Surly ECR XXL four months on – Evading Clichéd Rides?

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.

Surly ECR in the Pennines
A sunny day on the trails. An ECR day.

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?

On the trails above home
On the trails above home

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.

ECR dropout Surly Tug problems
ECR dropout and the Surly Tugnut. The cassette joint arm pointing upwards from horizontal. This can result in the cassette joint ‘undoing’

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).

Surly ECR XXL Pennine Bridleway
On the Pennine Bridleway near Settle

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?

Surly ECR XXL Pennines
Popping out for coffee at Dove Stones near home

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.

Surly ECR bikepacking
ECR in ‘bikepacking’ mode

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.

Time to head home after another lovely bimble on the ECR
Time to head home after another lovely bimble on the ECR

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.

ECR in the Pennines

26 thoughts on “Surly ECR XXL four months on – Evading Clichéd Rides?

  1. I think your experiences are very similar to mine so far, so much so I may just repost your summary instead of writing my own. I haven’t had any troubles with the lock nuts so far, but that is more because of under use than not having issues I might guess (if have the alfine 11). For other people out there I’ve found with 32-18 I am living in my bottom 6 gears and I am planning on uping the ratios to either 22 or 23 similar to the northern walker.

  2. Thanks so much for the comment and reblog. Yep, it’s a blast no doubt. A kid riding a BMX pedalled alongside me the other day and said: ‘That bike is fat man, fat!!!’ Perhaps he mean’t ‘Phat’… or maybe he did mean ‘fat’ given the rubber. Anyway, I think he liked it 😉

  3. How did you find the Pennine Bridleway? I’ve been tempted, but I’d have to buy (another) bike to do it as my… ahem.. three are all road bikes at present. I am considering a full suss ‘bent, which would have MTB width rims though to add to the stable, assuming I can win Mrs W around…

    1. It can be muddy and rocky in places. The gates will test your patience too as there are loads of ’em 🙂 I think it’s worth bearing in mind that this route is designed more for horse riders that cyclists. I imagine some sections I’ve ridden would be awful when wet. Still, it’s easy to bale and ride the road to avoid them. That said, there are some really fine bits of trail that are great fun on a bike and you pass through some stunning, and varied, scenery. I am only up to Settle though, will be going further north next time.

  4. I like the esacpe pod bit – especially since it’s a slow one – I feel like that on a kalkhoff aggatu, which is really slow. Have you ever considered going electric? I know it may sound heretic, but it has really changed my idea of what an excape can be.

    1. Electric hasn’t really entered my field of vision to be honest. It may do one day. I don’t mind about being slow and there’s some pleasure in it hurting… for now at least 🙂

  5. This pretty much sums up my experience of mine Matt, now has front and rear racks fitted and I’m planning another north wales getaway last week of August, this time fully loaded with everything I intend to take to New Zealand.

    The Rohloff is a new adventure for me, I tested a Rholoff’d Nicolai many years ago and hated it, perhaps because ut was fitted to a light weight alu race bike, just couldn’t ‘unfeel’ that weight at the rear, whilst still noticeable on the ECR it seems to fit just right.

    As you know I went XL frame size and am almost now there with fit, just waiting fir a 10 degree 100mm stem to fine tune my position, longest ride so far is 66 miles and just a little bit of neck creak after that, the new stem should sort that out 🙂

    1. Yep, the Rohloff would not be my choice on a lightweight machine. It deadened the rear of my Troll to an extent, too, but this is no bad thing given that this is my now my touring rig. I feel it would sit nicely on the ECR as you say.

      I initially thought my position was too short on the ECR but a few hundred miles down the road/trail have convinced me this is the way the bike should be (for me). I was rattling along the Pennine Bridleway for nearly 10 hours with no creaks and pains at the end. I’m looking forward to loading it up again soon.

  6. This is a really silly question, but the kit you are wearing in the Dove Stones pic, what are the labels? I really like the 3/4 biking shorts and have been looking for a similar pair but without success. Top looks great too, but maybe it’s just the way you fill it out with that cycling bod! Am always on the lookout for comfy, versatile kit in SUBTLE colours as I like to birdwatch on my country peddling meandering

    1. Hi Kitty, thanks for dropping by. The 3/4s are Endura Humvees. These have been pretty good but the press stud waist is hopeless. They are elasticated so I have sewn them together. The top is an old Pearl Izumi one which is too big nowadays. I am a big fan of Shut VR’s stuff. I have a Classic jersey… they are not cheap but it is wearing very well after a couple of years.

      1. Very nice, the extra chain to tire clearance afforded by an IGH is essential to this tire size, especially if you ever expect to see mud. Where will you be riding in France? There are a lot of nice mapped and signed off-pavement routes there.

      2. It can be very muddy on the trails near home and the IGH indeed provides that extra ‘safety’ factor when the tires are clogged. The simple chainline runs a lot cleaner in these conditions too.

  7. Regional trains should accept the bikes without issue, although TGV fast trains make it difficult to impossible, except for folding bikes or those properly packed as luggage. Massif Central looks nice; some of the scheduled TMC route looks to get a bit rough. I think the Jura route is more tame, although I haven’t ridden either. The TMV in the Vosges mountains is very nice, moderately challenging yet civilized.

  8. Thanks for the great write up, I’ve noticed an internal hub gear system seems popular, do you consider it to be most suitable for the ecr? Cheers

    1. I would say ‘yes’ for the reasons of chain line around those fat tyres and a cleaner drivetrain. The downsides are cost, weight and a slightly free running set up (in the case of the Rohloff).

  9. Hi Stuart, so sorry to have missed your question… real life getting in the way I’m afraid. This is a Carradice Expedition Rack… an old alloy version that I wouldn’t recommend. Mine snapped on the West Highland Way. A new steel version is available without the struts. This may be better option up to 10kg – haven’t used one thought. I am currently using an Apidura seat pack on this rig (nothing to break!) but am considering a Nitto R10 back support so I can use the Carradice back again.

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