Time for… some Surly-Burley

Fatherhood, eh? Who’d have thought it would have been quite so all-consuming. I’ve tried to pen the odd post for this site over the last 10 months or so, but the breezy prose has eluded me somehow.

So, here I am, trying again… the breezy prose a distant objective, no doubt.

In truth, this post has been prompted by a rather nice email I received earlier in the week politely wondering whether I’d drowned in a sea of soiled nappies. It reminded me that, while it’s obviously important to focus energies on the new family, one should not lose sight of the other things in life that give pleasure. It also made me reflect on those folk who may find escape reading about other people’s outdoor exploits, but are no longer able to participate themselves for whatever reason. So I’m grateful to that correspondent… I’ll try not to leave it so long next time!

The Surly-Burley ready to roll in the White Peak

OK, so thing shave been busy. While we still haven’t managed a camping trip as a family, we have been on numerous, lower key wanders and spent a couple of weeks north of the Arctic Circle in Norway. What a truly stunning country… look out for some hiking posts soon.

A major milestone for my partner Sophie and I was to get back on the bikes again, though. Our love of cycling brought us together in the first place, and we were keen to include Baby Joe in our pedalling adventures, albeit capped by some common-sense restraint.

In order for this to happen we needed a trailer and I set about the task of finding one with characteristic nerdy relish. Two candidates emerged from the wash – a Thule Chariot Cross and the Burley Solo. If the Thule is the Rolls Royce of the kid-ferrying world, then the Burley is the Land Rover Discovery. Both are very well equipped, but the Thule edges it in terms of engineering and completeness.

Considering the importance of the cargo, I was keen on dishing the dough on the Thule but then, while on a rare solo cycle sortie, I had the good fortune to fall in train with a cycling mum using the trailer on the Tissington Trail.

Cabin doors for take off – final preparations before our first ride in the Derwent Valley

I struck up a conversation and she very helpfully gave me an exhaustive review of the Thule. As expected, this looked a superb bit of kit with great weatherproofing and a very comfortable ride afforded by the reclining seat and suspension. However, my riding companion felt it a little on the cramped side – a particular considerations for Joe given he is clinging onto the very top of the baby growth chart (99.6 centile, I’m told).

As a result, I shifted my attention to the Burley and its considerably lower price tag. The immediate advantage here was the bowed side frame that would give Joe more elbow room. The seat and harness, while not as plush as the Thule, looked comfortable and offered some recline via rudimentary straps. Another plus points was the large space behind the seat for Joe’s gear.

Taking a break for lunch

I decided to pull the trigger and a very large box arrived at the house a few days later. Assembly was simple, and the instructions very clear. Soon, Joe was sitting in his new wheels and I was pulling him up the driveway. The smile on his face was a good start.

Before our first trip proper, I swapped the stock Burley tyres for Schwalbe Marathons – after seven years commuting across London on these ‘boots’ I knew they would be a reliable replacement. I also purchased a wheel set for the front of the trailer, which converts it to a stroller (these are included in the Thule chariot package).

Joe strollin’ in Suffolk

Then there was the subject of the hitch. The Burley Solo comes with a standard Burly steel hitch normally secured by the rear wheel’s quick release on regular framesets. My intention was to tow Joe with the Ogre and Surly-heads will know this frame features a do-everything-reasonably-well rear drop out. I was able to make use of one of the 10mm threaded holes intended for Surly’s proprietary hitch from its trailer range. I sourced an m10x1 bolt along with some spacers and lock washers. This may all sound a bit of a faff, but I run the Orge with a Rohloff and EX box and this causes clearance issues with trailer hitches. This solution may not be the most elegant, but it works really well. The trailer is off centre (the Burley is designed this way, anyway) and in practice it tows very well indeed.

A bit Heath Robinson? Maybe, but it works well.

In fact, on my first test run with a load of books in the trailer rather than Joe, I forgot I was hitched. This is no doubt testament to the low rolling resistance of those 20” wheels, the quality of the trailer design and the heft of the Ogre (officially, the world’s heaviest bike) that meant I just didn’t notice the Burley.

Our first family pedal was to the ever-popular Derwent Valley. I packed the Ogre and Sophie’s Sonder Camino in the back of the van and, after a quick fold and unhitching the quick release wheels, Joe’s trailer fitted in with plenty of room to spare. Folks with more regular family cars will have to get creative, though, no doubt enlisting the services of bike carriers, roof boxes and the like.

That first sortie was a real pleasure. Joe loved the novelty of his new wheels and after 15 mins or so, was happily snoring away. Bliss! It was great to see Sophie back on the bike again so soon after her pregnancy and she loved the sense of independence while I took care of the towing. We completed one slow circuit of the valley, taking our time and stopping for lunch.

It all fits!

This early success opened the floodgates somewhat. Numerous trips on the strade bianche of the White Peak have followed along with a glorious trip to Suffolk where we pedalled the quite lanes around Southwold. Here, the stroller wheels came into their own as we pedalled to pretty villages, parked the bikes and then were able to push Joe. The Burley solution is not as elegant as the Thule in this regard, but it still works well enough. Weather protection, while not as good as the Thule, has also proven to be satisfactory, although an additional rain cover can be purchased as an optional accessory.

Ideally, I would like to load the trailer up, the Ogre and Sophie’s Camino for a bike camping trip. We might just fit this in later in the year, although maybe a little distracted. The trip to Suffolk culminated in a pedal to Dunwich beach in balmy late Autumn sunshine where Sophie proposed, modern girl that she is!

I said ‘yes’.

Tackling the sand in Suffolk
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The damned n+1

I realise I’ve been quiet on here (again!) Rest assured, I didn’t decide to pedal off the side of the earth but life has taken yet another turn – a much happier one this time – and I’ve been distracted.

More news on this in the New Year.

That said, I haven’t been in hibernation. Just before said life-changing news broke, I acquired a mutant-friendly Surly Disc Trucker frame from those fine folks at Keep Pedalling. I’d planned some kind of roughish-stuff light tourer using this steel, something folk now like to call a ‘gravel bike’, or an ‘adventure bike’. I don’t buy this marketing garbage of course… it’s a touring bike, without mudguards.

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I’m being a little disingenuous here, though. While modernist marketing may have me reaching for the sick bucket, post-modernist grumbling from those bearded tree- worriers at Surly does resonate. I’d wanted a Long Haul Trucker for a while just to remind myself how good a purpose-built, modern touring frame can be. So I decided to buy one, but eschewed the cantilevers in favour of some fancy rotor-rubbers.

The frame had been sitting in my spare room for nearly six months. A couple of weeks ago I reached that now-or-never stage of a build project when the small, mischievous voice inside my head says ‘sod it’ and I shake the Internet for bike components and burn the plastic.

The resulting new addition to the fleet has a name of course – Yorkie (boom boom!) – and I’m very happy with the result. I’ll post some more (betterer) pics when the weather improves in grizzly Glossopdale, but I include a build list for all you bike nerds out there (come on in, the water’s lovely).

Suffice to say, this bike is far more nimble than my heavyweight Ogre and is a joy to ride. The raked fork soaks up the bumps with aplomb while the overall compliance of the steel makes for a very comfy ride indeed. Things are far more taught than my rather splendid Bob Jackson, though, which is handy given my heft and the fact that I will be carrying bags on this bike at some point… no doubt in search of ‘multi-day adventures’ or ‘bikepacking’ if that’s what the cool kids are currently up to.

trucker-2Build list:

Frame: Surly Disc Trucker 64cm
Wheels: Shimano Deore Hubs, 36-hole, laced onto KinLin XD-230 rims (Built by Spa Cycles)
Tyres: Schwalbe G One 38mm
Bars: Salsa CowChipper 46cm
Levers: Sram Force CX1
Brakes: TRP HY-RD
Stem: Salsa Pro Moto riser (to be changed)
Headset: FSA Orbit
Chainset: Sram Rival 1 (42T)
Rear cassette: Sram 11-42T
Rear mech: Sram Rival 1 (long cage, obvs!)
Chain: Sram 11 spd
Seat post: Deda Rsx 02
Saddle: Specialized Toupe Sport (a bit of a test)
Extras: Problem Solvers downtube shifter boss cover, Bontrager bottle cages, Easton cork bar tape, Velo Vitality Metro Porteur Steel front rack, black (to be fitted)

 

For sale – An original Surly Troll 22” XL frame in Agent Orange. SOLD

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THIS FRAME IS NOW SOLD FOLKS…

So I have eventually acquiesced and am selling my much-loved Surly Troll frame and thought I would offer it on here first before resorting to the ‘Bay.

Regular readers will know we’ve had one or two adventures together over the years, including trips to Iceland and Morroco.

Despite the adventuring, the frame is in good condition as you can see in the pics.. It sports a very mild patina from those rides and many others, and the decals are obviously on their way out as is the Surly way. It also includes the cups from an FSA Orbit headset ready to take new bearings. Obviously, you could tap these out if you wanted to fit something else. The BB shell is faced too and ready to accept the bottom bracket of your choice. I’ve fitted a new black Surly seat post clamp. This colour frame looks great with black finishing kit hence the swap from the original silver. The fork steerer is uncut.

The Surly Troll really needs no introduction – it’s the do everything well bike. It makes a very good all-roads tourer, a rigid bikepacking rig, a single-speed MTB, a Rohloff based trailer puller, a fully-fendered commuter… I could go on. It has braze- ons for pretty much everything.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is the ORIGINAL Surly Troll frame. It only has two sets of bottle cage mounts, NO Anything Cage mounts on the fork, but CAN be used with a suspension fork unlike the new model. Please check the specs on the original frame if you are in doubt. This frame will also suit the taller rider, although it was always a wee bit too small for me.

I am happy to pack the frame if the purchaser arranges carriage. Otherwise, I can deliver in Greater Manchester and the Peak District (within reason!) If you’re interested, please mail me using the Kontactr link.

 

Variations on a successful theme – the Surly Orge

I’ve just put the finishing touches to a Surly Ogre. The massive bike – an XXL frame – uses parts from my trusty–but-too-small Surly Troll, including a Rohloff transmission.

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Surly Ogre on shopping duty in Manchester

The Ogre frameset came up by chance – a friend was offloading it – and given my height it was a chance I jumped at. Regular readers will now I am fan of the Rohloff hub for touring both on and off road. I too have been a fan of Surly’s do-everything- reasonably-well bikes. However, the Troll always felt a bit too much of a compromise. Notwithstanding the fact it was too small, I found the handling too busy for it to be a full-on load lugger.

Since dismantling the Troll before moving house last year, I’ve really missed not having a bike of this kind in the fleet. So I was keen to marry the Rohloff to a larger frame and hopefully achieve the true all-roads, all-round touring machine I was looking for.
It may well be early days, but I think I may have just found it. The Ogre is based on Karate Monkey geometry – that venerable ‘niner off-roader of the Surly line up. I wondered whether this would be ‘too mtb’ for touring, but the handling is very different to the Troll. Maybe it’s the set up, but I’m amazed at how predictable this bike is… with none of the Troll fidget. It’s far more to my taste as a touring machine but won’t be as nimble on the gnarly stuff of course.

So, tracking straight and true, the bike really inspires confidence on descents. I’m a bit lily livered when to comes to downhill, but the Ogre has me tucking in and flying. That may be something to do with the riding position. I am able to comfortably ride in the drops on this bike and the position feels quite relaxed and controlled… certainly very far removed from aggressive.

Take a look at the build kit for this bike and you’ll quickly appreciate this a belt-and-braces machine – just how I like my touring bikes to be. However I can also fully understand why some readers would find it over the top and not to their liking at all. It would be possible to build a far leaner and sprightlier version of this bike but the component choice is based on my experiences with the Troll. This bike should be able to bounce along the Kjolur in Iceland fully loaded and crawl (albeit slowly) over Alpine passes. It also needs to be burly enough to resist the determined inattention of baggage handlers (I remain ever-hopeful on this latter point).

Just don’t ask how much it weighs…

The build is as follows:

Frame: Surly Ogre, XXL (24”)
Wheels: Ryde Sputnik Rims, Shimano Deore fornt hub (36 spoke) Rohloff rear (32 spoke)
Tyres: Halo Twin Rail gum wall, 2.2 in
Racks: Tubus front and rear
Transmission: Middleburn cranks, 38T chainring. Rohloff hub, 16T sprocket. Surly tugnut.
Brakes:
Avid BB7 V discs, Tektro V brake drop levers
Bars: Genetic Flare, 46cm
Seatpost: Velo Orange layback seatpost
Stem: Salsa Guide Stem 90mm, 115 degrees
Headset: FSA Orbit XL
Extras: Thorn accessory bar for Rohloff shifter.

ogre-lakes

Bob Jackson World Tour – Old skool packing for the road

bob-at-Beninbrough-hall
Stopping for coffee at Beningbrough Hall

A couple of readers have got in touch to ask about how I packed the Bob Jackson for the Way of the Roses trip. The decision to take the bike I built for Eroica was a bit last minute as a replacement frame for my trusty Surly Troll was held up for one reason or another. I now have a dedicated, heavyweight Rohloff-based tourer to replace the Troll that will accompany me to the Alps at the end of the month, although I’d be more than happy to take the Bob if needed as it handled touring duties with impressive ease.

Given this bike has to sit within the aesthetic guidelines of the Eroica events, I fitted some rather lovely replica French racks from Velo Orange before leaving for Morecambe Bay. More information can be found on the fitting process here.

They are not all-show-and-no-go either as both racks can handle reasonable weight, particularly the front Porteur rack of which I’ve become a huge fan. This design, or a more modern iteration thereof, is destined to find a home on other bikes in the fleet.

OK, so the packing list. I’ll detail the items taken by bag to give you an idea of weight distribution. Suffice to say, the bike handled beautifully with this light load and I’d be happy pedalling for weeks with this kit as long as I had opportunities to wash and dry gear on the way.

Velo Orange front Porteur Rack, in a 25 litre Exped dry bag

Thermarest Prolite seat (inflated, to prevent items rattling on the rack bed)

Go Lite Shangrila flysheet

Oookworks custom inner for the Go Lite

Mountain Co-operative Merlin Sleeping bag (XL)

Exped inflatable pillow

Thermarest Neo Air full length Xlite mattress

Alpkit Possum frame bag

Pole for Go Lite Shangrila

Thermarest chair kit

Tent pegs

Snacks

Keys

Petzl headtorch

Caradice Zipped Roll saddlebag

Abus cable lock

Rapha rain jacket

‘Tools’ – Park multi tool, tyre levers, micro leatherman, lighter.

Two spare tubes

Wallet

Caradice Universal panniers on the rear Constructeur Rack

Pocket Rocket stove and MSR titanium pot and lid

Alpkit MytiMug and MSR mugmate

1 pair of sandals

Montane wind top

Rapha merino base layer

Rapha winter gloves

North Face down jacket

Rapha classic jersey

Sherpa woollen hat (much loved!)

T-shirt

1 pair of Endura Mesh padded undershorts

Endura waterproof over shorts (worn as a last resort only!)

Spare socks

Alpkit dry bag (attached to the top of the rear rack)

Toiletries – deodorant, shower gel, toothbrush, toothpaste, Sudocrem

Fjalraven Nils trousers

Towel (when not drying on the front rack)

Spare food – when carried

Clothes worn

Rapha riding gilet

Rapha merino base layer

Brooks Eroica B1866 jersey

Buff (x2)

Walz cycling cap

Nike leggings

Rapha Randonneur shorts

Giro Terraduro shoes (ready to fall apart)

Merino socks

Castelli Mitts

Endura mesh padded undershorts

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Velo Orange Porteur and Constructeur Racks

vo-bob-1

When I built my Bob Jackson World Tour last year, I had a plan to fit racks at some point. I’d considered a number of options, but given the overall aesthetic of this bike – think French Randonneur – replica parts seemed the order of the day rather than fitting more purposeful Tubus or Surly load luggers.

Although it may never have been my intention to carry camping kit on this bike, my hand has been forced by next week’s Way of the Roses ride. Frames to replace my trusty but just–too–darn-small Surly Troll are either in transit or can’t be collected until May. I’d be pedalling coast to coast on the Bob Jackson then, and I needed racks to suit.

The hunt for the right replica parts normally means Velo Orange and I’ve been chewing over options from their range for a while. I eventually settled on a minimalist but rather elegant Constructuer rear rack and the more substantial Porteur front, which provides a sizeable platform for a large bag that I hope to acquire some time in the future. (There are some rather nice options from this cottage manufacturer in the Netherlands.)

The two VO racks arrived last month and I was immediately struck but how burly the Porteur is. By contrast, the Constructeur feels somewhat under gunned with its svelte lines and thin tubing. Both are made from stainless steel and rather nicely finished, though. Reading the VO specs they should be adequate to carry my slimmed down camping kit with control.

Fitting the racks was a bit of a faff… but isn’t it always? Both allow for the option to drill mudguards (if you have ‘proper’ alloy or steel mudguards that is) and it’s worth measuring, praying and drilling for the additional stability this provides – both for the racks and the guards.

You’ll note from the pictures I’m running the Constructeur rather tight to the mudguard while the Porteur is a little higher (and there’s a stack of M5 washers helping to keep the ‘guard put). In both cases I have to cut the tabs which attach to the drop out mounts – make sure you have a quality hacksaw for this job as the metal is reassuringly hardy.

This is a huge frame and having the Porteur rack a little higher gives me the perfect distance between its platform and handlebars for the aforementioned large ‘porteur’ bag. I’ve angled the rack back slightly too so the bag will be inline with the angle of the head tube. A personal quirk that may or may not work when the bag is ultimately in place.

Initial shake down rides now done and I am a big fan of the Porteur. I’ve carried reasonable weight up front with little discernable effect on the handling. If anything, the rack has made the Bob more settled if that’s possible for this most predictable of bikes. The rack will carry a drybag next week containing tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping mat along with lighter clothes and food.

The Constructuer, while looking dandy, is not so practical. It will just ferry a pair of small Caradice Super C panniers with some adjustment of the hooks. The platform will take a small drybag of some description too.

I’m hoping this three-bag solution will take care of my gear. I have the option to add an Alpkit framebag to spread the load a wee bit further. The Porteur will take front panniers too if needed but I’m trying to avoid the additional weight.

I’ll report back after next week’s trundle.

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Packing for bike touring – lightening the load

OldSkool? - Touring Iceland on a Surly Troll with 30kg of kit across four panniersa dn a drybag
OldSkool? – Touring Iceland on a Surly Troll with 30kg+ of kit across four panniers and a drybag

I’ve been experimenting with packing for my trip to Scotland later this month. Given I’ll be riding off road as much as weather conditions allow the traditional pannier set up has been ditched and I’ve been forced to re-evaluate my packing routine.

Adios panniers

A traditional cycle touring set up where the load is split across four panniers, bar bag and, maybe, a drybag on the rear rack offers the rider the chance to bring the kitchen sink – literally. For me, this results in luxuries such as books, a (relatively) large tent, hipflasks of whisky and bottles of ale, numerous electronic gizmos, extended camera kit, at least one full change of clothes including ‘evening wear’ for nights in the pub… you get the picture. Continue reading