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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Surly Troll Review | While Out Riding

down the (dirt) road

The bicycle you choose to ride on a long journey is always an important matter, worthy of much pondering, head-scratching and debate. After all, we’re talking about your mechanical soul mate, the companion with whom you’ll be sharing the best of times, and the worst of times…
I’ve now clocked up a few thousand kilometres on the Surly Troll, in several guises – traditional front and rear panniers, framebag, suspension and rigid. The Troll and I have journeyed together fully laden, and often on dirt roads, from Costa Rica to Ecuador. More recently, it’s reintroduced me to my local Bristolian singletrack, and I’ve now tried it in bikepacking getup on the beautiful but distinctly un-Latin American Devon Coast to Coast.
Troll Talk
I prefer the path less travelled and the Troll fulfills almost everything I seek in a mountain bike tourer. It ticks a lot of boxes: a burly chromo frame, suspension corrected geometry, 26in wheels, a choice of V brakes or discs, front and rear racks eyelets, room for large volume tyres and provision to run derailleurs or a Rohloff Speedhub. All this is great for both practical reasons and peace of mind, particularly if your travels veer you beyond Europe or North America. Blown a tyre sidewall? Even a Colombian hardware store will unearth you a 26in replacement to get you riding again. Problem with your discs? V brakes will tied you through and scrub speed down the steepest Andean descents. Worried about issues with the Rohloff? Cheap derailleurs can always be sourced for those infamously cobbled Ecuadorian climbs. Top tube taken a ding during transport on the roof of a Bolivian bus? It’s chromo, so nothing to be unduly worried about.
The Troll has carried my four overstuffed panniers with confidence – a bloated 35kgs worth of gear – be it on or off road. In fact, I was surprised by how well it does ride as a fully ladden machine, seeing as its tubeset is no beefier than Surly’s singlespeed frame, the 1×1. It feels reassuringly overbuilt, yet strip it down to its barebones again, and it’s also fun to ride on singletrack and technical trails.
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The Troll comes as a frame and fork. Here it is in Ecuador. I live for dirt, and have found that with a rigid fork, a combination of panniers (these ones are Arkels) and a framepack (Porcelain Rocket) helps distribute weight nicely on gnarly South American trails.
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Here it is in the UK in lighter, ‘bikepacking’ mode, with everything I need for a few days camping. A Porcelain Rocket framebag, bar bag and seat pack keep the profile slim and the weight balanced. The Troll rides like a ‘proper’ mountain bike, so it’s lots of fun on sinewy, technical trails.
And most recently, in trailer-pulling mode, hauling a Tout Terrain Mule.
Nitty Gritty
You can read the full manufacturer blurb here, along with all the spec and geometry details.
To those unversed in Surly’s range of inspiringly idiosyncratic bicycles, the Troll is basically a mountain bike frame built around 26in wheels, brazed and drilled with all the bits you need to load up and go touring – whether that be a night in the local woods, riding the Great Divide, or an epic journey across a continent.
This said, the Troll doesn’t aim to be a full-on expedition machine. Geometry and tubing wise, it’s effectively a 1×1 – Surly’s cult singlespeed – with the addition of front and rear rack mounts, plus a nifty dropout that allows detailleur, Rohloff hub or singlespeed use. But given how well it rides, I see it more as the unruly mountain biking cousin – ie massive tyre clearances and a suspension-ready geometry – of the Long Haul Trucker, their tried and tested touring frame. From what I’ve experienced, the Troll is just as capable for long distance travel.
Troll v LHT
So which is best for what? If paved roads and gravel tracks are your staple diet on tour, you’re probably better off with a Trucker. It’s built for the heaviest of loads and from what I’ve seen, has become to go-to bike for those tackling the Panamerican Highway. But if you hanker after more challenging trails, envisage battling through muck and mud, and ride singletrack on your days off before visiting the local museum, then Troll is where it’s at. The fact that it isn’t designed to handle as much cargo shouldn’t be an issue, as by default, those heading offroad tend to pare down their kitlist.
Wheels: 26 v 29
I’m tall, and back home I ride a 29er mountain bike for a whole bunch of reasons, including the noticeably smoother ride – so much so that I rarely miss a suspension fork. But on a long tour, beyond Europe and North America, I still reluctantly stick to 26in wheels...

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