Surly Travelers Check Update: the Gravelers Check

Surly Travelers Gravelers Check
The Surly Gravelers Check at Power Lines, Mission Canyon Catway in Santa Barbara, CA

[Image gallery at the end of the article.]

I spent a considerable amount of time building my Surly Travelers Check. I completed the initial build last April. Since then I have ridden it on the roads in two countries. I amassed quite the trove of feedback on the original build. This mostly came in the form of teeth-clenching gripes I kept muttering to myself while climbing the steep hills in Okinawa. I realized that I would like to not only make some improvements to the drivetrain, but I also wanted to expand the bike’s overall use…meaning dirt and gravel.

I wanted to keep the bike as simple as possible when I bought the frame. Being a travel bike, I needed to make sure that I could get it repaired in foreign countries. The original build featured a simple 2×9 drivetrain featuring a Shimano XT RD-M772 rear derailleur and a Shimano Sora FD-3300 front derailleur over an FSA Vero 2x square-taper crankset. Using a pair of Dura Ace barcon shifters, the friction front actuation worked out well. It was simple to adjust, and I had endless trim. However, I found the need for a little more finesse on the rear. Nine speeds is fine on flatter roads, however, when faced with super steep hills, it makes for less efficient climbing. Plus, the Sunrace 9-speed 11-40t cassette never really got along with the indexed rear shifter. They spoke different languages, I guess.

Overall, the bike did its job and got me where I needed to go on that trip. Okinawa is mostly asphalt and has beautiful flats along the coast and some very challenging climbs inland. When I returned, I decided to upgrade to an 11-speed drivetrain. This required replacing the rear derailleur with a Shimano XT RD786 11-speed rear derailleur (with a Shimano XT 11-40t cassette), new FSA N10/11-speed chainrings (46/34t), Microshift SL-M11 shifters, and chain. Expanding the bike’s use on gravel and dirt necessitated the need for larger tires. I also wanted a bit more effective diameter and a softer ride. I ended up choosing the Panaracer Graveling 700×38 over the Panaracer 700x32s that I used in Okinawa.

Always expecting the unexpected, I also added a Kinekt 2.1 Body Float seat post. It is a light, parallelogram-actuated, coil-spring saddle solution that a colleague of mine uses on his hardtail mountain bike. Rather than suspending the bike, it suspends the rider, offering equivalent ride comfort in a smaller travel range.

To test the newly-christened Surly Gravelers Check, I thought I might try to ride it on some fire roads behind Santa Barbara. So I chose the Mission Canyon Catway (see map below).

Not the best idea…

It was a gnarly ride that, based on more feedback acquired from more teeth-clenching gripes, required a much different bike. I made the mistake of starting via the Tunnel Connector Trail, which was very steep and full of loose rock and fine dirt. However, when I got to the catway, the ride was much easier. I had fun, took some pictures, survived the descent, and learned a lot. Here are my takeaways from this adventure:

  1. The trails behind Santa Barbara are very steep in some places and have a lot of loose rock. The 700×38 Gravelkings, even at 25 psi were not aggressive enough for the loose, rocky conditions. More aggressive tubeless tires would have been better.
  2. The geometry of the Traveler’s check is not suited for the the steepness of the descents. It was difficult to get my weight over the back tire enough to keep myself from pitching forward. A slacker head tube angle would have been safer.
  3. My gear ratio was definitely not suited for all the climbing. My lowest being 34-40. It was a struggle, and I had to dismount a few times, but I made it. I think if I had a wider low-end range on a 1x setup, I would have been fine. I also had trouble getting out of the saddle, if I did, the rear wheel lost traction.
  4. On the flatter parts, the bike performed well. If I found the right line, I could clip along at a decent speed. The bike was a bit wobbly, and a lower bottom bracket would have helped stabilize the bike. The Gravelers Check has a 62mm bottom bracket drop. For this type of riding, a drop of 85mm like that of the Specialized Diverge would be better.

I have a good feeling that the Gravelers Check will eventually live up to its name. It’s a good, solid bike that looks pretty dank and goes just about anywhere. I just have to remind myself that it has its limitations. For travel, it will continue to be amazing. For gravel, dirt, and small climbs, I think it will do fine. For heavier trail work, I will build another bike. The upgrade to 11 speeds was a good decision. I have yet to find the true do-everything bicycle. This one comes close. I can travel with it. I can ride dirt trails with it, provided they are no too gnarly.

Okinawa and the Surly Travelers Check

The Surly Travelers Check in Okinawa

[For additional images, please see photo gallery at the end of the article.]

There is a running joke at the bike shop where I work: whenever I talk about my Surly Travelers Check, a detailed story about how I took the bike to Okinawa is sure to follow. I believe that my fellow employees are also designing a drinking game based upon certain words I have a tendency to repeat. These words include, but are not limited to Okinawa, Japan, and Surly. I had an amazing time, so I cannot tell the story of my trip without repeating the destination and the bike I rode. This means a lot of people are going to get really drunk.

Okinawa, which is Japan’s southernmost prefecture, lies in the East China Sea. It is a subtropical island that has a diverse history including the longest and most deadly battle of World War II. The water is clear and blue, the people are amazing, and the food is unique in Asian cuisine. The cycling is also equally amazing. The variable landscape of the coral island offers plenty of climbs, beautiful coastal flats, and seemingly endless routes and destinations.

The trip was over the new year. Spending time with friends and family. Although the trip lasted for more than two weeks, wet weather and high winds hampered my ability to ride every day. Below is a map of two of my most memorable rides during that trip.

Both rides are mapped from Naha Main Place, a popular mall in the center of the capital, Naha. I chose this starting point as it was close to my home base and I wanted to give all of you, dear readers, a central location from which to start your own rides.

Okinawa Peace Memorial Park Ride

At the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park.
The Okinawa Peace Memorial Park is just off highway 331 in the southern part of the island.

Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum and Park and is 14.2 mi/22.8 km from Naha Main Place. I returned by the same route making this ride a total of 28.2 mi/45.7 km. There are other loop routes back to Naha continuing east on the 331 past the park. Since this was my first ride in Okinawa, and the weather was constantly changing, I decided to return via a route with which I was already familiar.

Starting at Main Place, highway 330 is the closest and most obvious route going south towards the airport. The route is fairly easy, with the only confusing part being the intersection of the 330 and highway 221. It is beset on all sides with a staggering array of pedestrian walkways suspended over the street. It would have made more sense if I stayed on the street, but the lanes are narrow and dangerous. I only had Google Maps to guide me, so I had to do my best and follow the signs to the 221.

Somewhere on the 330 in Naha, Okinawa
Some of the intersections like the 330 to the 221 in Okinawa can be downright confusing.

Once on the 221, the route was a lot easier. The T-shaped transition to highway 331 was a breeze and the military base across the road made for easy reference. The Park is just off the 331 so I followed this road to the southern coast. There wasn’t much to see along this stretch besides freeway and commercial neighborhoods. The entire route is mostly flat. However, the 331 narrows down to a small rural route near the park and has some small climbs.

Once at the park, I took advantage of the refreshment stands and bathrooms. I was able to ride most of it, however bicycles are not allowed in the memorial proper. The park and memorial were the brainchild of Masahide Ota, a former governor and survivor of the Battle of Okinawa. The memorial at the park sits on a cliff above the coast. The view looking southeast is breathtaking. However, it is also here where the names of the many Okinawans, Japanese, and Americans are memorialized. It is a stark reminder that the most horrible things can happen in the most beautiful places.

Nakagusku Castle Loop Ride

The view looking north towards the end of the Nakagusku visitor’s route.

Nakagusuku Castle is approximately 15 mi/24 km from Naha Main Place with the entire loop being 25.4 mi/40.8 km. I began my ride going north on highway 330. The highway has a designated pedestrian/bicycle pathway on the shoulder so it was not necessary to ride in the street the whole way. Until I made my way to highway 146, there wasn’t much to see besides a tunnel and some shiisaa.

The transition to the 146 was a bit trying, and I definitely needed to ride in the street at this point. There is a smaller street which shoots off the 330 through a neighborhood that leads to a overpass intersection with the 146. There were small on-ramps to ride and steps to walk down…I chose the steps to avoid cars as the roads in this area are pretty narrow. See the map above for reference. Once on the 146, I headed west towards the castle. There was a steep climb of about 524 ft/160 m over a short 1.75 mi/2.8 km stretch of winding, narrow road. I stuck to the left-side pedestrian shoulder to avoid traffic. Once I arrived at the castle admissions booth, I purchased a ticket and left my bike in the designated area as they are not allowed on the castle grounds.

Nakagusuku is one of many castles built by the Kingdom of Ryukyu in the 13th century. It is made of coral blocks and contains three main wards. The best thing about this site is that one can see both the east and west coast of the island from here. It is an amazing view and well worth the ride. The other benefit of riding at this time of year meant that there were very few tourists so I had the place almost to myself. It was so quiet, I could hear children playing at the school across the valley.

Getting back to Naha Main Place is easy since it is mostly downhill. I wanted to pay a visit to Taira Cycle on my way back. Continuing the loop, I had to get around Futenma Air Base. The 146 takes you west to the 81 and shortly thereafter, back on the 330. From there, I went north until I exited west for a short ride on the 130 to connect to the famous highway 58 heading south. Taira Cycle is on a street off the 58 to the right about 0.75 mi/1.2 km from the intersection (see map above).

Yoshihiro Taira runs his small shop in the Chatan District of Okinawa, across the highway from Futenma Air Base. He carries mostly Surly and Tokyobike. His shop is full of really awesome made-in-the-USA products as well as Japanese brands like SimWorks. Yoshi stopped working for a few minutes to chat and take pictures of my bike. Definitely worth a visit!

Yours Truly at Taira Cycle in Chatan, Okinawa.

Getting back to Naha Main Place was a simple matter of continuing south along the 58 until a connection on highway 222 took me back to the 330. One note to always remember: highway 58 is the busiest road on the island. It is extremely dangerous. It seemed that I was playing a deadly version of leapfrog with the city buses the whole way south.

Overall, the rides in Okinawa were great. I wish I had spent more time exploring the more rural sections of the island to avoid traffic. But since it was my first time riding a bike there, I wanted to stick to the major roads. If I had any advice it would be to make sure you respect the people who live and work on Okinawa. Okinawan motorists are generally non-aggressive and unlikely to use their horns. So be courteous, smile, and enjoy yourself. There is a lot to see on this island, and going by bike is definitely recommended.


Kona Sutra 650b : a Dank Build

2017 Kona Sutra 650b Conversion

2017 Kona Sutra 650b Conversion

This bike is now featured on Kona Cog Dream Builds!

Image gallery below at end of article.

There’s absolutely no reason to convert a perfectly good touring and adventure bike like the Kona Sutra to something other than what it is. No bicycle is perfect. People have different needs and wants. This bike happened to be a great commuter and touring bike. But I wanted something more. It is a great platform for upgrading. There wasn’t anything preventing me from doing it other than the expense. So over the course of a year, I waited: watching and comparing prices, gathering, mooching, convincing my SO of the need, nay, the destiny of my dear Kona. It must be rebuilt! I ended up with the dankest of dream builds.

I have had this particular Sutra since it debuted in early 2017. I was drawn to the metallic flake paint job and easy-going geometry. When commuting to work, I found it to be extremely comfortable. Out on the trail, it handled very well, making it not only an excellent commuter but a hardy adventure bike. With all the new categories of road/gravel/adventure bikes out there, the Sutra is like a do-it-most bike that seems perfect, albeit just a little too heavy. But that is Kona for you. Their frames are built very well. Steel, though. I will deal with the extra weight if I can have the durability!

Always on a quest to build my a better bike, stock off-the-shelf rides usually don’t last too long in my household. Even though this bike performs really, really well, I wanted to do a few things to it that required some major surgery. I agree that the bike is good the way it is, however, there is always room for improvement.

The Sutra standard (not the LTD) comes with a Shimano Deore mountain triple crankset. My relationships with the many front derailleurs in my life have been awful. Always adjusting, rejecting the new technology like SRAM Yaw and that tooth-pulling new Ultegra FD-8000 derailleur that Shimano dropped on us last year. I decided that the best place to start my Sutra upgrade was to convert the drivetrain to a 1x, and kill the FD with fire (seriously, I think i tossed in into a friends BBQ). I already had a Shimano XT M8000 crankset handy, but I wanted more teeth. I purchased a Wolftooth Components DropStop 38T chainring. Believe it or not, this part of the conversion was the easiest part.

Sutra9153

Shimano XT M8000 crankset with Wolftooth 38T DropStop chainring.

The harder part was getting the rear derailleur and cassette sussed out. I really like the way the Shimano XTR Shadow Plus rear derailleur felt. For me, Shimano has always has had the smoother-shifting feel. Believe me, I realize that something like SRAM Force 1 would have been easier. But to build the dankest, one must be a bit of a nonconformist. Problem was, in order to use the XTR with the Ultegra shifters and the 11-42 cassette, I needed some Batman-style gadgets.

Wolftooth Components, being as clever as they are, had two nifty devices that I could use. The Tanpan pull-adjuster for the Ultegra-to-XTR cable path, and the Goatlink 11 which would allow the normally 11-40 XTR compatible with 11-42. Though it sounds like overkill, it actually works really well. The shifting is smooth and accurate. When routing the inner cable through the Tanpan, it must be really tightly pulled through the pulleys and the cable bolt. Otherwise, the barrel adjusters will have too much slack to tighten the action.

2017 Kona Sutra 650b XTR Goatlink Tanpan detail 2

2017 Kona Sutra 650b XTR, Goatlink, and Tanpan detail

I also wanted wider tires and stiffer wheels. So, again, doing something completely unnecessary, I decided to build some 650b wheels. Both are 32 spokes, cross three, laced to WTB Asym i29 rims. I also put a DT Swiss 350 rear hub in the back wheel.

The handling is pretty nice. Even with the WTB Byway 650×47 tires, the effective diameter is still just short of what they were with the 700s. I need to get smaller cranks. Other than that, the bike handles like a dream. The stiffer wheel gives a great response on the road and the dirt. The wider tire certainly allows for better cornering and comfort as well.

Because I am always upgrading, eventually I want to get some Paul Components Klamper brakes and a new headset (suggestions welcome). I already have some Simworks Honjo brass Turtle 58 fenders that I need to tweak to fit as well. But that is for later. I hope you enjoyed checking out my dank bike. Build list, image gallery and comments below.

Build list (other than standard equipment):

In Defense of (Relatively) Cheap Bikes

2017 Specialized Allez E5 Sport

2016 Specialized Allez E5 Sport

I spend quite a bit of my time riding, working on and thinking about bicycles. Most every conversation I have about bicycles involves some sort of cost associated with the subject bicycle. The dollar amounts spoken of may be of certain components, the entire bike, or cost to worth ratios (otherwise known as bang for your buck).

Let’s talk road bikes for a second. I think we can boil down the average prospective customer into three camps: 1) rides really expensive bicycles and thinks it is worth it to ride super nice bikes; 2) is surprised at how expensive bikes have become but really wants to ride; and 3) has a modest budget, would rather not spend their entire savings but is willing to take the advice of more experienced riders and buy an affordable bike that suits them.

For the expensive bike crowd, there is a vast range of snobbery or personal taste which makes them always discount an affordable bike. For the more frugal, affordable means Craigslist (or worse, 1970s) pricing. With $400 hybrids being the bottom of the price spectrum in most shops, they can be quite beyond help. However, I feel that the majority of people fall into the last group. It is these customers that many bike shops need to treat with the utmost care. Acting too snobbish about what they can afford will no doubt leave some of them feeling low or stupid. Shifting to the other extreme, talking purely about budget, could have the same effect. They may go away feeling that the cycling world is too exclusive for them.

This is why, when it comes to most people, that the first thing I ask is what type of riding they wish to do. I then gravitate towards an affordable bike first. If they say they are looking for more, then I show them the higher-end stuff.

Please also keep in mind that I am talking about people with little to no experience riding bikes but would really like to get more into it. There are those in the industry that will tell this person to buy what we believe to be a mid-range bike. This is usually a road bike with a carbon frame and a compact-double drivetrain. Possibly Shimano Tiagra or 105 components. It may have an FSA or PraxisWorks crankset, may or may not have disc brakes (mechanical or hydraulic), and a carbon seat post. Usually, this falls in the range of $1,900 to $2,300 depending on the shop and not including any deals or sales.

If the person has the dough and doesn’t mind so much, so be it. But I often advise to go with a more starter model rather than the mid-range. Why? Well I want this person to enjoy their purchase without having to realize that they may have spent too much for their level of riding. If they stay with the sport, all the better. They can hand the entry-level bike down or sell it and get a more expensive bike later. This, I believe, benefits the bike industry more. Not only will more riders get accustomed to various levels of builds, they will be more excited about their upgrades.

Consider the lower-end of the spectrum. They are not designed to be crappy. Far from it. In fact, many of the components and frame technologies that are in a $900 bike were top of the line a decade ago. If your customer isn’t racing, that should suit them just fine. They get quality products at a lower price. Are there disadvantages to the customer? Sure. They will get a slightly heavier bike, components that are not as smooth as the top of the line stuff. But relative to a pro, the experience will no doubt be the same. They are still learning. They want to get excited.

Ultimately, it is up to the sales staff at the bike shop to build a relationship with this type of customer. That way, the upgrade cycle will seem natural. They more they ride bikes, the more they see their skill level improve. The more excited they will be when it is time to upgrade. We not just selling products, my friends. We are selling a lifestyle and an experience. There is no room for snobbery as all equipment is the best relative to skill levels.

That is why I am happy to sell a bike like the Specialized Allez E5 Sport to someone who is just starting out. The bike has everything a new rider needs. Plenty of range in the gearing. Carbon fork for comfort/weight reduction. Non-aggressive riding position. This type of bike should do well for a new rider for a couple of years or until their skill level improves. When they are ready to upgrade, all the better for them and our shop.

So please, bike shop employees: keep the snobbery to a minimum and use it only with your level of riding friends. Cycling is not an exclusive lifestyle and the more of us there are, the better. Remember that.

Surly Straggler: A Cyclocross Experiment

Surly Straggler 1x11 Ultegra to XTR via Tanpan.

Surly Straggler 1×11 Ultegra to XTR via Tanpan.

I spoke to Captain Obvious and he told me (confidentially) that cyclocross is kind of a big deal. I was loath to believe him as I usually don’t trust people with ridiculous names. But a quick look at sites like the Radavist convinced me. It’s everywhere!

Cyclocross has been around since the early 20th century. It was a niche category with niche bike builds (usually totally custom) and a little-understood reason for why anyone would want to ride a drop-bar bicycle in the mud. As it turns out, human beings, especially cyclist humans, are filthy creatures. They love getting all dirty and holding it up as a badge of honor. Remember that guy who drove his 4×4 to get groceries with his truck all covered in mud from the last time it rained? The same theory applies to cyclocross. It’s just plain rad, is what it is. There’s nothing like getting all tricked out in some amazing, colorful kit, then getting it all muddy. Entropy is awesome. As humans and cyclists, we’re damn good at it.

So in response to getting older and wanting to be more awesome, I decided to build a cyclocross bike…only build one that would get me more points in the rad department. Though not a pure cyclocross frame, the Surly Straggler seemed to fit the bill for my needs. I love steel and Surly makes some pretty nice frames with disc tabs. I decided to do a frame-up compete build from scratch, including lacing my own wheels. So strap in and get ready, I about to attempt to blow your mind…

After acquiring a mint-colored 54cm Surly Straggler frame from my shop, I set to work building the wheels. Since I wanted to get a nice colorway going, I thought lacing red anodized White Industries XMR 6-bolt disc hubs to WTB Frequency Team CX hoops would look pretty neat-o. DT Swiss 2.0/1.8 Revolution spokes? Don’t mind if I do.

Disc brakes are always fun, but I’m a bit of a scaredy-cat when it comes to hydraulic disc setups. I am still not comfy with the whole bleeding and olive and barb thing. Besides, cables are easy to maintain and can be fixed in the field. So I took a look at the new Paul Components Klampers and decided that the cool factor was too high for me to ignore. After much truing of the wheel and bolting on of the discs, I had a rolling frame.

Next was the drive train: I could have gone the traditional 2-by route and got myself a Ultegra or CX-specific setup. But I wanted to go deeper. I wanted the ability to climb, race, and haul heavy loads (like myself, for instance). I chose an Ultegra-to-XTR-via-Tanpan setup. Didn’t get all that? Well I wanted STI shifters, a single chainring, and the ability to run a 40-tooth cog. The only thing I could see that works well enough is the Wolftooth Components Tanpan cable pull adjuster. Now, with a Wolftooth 39-tooth narrow-wide chanring attached to my Ultegra crankset and connected to an 11-40 cassette lovingly cradled by an XTR 11-speed derailleur, I could get as rad as I want.

Combine all this with Salsa Cowbell 2 Handlebars,  Thompson stem and seat post, Chris King Headset, Brooks Cambium C15 saddle, Raceface Atlas pedals (until I get used to the ride), and S-Works Renegade 29 x 1.8 tires, I am now ready for some serious dirt assault. It’s entropy time!

Partial build list (costs MSRP or sale in US Dollars at the time of posting). Please order from and support your LBS (local bike shop) unless link provided below:

  • Surly Straggler 54 cm frame – approx. $500.
  • WTB XMR 6-bolt disc hubs – Front: $189, rear, $379.
  • WTB 32-hole Frequency i19 Team CX rims – $79.95 x 2.
  • Shimano Ultegra 6800 Crankset – $169.99 from Chain Reaction.
  • Shimano Ultegra 6800 2×11 shifters – $196.49 from Chain Reaction.
  • Shimano XT M8000 11-speed 11-40 tooth cassette – $59.95 from Chain Reaction.
  • Shimano ICE-Tech SM-RT86 6-bolt rotors (160 mm) – $32.00 x 2
  • Paul Components Klamper short pull disc brake calipers – $175.00 x 2
  • Wolftooth Components 39-tooth Chainring for 110 BCD 4-bolt Shimano cranks – $78.95. Get direct.
  • Wolftooth Components Tanpan inline pull adjuster – $39.95. Get direct.
  • Shimano XTR M9000 Shadow Plus Medium Cage rear derailleur – $149.99 from Chain Reaction.
  • Thomson Elite X4 70mm MTB stem (31.6 clamp) – $99.99
  • Thomson Elite 27.2 seat post – $99.95
  • Chris King Red Sotto Voce 1-1/8 Threadless Headset – $149.99
  • Brooks Cambium C15 saddle – $175.00
  • S-Works Renegade 29 x 1.8 tires – $59.95 x 2
  • Salsa Cowbell 2 handlebars – $50.00
  • Salsa Lip Lock seat post clamp (30.0 clamp) – $22.00
  • Raceface Atlas pedals – $150.00

Ride it!

Stormtrooper: Surly Long Haul Trucker

Surly Long Haul Trucker Retro MTB

Surly Long Haul Trucker Retro MTB

(See gallery below for more images!)

I have what some would say would be an unhealthy obsession with steel-framed bikes. The fact that pedaling a heavier bike makes you exercise harder leaves that point moot. Recently, nostalgia got the best of me. I decided that I wanted to convert my Surly Long Haul Trucker to an all-around short-distance commuter and trail bike. The Surly Long Haul Trucker is one of those steel-framed bikes known for its strength and versatility. Indeed, anyone who buys one can take advantage of a good all-around geometry and the ability to customize the bike for almost any need. The Long Haul, or LHT, comes in two wheel sizes 26″ and 700c (in 56cm frames and above). I decided to take a look at the bike and see what I could create.

Being a rather untall fellow with shortish legs, I my Surly is 52cm frame (only available in 26″ wheels). I figured, for versatility’s sake, that this bike in 26″ would allow me the best range of customization. I could make a world tourer, a single speed commuter or a rigid trail bike. Having grown up in the 80s in Southern California, a rigid trail bike was what everyone had if they didn’t have a road bike or a beach cruiser. I can’t stand riding a beach cruiser, and since I have a Surly road-ish bike already, I opted to build myself a retro-inspired mountain bike á la 1982 Specialized.

A fiend of mine was sporting the above-mentioned Specialized with these nifty bullmoose handle bars by Nitto. I knew that Rivendell sold them but only in a threaded headset version. Since the Stormtrooper (as opposed to Stumpjumper…that’s what I am calling the LHT these days) had a threadless headset, I was at a loss. Thanks to the all-powerful Google Machine, I happened upon Fairweather which had a Surly LHT pictured with some threadless Nitto bullmoose bars! Being only around $80.00 US, I ordered the bars immediately. The next step was to re-route the shifting and braking.

Anyone who wants to get a lot of really nice aluminum components milled right here in the good ol’ USA, look no further than Paul Components. These guys make some of the nicest parts out there. Their braking components are second to none. I have their cantis on two other bikes and plan to put them on this bike as well. What I was really after was the thumbies. I took the Dura Ace bar end shifters and adapted them for use on the straight bullmoose bar and violá! Old Skool Stormtrooper in effect!

One of Surly’s most famous decals says “Fatties Fit Fine” and you will find it on the chainstays of most of their bikes. Indeed, the specs for the max tire width on the LHT according to Surly is 2.1″, although I think that a 2.25″ could be wedged in there as long as it has smaller knobs. I opted for the classic gumwalled Duro tires in 26 x 2.1. They hearken back to a time when there were only a few types of MTB tire available, and it was not uncommon to see a dude flying down the street with giant-knobbed tires buzzing like a 4×4. So these fit the bill. It already comes with a Shimano LX triple drivetrain which I left stock because retroness.

So I’m all set. I will keep you updated on the progress. I plan to install some Paul brakes and cable hangers and new pedals (undecided). Rundown of parts and costs after the gallery.

Build list:

  • Bike: 2014 Surly Long Haul Trucker – Smog Silver MSRP $1,350.00
  • Handlebars: Nitto B903 Threadless Bullmoose bars. $78.00 (buy here)
  • Brake Levers: Paul Components Canti Levers. $128.00/pair (buy here)
  • Shifting: Paul Components Thumbies. $74.00/pair (buy here)*
  • Tires: Duro Gumwall MTB, can be found on eBay for about $19.99 per tire.

*Does not include bar-end shiters. Use the stock Dura Ace that come with the LHT.

 

In Defense of Rim Brakes

Paul Neo Retro Touring Canti

Paul Neo Retro Touring Canti

It was a long struggle with pneumonia. It was close…real close. I am still not back on the bike but I am getting there. While I recover, I wanted to talk about brakes.

Probably the most invasive technology in the cycling world (aside from crabon everything) is disc brakes. They are becoming more common on bikes these days and it seems you can’t event spend as low as $770.00 on a bike without getting some hydraulic discs in the package. Indeed, where just a couple of years ago, hydraulic disc brakes were the sole property of bikes costing over $1,500.00. Nay, mountain bikes costing over $1500.00. Now they are everywhere. And for good reason: they stop a bike more efficiently, function on warped rims and are great in wet weather. Hydraulics do not suffer a much from that annoying zing-zing sound that mechanical disc brakes are so fond of making. Once the exclusive domain of mountain bikers, they are sneaking onto every other type of bike being offered for sale to consumers. The drawback to these things? There are two that I can think of: weight and maintenance.

Weight is a minor issue on entry-level bikes. Most riders who are out getting exercise and enjoying the fresh air are not looking to shave grams, They are looking for a solid bike for the lowest price. The trouble with putting hydro discs on an entry-level hybrid is evident immediately to the entry-level rider purchasing said bike: the maintenance. If I were to mention reservoirs, brake fluid and bleeding to this type of bicycle consumer, they would imagine a greasy-faced auto mechanic in coveralls holding up a master cylinder in front of their face saying: “Now there’s your problem!” But the truth is, today’s hydro brakes can be maintained with just a little practice or for a modest fee at you LBS. Even a brake-bleeding kit only costs $25.00.

So are rim brakes obsolete? Some may say so, especially the members of the weak-minded spandex army of Freds because they are easily moved by marketing. However, the other drawback that I mentioned before, weight, can have a serious effect on a sub-16-pound road bike. There are some companies, like Giant for instance, that have appropriated side-pull brakes for their road bikes. I think this is an interesting concept. Take the 2015 Giant Propel Advanced SL 0. This is their highest-end road bike and it retails for a whopping $10,800.00! And it has side-pull rim brakes. Granted, they are getting pretty aero with these, mounting them behind the forks, so there’s a good way to subtract some milliseconds to your stage time. The weight is pretty light, too. Just when you thought manufacturers were going disc crazy, here comes Giant with the weakest style of rim brakes on their most expensive consumer road bike. It is truly mind bottling…you know, when things get so crazy it gets your thoughts all trapped like in a bottle? But hey, these brakes are super easy to maintain and they are super light as well. That should be very pleasing to the Freds out there.

To be honest, I am rather fond of a good set of cantilever brakes. Sure they may be a pain to adjust, but they are the best at stopping power aside from some of the higher-end calipers out there. Plus they make my bikes look all steam-punky. That’s always a plus with the ladies. End of line.

Quick Review: 2015 Kona Hei Hei Deluxe

TJ and the 2015 Kona Hei Hei Deluxe

TJ and the 2015 Kona Hei Hei Deluxe

Ah Kona. Kona Kona Kona. Always surprising me with something I didn’t expect. I mean, after last year’s lineup, I thought that the maker of the overbuilt-yet-surprisingly-finessable Process line of compact all-mountain shredders would never be able to top themselves. After all, we have been waiting for a crabon Process to emerge in 2015 only to find that we will have to keep waiting. But never fear: Kona has, for some reason, been able to produce an XC Race in crabon for those who feel they need to go really fast on not-so-paved surfaces.

Coming away a little nonplussed after the whole Hei Hei Hei thing last year, Kona has finally unscrewed their naming convention and has returned this year with a race bike that is, for lack of a better word, spongeworthy. The 2015 Hei Hei Deluxe seems to be the end result of a lot of trial and error that has finally produced a winning design.

With Kona being able to produce some of the most killer aluminum bikes for those non-weight weenies who just like to go out and shred, their crabon lineup is surpisingly competitive. The Hei Hei Dee’s frame is extremely strong and stiff. Made from Kona’s awesome Race Light crabon, the bike, as large as it is, is extremely responsive. The whole entire bike weighs in at a svelt 28 pounds and change: awesome for a dual-suspension 29er. The look of the frame, for those who care, is sleek, without that extra futuristic bullshit that makes most crabon bikes look like Logans Run rejects which are destined to be put out of their stylistic misery after they get too old.

Suspension? Naginata please. Anyone who wants to complain about a 100mm travel 29er with Beamer suspension maybe shouldn’t be buying this bike (#firstworldproblems). Combined with the 120mm Fox Float 32 CTD Evolution front fork, this combination is sure to produce a sufficiently sphincter-puckering response whilst screaming across all Creation, birds, snakes and bears diving out of your way. The combination is perfect. So shut up.

So what else will the snobs complain about that I can just refute right now because this bike is so awesome? Ah yes, the Shimano SLX group with XT rear derailleur component build. Well, look people: this is not the Hei Hei Supreme. If you are a Fred (or Frieda) that fancies him/herself a pro rider, then fine, by all means complain. But this is the mid-range bike, folks. And besides, SLX these days is extremely reliable and smooth. This build is not only affordable, it is right up there with the XTR and SRAM X0 stuff that is out this year.

The wheels are perfect for this build level. Not for the pro but for the average racer, Stan’s ZTRs are a great set of hoops. I would probably go with a tire upgrade, though as I have never been a Maxxis Ikon fan. But hey, snobbery aside, the wheel package for this level is just fine. Grind the tires down and upgrade when ready.

To sum up. The response of this bike is amazing. It is light, fast and has all the features that anyone getting into XC Racing would want. As I always like to say, it is a very affordable race platform that will easily last several seasons. After you beat the shit out of the SLX group and the Fox Float forks, upgrading is always a good idea. I am not sure, what with the styling and frame materials, that getting another bike after a couple of seasons would be necessary. Just add your own parts later and make it your own. Just don’t go upgrade-crazy right out of the gate. Kona has definitely produced a great build that is sure to see some trophies this year.

End of line.

Overreaction to Winter: a Birthright of the Santa Barbarian

studded tires

Studded tires outside the Presidio in Santa Barbara. Sign of subtropical Winter.

Back when I was in college, I met a girl from Oregon. She grew up outside of Eugene and moved down here to go to college. Her first impression of Santa Barbara was what giant pussies we all are when it comes to the weather. She was surprised, for example, that when the temperature dipped below 60 degrees Farenheit, Santa Barbarians would don huge jackets, top boots and scarves. Cyclists around here tend to wear multiple layers of lycra kit on top of arm warmers, knee warmers and the occasional balaclava if they can see their breath.

I guess people from outside Southern California (yes, Santa Barbara is in Southern California) are made of stronger stuff than we are. For example, when it rains, cycling for the most part stops. You might see the occasional Rufus out on his K-mart special going to wherever, but all the serious cyclists tend to hide. I mean, it’s just water, right? How do they take a shower if they are so afraid of water?

I guess it’s all relative. Our perspective is skewed. That girl from Oregon? She kept complaining that it was always too hot. And me? I just spotted a bike outside with studded tires. It doesn’t even snow here. The overreactions are astonishing.

End of line.