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Surly describes its 2021 Disc Trucker as 'a pure-bred drop bar touring bike suitable for travelling anywhere in the world on mostly paved roads'. And miles of riding both unladen and loaded to the gunwales leads me to think that Surly has summed it up pretty well.
The Disc Trucker really is a super-comfortable, long-distance cruiser that coped more than adequately with my local mostly paved roads. They are mostly paved but autumn and winter weather has left potholes the size of a small country, which the Surly's wide tyres dismissed – without a hint of surliness, I'm pleased to say.
It tackled unsurfaced routes, too, with equal confidence. We're not talking full-on gnarly off-road trails but if your journey happens to throw a few miles of canal towpath or loose gravel tracks and the like at you, the Surly will take it without murmur. I reckon this would also include the sort of corrugated unsurfaced roads that are – or were – a familiar feature of rural Australia.
The disc brakes that give the bike its name are cable-actuated, for, Surly says, when 'load, climate and terrain demand a bit more braking than a standard rim-brake Long Haul Trucker can provide'.
It also has 'a horde of useful mounting points', shortened chainstays to 'up the Disc Trucker's stiffness and manoeuvrability around corners', 'captured thru-axles for tool-free removal and installation', dynamo compatibility, a top-tube that slopes more than before, extra height at the front, greater tyre clearance and a vast range of sizes for riders up to and beyond 6ft 6in tall. Phew!
The main quality you want from a touring bike is day-after-day comfort. If you're hoping to notch up 300 to 400 miles a week for a month or two (or more), you don't want to finish a day in discomfort or wake the next morning too stiff to want to start. While I have also toured on aluminium and titanium bikes, steel has a reputation for comfort that the Disc Trucker does nothing to diminish.
Today's modern wide tyres, and their extra volume of air, add even more plushness to the mix, with the final advantage of tackling poorer surfaces better than their predecessors.
The riding position here is touring bike typical – upright. This puts no strain on your back and you can watch the world go by – probably at a pretty leisurely pace – as you pedal, pedal, pedal mile after mile. Riding the Surly you really do feel like a king (or queen) of the road – or gravel track or towpath – as you take in your surroundings.
With a considerable weight just north of 13kg, and that's before adding rack and pedals, this isn't a bike you're going to be sprinting anywhere on, but that's not the Surly's role in life. The wheelbase is a centimetre shorter than last year's Disc Trucker, but our 56cm model's is a still-lengthy 1,051mm, while the largest, 64cm model, has a 1,090mm wheelbase. These figures ensure great stability at all times, which is something else you really want when you're riding from noon to nightfall.
But load it up – and the Disc Trucker has a gazillion mounts and fittings for racks and bags – and the frame is stiff enough so there's no brake rub or wobbling from your baggage. I tested it largely in classic touring bike mode, but with its wider tyres, greater tyre clearance and extra mounts, bikepacking is very much within its remit.
While I have toured on aluminium and titanium frames, I did my first extended tour on a steel Raleigh, and the material has long been the tourer's go-to material of choice. It may not be able to compare with other materials when it comes to lightness but it's strong and comfortable, and a well-looked-after steel frame should outlast you and me unless it suffers a catastrophic failure. (I gave my 1984 Raleigh to a charity a couple of years ago, when it was still riding well with over 50,000 miles on the clock.)
It is also an oft-told tale that a steel frame can be repaired pretty much anywhere in the world by a half-competent welder. While there is doubtless an element of truth to this – and I have actually met one cycle-tourist who did have his steel frame repaired in the back of beyond – I'm guessing this is a one-in-a-million happening...
Both the Disc Trucker frame and fork are made from Surly's own 'Natch' 4130 chromoly steel. At first glance 4130 steel looks like quite a modest choice – it's essentially the same as Reynolds 525, while Reynolds 725 is the same alloy with added heat treatment. (If you want to know more, Surly answers the question, 'Is Natch just 4130 chromoly?', at some length, on its website.)
Surly's original Long-Haul Trucker has a history dating back to 2007, but it's no surprise to find that disc brakes have taken over from V-brakes on this model, though it's cable-actuated discs rather than the more luxurious hydraulic stoppers.
The geometry has been tweaked a little for 2021, with the frame taller at the front than last year's model and the new handlebar adding another 30mm. Other changes are very much of our time, the Disc Trucker gaining 12mm thru-axles and an extra 5mm tyre clearance.
Thru-axles are well entrenched in today's gravel and road bikes and are – somewhat inevitably – making inroads into the world of touring bikes. One of the Disc Trucker's North American competitors, Kona's Sutra Touring, went to thru-axles for 2020. While you could argue that quick-release axles are more standard the further off the beaten track you go, I can't see this really being an issue, and thru-axles do contribute to better braking.
While the 2021 Surly has gained front and rear 12mm thru-axles, unusually these are combined with an old-school open dropout. It makes for quick wheel changes without any diminution of braking power and accuracy.
The front thru-axle is also compatible with Shimano's UR-705 dynamo hub, which would be a very sound choice for battery-free lighting. This is clearly something Surly has considered, as the new fork has internal routing for dynamo wires.
Whereas last year's model had a 3x10-speed setup based around Shimano XT with bar-end shifters, the 2021 model has dropped down the Shimano hierarchy to 3x9-speed Sora and Alivio – with STi combined brake and gear shifters. There was a time when bar-end shifters were the go-to lever for tourists, but I've done my three major tours with STi setups and would have no qualms using them pretty much anywhere in the world.
That said, considering the Surly's hefty £1,900 price, I'd have liked something a little further up Shimano's food chain. I guess this is partly down to the US-UK exchange rate, as, while I wouldn't be surprised to see the same cost in dollars and pounds, the US dollar price is a much more appealing $1,749 – around £1,310 as I'm writing this. Maybe you could fly to the US with a clunker, ditch it for a new Surly Disc Trucker and hope Customs don't notice on your return, not that we're condoning such behaviour...
The Surly's gearing is, of course, low. When you're loaded to the gunwales with kilos of kit, clothing, food and spares and reach the foot of a steep, long climb, you're going to want the lowest gear possible to avoid straining every sinew in your body. The Disc Trucker's biggest 34-tooth sprocket and 26-tooth inner chainring combine for a bottom gear of around 20in, depending on the size of the tyres, though Surly could have gone even lower.
The most obvious way to do this would be with a 36t sprocket, but you could really have stretched the lower gearing by pairing that with a Shimano 40/30/22 chainset. The resulting 22x36 bottom gear combo would be a more touring-friendly 16.62in with 35mm tyres, which your knees and back will thank you for during a long day on the road over rolling terrain. In my opinion, you can never have a bottom gear that's too low – that's one of those things that just doesn't exist.
The TRP Spyre disc brakes are some of the best cable-actuated disc brakes around and an improvement over V-brakes. Okay, so you don't have the single-finger super-powerful stopping of a hydraulic setup, but if I was in the back of beyond – and I've ridden in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and off-the-beaten-track on unsurfaced roads in Australia and New Zealand – I'd fancy my chances fettling a mechanical rather than a hydraulic setup, even with my ill-trained fingers and thumbs.
Okay, mechanical discs don't offer the super-light action of hydraulics, but the Spyres are consistent and well modulated in all weathers and regardless of rim condition. The latter is a fact that isn't always considered, but fault-free braking even with knackered rims is a pleasing gain from the move to discs, especially considering the quality of surfaces you're likely to meet.
One of the other familiar changes on the Surly is that the internal rim width has been boosted to 21mm, allowing you to fit tyres up to 50mm wide without mudguards, which should cope with just about anything you can throw the bike at. Along with the extra width, the other near-inevitable change for 2021 is that the Alex rims are now tubeless compatible. And while press pictures of the Disc Trucker show 32 spokes, I was glad to see the cycle-tourist's favourite 36 spokes on our model (and the frame has a spoke holder for a final pleasing touch).
The tyres are from Surly, in the form of its 41mm ExtraTerrestrial rubber, which Surly describes as a 'heavy-duty off-road touring tyre that shines on hardpack surfaces'. It features nylon in the sidewalls to protect against cuts and Kevlar under the treads to reduce punctures. The low-profile tread is designed to offer 'enough width and traction for the soft stuff and won't bog you down on smooth or hard surfaces'.
In the weeks I spent riding the Disc Trucker I'd say they pretty much hit that sweet spot. They're never going to roll quite like a slick tyre on tarmac but they weren't bad, and they were decently grippy on loose stuff, grit, gravel, muddy towpaths and even mulched fallen leaves.
That said, if the Disc Trucker was to be my only bike I'd probably drop down to a slicker, narrower 32mm tyre for commutes and day-to-day riding, keeping the wider ExtraTerrestrials for touring duties.
As with the frameset's touring-friendly features, the Surly's finishing kit is also well chosen, with little if anything that I'd consider changing. The WTB Volt Sport saddle and 27.2mm Promax alloy seatpost were fine, complementing the comfort of frame, wheels and tyres, and the ProMax stem is typical stuff.
However, there are a couple of components at the front that do add a little more quality to the mix. The Cane Creek 40 headset is a highly rated piece of kit but my personal highlight was the Surly Truckstop handlebar. The drops are flared out by 12 degrees for improved handling, but the big advantage for touring is the extra height the Truckstop bar delivers.
Its 3cm rise works in combination with the extra height of the 2021 frame to deliver a magisterial upright ride, which is just what you want when you're racking up the miles. You don't want to be nose down, backside up; you want to be able to see everything, to experience your surroundings. So the even more upright position of this model – higher stack, riser bar – is a real boon.
There's no doubt that the newest incarnation of Surly's Disc Trucker hits the spot when it comes to the ride quality and impressive load-carrying options – I don't think I've ever seen so many bosses on a single frameset. But, possibly as a reflection of today's financial realities – which have seen Specialized, Giant and Canyon up their prices by 12 per cent – in the UK at least, the Disc Trucker doesn't major on value.
Surly can't quite match the value of Spa Cycles' steel-framed Wayfarer, which manages Shimano Sora with a Deore rear mech for just £1,351, or Thorn's Club Tour MK5. The Surly does slightly undercut the Thorn's cost by about 30 quid but then again in the build we tested (£1,870) the Thorn has Shimano 105 levers and triple chainset, and a Deore rear mech.
The similar Sutra from fellow North American outfit Kona also looks good value. This has a similar setup to the Surly – steel frame and fork, TRP Spyre brakes, triple chainset – but it costs just £1,499 and it comes with 3x10-speed Deore with a wide-ranging 11-36 cassette. Out of the box it has a Brooks saddle, mudguards (complete with mudflaps) and rear rack for a well-specced package.
Meanwhile, Genesis's 2021 Tour de Fer 30 is £100 more than the Surly but looks to be good value as it is not only specced with a Shimano Tiagra triple, but comes with front and rear racks and dynamo-powered lighting, adding a lot of bangs for your bucks.
I really enjoyed riding the newest incarnation of Surly's Disc Trucker and would have no hesitation taking one for a loaded tour pretty much anywhere in the world. I'd have preferred a slightly lower bottom gear, but then again I always would! But good gearing, decent brakes, excellent long-distance comfort and a frame that, with a little care and barring a catastrophic accident, should last a lifetime all mean that there's a lot to appreciate about the Surly – though it's also a lot of cash to part with when compared with some of its competitors.
Dedicated steel tourer with a regal ride, long-distance credentials and great load-carrying options
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Surly Disc Trucker
Size tested: 56cm
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
Make and model: Surly Disc Trucker
Frame Surly Long Haul Trucker, 100% Surly 4130 chromoly steel
Fork Surly Long Haul Trucker, 4130 chromoly steel, lugged and brazed
Handlebar Surly Truckstop
Shifters Shimano Sora 3x9
Stem ProMax alloy, 31.8mm, 4 bolt
Tape Black cork
Saddle WTB Volt Sport
Seatpost ProMax alloy, 27.2mm
Headset Cane Creek 40, 1 1/8in
Seatbinder Surly stainless 30mm
Front brake TRP Spyre C, 160mm rotor
Rear brake TRP Spyre C, 160mm rotor
Front derailleur Shimano Sora
Rear derailleur Shimano Alivio
Chainset Shimano Alivio 48/36/26
Chain KMC X9
Front wheel Alex Adventurer 2 rim, Novatec 12x100mm thru-axle, 36 spokes
Rear wheel Alex Adventurer 2 rim, Novatec 12x142mm thru-axle, 36 spokes
Front tyre Surly ExtraTerrestrial 700x41
Rear tyre Surly ExtraTerrestrial 700x41
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 describes its Disc Trucker as 'a pure-bred drop bar touring bike suitable for travelling anywhere in the world on mostly paved roads'. It goes on to call it 'one of the best-riding and most value-packed drop bar touring bikes out there', with the added bonus of cable-actuated disc brakes for when 'load, climate and terrain demand a bit more braking than a standard rim-brake Long Haul Trucker can provide'.
The Disc Trucker, Surly continues, 'packs reliable stopping power and a horde of useful mounting points, shortened chainstays up the Disc Trucker's stiffness and manoeuvrability around corners. Add in improved fit and handling under load, plus captured thru-axles for tool-free removal and installation, and the Disc Trucker is ready to help you meet – or dodge – your daily obligations'.
Other features include dynamo compatibility, a top tube that slopes more than before, extra height at the front, greater tyre clearance and a vast range of sizes for riders up to and beyond 6ft 6in tall.
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
There's only a single model of the Surly Disc Trucker, but Surly does still make its predecessor, the rim-braked Long Haul Trucker. This comes in nine model sizes from 42cm-62cm – all of which are available with 26in wheels, with the four largest frames, 56-62cm, having the option of 700C wheels. The Shimano Sora triple groupset is accompanied by Tektro's M730 V-brakes.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Build quality and finish are both excellent from the handmade-in-Taiwan 4130 frame and fork. Welcome extras include a kickstand plate and spoke holders on one of the seatstsays.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Surly calls its 4130 chromoly steel 'Natch'. Surly's website gives a long explanation on the use of this steel: "Is Natch just 4130 Chromoly?' Yes. Well. Technically we use SCM430, an Asian equivalent to 4130. Because our bikes are proudly produced in Taiwan... Natch is our philosophy on how thick/thin we make our tubes during the butting process, how long or short the butts themselves are, as well as the length of the transition (from thick to thin). Natch includes our welding process. Our approach to mitering the tubing, how it's fixtured and welded." For even more on this, go to www.surlybikes.com
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
This year's Disc Trucker is a centimetre shorter than last year's but more significantly it's higher at the front, for a more upright ride, thanks to a longer head tube, and there's 3cm more height from the excellent Truckstop bar.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
It has similar stack and reach figures as a Kona Sutra of a similar size, but that's before you take into account the 3cm in height added by the Surly's riser bar. Frame angles are pretty typical for a touring bike, with a 71-degree head tube angle and 73 for the seat angle; the angles for the Kona Sutra and Salsa's Marrakesh are very, very similar, within half a degree or so.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
It's fair to say that the Surly majors in long-distance comfort. A skinny steel frame and wide tyres insulate you from even very poor road surfaces and even unsurfaced routes are within its riding remit.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Yep, in spite of the excellent comfort I never felt an absence of stiffness anywhere even when it was heavily laden.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
This isn't something that you'd put at the top of the Surly's qualities – there's a lot of weight and a lot of rubber to get up to speed.
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? With a shallow head angle, a flared handlebar and extra height at the front the handling was leisurely rather than snappy – which is exactly what's required on a tourer.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The Surly is designed to deliver a comfortable ride for long days in the saddle. The handling is leisurely rather than dynamic, which is just what you want for a worldwide traveller.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
I got on well with the Surly's saddle and I particularly appreciated the shape of the handlebar, which adds another 3cm to the front end. Wide 700x41 tyres are always going to add a good layer of plushness-maximising protection between you and the road, and I was pleased to see they're now tubeless-ready for potentially even more comfort. For the Surly's intended purpose of touring I'd change nothing, but I'd swap to skinnier tyres for day-to-day duties.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
I never felt there was any lack of stiffness from the steel frame or fork, and I was never able to induce any brake rub.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
I was happy with the Surly's components when it came to its efficiency and wouldn't make any changes in this regard.
All fine even if it doesn't have the instant 'snap' of a more aggressive road bike.
This is not the Surly's forte! Carrying that much weight and with heavyweight 41mm tyres, the Disc Trucker isn't one you're ever going to zing up to speed quickly.
This is not a bike built for sprinting. Tootle and spin, yes; crank it to the max, no.
I never found any instability on the Surly but this isn't a bike to get up to high speed on the flat. Heavily laden on descents, the long wheelbase ensured the downhills were all tackled without issue.
This is when the bike really comes into its own. Get up to cruising speed and it has the stability of a supertanker.
Its weight means that it takes you a few metres to get it up to rolling speed but once there the long wheelbase makes it very stable.
It's leisurely but controlled (a bit like the tester!).
It's absolutely fine. Good control and decent braking but you're rarely going go be throwing yourself into corners like a racer.
It's best described as steady. Fully loaded you drop down to a low gear and spin, spin, spin your way against gravity.
All performed perfectly well without any exceptional components.
My experience of even modestly priced Shimano drivetrains is that they go on and on like the Duracell bunny.
For a pretty considerable £1,900 I'd have preferred a drivetrain from higher up Shimano's extensive hierarchy; last year's model came with Shimano XT hubs and rear mech and Sora front.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
It all worked well but I'd have liked Surly to maximise the bottom gear with an 11-36 cassette rather than an 11-34. Alternatively, and for an even lower bottom gear, Surly could have gone with the 40/30/22 chainset that would reduce the bottom gear to under 18in. Okay, you might spin out occasionally with the 100in top gear, but that's a price worth paying in my book.
Wheels and tyres
No complaints whatsoever about the Surly's wheelset. The 21mm inner rim width allows for wider tyres, 36 spokes are standard for touring, and I'm always pleased to see tubeless-ready, for maximising comfort further still.
These look and feel as if they'll keep going for thousands of miles.
They're heavy, simple as that. But durability and comfort are far more important than weight on a touring bike.
Wide rims, super-wide tyres – with room for a few millimetres more – mean that there's plenty of comfort from the wheel and tyre combo.
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so what for?
The wheels coped with everything I took them over without a murmur of complaint. Tarmac, very poor tarmac, gravel trails and towpaths are all easily in the Surly's sights and I'd happily keep the wheels as they are.
Good grip on rough and broken surfaces and reasonable rolling on smooth surfaces is exactly what you want from touring tyres. They're tubeless-ready too, which is always good to see.
Kevlar puncture protection and nylon sidewalls to reduce cuts should see you pound out the miles safely.
The claimed weight of 928g is undeniably heavy. But, as mentioned earlier, toughness and comfort trump weight.
They're big, they're wide, they're comfortable.
At £60 a go, Surly hasn't scrimped on the Trucker's tyres. They're expensive but that's good to see on a touring bike; they're the points of contact between you and the road and this is one area you never want to economise on.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so what for?
The tyres worked impeccably over all sorts of surfaces including fine, loose gravel and even moderate singletrack. If this was my only bike that I was using for day-to-day riding and occasional tours, I'd swap for narrower, slicker, lighter rubber for commuting and the like.
The combined STi brake and gear levers worked well.
My experience of even modestly priced Shimano kit is that it's pretty durable.
Everything fine and dandy from Shimano's familiar and tried-and-tested STi levers.
For £1,900 I'd have liked gears from higher up the Shimano hierarchy.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The components are all fine and – apart from wanting more expensive hardware on this expensive bike – there's nothing I'd change.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
A lower bottom gear! I know I sound like a stuck record on this, but you can never have a bottom gear that's too low, even if it's at the expense of having a lower top gear, which is less important when you're expeditioning. I'd have liked an 11-36 cassette or a lower-geared chainset – or both! That said, you could buy the Surly as a frameset and kit it out yourself.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes, with the proviso that it is quite expensive for what you're getting.
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
This is where the Surly Disc Trucker does fall down slightly, though higher prices for 2021 aren't the sole preserve of Surly. Both Spa Cycles' £1,351 steel-framed Wayfarer and Thorn's Club Tour MK5 (in the build we tested) look better value. And while Genesis's 2021 Tour de Fer 30 is dearer than the Surly, it comes with a higher-level groupset, mudguards, front and rear racks and dynamo lighting.
Use this box to explain your overall score
Surly's 2021 Disc Trucker is a fine, well-thought-out touring bike – tough, comfortable and with long-distance geometry, but it loses out when it comes to value against some of its competitors.
About the tester
I usually ride: 2018 Giant TCR Advanced 2 with Halo Carbaura disc wheels My best bike is:
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: time trialling, commuting, touring, sportives, general fitness riding,
Simon has been riding since he was a nipper and more seriously since his university days way back when. He has been a cycling journalist for more than two decades and reckons he has upwards of 200,000 miles in his legs. In his time he has competed (in the loosest sense of the word) in time trials, triathlons, duathlons and a lone cyclo-cross; he has been a long-distance commuter for decades – on road and canal towpath. He has also toured extensively in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and has ridden 4,000km from Cairns to Melbourne in Australia, and the 700km from Picton to Dunedin in New Zealand. If his legs carry on working, he'd like to ride from Perth to Sydney...