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Surly Long Haul Trucker Review
My Surly LHT & Other Bicycle Lovers
My first lover was back in 2007. A stupid college kid stomping through the rains of Southeast Alaska, I conceived of a cycling trip of moderate proportions. I'd fly into Tacoma, WA pedal into Seattle, Ferry into Bremerton and then head north to round the Olympic National Forest, then hug the coast all the way into San Francisco. It was supposed to be my 1,100 mile cycle touring coming out party.
My lover, then, was an aged large yellow framed girl with Italian looking decorations on her seat tube and I believe the word “International” tattooed there. I was inexperienced, she'd weathered through the years with those knobby clunky shifters right between her drop handlebars and those wobbly wheels of hers had hit the curbs of life pretty hard. She'd had many lovers, I trusted her.
A friend of mine was running a bicycle club at the university in Juneau, Alaska. I hadn't the money to buy a bicycle, so when I brought up my trip and search for a lover, John wheeled out this tired lady; “this one might work.” I gazed at her in the fluorescent lit concrete warehouse, threw my legs over her, with my jewelry softly uplifted by her top tube bar, and peddled an uneasy circle. “She'll do, I guess.”
When I first loaded up my banana boat lover with the cheapest gear I could scrape up, she fell over on me like an elephant shot for sport in suburban streets. I cursed her. Without the nomenclature then, I've come to know that her chain stay was too short to accommodate the saddle bags I'd thrown on her and the whole geometry of the frame was meant for road cycling in the 1970s. No matter, a little shuffling, a bit of twine and some primitive Macgyver tricks got us rolling together in an uneasy weaving dance.
Well, just 700 miles into the trip, I found myself drinking out of a bottle of R&R with some homeless guys living in the redwoods outside of Humboldt University, without a wallet and just a few pennies in my pocket. Before I'd realized my wallet was lost, I'd spent my last twelve dollars for a haircut done by a soft breasted, strong handed, middle aged woman who commented on my beautifully dark thick locks of hair. It came with a complimentary hair wash, I'm not bitter.
Lessons Learned About Cycle Touring
The lost wallet and bottle of whiskey shared with Thomas and Gary in the Humboldt Redwoods are stories for another time. What I want to talk about is what I've come to know about what you need to look for in your bicycle lover
I am not, by any stretch, a bicycle aficionado. Get into the nitty-gritty details of gear ratios, geometric angles of the fork and seat stays or any of the hundreds of choices out there for rear derailleurs, crank arm lengths and clearance, as well as the hundreds of other components and I'll give you a weary eyed nod that you're smarter than me. It happens a lot.
I've ridden on loaded cycling tours for just over 4000 miles now and if you include the commuting I've done, when I actually had a real job, you can tack on another thousand or so. When I was growing up in Seldovia, Alaska, I pretended I was a bike mechanic with a guy who asked that you call him “Stone.” So, take my advice knowing I'm an imbecile.
There are some fundamentals to take into consideration when choosing a bicycle and especially when choosing a bicycle for touring purposes. Here's what I've got for you:
- Size. My first lover was simply too big for me. Straddling the yellow banana was an act of delicacy to ensure I didn't keel over from getting rammed in the crotch. Riding the thing was a slight stretch that wore me out quickly. Similarly, a bike too small will scrunch your entire body into this awkward constantly moving sack of aching potatoes. With any bicycle, not just a touring one, do yourself a favor and take the time to figure out the proper sized frame. I've done a somewhat detailed article on how you can accomplish this here.
- Chainstay Length. The recommended length from the middle of crank and the middle of the eyelets for the back wheel is 45cm+. This ensures that your back heel does not hit your gear while your bicycle is loaded. My yellow lover had something around 42cm and was a real pain in the kisser.
- Mounting Points/Braze-Ons. The bicycle I borrowed in 2007 had braze-ons for two water bottles and no mounting points on the front fork for a rack. If you are taking the time to actually buy a bicycle, ensure that there are at least three braze-ons and that there are mounting points on the front and back for racks. You could Macgyver, but I am almost certain you'll be annoyed by the results.
- Wheel Size and Valves. On my most recent lover with my wife, a Novara Safari, the 700cc wheels with presta valves, turned out to be a bit of a problem, if you seriously blew a tube that seemed unpatchable. In the U.S. 700cc wheels/tubes are taking the market by storm. However, rural places in Canada and I imagine others, are still looking towards the 26” standard valves as their go-to. You'll want to take some time to consider where you are cycling to determine if you want to go with 26” or 700cc wheels, as well as the availability of standard and presta valve tubes. Just consider it, okay?
- Material. I am sure that there is some mumbo-jumbo out there that says if the geometry is right you can load up a bicycle of any material and ride for thousands of miles and slog that thing through muddy trails and rocky roads and all will be alright. If you are like me, you want to know that if the thing breaks, which things tend to do, you can fix it. Steel has been around for a long time and the welding method to fix it is known by a large pool of people around the world (not including me). There are bikes out there that could serve your touring needs made of other material, perhaps without a hitch. Just don't get all bent out of shape when your aluminum or titanium frame breaks and you can't figure out how or where to fix the damn thing. I am a simpleton who went with steel through and through, enough said.
Surly Long Haul Trucker | Fulfillment of a Prophecy
And God said, “let there be bicycles.” And the land was filled with a multitude of bikes of every shape, size and color and God saw that it was good. Then, after many suns and moons, God said “let there be a bicycle to traverse the lands of my world at a reasonable price.” The Surly Long Haul Trucker, made from the belly of the earth, sprung forth and multiplied, giving life to the fairly cheap and wandering souls without jobs, and God saw that it was good. - A BIBLE THAT DOESN'T EXIST
After my 2007 tour, cut short due to a lost wallet at Jack in the Box, my cycle touring days took a rest for nearly a decade. I met a wonderful Latvian woman who I now call my wife. We have a little girl, now three, who partakes in the little cycling journey we are on right now that started in July 2014.
We've traveled over 3000 miles from Prince Rupert, BC to San Diego, CA. The last 250+miles we've ridden Surly's Long Haul Trucker. Previously, we rode some Novara Safari's. Those world tour, high brow, cyclist may scoff at the REI lower rung bikes, but they worked out just fine for us for the first leg of our trip - even with stock components.
One of the primary reasons we've switched over to a Surly Long Haul Trucker is for the 26” wheels. We wanted to be sure that if our wheels totally gave out, it was going to be relatively simple to swap out for a new wheel/hub. With the switch, we've been met with a multitude of upgrades.
Surly | Long Haul Trucker | Review
I just want to clarify that the current $1300+ price tag for the Long Haul Trucker has not really been in my price range until recently and even now at a steep debating quandary. Surly has been around for awhile now and the bikes that they produce have become a bit renowned for their specificity and quality workmanship - even if they are made in Taiwan. No disrespect Taiwan.
The fundamentals of the Long Haul Trucker are solid. They are not extraordinarily heavy, coming in around 25 lbs (Novara Safari's come in around 30 lbs) and they have all the basics of a quality touring bike including three braze-ons, front and back mounting points for racks, replacement spokes stock with the bike, Alex Adventurer rims and with almost any frame you can get 26” wheels. Additionally, the width between chainstays accommodates big fat tires for rough roads.
Beyond those touring bike considerations, the bike itself is forgiving enough to be a joy to ride unloaded as well. I did some short 20 to 30 mile unloaded rides around the San Diego area hills and found it fast, fun and incredibly sexy - something that I could not say about our Novara Safari's, they were really only fun to ride when loaded down with 80 lbs of gear, otherwise they were a bouncy uncontrollable child of a mess.
If you are buying a touring bicycle stock, there are certain things you are just going to have to accept (unless you are buying just the frame and intending to build the thing yourself). Surly's stock frame and components, for us, provide enough quality, economy and longevity to make the stock complete bike more than acceptable. Here's our take:
Ever Owned a Surly?
Steel Frame. As I mentioned, the world over knows steel, how to fix it and bikes made of it are known as forgiving and strong.
Width of front fork and rear seat stays/chain stays. The “fff Fatties Fit Fine” slogan on the chain stay bar are a testament to how Surly has manufactured bikes. They've catered towards those who prefer fatter, bigger tires for the stability, comfort and versatility that they provide.
Super Long Chain stay. That problem that I had with my yellow lover hitting the back of my heel on my loaded gear, absolutely not going to be a problem on the Long Haul Trucker. The standard chain stay length for both 26” and 700cc wheel frames is 46cm, which is more than enough to clear most large pannier (saddle) bags.
Side Benefit of Long Chain stay. With a longer chain stay the general understanding is that the ride is much more smoother with the longer length.
Frame sizes and wheels. Surly LHTs come in a huge range of sizes to accommodate the shortest like me to the tallest like my wife. Additionally, they make the LHT with both 26” and 700cc in most sizes, which is great for folks that want to go long distances in remote places.
Hubs. The stock Shimano cup/cone bearings are easier to rebuild after you destroy the stock ones. Which will happen.
Gears/Ratios. All I know is that the stock LHT comes with 27 gears that make the hills you climb with a fully loaded bicycle melt away. Those fixed gear people are crazy and probably stronger.
It is hard for me to trash a bike that I've paid $1300 for, but I recognize that nothing is perfect. Here are are low voice gripes about the Surly LHT that will undoubtedly be challenged by a Surly or cycling aficionado:
- Stock cantilever Brakes. For my wife and I, we can live with the stock cantilever brakes that come with the LHT. They are a simple mechanism with little room for absolute failure. However, with the drop bar configuration getting leverage on the breaks to actually stop yourself quickly, especially with a loaded bicycle going downhill, is quite a task. Getting some cross levers for the top of your drop bar, if you stay with the stock cantilever brakes, would probably be your best bet. For us cheap folk, we squeeze real hard.
- Toe clearance. This is certainly not an issue that affects only Surly Long Haul Truckers. For the first 100 miles I was driven insane by the fact that my toes came into contact, not necessarily with the front tire, but with the mudguard stays. However, after another 100 miles I've not been bothered. Toe clearance or overlap is common among many quality bicycles and should not be the sole reason you rule in or out a bicycle. Just thought we should bring it up.
- Handlebars. If you've ridden a road bike for any distance, than the stock drop bars that come with the Surly LHT will not be a problem. However, note that a loaded bicycle with the narrower drop bar handlebars are a bit squirrelly to control, especially on rough terrain. Though, we do have to mention, starting stupidly on a high gear at a stop light in 3/6 with drop handle bars, where you can get some muscle leverage is way easier than with any other handlebar type we've come across.
- Seat. If you are looking for a bicycle that comes stock with an awesome seat, the LHT is not one of them. In fact, finding a bike with a stock saddle that isn't the cheapest is probably a lost cause. If you want a fancy seat, buy the LHT and replace the stock one with one you think will be gentler on your derrière. We didn't because we're cheap.
Cross Country Surly
The Bottom Line
There are few bicycles on the market that advertise themselves as touring bicycles that provide the versatility and quality of the Surly Long Haul Trucker. It is a fun, commuter, touring bicycle with few stock drawbacks for the dollars you throw at it.