Friday, June 28, 2024

The Cogburn: Fat-bikes, E-bikes, and Fair Chase Part 1

QBP Photo
Way back in 2013, before Rambo came out of the Backcountry like a Quiet Cat, somebody at Quality Bicycle Products (QBP), the Minnesota-based 600-pound gorilla of the bicycling industry came up with an idea. Essentially, it was, “let’s design and market a fat-bike for sportsmen.” QBP was the parent company of both Surly, creator of the Pugsley, and Salsa, with it’s fat-bike entry, the Mukluk, both of which were regarded as bicycles with their 4-inch-wide tires primarily to be ridden on snow or sand. They had been around for a few years at this point and were starting to gain acceptance for other types of riding such as commuting and long-range bicycle travel. What the folks at Q envisioned was a wide-tired mountain bike with a sturdy frame, solid rims (wheels) where the Pugsley and Mukluk boasted weight saving rims with holes between the spokes, a robust, reliable drivetrain, and a RealTree ® camouflage paint job. They called it the Cogburn.

The Cogburn drew its name from the tough, fearless one-eyed US Marshal Ruben J. “Rooster” Cogburn played by John Wayne, Jeff Bridges, and Warren Oates in the three variations of Charles Portis’ Western novel, “True Grit.” Cogburn brand manager Bobby Dahlberg said that the name was meant to evoke the spirit of Rooster Cogburn, “a rough-and-tumble guy who gets it done.” Quality’s own advertising for the brand called the bike, “a human powered all-terrain vehicle (ATV) built to take hunters, anglers and foragers quickly and quietly further into the backcountry.” They introduced the brand at Minnesota’s Game Fair, promoting its backcountry capability with T-shirts emblazoned with a deer head and gear cog motif, and the insignia of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA) on the sleeve, the sale of which generated a two-dollar donation to BHA for every shirt sold.

QBP Photo

The volunteer mountain bike patrol that I belonged to (and still do) had been gifted two Surely Pugsleys, so I was familiar with fat-bikes. I had seen the Cogburn at Game Fair, bought one of the T-shirts and camo ball cap with the logo embroidered on it, (I still have both) but it wasn’t until the Winter Camping Symposium the following October that I was actually able to ride one. It was “love at first ride.” With its upright seating position and longer wheelbase, the Cogburn was a joy to ride. I’ve said elsewhere in this blog that two years earlier I had purchased a custom-built mountain bike, and it’s a great bike built for the rigors of bike patrol and emergency medical services. But, if the Cogburn had been introduced two years earlier, I probably never would have bought the patrol bike. I ordered one shortly after arriving home from the symposium, and took delivery at the end of December, just after Christmas.

It’s been said more than once that I put the “angler” into Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the national public lands and waters advocacy organization that I had been part of for several years before the Cogburn came out. Indeed, initially my bike was used to access backcountry streams and lakes, but it was such a great ride that it quickly became my primary mountain bike. Although I have great fellow feelings for both gun and archery hunting, I am not a hunter. I use the Cogburn to seek trout.

There were some very good magazine articles, videos, and even some syndicated TV programs that featured the Cogburn in its native environment. Publications as diverse as “Petersons Hunting,” “Wheels Afield,” “Bicycling,” and “Outside” featured stories about the Cogburn. The bikes appeared on several different episodes of "My Outdoor TV" streaming service. Word got out, and sports men and women responded positively.

Sadly, the Cogburn’s run lasted only a few years. In October of 2017, just four years after it was introduced, QBP announced on social media that they were shutting down the Cogburn program, thanking those of us who had bought the bikes for our support and wishing us the best. While it was never revealed the exact cause for the shutdown, marketing pressures being what they are, what had been a unique niche had attracted competitors, and many of those utilized pedal-assist electric motors. Where the Cogburn could get you farther, faster, and with minimum impact, E-bikes did the same thing, expended less human energy, and came in a variety of camouflage paint jobs.

I know that it’s been a while since I posted here, weather-wise, it’s been a very strange spring and early summer. The nearly snowless winter we went through was followed by rain of near-biblical proportions. So much so that it’s been difficult to even get out and ride, although I did my annual Lewis and Clark 5K fundraiser on my road bike in May and other short rides. Hopefully, the rest of the summer will see drier conditions, not so much as to bring back the drought that experts had predicted after the lack of snow this winter, but enough to get in rides and fishing between the raindrops. In my next piece, coming soon, I will discuss the issue of “fair chase” and bikes in the backcountry. One of the issues that has risen up with the popularity of e-bikes is the use of them to take wild game. I’m still doing my research on this to determine if the problem is genuine or just overblown, or a bit of both. As an angler, it’s not really an issue for me, but as a cyclist, a conservationist, and a retired park ranger it is. I’ll be looking into it more the next few weeks and I’ll get back to you.

Wishing you dry trails and tight lines.