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Paul's Surly ECR Tour
What’s the story behind this bike Paul’s been riding around with a rack full of sticks?....
Paul Goes to SSAZ  

This was my second trip to the deserts north of Phoenix for SSAZ, this year presented by Bryan Harding, and it may have been the funnest event I’ve ever done. I tied it into a much needed vacation that included Lone Pine CA (my second favorite small town), downtown Los Angeles to see some very important historic Porsches, and Palm Springs (never been there and it was a convenient stop). In the morning it was time to head to the Bumble Bee Ranch, a sort of horse riding and roundup kind of place in the hilly scrub north of Phoenix.
Upon arrival it was immediately apparent these were my people and I was right where I should be. I found a spot for the van in the “party” section and I was soon catching up with old friends and meeting a bunch of new people. Beers were passed around, and other things, and soon a 13 member air band had formed to perform War Pigs. There is nothing better than shooting the shit, drinking beer and singing War Pigs at the top of your lungs the night before a grass roots amateur single speed mountain bike race. If you are ever invited to one I implore you attend.
I’ve got a new program going for events this year: Go to bed at 10pm. Last year I had gone big at events and the hangovers had just become unbearable. I had faced a lot of issues and a beer bottle in my hand 18 hours a day had become a security blanket at these soirées. This year I’m determined to end that. So at 10 I poured what was left of my 7th or 8th beer out and climbed into my van. Inside was a comfy twin bed nobody had claimed from the Camp Fire donation pile so I took it. Slept like a baby.
The actual race was a strictly need to know affair. What the racers were told beforehand was not what the actual race would be like. This is more common than you think, and totally acceptable. Chief Bryan was nice about it though. It wasn’t twice as hard as advertised, just completely different than a typical race. In fact it soon became clear this wasn’t really a race at all, but a sometimes competitive, sporting ride with an emphasis on having a really fun day over everything else. At some point a huge bag of mushrooms was produced, and while I do not partake, the “race” became a lot more interesting for those that did. Except the part where everyone had to ride uphill a couple miles to some shuttle buses and the key for the U-Haul that was to transport the bikes was discovered to be lost.
Luckily not too much time went by before the key was found and that caravan was rolling up Hwy 17 to the new “start”. At this time I had bugged out to my spot next to the big rusty water tank a few miles up the dirt road with my trusty side kick Dusty. We were early and had bikes, and now they’d be late so once the basic PAUL Aid Station was set up we did some riding. Oh boy oh boy, was that some sweet ass single track. Trails in Chico were mostly closed, and super rocky when they are open so riding some buffed out desert trail among what seemed to be a 100 kinds of cactus and 1000 kinds of tiny wildflowers was one of the highlights of the trip. The racers were in for a treat.
We fired up the stove and got to frying some bacon, cutting some water melon, dishing up chips and handing out beers. We always bring the party to the aid station business and these were party people. Eventually the crowd thinned and it was time to roll to the next stop, the town of Cleator. Population for this old gold mining town is estimated to be in the mid to high single digits. But, it has a bar. There was a healthy climb up to the town from our aid station but we had no problem. We had a van. 
Here the rules had changed yet again. Nobody was allowed to leave until the last entrant had arrived safely. This kind of makes sense as there really wasn’t any controllers or sweepers on course. This meant the first people there were going to drink a lot of beer, which was luckily cheap, as in basically free to racers. Delicious hot dogs as well on tap. Turns out it was the best day sales wise of that bar. No kidding. Like I said these are party people.
Half way through the Cleator experience we had acquired another rambler and aid station aficionado, Lefty. He kept talking about a magical bridge up the road, which was actually an abandoned railroad grade, and on the other side of said bridge was another small gold mining town called Crown King. It was located high up in the mountains in the ponderosa pines. It too had a bar.
Well damn, cowhands, whadda thunk we’s did?
This decision turned out to be one of the best experiences in my life. Well, in the top 50 probably. Certainly top 100. Anyway about half way up the 3000’ climb Dusty realized he could ride his bike down. Then I realized I had my bike and I could too. Then Lefty remembered he had no bike and graciously volunteered to drive the van back down to the other bar in Cleator. Hell YESS!
And indeed, I kid you not. Way up high and deep into this steep desert valley on this one and a half lane dirt road there appeared a magical bridge. On our side it was dessert and scrub and dust. On the other was tall pine trees and damp smooth roadway. Seriously. I do not do mushrooms. This was real.
At this bar we got cheese burgers and more beer and had a good sit down. Just three dudes in an unknown place having a chat about their love lives and power company bills. Pretty heady stuff. Actually I have no idea what we talked about, I was just too excited about the ride down. IT WAS AMAZEBALLS!!!
The event wrapped up with a great band, with awards for nearly every silly thing including the coveted DFL, and some self-styled dance moves. There were no awards for the top finishers. Then it was ten o’clock and I spent the night in a dry van through a wondrous rain storm that lasted through the night. By morning the rain had stopped and it was time for a quick getaway……except the rain turns the dirt into peanut butter there and anyone who tried was stuck within 10 minutes, including yours truly. My walk of shame led me back to camp for coffee, a nod and a smile. Lefty said to me, “Out here Paul, when it rains you wait. It won’t be too long but you do not try any fast movements. I guess you’ve found that out fer yerself”. And in the end I met some more wonderful people while waiting it out. It was another special treat to an already fantastic weekend. Thank you Bryan.
7/8 Boxcar
We’re offering the Boxcar stem in a new clamp size, and it’s decidedly undersized. In the recent years there has been a proliferation of handlebars made from straight gauge 7/8” tubing. Ti or chromoly, there’s some pretty exciting new handlebars out there from MoonmenOddity and a few other new or retro designs. Luckily these are the same exact dimension as 22.2mm so they’ll fit all those bars as well. See what we did there? They’re available in only 50 x 22.2 and only in fairly limited quantities.
Five Fridays
This was the plan, although it was not always so. It started after being off the bike for two months because of a medical situation where I was not allowed to ride during that time. When I was finally healed I did what I do every summer: head to Downieville. I took the bike I’d been riding previously and headed to the new Gold Rim connector trail.
The Gold Rim connector trail was once part of the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) as it runs through the Sierra’s just east of Downieville CA. Lucky for us it was deemed by the On Higher Hiker Ups to be needing a water break at this spot and it was rerouted to a nearby lake. This left a perfectly good trail up for grabs, and grab it the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS) did. Then with many volunteer hours and a ton of elbow grease it was extended, added to and carved out until it met up with another beloved trail – Pauley Creek (no relation), which was before only accessed via gravel road. So now we could ride from the shuttle drop off to Pauley creek and down into Downieville on 100% single track!
And ride it I did, for the first time ever. It is soooo good. Generous amounts of flaky shale rock, some elusive Sierra slick rock and a decent but doable climb for an extra 500 vertical feet of ascending. Also I hadn’t ridden Pauley in a coon’s age so I was in heaven. So much so that by the time I got to town all I wanted to do was dedicate my life to doing this thing dab free. I still haven’t done that but I did hatch a plan to practice. I decided to ride four more Fridays, right up to Grinduro and see how good I could get. And just to keep it interesting I decided I’d ride a different bike every time. I gots hella bikes yo.
Electric Queen
The only reason I own this bike is because my friend Hollywood wanted one. So I call my friends at All City and we start talking. Next thing I know there are two frames on the way in exchange for a couple hundred custom bottle openers made by us.

This is the first non-single speed I’ve ever ridden in the Lost Sierra area. First tubeless tires too. What can I say, I’m older now. More mature, more sophisticated, more weak. Because the shuttle van drops you off around 7500 feet and town is at 2800 feet it’s mostly downhill though. This is also the first bike I’ve ridden up there with tubeless tires and a dropper (shocking!). I found the entire experience utterly enjoyable. I hadn’t formulated my five Fridays plan yet so I just rode it without thinking about how it compares to other bikes, and there were a couple new prototypes that needed testing so I just went for it. It rode absolutely fantastic. Many people think it’s a custom bike because of the paint but it isn’t. And for a stock bike I have to say it could sit in with the best of them.
Salsa Bucksaw
To keep my streak of firsts going I decided to ride this next. It’s the first full suspension I’d ever rode in Downieville. Yea, I’ve been stubborn. I was really looking forward to this bike when it arrived. Visions in my mind of not really having to try at going over stuff and magical grip through any situation. This did not entirely happen. First off I had too much pressure in the tires. I stopped and let out some air about four times but Downieville devours tires, usually followed closely by a nice rim munching. Next time I’m actually going to consult the interwebs and check with a digital pressure gauge. Fancy! This bike is also heavy, but not unbearably so, and it’s really weird. In all of bikedom this has got to be the weirdest class of bikes.
I quite enjoyed the ride though. Next year I’m planning a visit and riding this at least three times in a row. Before the entire state caught on fire I was riding my local trails on the Bucksaw and I was starting to make things I hadn’t made all year. It’s got a lot of potential, and I love weird stuff so we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other.
Engin 29+ Single Speed
I’ve spent more time on Lost Sierra dirt on this bike then probably all others combined. In 2014 and 2015 I rode it fully rigid, probably in an effort to forestall the inevitable loss of any amount of badass I may have had in my youth. Bad idea. I’ve gone back to the Rockshox Bluto and it’s a magical combination. I don’t know if I could tell the difference between a great fork and an even greater fork, I’m just too slow. But this bike, made from titanium and expertly designed and welded is the cat’s meow. I absolutely love this bike. It may be the best riding bike I’ve ever been on.
Less gears, more beers as they say. But since this is a 90% downhill run it doesn’t burn quite as many beer belly fat cells, but it’s hella simple fun. I’m a single speeder from way back anyway. I’m most at home on this bike so it was instantly like an old pair of pajamas, a Pale Ale and a Spongebob rerun.
Oddity 29+ Ghostship
I LOVE THIS BIKE! Initially I had a bit of an awkward relationship with this bike. It’s pretty flexy and it had a fork with way more travel then I was used too. I did a bunch of rides on it but never felt super comfortable. Then I needed to test a new prototype product so it got hung up for a season. When I did my Five Friday’s gig with it something clicked though. Those big tires rolled so nicely over stuff and I didn’t notice the flex at all. At the bottom of the mountain I was noticeably less tired, less sore and less frazzled. I was so stoked on my new love affair that I may have had one more after ride beer than normal that afternoon.
You know that moment when you snap out of the random brain ramblings and you realize you completely forgot about the bike? That means you were no longer trying to get used to a newish bike and all is well with the universe. Since then I’ve done a few more rides on it and the more I do the more I love it, and that giant tire size. Sometimes it just takes a little longer to mesh with a new bike I guess. If you have the means I highly recommend one. They are so choice.
Surly Instigator II 26+ hardtail
I’m pretty sure I bought the very last size large one of these. It’s an odd duck and it was on closeout so the price was right. But, I love weird stuff and I feel it’s good for bicycle component design to ride as many different bikes as possible. Bottom line, wheel diameter makes a huge difference. Sure, they’re a little bigger than a standard 26” tire but not really enough to make that much of a difference. This bike would be fun as hell on a pump track or fluffy groomed trails but for Downieville (or Chico) it just beat the crap out of me. How did we ever ride bikes with 26” wheels? Oh, I know, we were younger and dumber.

This bike steers, goes, stops and does all the other fun bike stuff so I’m not complaining about the frame. In fact I think it looks really cool, it’s just big wheels, at least for me, work so much better. I think it’d be a hoot in Bend, OR, but around here not so much.

Final Thoughts
My favorite wheel size is 29+, the tallest thing going. It’s good, but going taller would really start making geometry get strange. One bike I did not ride was the original 29+ rig, the Surly Krampus. If you can get your hands on one I’d really encourage you to take it for decent ride, rigid fork and all. I own several of them and to this day they are still one of my all-time favorite bikes.
In the end though, ride whatever you have wherever you go. Ride the wrong bike for the situation. Instead of a handicap I believe it’s made me a better overall rider. If you’re like me you have a bunch of bikes try your own Five Fridays Fun. Or do it on Saturdays, or Tuesdays even. For a bike geek it was a really interesting and fun experiment. I got to know all the bikes better and more importantly it put a whole bunch of information in my brain for future designs. And a giant smile on my face.
7 Questions with Paul Price-Carl Strong
Carl Strong and his wife Loretta are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet in the cycling world. Honestly, we don’t know each other very well, but every time I see them I get the feeling it’d be very pleasant to spend an evening with them. Carl’s been at the frame building game much longer than most these days, and he’s been down many of its paths: one-man shop, multi-person shop hellbent on growing, back to small shop and now he’s on a carbon fiber venture that has a ton of promise. I can relate with all these phases and also the experienced gained at playing the game of Bicycle Business Man for length of time Carl and I have.
Paul: I got to see the Porsche Effect at the Petersen Museum in L.A. Fantastic exhibit and it included a 917 which reminded me you were building one once. How’s that coming along? BTW they also had a 917 engine and transmission on display and I almost peed my pants, so impressive.
Carl: I'd love to see that exhibit. The 917 is easily my favorite car. There is so much going on with that thing. And it ruled for years. My 917 project is still a pipe dream. I did a ton of research and learn a lot about the car. I sourced a body, which is the hardest part. I was pretty set on doing it and thought I'd have enough room at my shop. Turned out I don't have anywhere near the space I need so I figured I'd put it on the back burner until I have more space. I guess at this point it will be a retirement project.

Paul: It looks like you’ve shipped some Pursuits, is that right? I thought it was a crazy idea when I heard you were doing that but I’m also totally impressed you’ve pulled it off. How many frames have you done and how many have been sold?
Carl: Yep, Pursuit Cycles is up and running. It's been a ton of fun. Pursuit is Loretta and myself along with two founding partners Bill Cochran and Jared Nelson our engineer. We also have Erik Rolf of Alliance Bicycles come up every other week to run production. He splits his time between Prusuit and Alliance and I split my time between Pursuit and Strong. Each year we limit our production to a level we are comfortable making. This year and last year that number is 35. We sold out last year. We have sold a few so far this year and hope to sell out before the end of summer. We have also built, tested and destroyed quite a few prototypes. 
It has been interesting to take what I've learned over the years and apply it to a brand new business from the ground up. I've learned a lot and it was harder than I expected. I didn't know nearly as much as I thought. I'm very proud of the bikes we're making and lucky to have such a great team to work with. 
Paul: Are you still doing steel and titanium to order or not taking orders while you’ve been concentrating on Pursuit?
Carl: Yes! Strong Frames is still my baby. I am running SFI just as I have for the last 26 years, nothing has changed at all. 
Paul: Where did you learn to weld?
Carl: I welded for the first time in Jr. High. My Jr. High School had a great shop program. We even had a foundry. Mr. Earl was my metal shop teacher and he really took me under his wing. During that time I did stick welding. Over the years I was introduced to MIG and finally TIG. I have had friends that were in the bike biz that have given me pointers. I also went to the UBI TIG seminar in 1994 which was taught by Gary Helfrich. He turned me on to what high-end bicycle manufacturers were doing for setups. I learned things like front-ends for torches, filler wire type and machine settings that worked well for the thin steel tube we work with.
Paul: How did Strong Frames get started? A little history please.
Carl: It's a very similar story to others you'll hear. The nutshell version is that I was a poor college student that raced bikes. I couldn't afford a good bikes so decided I'd make one. After making a couple I started selling to friends and so on. My lucky break was the internet. Living in Bozeman MT which at the time was about 25K people, I didn't have a very big market. Fortunately the internet was just starting to become mainstream and I had a site fairly early and spent a lot of time learning how to use it. It was selling via the internet that made it possible for me to sell enough bikes to earn a living. 
Over the years I've tried different business models. I've grown the business, shrunk it, done private label work and tried my hand at retail. In the end, Loretta and I have found the sweet spot building 1 bike per week from our home shop. It's a pace we can work comfortably and provide our customers all the attention they need.
Paul: Is Loretta involved still? (Tell her I said hi, please!)

Carl: Oh yea, she sure is. I couldn't do this without her. She does a lot and I think most people aren't aware just how much. She was already working full time before we started Pursuit so she has a pretty big load. So far she's handling it well but we'll need to get her help as soon as we can.

Paul: Laces or loafers?

Carl: Laces, I'm too anal to just hope my shoes won't go flying off :)

The North American Handmade Bicycle Show, AKA NAHBS, is being held in Sacramento this year, an hour and a half down HWY 99 from our shop. We’ll have a nice sized booth with a good selection of what we offer and some surprises. It’s our 30th year in this crazy industry and we’ll have some of our very earliest parts on display if you’re into that retro thing. The show is smallish so don’t worry about booth numbers, you’ll find us. We may even have a pencil for you.
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