This article first appeared in the August/September 2021 issue of Adventure Cyclist magazine.
If the opposite of love is apathy, then the bike category furthest from my slightly jaded bicycle heart is the hybrid. Largely resigned to rental fleets, sporting goods stores, and the dustiest back corner of many bike shops, this species of uninspiring flat-bar, low-end-component–bedecked “comfort” or “upright” or other thinly veiled pejorative from enthusiasts is, well, something I don’t think about at all. And that sentiment seems to permeate many corners of the cycling world.
But last fall, a new brand called Hudski (what?) launched a bike called the Doggler (what?!), and the collective tastemakers of the internet went mad with not just love, but lust. Is it a superlight bikepacking missile? A cutting-edge mountain bike? A gearbox-driven world-circler? Uhh — checks notes — it’s a hybrid.
But from the moment the bike box arrives — and arrive it will, as Hudski is only consumer-direct at present — and you see it’s festooned with illustrations, there’s a sense that this hybrid is a bit … un-hybrid-y.
So what is a Doggler? (And who is Hudski?) The former is an aluminum-framed, carbon-forked all-rounder retailing for two grand and sporting Shimano’s 12-speed SLX mountain bike group, one of three wheel options, a handsome riser bar, and a dropper seatpost. The latter is Will Hudson and Brian Szykowny (who previously worked for Specialized), childhood buddies who combined their surnames into a nameplate for their fledgling bike company.
The idea behind the Doggler is a one-bike-to-rule-them-all approach with the same frame/fork/components but a choice between wheelsets depending on the rider’s primary focus. In “Mountain” trim, you get 27.5in. hoops shod with 2.6in. Maxxis Recons. In “City” mode, it’s smooth 29 x 2.0in. Maxxis Grifters. And in “Gravel” spec, which I tested here, you’re rolling on 700c x 50mm Maxxis Ramblers. All three sets use Shimano non-series hubs laced to Jalco rims in either 25mm or 30mm (Mountain only) widths.
But if it’s the variable wheel configurations that catch the eye, it’s the alloy frame and carbon fork that make or break the bike. Aluminum has a bad rap for its harsh ride, and a stiff carbon fork can often be said to deliver the same. And indeed, the Hudski is stiff. But with modern rubber running tubeless, stiff and harsh don’t necessarily roll together. Aboard the thinnest of Hudski’s tire options, I found the unloaded ride snappy and reasonably compliant thanks to 50mm of Maxxis rubber between the Jalco rims and the ground. I’d imagine the 2.6in. knobbies would be an even better choice if loaded dirt riding was your true love, but for mixed surfaces the Ramblers offered just enough cushion.
The Ramblers provided a surprising amount of traction too, and with the Doggler’s geometry owing much to mountain bikes, a dropper seatpost from PNW Components, and wide bars sporting Oury grips, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were on a hardtail of yore. I sought out a number of rides normally reserved for “mountain bikes” (a term the gravel version of the Doggler will have you questioning) and found the handsome blue Hudski shockingly capable of winding through western Montana’s singletrack. Combined with a 10–51T cassette and hydraulic disc brakes, the Doggler is probably more mountain bike than anything else, regardless of which wheel and tire combo you select at checkout.
But “anything” really is Hudski’s goal, as in a single bike that can tackle every style of riding. And that’s a tall order, especially for cyclists cross-shopping more blue-blooded touring bikes. After all, if a touring bike is the pickup of the cycling world, what Hudski is trying to do here is make station wagons cool again.
The 69° headtube, 73° seat tube, and 457mm reach in the size large tested make for a comfortable and relatively upright position but put more weight on one’s hindquarters than many dropbar bikes. Hudski’s own Longhorn bars won’t be everyone’s cup of tea for long days in the cockpit. Risers will never offer the hand positions of dropbars nor nontraditional options like those from Jones or Surly, so if your wrists are simpatico with what’s available in a single arc, you’re good to go. If not, you’ll quickly be reaching for your credit card.
Putting a dropper post on all models might seem a tad overkill for any use short of trail riding, but once you’ve owned a modern dropper, it’s hard to go back. They’re reliable, they’re convenient, and even if you only really want it once or twice a ride, they’re totally worth it. The PNW Rainier uses 125, 150, or 170mm of travel depending on the frame size, and the action at the lever is light and the drop smooth. On a bike that weighs in at a svelte 24.2 pounds, the marginal extra weight is a nonfactor.
My biggest complaint about the Doggler is the brakes — they’re too darn good. I ride these same SLX two-piston hydros on my fully suspended trail bike where they’re hauling down 30 pounds of carbon, beefy 2.4in. tires, and poor choices. The 50mm Maxxis Ramblers are superb (so superb I’m going to order a pair for a personal bike), but the bite between pad and rotor far exceeds the bite available between 50mm of rubber and whatever surface you’re on. I love good brakes, but at least in the Gravel build, they overpower the bike.
Category bias notwithstanding, the Hudski is cool-looking. It’s got matte paint, a subtle downtube logo, and a cool brass headtube badge. The flat blue does go a little varnish-y at wear points, so a top tube bag or framebag strap is going to leave a shinier spot, but let’s call it patina and move on because you’re going to want to run a cavernous framebag in the Doggler’s huge front triangle. You can load it up bikepacking style by adding Anything cages to the three-pack mounts on the carbon fork, or go more traditional with racks and bags front and rear (the front fork is limited to 25lbs. of racks and gear).
At the end of that day, the concept of quiver-killing, single-bike minimalism is appealing — it’s really appealing. But unless your life is limited by space or funds or willingness to perform maintenance on more than one ride, well, quiver-killing involves sacrifice. Brands like Hudski, Thesis, and Rodeo Labs offer interesting approaches with the idea that a quick wheel swap can provide two bikes in the space of one and a quarter. But I’ve met me, and I’m not swapping wheels between a mountain bike ride on Monday and a gravel ride on, well, even a subsequent Monday. And the fact is, the Doggler’s not as good of a mountain bike as my mountain bike nor as good of a gravel bike as my gravel bike. It might have my commuter beat, but only because it costs a lot more.
What Hudski’s done is made a crossover SUV. It’s got all-wheel drive and a sizeable trunk, but you wouldn’t wanna take it to Moab and it won’t glide down the highway like a sedan. And if you want a truck, buy a Disc Trucker.
I love, love, love the idea of two guys starting a bike brand and building the kind of bike that I’ve tried to assemble from spare parts hung on an old hardtail frame (they’ve done a much better job), but the hype around the Hudski made it an easy bike to scoff at, at least on paper. After spending six weeks with it, though, I feel about the Doggler the way I feel about a Toyota Rav4 — my head knows it can handle 99 percent of the situations I’ll ever encounter, but it just doesn’t make my heart skip a beat.
Sizes available: S, M, L, XL
Size tested: L
Weight: 24.2 lbs.
Head tube angle: 69.2°
Seat tube length: 470mm
Seat tube angle: 73.2°
Top tube: 611mm (effective)
Bottom bracket drop: 57mm
Fork offset: 44mm
Standover height: 775mm
Frame: Doggler alloy, bottle mounts on seat tube, triple mounts on down tube, rack and fender mounts
Fork: Hudski carbon, triple mounts, rack and fender mounts
Handlebar: Hudski Longhorn 16, 780mm
Stem: Hudski 50mm
Rear derailer: Shimano SLX
Shifter: Shimano SLX
Brakes: Shimano SLX hydraulic disc, flat mount rear, post mount front
Rotors: TRP Center Lock, 160mm
Bottom bracket: Shimano XT, threaded
Crankset: Raceface Ride, 170mm, 34T
Cassette: Shimano SLX, 10–51T, 12spd
Chain: Shimano SLX
Headset: Sealed bearing
Seatpost: PNW Rainier dropper, 150mm
Saddle: WTB Deva
Hubs: Shimano, 12 x 142mm rear, 12 x 100mm front, thru-axles
Rims: Jalco i25, 32h
Tires: Maxxis Rambler EXO, 700c x 50mm, tubeless ready
Grips: Oury V2 Lock-on