I’ve had my mahoosive Surly ECR since March.
In that time, it’s been on numerous trips over the trails near home, took part in a celebratory ride for the bike shop that supplied it (and was greeted with nods of approval from the Surly dudes), lugged bikepacking gear on an epic trip from Settle to home along the Pennine Bridleway and ferried me out for coffee on a hill when I just couldn’t take it any more.
It has a name – Ernie. My other half, who is barely 5ft tall and dwarfed by this monster bike, feels the moniker fits: ‘It’s just an Ernie… what else would he be called?’
You might already detect that I’m already rather fond of it (given that I don’t really think of it as a machine any more). It is, to paraphrase the Surly blurb, my ‘escape pod’. But enough of this gushing nonsense… is this steel off roader worth all the hype?
I should start by what I don’t like. The top tube is a fraction too high and I could do with a wee bit more standover. ‘Why not buy the smaller frame?’ I hear you cry. On reflection, an XL may have made more sense although I would have needed an even larger spacer stack and a longer stem to get those (superb) Jones bars at the right position.
That said, it’s nice to ride a bike (at last) that feels and looks in proportion to my lanky frame. Aesthetically, I prefer the bike without three and half meters of seat post showing and those high bars with a short stem have resulted in superb handling and opened up all the positions on the Jones bars, including aero.
The rear dropouts on the ECR borrow from the Troll, which I also own. I run a Rohloff and the Troll with no issues at all. Using an Alfine on the ECR has created one or two problems, though.
This 8-speed hub relies on anti-turn washers to operate correctly. Without a tug nut, and using both washers, the hub slipped under load in the horizontal dropouts. Fitting a Surly tug nut and one anti-rotation washer, the cassette joint arm rotates under load which can cause the rear nuts to loosen if it’s not kept in check. Other riders have been successful with this approach – not to mention that fine fellow Tim – and I have scoured the web for reasons why this may be the case for me. It could be down to the fact that I am a large rider running a low ratio set up (32:23).
Anyway, the solution for now is to run the two anti-rotation washers, flip an old BMX chain tug and run this on the inside of the dropout where there is sufficient room (just). And it’s worked well so far which is gratifying given I like the Alfine. It gives me eight very useable ratios for the kind of terrain I cover on the ECR and runs silently (when sat correctly in the dropouts). The simple chain line shrugs off the gunk off road too.
My final niggle would be the paint. The lacquer, if that’s what it is, scratches easily and doesn’t appear as durable as on my bright orange Troll. Still, it’s hard to see on the cowpat colour of the ECR and this rig does get treated rough.
So, with the grumbles out of the way, what’s good?
The ECR’s ride off road is, in my humble opinion, superb. This rig is all about stability, with or without load. For the lily-livered and slower rider (i.e. me), it’s a huge confidence booster. Trails that gave me the collywobbles on the Troll – even with a suspension fork – are neutered by the ECR’s sure-footedness. This is a product of the frame geometry (and the ‘controversial’ low bottom bracket), those super plush tyres on 29er rims and the Jones bar.
Boy, does this thing roll too. It just keeps on going once you get it up to speed, even when bouncing off rocks and steps. While it may not climb that well given the weight, I find the large wheels and tyres very forgiving on the rocky trails near my home. Head down and pedal hard and the ECR will find a way through.
Do I miss suspension? No. Those hefty tyres at around 17psi are enough for me. Remember, though, I’m a slow coach. Seasoned MTB-ers may harrumph, and many do when they see me plodding along their trails. Sod ‘em, says I.
As for load lugging, I have carried panniers on racks but mainly use the Caradice Bagman Expedition with a Nelson LongFlap, an Alpkit Possum Framebag and an Alpkit Airlok Xtra stuff sac with straps on the Jones. All these carrying permutations have little impact on the handling on the ECR as you’d hope for a bike designed for all roads and trails touring. When heavily laden, the bike would benefit from lower ratios though. In an ideal world it would have a Rohloff… but it’s not an ideal world.
And what of the Knards? These tyres are designed for packed trails and can struggle in the gloopy conditions of the Pennines and Peak. That said, the low pressure and larger volume does given them added traction and some float so wheel slipping on climbs is rare and they always feel planted on wet descents. They are surprisingly good on pavement too. Again, though, I am generally travelling more slowly than a die hard MTBer and I imagine they might find these boots lacking. As for durability, we’ll see.
So far so good, then.
In summary, the ECR is the best off road bike I’ve ridden for the way I like to travel. It provides day-long comfort over mixed terrain and inspires confidence.
It’s not fast, it’s not about ‘downhilling’ or ‘Enduro’ or ‘shredding’ (whatever they are), and it’s not about getting airborne (although I have done). The ECR is about finishing work, chucking a stove and a hipflask in the saddlebag and riding off into the hills for a coffee and contemplation, or disappearing for a few nights with a bivvy or small tent.
It’s hillwalking on wheels… and a good fit for this Northern Walker.