Chromag’s bars, stems, saddles and pedals are everywhere, but its frames are decidedly more niche. Perhaps because they’re all hardtails and all steel, or maybe more accurately, all metal. They aren’t aimed solely at bikepackers, racers or those with flawlessly hard-packed trails. They simply embody the fun that most of us have forgotten can be had on a hardtail. And fun can be easy to come by when you’ve got a 66.5-degree head angle and 150 millimeters of travel in front of you.
The Surface, Chromag’s flagship 27+ / 29er is made in Canada by Chris Dekerf, and is as refined as you’d expect. The CNC’d, tapered headtube, the asymmetric chainstay yoke, and the 148-millimeter dropouts are all tied together by tubes designed and produced in-house and with the Surface in mind. At the time I rode it, the build we chose went for about $3,950 U.S. The currency exchange is heavily in favor of U.S. residents, but it’s a deal even for those paying in Loonies and Toonies.
No doubt the best part of the build is the Pike’s Dual Position air spring. Fully extended, the Surface has a comfortable, neutral ride. But drop it 30 millimeters, the steep seat angle gets even steeper, and it feels like a race-ready XC machine despite its all-mountain weight. Riding a hardtail makes a lot more sense if putting the power down pays off, and I found myself dropping the fork whenever there was even five minutes of climbing. When there was more like five hours of climbing, I’ll admit I cried for my rear shock, but surprisingly, I shed no tears on the descents.
I faced a steep learning curve during my first week on the Surface. Most hardtails come with lowered expectations, but not this one. The long-and-slack front end, low bottom bracket and short chainstays left no room for excuses, but I found myself bouncing out of control before I reached the speed the bike deserved. Curiously, I also found that I was rarely bottoming out the fork. All that travel, and I wasn’t using it. But with a subtle shift forward that put more of my weight on the fork, everything came together. If I trusted it, the fork could handle the rough stuff, and riding lighter on the rear end allowed me to float through chatter and break traction when necessary. All at once, my notions about hardtails were turned around. The precision allowed for antics I could rarely get up to on suspended bikes, no matter the terrain. And some of the gnarliest terrain on the planet is in Chromag’s backyard. It seemed puzzling that they only made hardtails, but that was before I’d ridden one.