Let’s face it, the Surly adventure and touring bike lineup is overwhelming. Almost everything Surly makes has provision for racks and gear storage; there is an insane amount of model cross over. Given that Surly’s can be found in most regions of the world, I’ve written this article to help you narrow down your choices. This information should also be super practical for choosing between other similar bikes too.
Today, I’ll be focussing on 10 different Surly models. These bikes suit everything from road touring to gnarly backcountry singletrack.
Which Surlys Will We Be Comparing?
ECR, Ogre, Troll, Bridge Club, Disc Trucker, Pack Rat
Straggler, Midnight Special
Krampus, Karate Monkey
Terrain & Tyre Size
When deciding on a style of touring bike, the best place to start is with tyre and wheel specification. What kind of terrain will you need your Surly to handle? Are you going to need a bike that can fit both knobby mountain bike tyres as well as fast slicks? For the record, there is no ‘best’ wheel size; you’ll always have to trade off rolling resistance with grip and comfort. A 700c or 29″ slick tyre often has half the rolling resistance of a plus tyre, allowing you to ride further with the same pedalling effort, but will obviously not be able to keep up on technical terrain. Click HERE for the best bikepacking tire options and HERE for the best of Schwalbe’s touring slicks.
ECR 29 x 3.00″ (M-XL) – Krampus 29 x 3.00″
For rough trails, this is the option that will roll over objects with the smallest ‘angle of attack’. 29+ works out to be fastest over rocks, and with the increased tire footprint and volume, you’ll find them to be supremely grippy too. This tyre specification will be best if you’re almost exclusively touring on rough terrain.
ECR 27.5 x 3.00″ (XS-M) – Ogre 27.5 x 3.00″ – Karate Monkey 27.5 x 3.00″ – Bridge Club 27.5 x 2.80″
This is the most popular plus-sized option as the wheel and tire diameter works out to be the equivalent of a regular 29″ wheel. As a result, you can have one bike that will fit both a plus wheelset for rough/sandy trails, and a 29″ wheelset for smoother dirt tracks – ultimately, allowing you to perfectly optimise your tyres to your intended off-road terrain.
Ogre 29 x 2.60″ – Karate Monkey 29 x 2.50″
For general off-road use, the fastest option is undoubtedly a 29-inch mountain bike wheelset. With a broad range of widths (2.00 to 2.60″), you should be able to find a tire that’s both quick on dirt roads and also very capable the trails.
Disc Trucker 700c x 45mm (sizes 56-64cm) – Midnight Special 700c x 42mm – Straggler 700c x 42mm (sizes 52-62cm)
Although the rim diameter is identical to 29″, the 700c nomenclature is used for tyres narrower than 2.00 inches in width. In general, you’ll find 700c tyres will have a speed advantage on smoother road surfaces when compared to the other wheel options, which is why you’ll find them on most traditional touring bikes.
Midnight Special 27.5 x 2.35″ – Straggler 650b x 42mm (sizes 38-58cm) – Pack Rat 650b x 48mm (sizes 52-58cm)
Not too many off-road bikepacking bikes are built around this wheel size, however, a growing number of drop bar bikes can accommodate tyres in the 27.5 x 2.00-2.40″ range. This wheel size offers a decent number of slick tyre options too, which will be nice if you’d like a bike that can be transformed from speed machine to dirt track warrior. Bikes that fit these tyres can often also be interchangeably used with 700c x 35-45mm wheelsets too (the Midnight Special is a prime example) – I’ll cover Surly wheel compatibility below under “custom builds”.
Troll 26 x 3.00″ – Disc Trucker 26 x 2.10″ (sizes 42-58cm) – Pack Rat 26 x 2.00″ (sizes 38-50cm)
A decade ago, the standard size for bike travel was 26 inch. There are still a few 26″ touring bikes getting about, but they’re becoming less common by the year. One great reason to choose 26″ is if you’re not particularly tall, as these bikes will often offer a more suitable bike fit.
The handlebar grips are two-out-of-five attachment points between your body and the bike, and arguably, they’re also the two most important. It’s these points which largely determine how well you can balance and manoeuvre your bike. Working against your bike manoeuvrability and balance is any style of front luggage (panniers, bikepacking bags, handlebar bag, cargo cages) which increases the amount of ‘steering effort’ required to change your bike’s direction.
The best possible way to combat heavier steering is by fitting a wider handlebar to your bike. Wide bars increase the steering leverage up front, which allows you to maintain a light steering feel, even with a front load. As a result, you can expect better bike control at high speeds (thanks to the quicker steering inputs) and low speeds (thanks to the micro adjustments you can make to help with your balance). This is most noticeable when you’re climbing slowly up a hill, or when you need to quickly avoid something on the road while travelling at speed.
I typically recommend fitting a Surly Moloko, VO Crazy Bar or Jones Loop handlebar because they have ample hand positions. These bars even have holds to mimic the brake hoods of a drop handlebar. You can check out my nine reasons why touring bikes are better with flat bars HERE.
Flat Bar Surly Models w/ Longer Frames
ECR, Ogre, Troll, Bridge Club, Krampus, Karate Monkey
Drop Bar Surly Models w/ Shorter Frames
Disc Trucker, Pack Rat, Straggler, Midnight Special
Flatbar and Dropbar Conversions
People have fitted drop bars to almost all Surly models, no matter whether they’ve been designed for that or not. Many Long Haul Trucker and Disc Trucker models have been fitted with flat bars too. As frame lengths vary depending on their intended handlebar style, the key to doing a bar swap like this is to size your flat bar bike DOWN to fit a drop bar, and to size UP to fit a flat bar on a drop bar bike.
Gear Ratios & Drivetrain
If you’re into exploring anywhere with hills, pay close attention. Low gear ratios are absolutely paramount for being able to ride all day with limited muscle fatigue. It’s the times when you start to really grind the pedals when you put the most stress on your body – it doesn’t matter if you’re a strong rider or not, you’ll fatigue quickly in this state. I typically recommend a low climbing gear of less than 20 gear inches, as this specification allows you to maintain a pedalling cadence of 60RPM up most hills. You can learn more about gear inches and what they mean HERE.
17-92″ Bridge Club (2x)
17-78″ ECR 27+ (1x)
18-82″ ECR 29+ (1x)
19-115″ Troll (3x)
20-119″ Surly Disc Trucker (3x)
21-82″ Krampus (1x)
21-78″ Karate Monkey (1x)
22-85″ Ogre (1x)
27-105″ Straggler (1x)
28-86″ Pack Rat (1x)
29-126″ Midnight Special (2x)
If you’re not familiar with frame geometry numbers, it’ll pay to check out my article on understanding bike geometry HERE.
Touring Geometry // Troll, Ogre, ECR, Bridge Club, Disc Trucker, Straggler
These frames offer stability first and foremost. This is achieved by employing a slower steering response and longer wheelbase in particular. Bikes with touring geometry also tend to use stiffer frame tubing to resist the twisting forces of a front and rear load. You can increase the stability of a loaded touring bike by pairing them with a wide handlebar.
Road Geometry // Midnight Special, Pack Rat
These drop bar frames are designed with sharp handling in mind. Their steering speed is quick and is matched to relatively short wheelbases which keep the bike nimble. They tend to handle best with a light front load (5kg or so) and although they have provision for a rear rack, their short chainstays (410mm) can cause heel clearance issues if you were thinking of using rear panniers (a solution is the Axiom Streamliner DLX rack, however).
Trail Geometry // Krampus, Karate Monkey
These frames are optimised to descend steep, technical terrain. This is achieved by extending the ‘front centre’ of the frame and reducing the ‘chainstay’ length, bringing the rider’s centre of mass closer to the rear of the bike (thereby reducing how easy it is to go over the bars). The short chainstays also allow the front of the bike to easily be lifted over obstacles. With the longer top tube lengths comes the need for these bikes to use shorter stem lengths, which increases the sensitivity of the steering.
Surly bikes all fall in the US $1000-2000 price point. This is undoubtedly where you’ll find the best value-for-money because you get high-durability parts, decent performance and all of the nice touring features.
$1200 Bridge Club
$1475 Pack Rat
$1550 Disc Trucker
$1550 Karate Monkey
$2000 Midnight Special
Surly offer all of their touring bikes as a frameset only (with the exception of the Bridge Club). And they are all very affordable considering what you get. For some ideas on a ’round-the-world custom touring build list, check out what I did with a Surly Ogre HERE.
$515 Pack Rat
$525 Disc Trucker
The following framesets can be built up with a choice of wheel sizes:
$600 Troll – 700x47c, 27.5×2.4″ or 26×3.0″
$625 Midnight Special – 700x42c or 27.5×2.35″
$650 Ogre – 29×2.6″ or 27.5×3.0″
$675 Karate Monkey – 29×2.5 or 27.5×3.0″
Summary and My Picks
I’m hoping my line of reasoning has helped you to narrow down your options sufficiently.
1. Choose the most suitable tyre size for your style of travel
2. Choose your handlebars
3. Understand which gear ratios will suit your terrain and load
4. Make sure the bike’s frame geometry matches your use
5. Find something that suits your budget
Which Surly would I pick?
– I’d pick the Bridge Club for anything majority off-road (it still rolls quickly with Schwalbe Super Moto-X slicks)
– I’d go the Disc Trucker for anything majority on-road (with a handlebar swap to a VO Crazy Bar or Surly Moloko)
– If I was building up a custom ’round-the-world Surly I’d pick the Ogre and spec it like THIS
– If I wanted a bike for mountain bike trails (with bikepacking on the side) I’d pick the Karate Monkey
I think these bikes all have suitable gear ratios and tyre widths for their intended uses. They’re also on the lower end of the Surly pricing spectrum, in particular, the Bridge Club at US $1200. The Bridge Club is probably the most versatile bike too – capable of really rough off-road trails, as well as long road miles (using slick tyres) without needing to swap out the wheelset.
Let me know if you have any further questions. 👍🏻