To see Aaron’s initial review of the Surly Troll, it’s HERE.
One year ago I built and reviewed a Surly Troll with a Rohloff Speedhub. Two chains, a few thousand miles and a couple of parts swaps later, the Troll is alive and shredding. Over the past year the Troll has performed dutifully from daily commuting in San Francisco to exploring the goat trails of Kashmir and Northern India, and even setting new records for high elevation ghost rides. The bike’s overall utility and capability have won me over and the Troll has become the only bike I ride. In the past year I have come to appreciate a different outlook towards riding. I go slower, further, and explore more. I pack a lunch and eat real food. I have undertaken a project to ride all the dirt roads on the Marin Bike Map. I bring tools, a light and usually a lock. It’s a more civilized form of shredding really.
With nearly equal mileage spent on San Francisco streets and Marin dirt roads, I could hardly be more pleased with the way the Troll handles. On city streets the bike feels stable and tank-like. This feeling can go to your head and make you more assertive with cars and trucks than you might need to be. I attribute this emboldening sensation to the bikes longer wheelbase, large tires and brakes, and over-all weight. Such a monstrous bike can leave you feeling like you’re a monster truck in a city full of Toyota Priuses.
Though abundant braking power and stability are handy around town, they are put to best use off road. Leaving the city and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin, the Troll changes from a solid city bike to a dirt road crusher. Even a full appointment of racks, fenders and generator hub cannot mask the Troll’s mountain roots. On the dirt the bike handles surely and hardly feels like you’re on a 37-pound rigid mountain touring bike.
Lacking front suspension, the bike does feel pushed towards its limit on fast, bumpy single track; like the Coastal Trail descending from Pantol to Muir Beach. One solution would be to swap out the fork for one with suspension; the other option is to just go a little slower. Though nowhere near as squishy as my previous mountain bike, the Troll does share at least one handling characteristic of my Specialized S-Works Enduro. Both are a blast to ride and inspire confidence due to their predictable handling characteristics.
The Troll was initially built for, and justified by, last years Manali to Leh trip in Northern India. Assembled with loaded dirt road touring in mind, the build proved totally appropriate for the rugged mountain terrain we encountered. Though it would have technically been possible to complete the ride on a skinnier tired 700c touring bik, it would not have been pleasant. Anything short of a large volume mountain bike tire would have left one cautious on the descents and walking more rugged uphill sections and stream crossings.
Fully loaded, the bike, gear, and supplies approached 75 pounds with weight distributed amongst the four panniers. Even with this heavy burden the Troll felt balanced and easy to control. On particularly rough sections of “road” the frame did exhibit some flex. This never became a problem but did leave me wondering if the frame might benefit from a larger diameter down tube.
This slight flex in the frame was not enough to undermine my confidence in the bike. Though for most of the trip in India we stuck to the main ‘roads’, towards the end we became more adventurous, and began riding goat trails and jeep road shortcuts. At one point after riding over the top of the 17,582 ft Tanglangla Pass, I got the bright idea to take one of these jeep trail shortcuts down the side of the mountain. Next thing I knew I was dropping down a fast and lose double-track at what had to be 20+ mph with the bike fully loaded. The trail continued like this eventually meeting back up with the main road a few thousand feet below. It was a scary and exhilarating experience, and one that I would not have attempted had I not been so confident in the Troll.
Since India I have changed very little on the bike. A few bits that I did swap out include upgrading to a 200mm rotor up front and changing the crank arms from Shimano SLX 175 to XT 180’s. Additionally I swapped the Oury grips for Ergons and replaced the Origin 8 spacebar with the familiar Easton EA 70. SKS fenders were also added to keep things clean. I also decided to further undercut Rohloff’s recommended/warranted minimum gearing of 38 x 16 and mounted a 35-tooth chain ring (with a 16 tooth cog). This gearing change was particularly helpful on some of the steeper sections of the Coastal Trail and fire roads in Marin. Lowering the overall gearing range of the Rohloff has the additional benefit of allowing you to spend more time in the quieter gears 8-14, with the obvious trade-off being a sacrifice of top end speed. Even with this officially verboten gearing setup, I am still able to spin the pedals fast enough to get the bike up to 25 mph (at least that’s what the sign in Sausalito tells me)
Life with Rohloff
The Troll was initially built with the Rohloff and it is hard to imagine the bike set up any other way. With one year on the hub I am convinced of its reliability and function. In that time the Rohloff has never failed me or acted unpredictably. I have grown accustom to the solid shifting, evenly spaced gears and even the noise in gears 1-7. And although the 137-page Rohloff owner’s manual certainly doesn’t imply it, the hub requires near zero maintenance. Other than adjusting the shift cable tensions, and the once a year oil change, there is really nothing more to be done.
Potential Rohloff owners should be advised of one additional consideration, these hubs attract a lot of attention. Now that it’s summer and the streets of SF are crowded with cyclists, I can hardly get across the bridge or to work without someone asking me questions about my bike and hub. Just the other day a man startled me with “Ah, a marvel of Teutonic engineering!” I admit I had to look up the word.
Sizing (this spoon is not too big?)
In addition to inquiries about the hub, a few people have asked me about sizing. I find selecting a frame size can be a daunting task. I went with the 20 inch and am happy with my decision. Many people my height, nearly 6’2″, would have gone with the 22 inch and been happier. I certainly would not want the bike any smaller and have recently considered swapping the 110mm stem out for a 120mm. With the steerer tube of the fork uncut, the saddle and bars are just about level with a seat height of 80mm. This setup works great most of the time. I enjoy the casual riding position of the higher handlebar around town and while leisurely crushing dirt roads. Only when riding faster than usual do I feel the reach could be just a little bit longer. Clearly no bike fit will be good for all situations and with this build I have erred on the more upright side. On a racier build I would certainly consider a longer reach and a slightly lower handle bar.
New Bike Plans
Sometimes bike builds reach a state of equilibrium where everything is working great. All squeaks and rattles have been eliminated and the bike requires nothing but air and oil (and pedaling). With everything working so well on the Troll I just can’t bring myself to change anything. The part I think about swapping most is the front tire, but I worry I might not know where to stop. First it’s meatier rubber and the next thing you know your installing a suspension fork and removing your rack fenders and generator. To do this would result in a bike stripped of its utility, and I refuse to do it.
Thus my total unwillingness to make changes to the bike has convinced me the only solution is to build up a second bike to pick up where the Troll leaves off. I am currently daydreaming about a bike with larger wheels and wider tires; a dedicated mountain bike without all the utilitarian accoutrement of racks and fenders. Having recently registered for the Downieville Classic I have a very real deadline to get this new bike together. For the moment I am still weighing all my options. Whatever I decide to build next I expect Daniel will convince me to write another review of it here. Until then, Happy Shredding!