Aaron G, friend and Himalaya companion, recently built up a Surly Troll for our trip next month to India. Here’s his review!
UPDATE! Long Term Review can be seen HERE.
If you spend enough time hanging out with Daniel Molloy you will eventually find yourself building up a Rohloff touring bike. This was the case for me as I recently purchased and built up a Surly Troll. Being almost six two, I opted for the 20’’ frame size, as I like my bikes on the smaller side and upright. I was happy to find the front end of the bike sits higher than you might assume from the shortish head tube lengths (due to the greater length of the suspension corrected fork). The Troll geometry is basically a copy of the Surly 1×1 and the bikes mountain roots are evident as soon as you get it on dirt.
The Troll frame comes only in bright orange, which draws attention to the impressive dropouts, as well as every other braze-on, and mount. The dropout is partly what makes the Troll so versatile and incorporates a fixing bolt slot for the Rohloff, a seat tube facing disc brake mount (for easier rear wheel removal) and a proprietary trailer mounting point. Regrettably, Surly only offers a disc brake adaptor plate for rotors up to 165mm, though simplicity of the plate design leaves me hopeful of larger rotor possibilities.Not being one for bright colors, I took the frame to West Coast Powder Coat in South San Francisco and a few days later the bike was Fir Green (RAL 6009).Magic!
Though many miles would undoubtedly be spent commuting in and around San Francisco, the true goal of this bike build was to have an off-road capable touring machine to replace my primarily road touring bike, a Soma Saga. Additionally the bike would need to carry me and my gear on a quickly approaching trip to the Himalayas and back roads of northern India. With rugged conditions in mind I erred on the side of durability. I laced the Rohloff to a Mavic 729 and purchased a used Mavic 721/Schmidt SON from a friend. Shimano SLX cranks, Avid BB7s, 26×2.25 Schwalbe Marathon Extremes and an Origin8 Space Off Road II bar rounded out the build. All together, with Tubus rear rack, generator and light; the bike weighs in at a scant 34 pounds.
Having owned many different traditionally geared bikes over the years, and having been more or less pleased with their performance, I was eager to try the Rohloff. A quick phone call to Neal at Cycle Monkey and days later received my silver disc Rohloff Speedhub 500 in a sturdy brown box. Impressions
With two months of riding the hub I have been very pleased with the Rohloff. Occasionally I am tempted to blame the “gear drag” for my slow pace, but it is more likely due to my lack of fitness. Many people mention their love of being able to shift through all their gears at a stop, and this is a great feature, especially for loaded touring bikes. An even better attribute is how solid the drive train feels while in gear. Under load it is practically impossible to change gears. This is both a great assurance and a nuisance at times, at least at first. This problem is resolved by learning to shift while at the lowest point in the pedal stroke. Although this shifting technique takes a bit of practice, it does make it possible to shift without breaking cadence.
Getting used to the shifter feel also took some time. Because the “indexing” of the gears occurs inside the hub (and not inside the shifter like on other systems) the shift felt less than “crisp” at first due to cable slack. This feel can be dialed in by fine tuning cable tension at the hub. Additionally I found the direction that the shifter rotates to be opposite of what I was used to on my Shimano nexus 8 speed bike (though reversing the “1” and “14” cables would correct this).
Compared to my 700c road-touring bike, a Soma Saga with v brakes and 42mm Schwalbe Marathon Extremes, the Surly Troll is noticeably slower on pavement but inspires far more confidence on dirt. The Troll(off) and the meatier 26 x 2.25 Marathon Extremes allow for some serious shredding off road. The stoutness of the bike/build has allowed me to explore new terrain previously inaccessible on the Saga. In particular the fire roads and trails on the backside/north side of Mount Tamalpais; including Eldridge Grade from the East Peak down and trips around Lake Lagunitas. The bike feels solid and urges you to ride fast over often neglected fire roads and bumpy single-track. And though at times jarring, the option to add a suspension fork makes it difficult to complain too much about the particularly stiff front end. Though the handling is not overly nimble, the Surly descends confidently and handles predictably. The more upright position paired with the wider bars and big rubber gives a sense of security that I never had off-road on my drop bar touring bikes. Generally the bike rips and allows for max shredding at will. If you opt to take the fire road down instead of the single track, it won’t be because of the bike.
Around town the Troll rolls smooth due to the large tires. On my three-mile daily commute (each way) the bike is certainly slower than the Soma and I am constantly passed by younger kids on bikes with fewer speeds. The disc brakes don’t seem at all overkill as cars busses and taxis are a constant danger. When heavily loaded on one side (i.e. grocery run with one pannier) the Troll is noticeably more stable and less “off balance” feeling than the Saga in the same situation. Additionally, the ability to pedal through turns is far greater on the Troll due to higher bottom bracket generally found on 26-inch wheel mountain bikes.
All in all the Troll delivers what Surly promises, compatibility with many different setups and configurations, if not a bit on the ugly and over appointed side. In addition to versatility and low cost, the Troll shreds off road and is capable of doing triple duty as a Mountain Bike, touring machine and, at times, painfully slow commuter. At the end of the day, if you decide to take the pavement down instead of the dirt, it wont be the Troll that is holding you back.Word!