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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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.

ogre-manchester
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

Ready, set… Morocco

The weekend saw me clocking up some miles on the Troll ahead of flying to Morocco tomorrow.

The bike is in fine fettle. Now sporting some bigger boots in the shape of some increasingly rare folding Schwalbe Marathon Extremes 2.25″, the ride has softened appreciably which will help if we do venture off road. The mudguards have been removed for this trip, primarily to easing packing in my Evoc bike bag. However, in contrast to UK riding, I don’t think this act will have any negative effect on the weather. I expect it to be dry and, at times, pretty durn hot.

Surly Troll 'stripped down' for Morocco
Surly Troll ‘stripped down’ for Morocco

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November: Working like a dawg, Rohloff miles, shipping bikes overseas and cake

Seems I blinked and missed November.

Given the lack of activity on these pages, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’d gone into hibernation. Not true, although the hours I’ve spent nose pressed to computer screen for the day job have monopolised my thoughts (and senses) somewhat. There’s been little room for much else – a hibernation of sorts, then.

I’m not complaining as it’s been rewarding work, but time for activity worthy of addition to the Northern Walker back catalogue has been limited. There are a few things of note, however.

Early thoughts on a Rohloff hub

rohloff-speedhub-surly-trollEvery conceivable characteristic of the Rohloff Speedhub has been covered elsewhere in magazines, blogs and forums. I’m not going to add too much to this exhaustive reading list although I’m pleased to report that after about 300 miles on my Surly Troll, the hub is starting to settle down.

As others have reported, there is noise in gears 1-7 and seven is a pepper grinder. Gears 8-14 are silent on the flat, with a little noise under load.

There is a minor sensation of vibration through the cranks under load too, but this getting less pronounced with use it seems.

The hub will not freewheel like a derailleur and probably never will – aggressive seals and internal gubbins are to blame here. I have followed Rohloff’s advice and dropped a little oil behind the rear sprocket has this has helped free things up a little. More miles will help too.

I also concur with other users who have complained about the shift in weight distribution due to the hub and how this can deaden the rear end of the bike. When I first built my Troll I found it surprisingly sprightly despite its heft and much of that character has now gone. This is not a problem, as the bike feels far more stable and more suited to touring, but it’s something to bear in mind of you’re thinking of fitting the hub to a mountain bike or monster crosser.

While the potential negatives are readily apparent from these early rides, so are the positives. I really appreciate the clean drivetrain, the ability to change gear while stationary, the evenly spaced ratios, the overall positive feel of the hub and the lack of fettling.

I also have the confidence that minor niggles with the hub are likely to get better with age.

Saying farewell to the Green Goddess

Thorn Club Tour boxed and ready for shipping
Thorn Club Tour boxed and ready for shipping

I put my Thorn Club Tour up for sale a few weeks ago. I had a few enquiries from prospective buyers in the States and Australia would you believe, while others wanted my to break the bike down and sell off the components separately. Another thought it a bit too old school (!)

Eventually I had an email from a rider in the Netherlands who was in the market for a lighter touring rig. We agreed a price and I got to work trying to find a suitable shipping carrier.

This proved to be difficult. I didn’t want to break the bike down too much to prevent squashed dropouts but most couriers’ package restrictions would not accommodate a large bicycle in a box. I asked the ever helpful folk at my LBS Keep Pedalling and they suggested some good courier options, only the price wasn’t right.

Then I came cross Direct Courier Solutions, a broker that has secured favourable rates from mainstream couriers for larger items. A bike to Netherlands would cost £70 (plus £7.50 for optional insurance cover of up to £1000). This was half the price of other quotes I’d received.

Save for a missed collection on my initial booked day, the bike shipped by Fedex in five days. Online tracking was excellent.

I’m pleased to say that the Club reached its new owner in fine condition (although I did spend an age packing it) and he seems very happy with his new ride. The whole process has given me a great deal of satisfaction, topped by the fact that this bike and its new owner will be going on plenty of adventures in the New Year…

Cycle touring the Ardnamurchan

Let me eat cake

I’ve had a few chats over the Interweb with the author of the blog Life in the Cycle Lane. We share a similar taste in bikes (not Bromptons!) and bike shops, and had the opportunity to meet a couple of times over the last few weeks.

Tim, the gent in question, is a fine fellow with a far finer beard than mine and, when not in the cycle lane, spends many a weekend selling cake with his other half Karen.

Not only would I commend his blog to those of a pedalling disposition, I’d also recommend The Baking Room, the source of said cake.

I am a fan of the Parkin and the delicious gluten-free marmalade cake, but I really must fess up my addiction to their excellent Guinness-ginger-dark chocolate bites. These flavoursome nuggets are a marriage made in heaven and highly recommended.

Check out The Baking Room here.

Behold… the Trolloff

Picked up my Surly Troll Mk2 at the weekend and thought I would post some pictures. Components were a little different in the end as I opted for an SP PD8 dynamo hub. However, this 32-hole hub required a new rim too so I ended having a full set of wheels built on Mavic XM 719s.

I realise the wide flange of the Rohloff hub can create quite an angle where the spoke meets the rim – particularity on 26 inch wheels and there are rims with specific drilling to help with this. I raised this with the guys at Keep Pedalling and was assured it wouldn’t be a problem (and they’ve built a whole bunch of them). Time will tell.

A set of mudguards with plenty of clearance for stones and mud (and to help rear wheel removal) completes the upgrade. Done about 40 miles so far and am rapidly becoming a fan of the Rohloff.

These pics are not great I’m afraid… was trying to keep the rain off the camera 🙂

Thoughts on a Surly Troll MkII

above Pingvallavatn Pingvellir IcelandI’ve had my Surly Troll – ‘Tango’ – for over a year now. It’s carried me across Iceland, on some daft bike packing trips and other short tours, to the pub, to work, to the shops… lots of times to the shops in fact, including grocery runs with four panniers full to bursting.

I like it… I like it a lot. In fact, I like so much that my traditional workhorse-touring bike – a rather classy Thorn Club Tour – hasn’t had a look-in. It sits in the garage, ready for action, yet I keep on reaching for the Troll.

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