I've long been an admirer of Surly's Long Haul Trucker, so I was well pleased to have a chance to play with the disc equipped version. The downside is that I've got to give it back.
The Trucker is one of those understated 'do-anything' bikes. It's happy hauling rider and luggage on anything from a commute to a round the world tour. The version we tested was the slightly more unusual 26" wheel version, which does make the frame look a little gappy, even in a medium 54cm size. I'll come to that later.
Surly's marketing and branding may be a little too cutesy and hip for some, but the bikes have a good rep for being practical and unfussy. The Trucker amply demonstrates this, with a non-nonsense steel frame in humble 4130.
It's tough, rides well and of course can be repaired by pretty much anyone with a welder. Build quality is excellent with nice tidy welds and the paint job is also very good, with little or no flaking. The graphics are less tough, being decals that have been applied on top of the paint, and the head badge is just glued on. It's not the end of the world but a half scraped off decal does look a bit scruffy.
The frame has all the braze-ons you'd ever need, three sets of bottle mounts, low-rider mounts on the fork and sensibly placed rear mounts that don't foul the discs. There is also a pump peg on the head tube, but you'll need a monster pump to make use of it. Spoke carriers on the seat stay, fully loaded with a pair of spares, are a nice touch.
That gappy frame isn't just a design quirk. Surly proudly trumpet their FFF – Fatties Fit Fine – technology, which basically means you can stick honking great tyres onto your bike with no problem. Riding on relatively skinny 1.5' rubber and with no mudguards it's no wonder the frame looks a little spacious.
The observant might notice the drilled brake bridge and fork crown and ponder the possibility of sticking in a pair of 700c wheels and converting to drop brakes. We checked with Surly (via the very helpful Patrick at distributors Ison) and these drillings are for mudguards only.
They also told us that the frames are definitely specific to wheelsize (it might seem obvious, but we like to check these things) and dropping in the wrong wheels would result in woe, turmoil and the end of days. Well, it would if things like a crossbar wedged up your bum crack and dodgy handling are your idea of Ragnarok. According to Surly 'Surly has not tested this, and it is not endorsed,' and that sounds pretty damn terrifying to me.
The Trucker has a well chosen spec. There are no attention grabbing components, but equally no money has been scrimped on important bits like brakes in order to provide flashy but less-than-vital parts, unlike the Raleigh Sojourn I tested a few months ago, which trumpeted a Brooks saddle and bar-tape but at the expense of obvious cost savings elsewhere.
I'd go as far as to say that the spec on the Trucker feels like that of a bike that has been built up from a bare frame. If I have a criticism it's that you don't get extras like a rack and mudguards. Surly say it's because they want to leave that choice to their customers, but I think that's a bit of a cop-out. A decent rack and 'guards supplied as standard would add value without adding greatly to the cost and they aren't bits that people get terribly precious about.
The highlight of the spec, for me anyway, was the Shimano bar end shifters. This was my first experience of bar ends and although the awkward cable-loops look ugly the levers were a delight to use. The left hand shifter is friction only, so the front mech can be trimmed to suit any gear combination, while the right hand one is indexed and changes gear with a lovely tactile clunk. It's much, much more pleasing to use than a regular STI, although I'd be concerned about how vulnerable the levers are to falls, parking incidents and the occasional nudge from an errant knee.
The rest of the 9spd drive-train is well chosen and practical. Shimano Deore LX for the rear mech, Sora for the front (does anyone ever need a more expensive front mech?) and a handsome 48/36/26 chainset from Andel set on a practical and easily replaced square taper BB.
Gearing is designed with the tourist in mind and although the bike is surprisingly rapid, faster riders will find they run out of gears quite quickly on downhill stretches.
The smaller wheels lower the gearing even further and with an 11-32 cassette you get a tiny bottom gear of just over 20 inches, ideal for fully loaded touring and winching up some of the 25%'ers round Devon.
Surly pointed out that the frame is also Rohloff compatible, using Surly's own OEM 2 plate, which acts as a chain tensioner. Nice to know if you're building up the uber-tourer.
Another high point is the tyres. Our test bike came with Continental Comfort Contact tyres rather than the Michelin tyres that Surly list. The Contis are a wire beaded budget tyre, but they roll extremely well and feel both fast and comfortable. The Kona Ute I tested a few years ago had similar tyres and they also impressed me.
Braking is taken care of by Avid's BB7 mechanical discs. I've ridden these on several bikes, including my everyday workhorse Dew Drop and they never fail to impress. Performance far outstrips any rim brake I've ever tried and they are dead easy to adjust, with a dial on both sides of the caliper. The pads are hard wearing too – I've done nearly 4000 miles so far on crappy Devon roads and they don't need replacing yet.
The only part that I'd swap out is the WTB SST Comp saddle, which seems to be a well-liked budget mtb saddle. It was fine for long day rides, but on the second day of a 200 mile weekend the rounded profile felt like it was punching me firmly in the nethers. A flatter saddle would be better, but as saddles are very much a personal choice I wouldn't be too critical.
Although this is a touring and expedition bike it is also an absolute hoot to ride. The angles are relaxed, but there's nothing stodgy or sluggish about it, helped by the fact that small wheels really do accelerate faster than big ones.
I commuted and audaxed on it and if it had been fitted with mudguards I'd have happily done more than the 600 odd miles I ended up doing. The cockpit is on the high side, typical of a touring setup, but the spacer stack and upturned stem give you ample opportunity to drop things quite a long way should you wish.
The skinny bars, in a 42cm width, give a comfortable ride and thanks to the bar end shifters it's easy to fit a bar bag as there are no pesky STI cables in the way. The Tektro brake levers lack the internal gubbins of an STI unit and are consequently a little on the narrow side, which makes them a slightly less comfortable platform for riding on but it's not a big deal.
At a full retail price of £1199 this isn't a cheap bike by any means, highlighted by the lack of essential extras like a rack and mudguards. You can't deny that Surly is a niche brand with an inevitable premium, but equally you can't deny that this is a very good frame, built up into a great bike. Of all the touring bikes I've ridden in the last year (including the super high-end Tout Terrain Grande Route and the Dawes Super Galaxy that I haven't actually written up yet) the Surly is the one I would actually spend money on.
Overall this is a super practical bike and much more fun to ride than you might expect.
Very well thought out tourer with bags of character.
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Make and model: Surly Disc Trucker
Size tested: Super dark green, 26
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
100% Surly 4130 CroMoly steel. Main triangle double-butted. TIG-welded
Crankset Andel RSC6 , 26/36/48t. Square taper interface. Black
Bottom Bracket Shimano UN-54 , Square taper interface. 68 x 118mm
Front Derailleur Shimano Sora , FD-3403. Silver
Rear Derailleur Shimano LX , T661SGS. Black
Cog or Cogset Shimano HG-50 , 11-13-15-17-20-23-26-30-32t
Chain SRAM PC-971 , Silver. 116 links
Headset Cane Creek 40 , 1-1/8" threadless. Black
Brakes Avid BB7 mountain , Cable actuated. 160mm rotors front & rear
Brake Lever Tektro RL520 , Drop bar levers. Black hoods
Shifters Shimano bar-end , SL-BS77 2/3 x 9-speed, friction setting
Stem Kalloy AS-009 , 26.0mm bar clamp. Aluminum. 4-bolt face. Black
Handlebar PMT , Black
Saddle WTB SST Comp , Steel rails. Black vinyl. Feels pretty o.k.
Seatpost Kalloy SP-248D, 27.2mm. 300mm. Black
Extras Surly stainless steel post clamp, 14g DT Swiss spokes. Some pretty sweet & comfy cork tape
Front Hub Shimano XT , M756 6-bolt disc. 36h. Black
Rear Hub Shimano XT , M756 6-bolt disc. 36h. 135mm. Black
Rims (26") Alex Adventurer , 36h. Double wall. Eyeletted. Black
Rims (700c) Alex Adventurer , 36h. Double wall. Eyeletted. Black
Tires (26") Michelin City , 26 x 1.85". Wire bead. Blackwall
Tires (700c) Continental Contact , 700c x 37mm. Wire bead. Blackwall
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?
Brace yourself, Surly do good blurb...
" Thanks for purchasing a Surly Disc Trucker. As you may know, the Long Haul Trucker enjoys a reputation as one of the best riding and most value-packed touring bikes out there. Sometimes a combination of load, climate and terrain demands a bit more braking performance than a rim brake LHT provides. That's where the Disc Trucker comes in. It's a Long Haul Trucker with 51mm I.S. caliper mounts instead of rim brake mounts. When designing the Disc Trucker, we started with a brand new set of rear dropouts which place the caliper mount between the chain and seat stays, providing uncompromising clearance for a rack and fender. This means no jury-rigging to get your rack to play nice with your disc caliper.
Most of the components on the complete bike are the same as the standard LHT, parts chosen for their balance of technical capability, durability, and value. For the Disc Trucker we chose Avid BB7 cable operated brakes for their proven reliability and ease of service, and Shimano XT M756 hubs with 6-hole rotor mounts. These hubs are durable and easy to maintain.
Your Disc Trucker is designed from the ground up to take you and a bunch of stuff just about anywhere you'd like to go. You'll need to outfit it with the extras you want, like fenders and racks. We don't include that stuff because everybody's needs are different, but from the casual commuter to the person who rides around the world more than once, the Disc Trucker is more than capable. It's a tool designed to help you get lost and find yourself."
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Very tidy. Neat welds.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
100% Surly 4130 CroMoly steel. Main triangle double-butted. TIG-welded
4130 is humble, but great stuff for bikes like this.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Fork rake 45
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Fine. Having smaller wheels drops the top tube a little and if you want to drop the bars then there is a stack of spacers and you could flip the sharply rising stem.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Glorious. The small wheels roll very well, contrary to expectations, and the bike feels both nimble and plush.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Plenty stiff enough. Small wheels help too = less lateral flex.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Surprisingly nippy. Again, this is down to the smaller wheel size as they accelerate very well.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Lively enough to not be dull.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
For a sturdy adventure tourer it's a very entertaining bike to ride.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Small wheels are great, as are the tyres. I wasn't so keen on the saddle, but that was only after consecutive 100 mile days.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
No changes, it's all good.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Gets up to speed very nicely for a tourer
Huge gear range + small wheels will get you up anything.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
Bar end shifters give incredibly crisp and satisfying shifts on the back and plenty of adjustment at the front. Lovely.
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?
Our test bike came with Continental Comfort Contacts, not the Michelins that Surly list. Despite being a budget tyre for city hybrids, they roll superbly well and feel fast.
The wheels are Deore XT hubs laced to Alex Adventurer XC mtb rims. They feel strong and fast.
Shimano bar end shifters are lovely things and make shifting gear a tactile pleasure.
Not much to go wrong with bar ends.
...and bar ends weigh almost nothing.
Bar ends can nudge errant knees and the brake hoods aren't quite as comfy as regular STIs.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
I loved the bar end shifters, although they did occasionally knock my knees when riding out of the saddle. I'm not very tall, so lankier riders might have more trouble with this.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
The saddle is ok for day rides but on the second day of a 200 mile weekend, the rounded profile felt like it was punching me in the perineum. A flatter saddle would be my choice for touring or longer audaxes.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Very much.
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Definitely.
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
Quirky adventure tourer and great fun to ride.
Age: 42 Height: 5' 8 Weight: er....85kg
I usually ride: Kona Dew Drop, Dawes Century SE, Carlton Corsa My best bike is: Guess SC1 scandium
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, Audax and long distance solo rides