2021 Surly Disc Trucker

The New 2021 Surly Disc Trucker: My Honest Thoughts

The Surly Trucker touring bikes are probably the most recognisable touring bikes in the world. Go to any popular cycling destination, and you’ll find a handful of people riding them. Jump on Instagram, and lots of folks are using them for their cross-continental trips. With so many happy users, there’s no doubt they’re great bikes.

Annnnd now, there’s a fresh update on the 2021 Surly Disc Trucker for us to analyse – the first update in eight years.

I’ve actually used a Surly Trucker to cycle across dozens of countries, covering in excess of 50,000km – so I am very familiar with the bike. In fact, my Trucker was the first touring bike I purchased as a 19-year-old, eager to start exploring the world!

This article will outline all of the changes, and I’ll provide my honest thoughts on the implications of this update.

The 2021 Surly Disc Trucker At A Glance

The 2021 update gets:

  • 20-30mm taller frames
  • 30mm taller handlebar
  • 12mm thru-axles
  • 5mm extra tyre clearance
  • User-friendly STI shifters
  • Additional fork mounting points
  • Internal fork dynamo wiring
  • TRP Spyre brakes

The 2021 update loses:

  • Shimano 3X10 gearing with a Shimano XT derailleur
  • Bar-end shifters
  • 8mm standover height in smaller frame sizes
  • The 11-36t cassette (now 11-34t)
  • 36 spoke wheels (now 32)
  • The $1550 price (now $1675)

Updated Frame Geometry

You can see that the geometry has changed very little overall, with the exception of the stack height.

The frame has had a few geometry tweaks, the most notable is the increase in stack height.

Stack height is the height difference from the bottom bracket shell to the top of the head tube. This height has gone up by 20-30mm (~1″) on all sizes, which will reduce the number of headset spacers required to get your handlebars to a suitably upright position.

It’s nice to see 48cm wide drop bars on the bigger bike sizes to squeeze a bit more steering leverage from the bike.

In addition, the Disc Trucker comes with a Surly Truck Stop handlebar that features 30mm of rise. When combined with the taller stack, the end result is 5 or 6 fewer headset spacers – that’s a win.

As a bike with a taller stack tends to increase the frame standover, Surly has added more top tube slope on the 700C bikes, to ensure the standover remains the same. But unfortunately, the standover is actually ~8mm taller for the riders who usually need it most (42-56cm frames), so smaller cyclists – take note.

Surly has also taken 10mm from the chainstay length to make the bike a little bit more agile. I don’t think this is a win for a dedicated touring bike, but it makes the bike feel a touch more nimble without a load.

The frame geometry is otherwise essentially the same as previously.

12mm Thru Axles and Flat Mounts

Surly has followed Kona’s lead with an update from quick-release wheels to 12mm thru-axles and flat-mount disc brake calipers. This format is standard on road disc and gravel bikes and is presumedly going to be even more widespread on touring bikes in the future.

Flat-mount is a pretty neat standard, it certainly looks better, but there is one key downside – you cannot use rotors larger than 160mm. A 180mm diameter front rotor is a nice upgrade on a thru-axle bike, especially for those with a bike+body+gear weight on the higher side.

Although 12mm hubs are not commonplace in developing countries, hub failures are uncommon, so I don’t actually see this as a negative. In the case of a rim or spoke failure, you can always find someone to re-build your existing hubs into a new rim.

A cool thing about this new axle standard is that you can pair it with the super-powerful Shimano UR-705 dynamo hub. This hub has been tested to offer the most output power at low speeds of any dynamo hub. That’s great for lighting and charging!

The Disc Trucker’s thru-axle design is pretty handy to use too, as it has one open dropout so that you can unscrew the axle a few times, and drop your wheel out without taking the axle out completely.

Lots of Fork Luggage Options

2021 Surly Disc Trucker

The fork now has three-pack mounts for cargo cage bags, and internal routing for a dynamo cable. You can also fit the Surly Porteur racks to the fork crown, giving you many luggage solutions up front – baskets, porteur bags, panniers and cargo cages.

No Kickstand Frame Mounts

Unfortunately, the Disc Trucker still does not have a dedicated kickstand mount, but there is an adapter plate which is included with the bike.

While kickstand mounts are on literally every European touring bike, I have no idea why North American manufacturers don’t make it easy to fit one. I use my kickstand 50 times per day to quickly take photos, pack my bags, organise my bags or park my bike.

I don’t mind having no kickstand on a bikepacking rig because you can lean your bike on the ground to your handlebar. But when it comes to using panniers, a kickstand is a must, in my opinion.

Shimano 9-Speed STI Shifters

The Disc Trucker previously came with a 3X10 drivetrain, using a Shimano XT rear derailleur and bar-end shifters. For 2021, the bike has unfortunately been downgraded to Shimano Alivio. Let me remind you of the hierarchy from top to bottom – XTR, XT, SLX, Deore, Alivio, Acera and Altus.

This is currently the best solution if a manufacturer wants to fit user-friendly integrated shifters. The Sora shifters are reliable these days, but I’d prefer to see the higher-spec 30-speed drivetrain with bar-end shifters on this bike as it will offer smoother shifts, and in my experience, will work much better in nasty weather conditions.

Another solution is to fit Shimano 11-speed shifters with a GRX derailleur and a mix of Shimano SLX parts. You’ll get much lower gears again, but I suspect this would bump up the price by a fair bit.

In terms of climbing gears, the lowest gear is 19.7″ with a 26″ wheel, and 20.9″ with a 700C wheel. For reference, 20 inches or less is what we’re looking for on a touring bike. If you do find the stock gears a bit high, the good news is that you can swap out the front chainrings, or the cassette to one with a 36-tooth cog, which probably should have been fitted from the factory.

26″ and 700C Wheels

The rims have an internal diameter which is 3mm wider (21mm) than previously, making them perfectly adequate for 40-50mm touring tyre. They’re also now tubeless-ready.

Unfortunately, the wheels look to have been reduced to 32 spokes (according to the bike pictures; the text claims 36 spokes), so they aren’t quite as burly as they could be, although I don’t think this is a dealbreaker because the Alex Adventurer rims are pretty solid.

Surly offers 26″ wheels in the smaller sized bikes – that’s 42cm right up to 56cm. 26-inch is often touted as being the best for developing countries, but from my experience in Latin America over the last few years, 27.5″ and 29″ are definitely the most common sizes as they’re readily found on entry-level mountain bikes. Finding low quality 26″ tyres and rims is no problem, but when I last went shopping with a friend to find a good quality 26″ tyre, we came back empty-handed.

With the 56cm bike, you get two wheel size options, then from 58cm up to 64cm, you’ll be on 700C wheels.

The maximum tyre width with fenders is 26 x 2.1″ and 700c x 47mm. It would’ve been nice to see a similar clearance to the Salsa Marrakesh or the Kona Sutra.

It’s worth noting that Surly has a fantastic size range, with 10 frame sizes rather than the 4-6 sizes that are typical. The 42cm bike is one of the smallest touring bikes available and the 64cm bike is now one of the biggest touring bikes you can buy, suiting riders over 2-metres tall.

2021 Surly Disc Trucker

The bike has been upgraded to the best cable disc brakes in town, that’s the TRP Spyre. These cable disc brakes are one of the only models to pull both brake pads in at the same time. Otherwise, you’ll find Surly ExtraTerrestrial tyres and a high-quality sealed bearing Cane Creek headset.

The price jumps up to US $1675, which is in-line with similarly spec’d bikes, the Salsa Marrakesh and the Trek 520, but is a couple of hundred more than the Kona Sutra.

If you want to do your own build, you can also get the frameset for US $725.

The 2021 Surly Disc Trucker Summary

The 2021 update gets:

  • 20-30mm taller frames
  • 30mm taller handlebar
  • 12mm thru-axles
  • 5mm extra tyre clearance
  • User-friendly STI shifters
  • Additional fork mounting points
  • TRP Spyre brakes

The 2021 update loses:

  • Shimano 3X10 gearing with a Shimano XT derailleur
  • Bar-end shifters
  • 8mm standover height in smaller frame sizes
  • The 11-36t cassette (now 11-34t)
  • The $1550 price (now $1675)

My Honest Thoughts

The frame geometry is as good as ever, it’s still available in a very wide size range, and I love that the stack height is now much more appropriate for touring. The 12mm thru-axle standard future-proofs the bike and will suit the super-powerful Shimano UR-705 dynamo hub.

On the topic of future-proofing, I think 27.5″ wheels would’ve been the smarter option in the smaller sizes.

While the Shimano Sora shifters have proven themselves to be very reliable, I think the previous 3X10 drivetrain offer a much better performance for the price. I can see why Surly picked a lower spec drivetrain with integrated shifters – they’re just a bit more user friendly. The bike definitely should have carried over a cassette with a 36-tooth rear cog.

As the Trucker frames have never felt as laterally stiff as other touring bikes, I would’ve loved to have seen some larger diameter steel top tubes and down tubes. A rear KSA-18 kickstand mount would’ve been a very welcome addition, and a bit more tyre clearance with fenders would’ve been appreciated – just enough to get my favourite slick touring tyre in, the 700c x 50mm Schwalbe Almotion.

The 2021 Surly Disc Trucker is a great bike and with its reputation, it will be as popular as ever. But with more tyre clearance, a better spec and a lower price, the Kona Sutra is still my number one pick for the touring bikes in this category.

Want To Compare The Surly Disc Trucker With Dozens of Others?

Check out The Touring Bicycle Buyer’s Guide which compares touring bike steering, sizing, gear ratios, specification, pricing and more. The Bikepacking Bike Buyer’s Guide does the same thing, however, with a focus on lighter bikes and models with more off-road capability. Both of these guides are updated annually with the latest models at no extra cost!

Helpful Resources

All About Touring Bike Brakes
Frame Materials for Bicycle Touring
How to Select Touring Bike Gearing
Understand Bicycle Frame Geometry
What’s the Difference between Cyclocross and Touring Bikes?

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