I noticed the other day that Surly has a new bike called the “Preamble:”
They call it a “steel commuter and gravel bike:”
And this being Surly it’s marketed both ironically:
However, if you really want to “keep shit simple,” the Surly Preamble is a hybrid:
I don’t mean to use the term “hybrid” as a pejorative–marrying the attributes of mountain bikes and road bikes makes perfect sense for lots of reasons and lots of people. At the same time, hybrids are probably the bestselling unridden bicycles of all time. Did you know that there are 2.3 1994 Trek MultiTracks for every single American, and that each one of them has been ridden for an average total of 6.2 miles?
Hybrid bikes, cracked plastic kiddie pools, basketball hoops that haven’t seen a ball since 1986…these are the forgotten items that haunt our country’s garages, sad reminders of erstwhile dalliances, abortive fitness kicks, amusements outgrown, and fruitless attempts at self-improvement.
So should they ship the Preamble with the cobwebs pre-applied? Perhaps. This is not to say that the Preamble seems bad; indeed, as the name implies, it seems like a perfect platform for a rider looking to explore and figure out exactly what they want out of a bike. I also have considerable respect for the form, as it was a hybrid that carried me across the chasm between childhood and adulthood, and from BMX to road bikes.
Still, this may very well be the least interesting bike Surly has ever produced. Over the years they’ve always been among the first to offer heretofore hard-to-come-by frames in inexpensive, production, ferrous form before the mainstream companies jumped in: track frames, cyclocross frames, singlespeed mountain bike frames, 29er frames, fat bike frames, and even a steel road frame at a time when everyone had gone over to crabon and aluminum and interest in anything else was at an all-time low. But a hybrid…? I mean, yes, it comes in a drop bar configuration:
Yet even in that guise it appears fairly indistinguishable from the three zillion other gravel bikes already out there. Moreover, the hybrid form has doubled over itself and doubled over itself again. First the bike industry reinvented the hybrid as the “flat bar gravel bike,” and now they might as well just call all these boring-ass gravel bikes “drop-bar hybrids” because that’s what they are:
Again, that’s not a bad thing, but you can only make a hybrid so exciting. Just ask Trek, because they sure as shit tried:
That is one badass crabon flat-bar gravel bike.
Nevertheless, the reborn Action Hybrid is clearly enjoying a moment–Surly’s metrosexual sibling All-City also offers one:
And even Jamis, that painfully earnest kid who always sits alone at lunch, is reinvigorating them, or at least trying:
Sure, they’re playing up the “urban” angle instead of the “gravel” angle, but practically speaking both are just bywords for tire clearance and rack mounts and there’s no difference between the two:
This same off-road/urban inversion also occurred at the height of the mountain bike boom back in the ’90s, as you can see from the opening credits of “Double Rush:”
So now that urban bikes and gravel bikes have also reached singularity it’s fair to say that the bicycle industry has come full circle once again, and that the Second Coming of the Hybrid Manifestation represents the sort of profoundly boring Great Bicycle Averaging that happens once every 30 years.
As it was, so shall it be.
And yes, I know what you’re thinking. “Isn’t the whole ‘hybrid’ thing arbitrary? Isn’t any moderately sporty frame potentially a hybrid?” This could be a sign that you’re taking this post way too seriously, but either way, it’s not that simple. See, there’s a certain intangible lack of ambition that makes a bike a true hybrid. Sure, you can stick a flat bar that’s only comfortable for 20 miles on pretty much any non-mountain bike, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a hybrid. Conversely, you can dress a bike up with an au courant single-ring drivetrain and disc brakes and call it a flat-bar gravel bike or a bikepacking rig or an all-road bike or whatever else you want, but that doesn’t disguise its fundamental hybridness:
Also, simply mixing two styles of bike together doesn’t automatically make a bike a hybrid either. For example, the RockCombo is a mountain bike with drop bars and even used “hybrid” in the marketing:
But I’d argue it’s anything but a hybrid:
Or maybe I just need to believe that.