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 Peddars Way – finding a bit of rough in Norfolk

peddars-way-4

I expected the Peddars Way to be easy. A tame, pancake-flat route of benign cinder paths and quiet lanes. I mean, this is Norfolk afterall: Pretty villages, endless fields of arable crops, rock-and-slot-machine coastal resorts. I’m pleased to say my preconceptions were wrong.

That said, this isn’t the Highland Trail or the Pennine Bridleway. Folk seeking those kind of gritted-teeth thrills should look north. However, the gun-barrel straight Peddars – a former Roman road  – does have one or two tricks up its sleeve. These include a sense of remoteness along with unexpectedly challenging terrain and trail conditions that somehow creep up and tap you on the shoulder when the thighs start to burn.

The Way is part of the National Trail network. It is primarily a walking path and the official bike route diverts off the trail in places where the designated bridleway runs out. I’d never heard of it and the suggestion to put tyre to trail came from my girlfriend, Sophie, who has plenty of experience pedalling the flatlands.

We started at Thetford Station. I’d brought the trusty Ogre which seemed a little over gunned for what lay ahead (doesn’t it always?) while Sophie, who doesn’t suffer my Surly disposition, was on her perfectly proportioned Sonder Camino Ti. This, she insists upon reminding me, is a ‘multi-day adventure bike’ (‘It’s not a touring bike!’). Marketing semantics to one side, it was good to see it on a multi-day adventure at last albeit for what we both felt would be a very straightforward two-day bimble.

peddars-way-2We followed the signs for the Peddars Way through Thetford and promptly lost them. They are there, just keep your wits about you as their tucked away locations appear more geared for more sedate pedestrians rather than cyclists. We eventually joined the trail near Thorpe Woodlands and hit the dirt. Roundham and Hockham Heath soon passed under our wheels and we got into the groove of the journey, stopping frequently for pictures and exploratory Blackberry foraging – still a wee bit too early perhaps.

The trail is well way marked and easy to follow with little need for additional navigation. A word of caution should extend to supplies though. It is perhaps not surprising that some of the numerous signs also pointed to convenience stores and pubs off route as the trail does plot a rather lonely course through this largely well populated county. If you were to stay on the route as we did you’d go hungry. Fortunately, Sophie is a great believer in carrying plenty of snacks (more so than I, thank goodness) and we were well fuelled as we pushed on.

For a number of reasons we booked an Air B&B a few miles off the route for our overnight stop. This proved to be an excellent choice and I can highly recommend Holly House Annexe in Tittleshall. To reach it, I made rather a mess of the navigation off the route near Sporle taking us along some very restricted muddy byways and we arrived late. Our hosts couldn’t have been more accommodating though and even offered to store the bikes in their utility room. After a quick shower we enjoyed some proper pub grub at the Fox and Hounds, a short bike ride away in Weasenham St Peter. A great boozer and not a gastropub pretension in sight. Amen.

We pushed off into warm sunshine the following morning pedalling along glorious quiet lanes while chatting away. With yesterday’s navigational nonsense behind us, we soon found the trail at just after Massingham Common and were Hunstanton-bound again.

Here the trail was now so straight you could calibrate a compass by it. The surface became challenging though. Tussocky grass and mild inclines made for draining progress while deep, muddy ruts and undulations along the multi tracked bed (no doubt the product of scrambling bikes using the route) further hampered out progress. Here, Sophie started to struggle on her tyres which lacked a sufficiently aggressive tread. I had the advantage of fatter boots and the larger wheels so the Ogre just about ploughed onwards.

After the climbs came some fairly rapid descents and I sped off jumping like some BMX bandit reliving a misspent youth. Benefitting from more common sense that I, the sandy sections again caused Sophie to exercise caution as her tyres were found wanting on the loose stuff. Her hands were raw too from the trail buzz which underlined the stony progress in places – cinder paths this ‘aint.

We pressed on, the trail providing a green vein amid intensively tended fields and occasional pockets of heathland. After reaching the affluent homes of Ringstead it was simply a case of dropping into Hunstanton on the road. A note of caution here, avoid the A149 if you can as it is seemingly full of blinkered motorists craning their necks for the sea.

We had both been fantasising about fish and chips for the last hour. As we hungrily sought a suitable fryer we bumped into a Lancastrian gent who wanted to talk bikes – he was particularly taken with my muddy Ogre propped against my leg. It became clear rather quickly that is was not going to be a speedy exchange but I struggled to find a natural break in the chat in order to weed my way out. A gentle, surreptitious foot tap on my front wheel from Sophie underlined the need to make my excuses.

Eventually, our friend relented but gave us a good tip for a lunchtime fish supper – Supafry. It was perhaps too plentiful yet rather fine.

We still had a ways to go. In order to make a connecting service back to Cambridge, we needed to get to Kings Lynn. I suggested we follow NCN Route One and this proved to be a decent choice, albeit the first few miles crossing some fairly lumpy country. The inclines had a wee bit more piquancy after the hefty lunch but the miles rumbled under our wheels at good pace. We stopped at Sandringham for a quick resupply and the route soon delivered us via a series of snickets, jitties and ginnels to the railway station.

Some thoughts on the bikes

peddars-way-finalThe Ogre, heavy and ugly as ever, was a capable ride for this route. The Halo Twin Rails handled everything thrown at them reinforcing their position as my favourite all-roads tyre (thanks again to Tim at Life in the Cycle Lane for the introduction). Everything worked as it should, the Rohloff drivetrain reassuringly silent despite the chain being clogged with mud.

Sophie’s Camino was also a fine choice for this route although her tyres – Schwalbe G One’s – were found wanting in the mud and sand. Her Alpkit seat pack was a wee bit troublesome too given the Velcro straps did not fit around her seat tube, curious as the bike is supplied by the company. I think this is more a reflection of the size of her frame (tiny). There is very little clearance between the bag and rear tyre suggesting that some kind of rack or support is the only truly safe way to proceed with a bike of these proportions.

In a nutshell

Peddars Way. 46 miles, 750m of ascent. Take plenty of food – Be prepared for more challenging cycling in the northern sections – Don’t be put off wildcamping or bivvying as the potential spots are numerous – We took two days at a leisurely pace but a reasonably fit cyclist should complete this route in 6-7 hours – Bear in mind you need to pedal to or from your chosen public transport point at Hunstanton, in our case adding 18 miles.

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