Sometimes you just want to ride a bike. You’re not looking for a leg-crushing singletrack jam on a full suspension tank. Nor a lung-busting sprint on a greyhound-inspired road bike. Just a bike ride. Maybe on pavement, maybe on a dirt road. Maybe a bit of both. You don’t want to be overbiked, don’t want it to be complicated, but do want it to be fast and fun.
That’s right about where the Doggler, from new bike company Hudski comes in. Simple, well-designed, well-built, and fun. You know, a bike.
We’ll get to the bike in a second, but first, meet Hudski. It’s like many companies these days, small and direct-to-consumer. It’s composed of two friends, Brian Szykowny and Will Hudson (Hudski is a portmanteau of their names). Designers by training, they’d already been building custom-fabricated lamps and other odds and ends from a mad-scientist-lab-looking warehouse space in Sausalito, California, when they decided to turn their attention to bikes. Szykowny had worked at Specialized for years, designing components and road bikes, so he had a good feel for what went into good bikes.
A few years later, the Doggler was born.
So, what is it? Well, it’s three bikes, kinda. Just released this week, the Doggler comes as one of three builds: City, Gravel, and Mountain. As you’d expect, they get a bit burlier along that spectrum. I tested the Gravel build over a few weeks in early August, and I suspect it’s likely to be their biggest seller.
It’s a rigid aluminum frame with a self-designed carbon fork and weighs in at a light and sprightly 24 pounds, depending on which model you go with. It’s built to handle either 29-inch wheels, or fatter 27.5-inch (indeed the Mountain build comes with 27.5 x 2.6-inch meats). Though they toyed a bit with the idea of drop bars, the Doggler comes specced with flat bars with pronounced rise and sweep, a design Hudski built themselves called “Longhorn.” Groupset is the excellent Shimano SLX, and power is put down by a 1×12 drivetrain. All builds, even the City, come with the PNW Ranier dropper post, a great dropper that’s welcome on a bike like this that you’re going to want to get rowdy on, first thing. Geo is modern mountain bike-ish, with a 69-degree head tube angle and 450mm chainstays. Cables are mounted externally, and there are mounting points aplenty.
Phew, okay, wonk talk outta the way, the bike rides great. They’ve designed a frame and fork combo that, despite being aluminum, has more than enough compliance and flex to soak up chatter while zooming along a fire road, or even threading a rocky singletrack. I’ve ridden steel frame bikes with suspension forks that weren’t as plush as this rigid frame. If, like me, it’s been a long time since you’ve ridden a rigid bike with flat bars in the dirt, the sensitivity and control of a rigid fork is a hoot, especially when it’s not jarring your hands and butt into the air while bouncing over every root and rut.
Something about the Doggler reminded me a little of riding a BMX bike as a kid. Probably the rigid, light as a feather frame. Whatever it was, it’s a poppy, happy ride that very likely will replace the much heavier full suspension rig in your garage on anything but the gnarliest trails.
But the Doggler really shines on gravel fireroads. You can comfortably pedal for days on the thing, and, unlike a drop bar gravel rig, get as sendy as you want if you spot a singletrack snaking into a boulder-strewn canyon. It’s not going to be as fast as a sleeker drop bar gravel bike, and you lose the benefit of multiple hand positions that drop bars allow, but that’s fine for a bike like this that is meant to do a little of everything. It won’t hold you back on gravel at all, and opens way more doors than drop bars do.
Also, like a kid’s BMX bike, it’s pretty fun to zap around town on the Doggler. Riding position is upright and comfortable, it pedals great, and it’s a bike you’ll absolutely grab for a quick grocery run.
Now then, gripes: Shoot, I don’t really have any. I guess it would be nice to not also want the Mountain version, and to not have to antagonize over making the wrong choice when ordering. Okay, actually, here’s one. All three Dogglers are $2,000. There are no lower levels of build to attract a more budget-minded rider, say with a much cheaper groupset and no dropper. Marin Bikes, for instance, just released a flat bar gravel bike, the DSX, that starts at less than a grand (albeit with greatly inferior components), and the Specialized Diverge has a flat bar option at about $1,600 for the base build. Should Hudski offer a bargain specced Doggler? I don’t know. I’ve never started a two-man bike company and have no idea what’s involved in selling the same bike at multiple price points to attract a beginning rider.
That’s not really the customer the Doggler is aimed at, though. For one thing, it’s DTC only, which isn’t exactly a beginner-friendly option. For another, this bike feels like it’s for a rider who already knows what they like, has a handful of bikes in the garage, but wants a well-made, simple bike that’s just flat-out fun. I have everything from an Evil Following full suspension trail slayer to a powerful e-mtb, an e-cargo bike, a hardtail mtb, even a charming Euro-style townie, and I pulled the Doggler out to ride every single time when I had it to test.
Check out the lineup, geo, specs, and components, here. Pre-sale started this week, delivery of the first batch of bikes is expected in early November. For now, only complete bikes are available, frame sets expected in the spring.