By Maurice Tierney, wheelie photo by Matt Cacho.
With all the buzz over Surly’s new platform, I was quite excited to get a chance to ride one at Snowbasin Resort near Ogden, Utah, where it was to be unveiled. I had seen the fuzzy, grainy spy photos and had some clues as to what was going on. I knew it involved yet another new tire size. What new trend were the folks in Minnesota cooking up now?
I had thought the Krampus was going to turn out to an extension of the fat bike genre that is sweeping the nation, but no. The Krampus is a mountain bike with 3-inch-wide tires, that’s all. A fun and versatile mountain bike.
I spoke with Adam Scholtes, Surly product manager, who filled me in on everything. The core value in the design process was starting with MTB standards: A 73mm bottom bracket shell, 100/135mm front and rear axle spacing, and while the headtube has a 44mm inside diameter for use with tapered forks, headsets will be available for straight 1-1/8” forks like the one that comes with the frameset.
I wasn’t sure what this bike was about until Adam pointed out that you could put whatever mountain bike parts you like (or just have sitting around in the garage) on the 4130 steel frame. You could put any 29er rim and tire combo on there; a great starting point; but the frame is really built around a brandy-new Surly rim and tire, which are designed for each other for easy, correct bead seating. Adam went on about how you must be able to put the tire on the rim by hand, while at the same time you don’t want the tire unexpectedly coming off the rim after a blowout either.
The Rim is called the Rabbit Hole. Gotta love the names, eh? It’s 50mm wide 7000 series T-6 Alu-minimum. 699g light I am told. I did note that the rim is concave so it may attract mud under certain circumstances.
Mated to Rabbit Hole is the Knard 29×3.0 tire. Looking at the tread pattern you see a good compromise of knobbiness and low rolling resistance, which is fine since this is the first and only tire of this kind. Cornering was also a thought, so there are side knobs for this. Weight should be around 820g in a 120tpi folding tire, with a less expensive steel bead available as well. How they achieved a weight that low with such a large tire has us scratching our head…
Ahh, but the ride. I got to ride the Krampus and it was pretty rad, especially after I got the pneumatic suspension dialed in. There’s a nice bit of travel to be had when the tires have the right amount of air in them. I started out hard and let a little air out at a time until I had a nice balance of traction and kush without bottoming out. This was somewhere around 15psi.
The Krampus rides big and long for sure, I called it Cadillac style. And unlike most 29ers that are aching to handle more like a little bike, the Krampus embraces it’s size. The XL I rode was real long, and the number that stuck with me was the laid-back 69.5˚ head angle, though we should mention the bike I rode was technically a prototype and numbers may change. This bike wants to go fast, and has the stability to do it. I have been way into this sort of style as long as I have been riding; it only took me a few turns to get used to it and dig it.
Traction was tops on the loose, ball-bearing-like surface of the trails at Snowbasin. I knew these big tires were on my side when I rode a "skinny" 29×2.4 later in the day, which felt sketchy. The 1×10 Shimano SLX drivetrain that the complete bike will be shipping with was surprisingly versatile. Versatile as in there was a low enough gear for me to get up the steeper hills. While 2×10 drivetrains and triples will be doable, installation of these may involve a bit of massaging. Plus, the one-by as the advantage of its simplicity, and with the guide, the chain stays on all the time.
The Krampus will ship as a frame and fork (pricing not yet set) or as a complete bike with the 1×10 drivetrain for maybe $1,950. Surly stressed that because of the special tubeset and chainstay yoke, the frame is more expensive to produce than it would be otherwise.
Tire and rim pricing has also yet to be determined. When this new platform takes off like I suspect it will, there should be more tires and other 29 Plus! ideas coming out of the Surly brain trust.