Surly’s Straggler is a sturdily built and eminently adaptable steel all-rounder. It boasts a handful of interesting design touches, an unusual amount of tyre room, plentiful luggage rack mounts and a very comfy ride. It has a strong bias towards rough roads and trail use, but weight-weenies should look away now.
If you’re not sure why Surly’s bikes are dramatically different from the mainstream, take a look at their info-packed website www.surlybikes.com. It explains a hell of a lot about their design and build philosophy. It’s a very enjoyable read that takes you way beyond the marketing jargon you usually find on a bike maker’s website.
The Straggler is effectively a new approach to one of Surly’s most popular all-rounder bikes, the Cross-Check. The Straggler has disc brakes instead of the Cross-Check’s cantilevers, adding extra appeal for serious off road use, fully loaded touring or, in a perfect world, a combination of the two. Both are built around the kind of purposeful, adaptable and durable framesets Surly are known for, in this case inspired by cyclo-cross and touring applications, but the discs add to the Straggler’s appeal as a true all-rounder.
There are other instant appeal factors in the frame design too. The rear dropouts are 135mm wide (mountain bike standard) and have a screw adjusters so you can use a single speed or hub geared wheel or simply to slide the wheel back for extra clearance around big tyres. There’s already far more tyre room than on most cyclo cross or touring bikes.
Frame fittings include threaded bosses, doubled up on the fork dropouts, for full mudguards and every common type of front and rear pannier rack plus two sets of bottle cage bosses.
As per usual with Surly, there are loads of closely spaced sizes to choose from, ten to be precise, from 42cm to 64cm. All get a 72 degree head angle, with seat angles ranging from 75 degrees on the 42 to 72 on the 64. Our test bike is a 56cm (22in) with a horizontal top tube length of 58cm.
The frame shape is unusual. The top tube slopes down slightly to the head tube, which in turn extends about 2cm above the top tube. With the 30mm stack of washers on the steerer that gives you an option of a very high or very low handlebar position and good standover clearance.
The Surly guys are refreshingly honest in how they describe the Straggler.
They say: “It’s a day tripper and a weekender. It’s a ‘rough road’ road bike. It’s a cyclocross bike with no pretense about racing. It’s a utilitarian townie. It’s a light-duty touring bike. It’s an all-weather commuter. And when you get tired of one set up, you can swap parts around and turn it into something else.”
It’s that all purpose adaptability that’s the key to its attraction. And that adaptability means it’s built to take a beating on all types of terrain, whether it’s laden with bags or stripped down to the metal and rubber.
I tested the standard build from Surly’s UK distributor Ison Distribution. It weighed in at 11.9kg/26.5lb without pedals. That’s pretty close to the weight of a rigid forked mountain bike at around this price but not as capable as a mountain bike on really demanding terrain.
The Straggler’s obvious rough roads and trails bias makes that comparison inevitable. It bridges mountain bike, cyclocross bike and touring bike, with both positive and negative aspects of all three.
Most of its positive attributes are centred on the fact that it’s obviously built for durability, so you’re not going to be interested if you’re a weight watcher.
The 4130 chromoly steel tubes are cleanly TIG-welded, the main triangle is double butted, the chunky 4130 chromoly fork has a lugged crown and dropouts with curved butted blades fitted with dual rack eyelets.
If you have your own ideas about how you’d want to equip the Straggler, you could start with a frame and fork for £449.99, but the complete bike package is very thoughtfully equipped and looks like a good starting point for the sort of bike that could theoretically tackle pretty much any terrain you choose to ride it over.
Surly’s Knard 41mm knobbly tyres are a strong indicators towards its intended territory, but there’s nothing to stop you fitting skinny treads if your bias is more towards road use.
Inevitably it’s not a particular fast bike on the road with the 41mm tyres fitted, although it is remarkably comfortable and the Knard’s tread pattern features a round close-knobbed profile that runs surprisingly quickly on tarmac.
The weight means that climbing on the road is more sluggish than on a skinny tyred aluminium or carbon framed cyclo-cross bike, but it bears comparison with other steel-framed touring bikes. The Straggler’s high-speed handling on descents is massively confident in places where you’re not quite sure what the surface is going to present you with.
The tyres are fat enough to allow you to run them fairly soft off road for more control and comfort, but you’ll quickly become aware of the limits when the going gets overly rocky or rooty. But away from truly difficult mountain bike terrain its trail handling is superb.
The combined wheel and tyre diameter is 28.5in, an inch more than on a typical cyclocross bike and that helps in terms of creating an easier roll over the bumps, but there’s still plenty room for mudguards.
The finishing detail of complete bike packages is well thought out. The parts package uses wheels with tough Alex DX-Lite eyeleted rims, 32 black stainless spokes and Surly’s own hubs, allen bolted up front, quick release at the back.
The Shimano drivetrain mixes a 46/34 cyclocross crankset with Tiagra shifters and rear mech, CX70 front mech and an 11-32 ten speed cassette, a good option for off road use or laden touring.
The brakes are the well proven and easy to adjust Avid BB7 cable pull discs, with full outer cables. The seat post and stem are from Kalloy; the saddle from Velo; and the handlebar the compact drop and slightly flared Salsa Cowbell.
If you don’t like the ‘Glitter Dreams’ sparkling finish of our test bike you could go for the much more conservative ‘Closet Black’.
The Straggler has a rock solid character in terms of both handling and have a go at anything durability. Sure, there are times when it feels like a bit of a lump, typically when you’re trying to keep up with a bunch of mates on skinny-rib road bikes. But there are also times when its steamroller personality becomes very welcome.
On trails it’s inevitably much less skittish than a lightweight race bred cyclocross bike, and that’ll give you confidence to explore further afield. With a fast rolling set of touring tyres, it’ll be competing for desirability honours with lots of traditional touring bikes.
The braking is better than a lot of other disc equipped cross-bred bikes because it doesn’t flutter or judder: that’s presumably down to the hefty build of the fork and the bracing tube between the stays out back; adding weight has pros as well as cons.
The Straggler is a bike for those who value a comfortable non competitive ride and a lot of adaptability in one bike. It’s not for those who obsess about weight or who are always in a rush.
It could even be the only bike you need to own if you’re an all-round rider of the type who currently owns half a dozen bikes and is trying to trim the fleet back to a sensible number.
You might still need that fast road bike, though. Oh, and the mountain bike, and, and, and...
Wonderfully versatile all-rounder that can hit the trails, the streets or the long-haul open road; it might be the only bike you need, except for all the others.
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Make and model: Surly Straggler
Size tested: 56
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
4130 Chromoly Steel frame and fork. Alex DX-Kite rims on Surly hubs with Surly Knard 41mm tyres. Shimano 46/34 cyclocross crankset, Tiagra shifters & rear mech, 11-32 cassette (10), Salso Cowbell handlebar, Kalloy seat post & stem, Velo saddle
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Surly says "So what is this Straggler anyway? The easy answer is to say that we added disc brakes to a Cross-Check and this is close to accurate. People have asked us to make a disc version of our highly versatile Cross-Check for a long time now and almost everything about the two are very similar. Straggler is slightly different, though.
The most obvious difference of course is that the Straggler has disc caliper mounts instead of rim brake studs. It'll accept rotors up to 160mm. The rear dropouts are unique, too. They're a partially closed horizontal design that accommodates singlespeed or geared drivetrains. They feature stop screws that thread in from the rear to further secure the wheel and to position the rear wheel for optimal shifting, plus a forward-mounted stop screw on the drive side to keep the wheel from slipping forward under the force of your gargantuan legs. The rear dropouts are spaced 135mm instead of 132.5mm like the Cross-Check simply because there are far more options for disc hubs in this spacing.
Straggler shares all of the Cross-Check's braze-ons for fenders, racks and bottle cages. The Straggler's geometry is slightly different, with angles and tube lengths very close but not identical to the Cross-Check, but like the Cross-Check it's ready to take you just about anywhere. It's a day tripper and a weekender. It's a 'rough road' road bike. It's a cyclocross bike with no pretense about racing. It's a utilitarian townie. It's a light-duty touring bike. It's an all-weather commuter. And when you get tired of one set up, you can swap parts around and turn it into something else. We think that's pretty neat."
We reckon that's a pretty honest assessment.
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Well, it's more feature laden than any other bike of this type and the build quality appears to be excellent.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Surly's 4130 chromoly frame and fork tubes emphasise toughness over lightness.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
72 degree head angle on all sizes. Seat angles vary to accommodate different stretch needs on different sizes.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
For those who like a relaxed ride posture with a comfortably efficient stretch, spot on.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Very comfortable. Most bikes with 41mm tyres are comfy, but the frameset structure and ride posture add to this.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Very efficient but inevitably the big tyres add a little squish on the road.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
No. Loads of room.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Relaxed and neutral.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Very easy going handling feel. Certainly not race bred, but great with or without luggage.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Nice big (but surprisingly fast rolling) tyres. Everyone liked the slightly flared Salsa Cowbell handlebar, and the long wheel base makes stability a highlight.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Commuters and tarmac fans would mainly want faster tyres. Habitual off road riders will love it as it is.
Weight drags at times.
Weight a downside.
Amazingly stable with and without luggage.
Great stability when meandering in traffic.
Climbs like many other 26.5lb bikes!
No moans at all.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
There'll be riders who'll want smaller and bigger gears but we think the range is ideal for the sort of rider the bike is aimed at.
Well built wheels. Tyres fine for a mix of on and off road use.
The emphasis is on durability rather than low weight.
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
Everyone will have their own ideas about perfect wheels and tyres on the Straggler. The Knard 41s are not quick on the road, although they roll surprisingly well for a tyre designed for frequent off road use.
Love the Salsa Cowbell bar.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The Cowbell bar comes in narrower and wider widths on different sizes.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes, very much.
Would you consider buying the bike? If I was looking for one bike that can theoretically do anything, yes.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes.
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
There are obviously faster and lighter road bikes around, and mountain bikes that lend themselves better to off road riding. The Straggler lies somewhere in between, closer to being a load hauling touring bike. It's especially suitable for occasional off road jaunts and can happily take skinnier tyres if you're going to commute or do fast club runs on it.
Age: 58 Height: 181 Weight: 78kg
I usually ride: Merlin Ti My best bike is: Ibis Silk SL
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb,