A big-wheeled, big-fun hardtail that soaks up everything the trail can throw at it
Chromag is a small brand with a cult following. Hailing from a small industrial unit on the edge of Whistler, its headquarters are one part business and one part social drop-in clinic for the local riding community. Although better known outside BC for its handlebars and stems, Chromag also offers an extensive range of hardtail frames. Most are built just down the road. Some — including the Surface — are welded by legendary artisan Chris Dekerf, a name that will ring bells among us old timers. For those with tighter budgets, there are also a few Taiwanese-made models, including the Rootdown; a close facsimile of the Surface.
The Surface is billed as ‘big wheel/all-mountain’, which roughly translates as a 29er for monster climbs and badass descents. Think of it along the same lines as the Kona Honzo we tested this time last year. To cope with a wide range of challenging terrain, the Surface gets a slack head angle, short chainstays and the capability to run a long-travel fork. As a frame-only, it’s up to you how you spec the Surface, but our test bike was kitted out with a 140mm-travel RockShox Pike fork, beefy 2.4in Maxxis Minion DHF and DHR tyres, SRAM’s XX1 single-ring groupset and a RockShox Reverb dropper post.
“Paired with the slack head angle, this set-up inspires astonishing confidence for a hardtail, but you definitely don’t get the thrill of your heels virtually dragging on the ground when railing turns”
One of the side-effects of the longer-travel fork and fat tyres is a taller-than-advertised bottom bracket height. For Whistler’s straight-up/straight-down, buckled and debris-strewn trails, though, this has its upside as it reduces the risk of pedal strikes on fallen logs and rolling drops. Paired with the slack head angle, this set-up inspires astonishing confidence for a hardtail, but you definitely don’t get the thrill of your heels virtually dragging on the ground when railing turns.
While the Surface is utilitarian next to Mr Dekerf’s own creations, get it out into the woods and it feels every bit the high-end steel hardtail. That material spring/flex (delete as preferred) that is so revered by connoisseurs of the metallurgists’ art is obvious from the first pedal stroke. But while the thin-wall, whippy tubing used for the front triangle feels divine, there’s a stark contrast with the short, resolute stays. Consequently, in terms of comfort, it’s something of a bike of two halves.
Chromag is distributed in the UK by Shore Lines.