Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Long Haul Review of the Surly Long Haul Trucker

Of the many, many photos I've put on this blog, the majority of them are either of or involve my bike, which is a 46 cm 2010 Surly Long Haul Trucker in a color that's officially called "Blue Velvet," but is no longer available.  In two or so years I've owned this bike, I've ridden it more days than not.  It has had several incarnations, and taken on many roles.  So I thought it was time for a proper review of a bike that's actually really hard to find a halfway decent review.

When I originally purchased this bike, it was with the eventual goal of taking six months off life and touring the majestic hills and valleys of either South America or Europe - and who knows, some day I might.  But this bike's utility stretches way, WAY beyond it's stated purpose as a chariot for White People Vacation.

My bike was purchased as the stock build, and aside from the contact points (saddle, pedals, and handlebars) and accessories, that's how it's stayed.  The frame is 4130 Cromoly Steel, and the drivetrain is more or less a mix of Tiagra front derailleur, Shimano XT rear derailleur, SRAM chain, bar end shifters.  The brakes are Tektro Oryx Cantilever, with Tektro brake levers.  It originally came with a fairly crap WTB saddle and black bar tape, with no pedals.  In the time I've had it, I've gone through a set of brake pads, a bottom bracket, a chain (and most of the way through the second one), some cables and housings, swapped out the saddle for a Brooks B-17S, and changed the standard drop bars for the Soma Moustache.  Here it is as it currently exists:

Accessories include Velo Orange Fenders, the Tubus Cargo rear rack, Pletscher double legged kickstand, battery powered lights by Planet Bike, two bottle cages, and a bell from New Belgium Brewery.  The accessories really do help make this bike as useful as it is - the thing about Surly is they're sold as what amounts to a platform, rather than a ready-made solution.  They have infinite utility, but they don't even come with pedals.  My setup is somewhat typical for this type of bike, but if you're used to riding racing-style roadbikes, fixed gears, or even an aluminum hybrid, my bike is going to seem like it has every accessory under the sun and then a couple on top of that.  With locks, lights, a jacket, some snacks, and two full bottles of water, it once came out to 42 pounds.  By city bike standards, it's not obscene, but by no means is that lightweight.  So let's just address that right now.

When it's time to talk about ride quality, there are a lot of words for it, but the one that comes most to mind is "Unperturbed.  "Unshakeable", "Stable," "Grounded" could all work, but basically if I hop off a curb into a pothole, the LHT rolls over these obstacles nary a wobble.  I've ridden it on a huge array of surfaces, which have included pavement, brick road, asphalt, gravel, packed limestone, natural trail/offroad, and dirt roads. This has included with minor loads and without.  This bike is as close as I've ever ridden to completely bombproof when it comes to going over the thing in front of me, no matter what it is.  This is not earth's fastest bike, but I don't have any trouble keeping up on the Thursday Night Social Ride, or when I'm getting around town.  The acceleration is certainly faster on other bikes, though, so if you're addicted to speed, the ridiculously long wheelbase of this bike creates a lot of stability, but doesn't make this a racer by anyone's stretch of imagination.  This is a Caddy, not a Corvette.  If you need any analogy for how this bike rides, that's it.  It rides like a Cadillac - comfortable, smooth, like you could sit on it all day.

Then there's "usefulness."  Back when I lived in DFW I primarily used Shadow, my Cannondale, for getting around because the NEAREST thing I wanted to get to was 6-8 miles away.  Then I got my Long Haul Trucker and my Cannondale became a really snappy-looking dust catcher.  I use this bike for just about everything  including recreational jaunts, longer rides to visit friends in Downtown, and heavy duty utility hauling.  That being said, it's primary role has been a heavy duty commuter.  While I'm pretty much off the bike as a utility cyclist for as long as I have to go home during lunch (the next several months), I have logged many, many days on this bike as my everyday go-to everything bike.  That's included riding to work, stopping at the store on the way home, carrying everything up a big hill,  dropping everything off at the house, parking the bike outside and throwing the dog on a leash to go for a trot around the block.  It does all of this with great aplomb.

Curiously, the handling actually seems to stabilize when you add weight to the bike.  Descending on the bike when it's loaded is a joy, and uphill isn't as much of a bear as you'd think, due to the frankly enormous gear range this bike is equipped with.  Without weight, it's still unbelievably stable and is totally capable of running over things that completely stop friends of mine who ride hybrids, roadbikes, and singlespeeds.  In fact, about the only bike that outdoes it for road-ready riding that can also deal with unpaved trails is the Surly Cross Check, which is a cyclocross frameset.

Now that I mention the Cross Check, one question I've gotten a lot relating to my choice of bike is, why not the Cross Check?  The answer is pure height.  The Long Haul Trucker comes in the option of 26" wheels across the full size range, while the Cross Check is only available in a 700C wheelset.  In a 46 cm bike, this creates a huge amount of potential for toe crossover, especially when you add fenders. This is a real issue for me any time I look at a new bike, and one with a wheelset available that eliminates the concern is worth its weight in gold.

So if I were to take this wall of text and tell you how I felt about the Surly Long Haul Trucker in a couple's awesome.  That's the only answer.  Get one.  You'll never look back.

1 comment:

  1. how can i to buy the surly lht; i am living in Colombia, south América and here we diddnt have the surly shop.