: Thom (a fellow cyclist), Julia (a fellow mediator), Sky (owner of Velo Cult), and Shamus (owner of Fix).
I felt so good knowing that people were so kind.

Ted was the most insistent so I borrowed his bicycle which he even dropped off at my house. It felt so great to be on a bicycle again, but even better to know how many people cared.

So there is a happy ending to this story.

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2 Responses to “Surly Saga”

  1. Paul Miles Says:

    I am going through the same BS with Surly right now on a 1×1. I have never had a significant crash on this bike i have had for just over a year and they are telling me i did. I will take the scumbags to court, which will likely cost more than the frame but at this point it is the principal.

    • Fred Says:

      I hope you do well. I’d like to know how it works out.

      I do think that they sometimes get bad batches of steel. I’m not a metallurgist so it’s just a guess…

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