The old Surly Karate Monkey got a few small changes over the years but, for the most part, it was the same bike that helped 29ers gain mainstream acceptance starting in 2002. It was launched that year at the very event we’re now detoxing from (Interbike). We covered the new Karate Monkey earlier this year and brought you a slightly more comprehensive first ride impression for the geared, 27plusser.
To be honest, it was bit of a fluke that I ended up on this bike. After finding long lines for most demo bikes, and being unwilling to interrupt my contacts to jump the lines, I retired to the Surly booth to steal beer and borrow a place to sit. Sitting next to a friend I’ve known for 10 years, he suggested we take a pair of lonely-looking single-speed Karate Monkeys for a ride rather than just sit around and drink. Even after a decade of seeing each other at bike events, we had never ridden together.
I owned an older KM for years and was immediately surprised at how differently this new model rode. I also was surprised at how easy it is to pinch flat standard tires with tubes inside. Swapping tubes made me notice the thru-axle fork, an awesome spec for those that might want to upgrade to a suspension fork down the road.
I’ve been riding mostly geared bikes lately, complete with squishy bits, so riding a rigid was a bit of a shock–but a good one. I did miss having a dropper but I just ran the post kinda low and stood up a lot. It was fine. I felt good.
This is not a complicated bike. Nothing hydraulic, nothing to shift, little to do but work on maintaining momentum and picking good lines. The modernized geometry moves the KM out of the more XC realm it previously occupied, and the addition of more braze-ons means it can play double duty as bike-packing rig.
While I had a lot of fun on the stock 29×2.4 Maxxis Ardents, I am glad 27plus tires can fit in this bike. As much as I love 29ers, when it comes to riding a rigid trail bike I will take any help I can get and plus tires help a lot.
Surly seems to have developed a way make bikes that consumers self-selected without the need for a lot of marketing talk or explanation. Some if that is because Surly makes simple steel bikes that are versatile and sturdy. This is either something you find appealing, or you don’t. Not much middle ground. Meaning, I’m not going to tell you if this bike is for you. You are going to tell you.
This purple beauty is $1,175, although the parts shown aren’t all the stock items. For a more comprehensive ride review, including geo numbers, read our test ride from Lake Tahoe. Or, check out the eclectic custom build our publisher has on his old Karate Monkey, which has become his go-to whatever bike. For complete details, hit up the Surly site.
Editor’s Note: Katherine, our new web editor, wasn’t on staff when the 2015 Editor Choice Awards were being collected for Dirt Rag Issue #188, so her honorable mention list is made up of stuff she purchased during the past year on her own dime.
If you want to know what the rest of the staffers chose as their favorite bikes and gear of 2015, pick up the latest issue off a newsstand near you, or purchase a digital copy now.
Chromag Trailmaster Saddle – $96
The Trailmaster is my just-right saddle. It features a medium-sized platform, has a “medium” amount of padding (it’s not super soft, despite how thick it looks) and is neither too flat nor too curved nor too deeply channeled. Similarly to SRAM’s Guide brakes, I can ride my full-suspension bike all day and not notice this vital component because it just works. I usually ride wearing lightly padded liner shorts, but the saddle is padded and comfortable enough for a brief outing if and when I forget my chamois.
The perforated natural leather top wears a classy striped pattern and has aged admirably, with just a small amount of barely noticeable cracking on the rear after almost a year of rides. Otherwise, it still looks remarkably new and doesn’t feel as if it has lost any of its support.
The Trailmaster looks smaller than it feels under butt thanks to its padding and edges that are generously rounded off for ease in maneuvering off the saddle. At only 4 mm longer than Chromag’s dirt jump saddle, and featuring a soft nose, it might not be the best platform for people who spend a lot of time slid way far forward to grind out climbs, but I have been pleased with the Trailmaster on 99 percent of my rides.
The Chromag Trailmaster has chromoly rails, weighs 310 grams and measures 284 mm by 140 mm.
SRAM Guide RSC Brakes – $410/pair
SRAM’s Guide brakes have gotten so much love in the past year and have worked so well that they have nearly been forgotten, but they should still be on your radar whether you’re upgrading or building a bike from scratch. In fact, after choosing them for this list, I had to go for a quick pedal to think about how they feel; these brakes are so good that I have been able to ignore them, trust them and just ride.
The RSC Guides have impressed me with their modulation, reliability and adjustability. They don’t feel grabby nor do they replicate the unnerving, brake-pedal-to-the-floor-then-catch feeling of the old Avids I replaced. As a smaller rider with smaller hands, I appreciate tool-free reach adjust and true, one-finger braking that is always smooth. After many rides—not always in great conditions—these brakes have stayed true, quiet, powerful and proven to be very low-maintenance. Read Mike’s review if you want all the technical details.
Giro Wind Vest – $80
Simply called “Wind Vest,” this is Giro’s least-expensive outerwear offering (price is the same for men and women). Despite the steep price tag for what seems to be a simple piece of gear, I have found it to be worth every dollar. On any ride when the temperature is 70 degrees or below, this vest goes with me. I never know if I’ll get cold on a long descent or end up sitting outside a coffee shop in the shade. It wads up small, stuffs into its own pocket (inside the vest) and can fit in the hip belt pocket of my hydration pack or a rear jersey pocket.
Giro’s vest is made of Pertex Nylon Rip Stop fabric and features a perforated rear panel that means a less-sweaty back when riding with a pack. My vest shows no signs of wear after almost a year of abuse being worn under backpacks, stuffed into gear bags and rained on. It wicks moisture and is highly wind and water resistant. It’s an indispensable piece of gear with multiple uses that I’m never sorry I carried and often very glad to have.
The vest is slightly fitted but doesn’t have the upside-down triangle shape of hardcore roadie gear. It lacks grippers and still has room in the hips. It is comfortable enough off the bike that I also wear it running and hiking. The women’s sizes run almost a full-size large, especially if you want this to fit closely.
Surly Bikes Racing Sucks Hat – $28
Before you wave a rigid carbon pitchfork in my direction over my bad attitude, know that I bought this hat specifically to wear at a 12-hour mountain bike race. Since then, I have ditched my other baseball-style head coverings and reach for this Surly cap exclusively. It features fancy pinstripes, a high-qualty embroidered patch, Flex-Fit stretch, polyester and Spandex construction and a standard brim (as opposed to flat, bro-brah nonsense). The hat has even held up to multiple trips through the washing machine. Those are nice touches but, really, my favorite thing is that this hat says “Racing Sucks.”
Most people understand that the sentiment is supposed to be funny, and I can feel good about my day knowing that I made some people laugh. Even better are the ones who don’t know how to react to a woman wearing a hat that says “sucks.” I wasn’t allowed to say that word as a young child but we’re all adults now and, if you have a sense of humor, you should have this hat.
Editor’s Note: This bike is part of our annual, sub-$3,000 bike test where the Dirt Rag staff spends significant time aboard less-expensive but fully capable offerings that we’d seriously consider buying ourselves. The final review will be out early 2016 in issue #189. Subscribe today so you don’t miss it!
The new Wednesday brings Surly’s fat bike offerings to a total of four distinct models. Before you shrug and look away, consider this: Surly created the Wednesday after breeding several of its bikes, not overlooking modern touches, finding a more economical way to build this frame and managing to offer a complete build and lots of fun that is well under $2,000.
I have owned a second-generation Pugsley for a few years and believe that if you’re going to have just one bike—or, if you’re going to have a lot of bikes—you should have an unpretentious Surly in your possession.
To offer up a comparison, I have been riding my Pugsley and the Wednesday together and the differences were evident immediately. The Pugsley is predictable and sure-footed; mine gladly does double-duty as a snow bike, camping rig and an around-town commuter. The Wednesday is still a stable beast covered in braze-ons and rack mounts and built to survive the apocalypse, but its geometry tweaks are obvious even hopping off curbs in an urban environment—the bike wants to get on a trail and shred.
The Wednesday frame features a head tube with a 69-degree angle with the stock tapered fork (68 degrees when running a 100 mm RockShox Bluto), a 43.3-inch wheelbase on my size small and adjustable rear stays ranging from 435 to 455 mm that accommodate a wide range of wheel/tire combos. It’s slacker and has more standover clearance than the Pugsley. Frame weight, wheelbase length, tire clearance and mannerisms fall in between the Pugsley and Surly Ice Cream Truck. You can take the Wednesday home to mom, but it will raise some eyebrows.
Stock stem length on my size small bike is 70 mm (stem length jumps to 80 mm on the medium frame, 90 mm on the large frame and a whopping 100 mm on the extra-large frame). Handlebar width is 700 mm (stock bar width jumps to 750 mm for frame sizes M-XL). Both bars and stem are unbranded as is the saddle which, so far, has been more comfortable than most in-house stock seats.
The Wednesday’s frame is cleanly TIG-welded out of Surly’s own 4130 CroMoly steel, painted in a lovely 1950s kitchen appliance blue and features a 100 mm threaded (yay!) bottom bracket. The wheels are built with Surly’s 80 mm tubeless-compatible (yay!) My Other Brother Daryl rims and wrapped in Surly Nate 26 x 3.8-inch tires. The drivetrain is all SRAM X5 paired with Hayes MX Comp mechanical disc brakes with 160 mm rotors front and rear.
In line with all Surlys, the Wednesday is rife with options and options for the options. It is a dream for restless tinkerers who aren’t satisfied with a bike that has a single, unchanging personality. Not only can you run a suspension fork, but the Wednesday takes a 30.9 mm seatpost and offers internal cable routing for a dropper. The rear-facing slotted dropout (unique to this frame) can accept either a 177 x 12 mm thru-axle or a 170 x 10 mm quick release. You can run up to a 26 x 4.6-inch tire on the stock rims, or you can jump to 29plus wheels with 3-inch tires. A move away from offset rear spacing means more wheel possibilities and simpler rack mounting.
All of the above options are not only nice, but they mean the Wednesday can grow with you and your budget and your level of adventurousness. It’s still a super-fun bike without a suspension fork or a dropper or a spare set of wheels with different tires or a full bikepacking rack setup, but adding those components over time is kind of a no-brainer.
So far, the Wednesday and I have explored beach sand and dry, rocky trails. Now that winter has arrived in Colorado’s high country, the next few weeks will involve exploring snow-covered singletrack. I might be wishing for wider tires if I hit powder, but I know I won’t be wishing for a different bike. The Wednesday may be wide and kind of heavy and require more thoughtful, forceful inputs than a supermodel carbon machine, but it still puts a huge smile on my face.
Subscribe today so you don’t miss the full review in our next issue, plus long-term ride tests of all eight bikes in our annual, sub-$3,000 bike test.
Every year for the last few years, Dirt Rag has gathered up a half-dozen or so full-suspension trail bikes for complete testing that fall into the entry-level/affordable/budget category. Yes, three grand is still a lot of money, but good bikes aren’t cheap and this price point is much more reasonable for the average enthusiast rider willing to invest some coin in a great ride. So, there you go.
This year we are changing things up significantly by opening our test up to all types of mountain bikes, not just suspension bikes. The following caught our eye for one reason or another, but all of them are bikes we’d look very hard at in their respective categories. Or, rather, these are bikes I would look at since, really, these are all my choices. Direct your ire toward me about whatever it is that has you all wadded up. The rest of the DR crew is just here to ride the things and give us their honest opinions.
We’ll roll out first impressions of these bikes over the next few days and full reviews in Dirt Rag issue #189 (January). Subscribe today so you don’t miss it. In the meantime, here are the reasons each bike ended up on the list and who the testers are.
Scott Spark 950 — $2,700
I still have fond memories of the Spark 29 RC I raced in the Trans-Sylvania Epic a few years ago. The 950 is a much less expensive version of that bike, with an aluminum frame and a less expensive build kit. What is doesn’t lose is the Twin-Loc lockout and what is perhaps the most aggressive geometry for a cross-country race bike you can buy. Head angle is a slack 68.8 or 68.3 degrees; the bottom bracket height is around 13 inches; and the chain stays are right at 17 inches, which makes me think this bike would be well served by a dropper.
Dirt Rag Editor-in-Charge Mike Cushionbury is our resident former XC pro license holder, and assigning him the Spark is my continued attempt to get him on more modern bikes. Now if only I can pry those narrow bars and long stems out of his grasp, then we’ll be getting somewhere.
Devinci Hendrix — $2,999
I was surprised to see the Hendrix, to be honest. Devinci is a small company and a bike like this (120/110 front/rear travel, 27plus wheels) is taking a big chance with the limited resources smaller companies have to develop new products. Working in Devinci’s favor is in-house aluminum frame production, which saves a lot of time. With the American dollar strong against the Canadian dollar, those of us in the States have some serious buying power.
What really drew me to the Devinci is its aggressive geometry paired with shorter travel, a recipe that usually spells F-U-N. Dirt Rag’s new art director, Stephen Haynes, gets welcomed to the fold with this pretty righteous test bike.
Norco Torrent 7.1 — $2,425
Norco has a number of bikes under $3,000, but this is the newest to the lineup and is a return to the heavy-duty hardtail category for the Canadian brand. Maybe it is just me, but after years of riding all kinds of knobby-tired bikes, this thing looks almost perfectly proportional. And in case anyone was wondering about which 27plus tires are best for fall use on the East Coast, the Schwalbe Nobby Nics are perhaps the best thing to happen to leaf-covered trails.
I (Tech Editor Eric McKeegan) am riding this bike and am stoked on its slack, low and short geometry.
Marin Attack Trail — $2,750
I’ve been digging Marin’s evolving lineup over the last few years. The Attack Trail is a standout for a number of reasons. While the SR Suntour fork and shock might not be as well-regarded as the bigger names, both have more damping adjustments than many bikes at this price. The 1×10 drivetrain has a Sunrace 11-42-tooth cassette for most of the range of more expensive 11-speed systems. And out of every bike here, I think the Marin looks least like its price tag.
Our general manager and Dirt Rag photographer Justin Steiner is testing the limits of those Schwalbe Hans Dampf tires on the leaf-covered trails around Dirt Rag’s Pittsburgh HQ.
Kona Hei Hei Trail — $2,500
We’ve been fans of the many new bikes from Kona in the last few years. Kona has a bigger range of sub-$3k trail bikes than just about anyone, but another 29er seemed to be the best bet for this group so the new Hei Hei Trail got the nod. Taking the proven Hei Hei cross-country platform and swapping in some sturdier parts and a longer fork has resulted in something that I would almost describe as a Process 111 lite.
We might have lost Adam Newman as Dirt Rag’s web editor, but he moved only a few feet away to play editor-in-chief of our sister mag, Bicycle Times. He’ll be riding the Hei Hei in its Pacific Northwest homeland.
Surly Wednesday — $1,500
The Wednesday is a true sleeper. On the surface, it looks like just another fatty in an already-crowded field of Surly fat bike offerings, but looking more closely reveals a refined and thoughtful bike. A 177 mm symmetrical rear end, 100 mm threaded bottom bracket shell, horizontal drop outs that can fit either thru-axles or quick releases, full length cable housing, tapered head tube, internal dropper post routing and enough braze-ons to keep everyone happy. Mix that up with modern trail geometry and suspension fork compatablity and it looks like a winner to me. Its cheapest-of-the-bunch price tag and Addams Family-inspired name are the icing on the cake.
Our new web editor, Katherine Fuller, took the reigns on this one and is out in Colorado bouncing over rocky singletrack waiting for the snow to fall.
Charge Cooker — $2,400
A little confession: I really wanted this bike to be Cannondale’s Beast of the East, but it wasn’t ready in time and was replaced with this bike from Charge, another bike brand in the Dorel family. This video is what got the Cooker on my radar originally and, after seeing them in person at Interbike, I was pretty interested. The stock Trailblazer tires aren’t ideal around western Pennsylvania this time of year, but swapping the front tire to a much bigger and more aggressive WTB Trail Boss has helped tremendously.
Our circulation guy Jon Pratt is pedaling this one into fall and probably missing his dropper post.
Transition Patrol 4 — $2,999
Did you know you can get a complete Transition for under $3,000? Yes, even if only by one dollar. For a brand that is as well-regarded as Transition, this is good news for riders with smaller credit card limits. Considering that the frame itself retails for $1,999, there is a great deal of value in the parts kits. The Marzocchi fork up front was a bit of a worry, at first, but with the news that Fox purchased the mountain bike side of Marzocchi there is much less reason for worry about parts and warranty support.
Friend of Dirt Rag (official title) Bill Kirk is on this one. This Transition is a hell of a good looking bike for the money.
My how things have changed. When the Surly Pugsley rolled onto the scene nearly 10 years ago no one could have predicted (well, some probably did) that fat bikes would be as common as they are today. Riders are using them not just for Arctic exploration, but also for straight up mountain biking, which has shaped development of wheels, tires and frame geometries.
The latest Surly model builds on that experience with geometry that more closely models that of the popular Ice Cream Truck: slacker head tube angle, lower bottom bracket and shorter chainstays than the Pugsley. It’s also built around a 177 mm symmetrical rear end unlike the offset hubs on a Pugsley.
The fork is also a thru-axle, and spaced at 150 mm so it is an easy swap for a RockShox Bluto fork. Even the seat tube has routing for an internal dropper post. This is a mountain bike, through and through, but present are all the mounts and braze-ons your little heart can desire, so it would make an excellent expedition rig too.
Unlike the Ice Cream Truck the tubeset is lighter for a more forgiving ride, and the dropouts are fixed rather than using the interchangeable MDS system. The bottom bracket is 100 mm threaded, and the bike can fit “only” a 4.6-inch tire on 80 mm rim. Speaking of rims, Surly has a new tubeless-compatible rim dubbed “My Other Brother Darryl,” which comes in a few different versions, depending on OE spec or aftermarket.
Surly says the new bike should go on sale later this fall for about $1,500.Tweet Print
In a few weeks Surly will join its parent company, Quality Bicycle Products, at its annual product show dubbed Frostbike. Well, they couldn’t keep the cat in the bag, so today it announced a few new goodies we’ll be “officially” seeing for the first time at the show:
First up is the Moonlander Special Ops, clad in all its John Deere tractor glory, inspired by an employee’s custom build:
Surly says only a 150 of these will be making it to the US of A, so if you want one, better have your checkbook ready. The drivetrain is the most modern ever spec’d on a Moonie: a SRAM 1×11 X1 set. However it still uses the Surly Offset Double crankset with…
… a new, stainless steel narrow/wide chainring. While many brands have introduced their own designs, Surly has licensed the SRAM X-Sync design for its own chainrings with a 58mm BCD. Paired with it is a matching bash ring with a 94mm BCD for the outer position on the crankset. They will ship with the Moonlander Special Ops, but don’t hold your breath on them in the aftermarket though, it will likely be the end of 2015 before they are available.
Tune in again soon for all the latest from Frostbike from February 20 to 22.Tweet Print
Ahhhh Surly’s Karate Monkey. Released at the Interbike trade show in 2002, it was the first 29er to come through the doors of Dirt Rag. I reviewed it for issue #103 and later purchased it for my own use and abuse. I’ve had many life-changing experiences on this bike, and some near-death ones as well. My Monkey has done it all. It’s been geared and singlespeed. It’s been a hardtail and it’s been rigid. Today it is my go-to urban assault vehicle—ready to take on the post-apocalyptic urban jungle, as well as any dirt I find along the way.
I was looking ar ‘er on the train platform the other day and thought I’d mention a few things you may or may not find interesting. And in the process maybe call out a few folks who have help make this bike what it is.
My original idea was to write about Ergon’s new GC-1 grips, which I was given recently, so I will do that first. Thanks Ergon! They are designed specifically for swept-back handlebars. Yes, I like swept bars in the 20-25 degrees range and I like Ergon grips cuz they keep my hands happy. If you have not tried either you might consider.
Speaking of bars, these are the second-newest part on the bike. The Spacebar Carbon OR which I purchased from Origin8. Ok, maybe the carbon is overkill but what the heck. I bought them because I like the sweep. My sweet spot. Not too much, not too little. Just right.
You’ll probably notice the brakes as well. Avid Juicy Carbon’s they are. Shwag given to yours-truly some time ago, and proof of occasional—I say occasional—rock-star treatment received for being in the media. Anyway they are killer, as they stop the bike and I have not had a problem with them, and they’ve been around a while. When they do go away, I will replace them with the original road-pull Avid BB7’s that used to be on there.
Paul Component’s Thumbies provide shifting prowess. Can’t go wrong there. These will work forever.
The Chris King headset has been there since birth, while the Surly head badge has seen better days.
The Big Kitty sticker was made just for me by Courtney Papke. Some people think I am a cat.
The “Get Rad” Sticker was installed by Hurl over at Cars R Coffins when I was in Minneapolis one time. Top tube cover thanks to Green Guru.
And that Schwalbe Big Apple 2.35″ monster truck tire has provided good shock absorption and long life.
The front wheel is a Sun/Ringle Rhyno Lite-rimmed monster that’s been around since around the time Geoff sold the company to Sun around 1996. It has been the bomb. I have only had to press in new cartridge bearings once. It’s taken everything I could throw at it. The back wheel is another story. It was taken out by a curb in Seattle, that was one of the near-death experiences I remember well.
Pedals by VP are big and flat and sticky. The Truvative Stylo cranks have fresh bearings so they work like new.
Hydration handling thanks to my good friend Robert over at Two Fish Unlimited. They make strap-on bottle cages to fit a wide variety of bottles, even full-size growlers.
So there you have it my friends. Thanks for looking!
We’ve published a lot of stuff in 25 years of Dirt Rag. Find all our Blast From the Past stories here.
Two big-tire heavyweights go head to head.Tweet Print
News today from Frostbike and our friends over at Fat-bike.com: Surly is introducing a new fat bike dubbed the Ice Cream Truck. The steel frame (‘natch) is built around a symmetric 190mm rear hub spacing to clear the largest of tires. The rear dropout is the same convertible unit seen on the Instigator 2.0 that can run a QR, thru-axle or singlespeed. The bottom bracket shell is 100mm press fit.
More details to come. Guess this blog post from Surly back in January was a pretty good tease.
Surly also posted this on its blog today, alluding to an all-new Karate Monkey. Stay tuned.Tweet Print
Let me answer this question first: no, this is not a Krampus with holes drilled in it. While ECR closely resembles its 29+ brethren, it is a completely different beast. The frame is different, the geometry is different, the build kit is different and the fork is different.
Built for loaded touring, exploring and “Escaping Common Reality”, Surly designed the ECR from the ground up with versatility and cargo capacity in mind. It has eyelets for pretty much anything you can imagine: Up to five bottle cages, three sets of Salsa Anything Cage mounts, mounts a cargo rack out back, fenders (if you can find some wide enough), lowrider or cargo racks on the fork, a Rohloff hub, even a Surly trailer mount. All of this is made possible with Surly’s stout 4130 steel tubing (‘natch) and unique rearward-facing dropouts shared with the Ogre and Troll models.Tweet Print