Review: Aaron’s Surly Troll with Rohloff Speedhub

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.

Rohloff Speedhub

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!


, , ,

20 Responses to Review: Aaron’s Surly Troll with Rohloff Speedhub

  1. Danny Goot July 14, 2011 at 11:27 pm #

    Slow pace is the best pace!

  2. Oupsman August 7, 2011 at 2:12 am #

    May we have photos of left rear side of the bike, I wanna see the disc/luggage carrier/hub/frame mount.

    I’m planning to mount a Surly Troll to use it with my bob ibex trailler.

    Thanks a lot.

  3. Zane Selvans August 13, 2011 at 12:00 am #

    How much did it cost to get the frame powder coated? I’ve heard it’s much more expensive with frames that are already powder coated (as are all Surlies) on the way in, as it’s much more difficult to remove than paint.

    • admin August 13, 2011 at 9:01 am #

      It was only $125 according to Aaron. The coater bead blasted the frame no problem.

  4. Gerco September 1, 2011 at 2:32 am #


    Loved to see your build of a Surly Troll. I am planning to use the same frame for a touringbike. I read that you used a Mavic EX 729 rim with the Rohloff hub. I did the same when i build up my Surly Big Dummy. But i experienced a lot of spoke brakes when under load. So, i recently changed the rims to Rigida Andra 30. These rims have holes drilled under an angle, so the spokes aren’t under to much stress leaving the rim. Since then i have had far less problems..
    I was wondering how your rear wheel hold up? Any problems with spokes braking??
    Enjoy your ride!!

  5. Aaron September 10, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    Hi Gerco,

    No, I have not had any spoke breakage on the Mavic 729. The spoke does enter the rim at a bit of an angle but I have yet to have any problems. The recommended spoke tension by Rohloff is quite high. They say 900N to 1200N or about 92KgF. I used the DT tension meter and double checked it with the Park Tool meter. I dont remember what the number my DT tool read, but I think the Park Tool was reading about 23 (which should be about 93KgF). The spokes are straight gauge DT 2.o.

  6. Jim Thurber October 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    Great write-up. I’m looking for a bike to “hold” a Rohloff and have considered the Troll – along with an Americano Rohloff . . . which costs a bunch.

    Your article has convinced me that the Troll would be perfect. Curious, thou, what you’re using to prevent hub rotation.

    • admin October 22, 2011 at 10:21 pm #

      Aaron uses the oem2 axle plate, the troll has a special slot for the hardware.

  7. MKF October 30, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    I built up a Troll with Rohloff over the winter and have over 2500 miles on it so far.
    It is by far my favorite bike out of a collection of 7 very nice rides including custom made by top notch builder. I used avid bb7, salsa gordo rims with conti travel contact 26×1.75at 70 psi on the road, sugino crank, surly chain wheel, clarence bars with ergo grips, I did not use an OEM 2 mounting as the Rohloff locks into the long horizontal drop outs. Just measure the chain carefully, and then take out any chain stretch with a surly tug nut. This thing is bomb proof. I am 6 feet 2 inches tall and weigh 230 lbs.
    Not even a flat tire. I usually ride alone, but with friends on their Roadies I keep up on the flats, always beat them down hill, and lag some going up. But overall they never beat me to end of the trail (did I mention I am 63 years old). Try it you will not be sorry

  8. David Urbina November 13, 2011 at 1:45 pm #


    I was wondering if you are finding the 20” frame to be compatible with your height. I am about the same height and am curious to know if it suits you as well as you thought it would? Any input would be helpful.

    • Kevin December 19, 2011 at 9:46 pm #

      Great review, and I love the color. I’m curious about the same height issue; how has the 20″ worked out? Any regrets not going with the 22″?

      • admin January 13, 2012 at 9:30 am #

        For Aaron, his 20″ is working out great, I think the reach is perfect for him, and he’s barely cut anything off the steer tube.

  9. JJ December 7, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    The Surly Troll is what those 3 brothers are using from North Dakota on their trip from Alaska to Patagonia.

    From what they say its a solid bike.

  10. JGB April 21, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    I really have enjoyed your blog. I’m interested in doing a Troll build-up and I was wondering about your use of disc brakes in other countries? Not that BB7s have problems but should I assume you take a few extra parts with you?

    • Daniel April 21, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      Thanks for the comment,

      BB7 brakes do tend to be reliable, and there isn’t really much to go wrong with them. I would always recommend an extra set of pads or two, with the butterfly clips as well. In addition, since it is a cable actuated system, an extra brake cable might be a good idea. Good luck with your project if that happens!

  11. Mike July 28, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    Aaron I am wondering about your peddles , what type do you like the best for use , thanks I often find myself just jumping on the bike for transportation and liked the look of your peddles


  12. Scott January 22, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

    Building up a Troll for a RTW style trip. Will be off on dirt track and gravel as much as possible. 99% sold on the Rohloff with a couple questions that research don’t seem to be answering.

    QR vs bolted axle? Noticed you chose bolt. Are there any known problems with the Troll and Rohloff QR?

    Being new to this style set-up is it tough to get the hub aligned straight with good chain tension? How hard is it to remove for repairs/flats?

    Did you have to make any spacer adjustments to get a straight chainline with the SLX cranks?

    Have you tried a suspension fork on the Troll? Have heard that coil sprung is the only way to go for off-track dependability but it seems high-quality 100mm coil sprung forks are hard to come by these days. Any recommendations?

    Thanks for your response!

  13. Carl W March 15, 2013 at 11:26 am #

    Aaron I´m 6.1″ so I might fit on the same frame size 20 inch, what do you have for bar and stem (length) is it 10 cm?


  1. American Cyclery » The Surly Troll, a good bike.: San Francisco's oldest bike shop - November 17, 2011

    […] We do sell other great non-racing bikes here at American Cyclery, but this one is especially good.  Come by sometime and take it for a spin! If you’d like to read another review from somebody who took his Troll touring in the Himalayas, check here! […]

  2. Aaron’s Surly Troll Rohloff Long Term Review | Pushing the Pedals - January 22, 2013

    […] To see Aaron’s initial review of the Surly Troll, it’s HERE. […]

Leave a Reply