November 10, 2015

In defense of Surly

That’s right. You read it correctly.

I’ll just say it: I love Surly.

What’s that? I’m a custom bike snob who should be turning up his nose at welded-overseas heavy cheap steel bikes?


1: Surly keeps inventing (or reinventing, or popularizing) awesome new stuff. Freeride hardtails? 29ers? Fat bikes? Offroad touring bikes? Bikepacking setups? Plus bikes? Cargo bikes? Yup, Surly was there. They weren’t always the first, they weren’t always the best, but they had a HUGE role in making all of those types of bike something that normal people could find out about and actually go buy and ride. And that, in turn, sparked tons of innovation (and further copycatting) from other companies. So now we have loads and loads of choice in a wild variety of bike types we didn’t have 15 or 20 years ago.

2: Surly refuses to play the weight weenie game. Yes, a Surly frame is a pound or two heavier than a high end steel frame. It’s at least 2-3 pounds heavier than an aluminum or carbon frame, usually. So what? The weight weenie game is stupid. You weigh 180 pounds, if you’re a typical customer of mine. Your bike is at least another 20. So at most, that extra 2 pounds (900 grams! Gasp!) might slow you down by a little under 1% on a very steep hillclimb. On flat stuff or downhills, which is what most of us care about more, it doesn’t matter at all. Your Surly almost certainly won’t break, and you can probably attach all kinds of stuff to it and use it for all sorts of neat purposes outside of just mountain biking.

3: FFF. What can I say? Surly was building bikes for 2.5″ tires when we were all on 2.0s. I look at the tire clearance on some of the bikes I built 10-12 years ago and can only hang my head in shame.

4: Most important for all the high end bike companies (including yours truly) – Surly is a gateway drug. Love your Krampus but want super short chainstays, more standover, and a slacker head angle? Call me up. Like riding your Cross Check but wish you could fit 2″ tires? Want a 1×1 with easier to deal with dropouts and a tapered steerer fork? I get a ton of business from people who got hooked on bikes by, you guessed it – Surly. In many cases one frame will bounce between half a dozen people and inspire all of them to get really into riding.



Maybe don’t stick your neck out this far, guys.

No big company out there has a better innovation record (mind you, I mean the good “this is fun!” kind, not the “new bb and axle standard every 18 months so your cranks will flex .02mm less under 500W of power” type). Nobody has been willing to stick their neck out and take risks more than Surly. They rock and deserve your respect, not snobbery-based scorn. Because that lust-worthy non-Surly high end frame (especially if it’s a fatbike/plus bike) you have probably owes at least some aspects of it’s design to Surly. Without Krampus/Knard… no BRAAP!


xoxoxo, Walt

PS, Surly, are you familiar with the term “payola”?  I like small unmarked bills and bitcoin.

57 Comments on “In defense of Surly

November 10, 2015 at 12:38 pm

Excellent perspective!

Mark Traeger
November 10, 2015 at 2:00 pm

I hear that they are actually really nice people, is that true?

chris robnson
November 10, 2015 at 3:00 pm

Yes the crew at Surly are a bunch of good eggs they ride what the design and their A-OK in my book. CR

November 10, 2015 at 8:11 pm

Great bikes, a little, “Like that” at the shows…but earned. Well earned. I have had a crosscheck from 2007, and it kills our dirt road world. Surly lives by it’s name.

Darren B
November 11, 2015 at 2:37 pm

The crew at Surly rocks! We love how they stick to their guns, even if it took them a couple of extra years to install a centered fork on the Pugsley. As a Surly dealer, it is awesome to know that when you sell a customer one of their bikes there is less than a 1/2% chance that they will have any type of warranty issue and that bike will be the one that they will be able to ride anytime (especially when their plastic bike is back at the manufacturer or other repair facility). Our shop Big Dummy is a true workhorse for us when setting up events and traveling within our valley on errand runs.

Herb Tarlek
November 10, 2015 at 3:09 pm


Gene Oberpriller
November 11, 2015 at 12:17 am

With a name like that, I think not.

Gene Oberpriller
November 11, 2015 at 12:24 am

I also also heard they fire everybody they hire. Keeps it fresh!

Big Dave
November 10, 2015 at 1:25 pm

I went the other way. I always scoffed at Surly. Rode a frame built by you over 3,000 miles in less than 3 weeks. All my bikes for the past 10 years have been customs. I got a Surly Ice Cream Tank….I mean Truck…. last fall and was completely blown away. Now I get why so many people are rabid about Surly.

Kid Riemer
November 10, 2015 at 2:13 pm

Well said.

November 10, 2015 at 2:23 pm

I absolutely agree. Those guys are innovating more than anybody else in the industry and don’t get enough credit because they don’t use a bunch of flashy hype and marketing. I’ve had at least ten surly bikes and they’ve totally influenced the bikes I design now.

Guitar Ted
November 10, 2015 at 2:44 pm

Spot on. Karate Monkey- the first production 29″er that was affordable and spawned thousands of custom frame orders. (That you are well aware of, I know)

Your other examples are also right on the money. And to your point about them getting passed around- I just got done riding a 1999 1X1 that has been passed down through the mechanics at the shop where I work. I’m the seventh owner.

November 10, 2015 at 2:53 pm


November 10, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Here here!

November 10, 2015 at 3:01 pm

Right on, Walt. A bike industry without Surly’s focus, Surly’s attitude and Surly’s “we take our own path” approach to innovation, while still keeping their offerings financially accessible, would be a far less interesting industry, indeed. There’s really no one else like Surly.

Tony B.
November 10, 2015 at 3:07 pm

Stick with bikes though. Their wool shit is, well, SHIT. Wears out faster than a cheap Chinese (insert whatever you’d like here). $180 hoodie shouldn’t develop holes in the sleeves after a few months of use. Their response “Wool isn’t as good with abrasion as cotton”.

November 10, 2015 at 3:10 pm

Way back when, I was shopping for a new bike and stumbled across Surly’s site, featuring their brand-new Cross Check frame, in navy blue. Reading the specs, I thought, “That right there is the bike I want. If it had a threadless steerer, it would be perfect.” so I ordered one.

What I got was the bean-green version with the 1-1/8″ threadless steerer. Other bikes have come and gone, but I’m still riding that bike today.

Also, “[n]obody has been willing to stick their neck out and take risks more than Surly” is spot-on. They deserve the credit you’ve given them here.

November 10, 2015 at 5:02 pm

Hopefully they do not get *too* brave and announce a motorcycle project…

screw you, you ain't gettin' my name!
May 6, 2016 at 10:46 pm

Um, yeah, try the troll with a rohloff sometime. The dropouts are EVIL! PITA like you wouldn’t believe, and slips like mad. May have even bent the tugnut due to slipping once.

Sometimes they stick their neck out too far. Like the cross check though. No slipping with a 135mm axel. NONE. Slightly too narrow dropouts are best.

Jackson Yip
November 10, 2015 at 3:12 pm

The Surly Cross X Check was the first bike I ever listed over. I’ve been workin in shops since I was 13 and every one carried surly, it’s the mechanic’s bicycle, sturdy, affordable, great customer service, and namely, it’s a lovable bike, I’ve ridden my 2007 pacer close to 110,000 miles and have loved every mile, suffer included.

Jackson Yip
November 10, 2015 at 3:19 pm

Sorry *lusted over

November 10, 2015 at 3:20 pm

I had a stupid light road bike that didn’t get much mileage since I’m a mountain biker first and foremost. Bought a Cross Check frame and swapped most of the parts over. The fork on the CC weighed as much as the road frame. I’ve beat the crap out of the Surly, morphed it into many different configurations, and it probably has more miles on it than all my MTBs combined.

Christopher Tassava
November 10, 2015 at 3:34 pm

Yes! Started with a CrossCheck, which got me onto a Salsa Vaya, which then became the sibling of Salsa Mukluks, which wouldn’t exist but for the Pugsley, and an El Mariachi, which succeeds on the Karate Monkey…

November 10, 2015 at 4:42 pm

I have owned a lot of bikes (including 6 (?) Rivendells) but I ride my Crosscheck more than any other bike.

November 10, 2015 at 5:01 pm

6 Rivendells?!?

Also good bike, but really? 🙂

November 10, 2015 at 4:57 pm

i just rode from Canadian border (Eureka, MT) to just outside of San Antonio, TX on a surly troll, self supported. i loved my bike and had zero problems, except for a slow leak on the front tire in Texas. that thing was bomb proof, not to mention it looked cool as hell. i now want a long haul trucker to ride to south america(read, i’ll buy another surly for sure)….

Jason Brummels
November 10, 2015 at 5:01 pm

Well played. Tough to argue with their role in validating an alternative to the technology (marketing) driven big cycling brands. Surly just proves that a rider focused bike company can make great bikes – regardless of the materials/origin.

November 10, 2015 at 5:28 pm

Awesome Walt! Totally agree. My Karate Monkey spawned my custom from you.

Jamie Dyer
November 10, 2015 at 5:41 pm

Great piece on a cool company.
Says as much about yourself as it does about Surly.

November 10, 2015 at 5:53 pm

I wholeheartedly agree, a Surly got me training for a ride across Cuba, a Surly carried me through 7 years of commuting in London (no mean feat) and the very same Surly survived a fire bombing here in Berlin.

Surly rock. And I say this as I have my own custom bike built (by Malcolm Custom Bicycles in the UK).

Still want a Krampus.

November 10, 2015 at 5:55 pm

Deciding on my new bike was a three way contest between a Karate Monkey, a Krampus or a Waltworks.

Feeling validated 🙂

November 10, 2015 at 7:02 pm

Just got my XXL Ogre in black. LOVE it’s “can do anything” attitude! Swapped out the rims and tires, some good pedals and away I go. This is a lifetime bike.

Nicholas Petersen
November 10, 2015 at 7:09 pm

Great read. I bought a used Steamroller not quite 2 years ago after not riding for nearly 15 years. I rode RAGBRAI on it set up as a single-speed road bike. I put some 33mm tires on and have ridden local gravel trails and anything else that looked fun. Finally, I lowered the gearing, threw on some old Dia-Compe 610’s and slid rear wheel to the back of the dropouts to maximize clearance for cyclocross racing this weekend. All on the same “track” frame. Love my Surly.

tinker mellow
November 10, 2015 at 7:54 pm

Very true, Surly has contributed some good stuff. I just like taking the occasional jab at them for perhaps trying a little too hard to push (not push?) a counterculture image. Nothing really wrong with that, it just seems a little overdone to me.

Jason Bond
November 10, 2015 at 8:27 pm

I’ve got 2 Specialized (1SS), a Vassago (SS), a Niner, a Raleigh belt drive (SS), but my Karate Monkey and Ice Cream Truck are my go to’s when I want to have supermegahappyfuntime!

Thanks for giving them the props they deserve and taking the high road. P.S. I covet your frames but I’m poor.

November 10, 2015 at 8:30 pm

With at least 7 bikes, no wonder you’re poor! But I’m guessing you have more fun on them than the typical $10k bike retired dentist…

Jason Bond
November 10, 2015 at 9:54 pm

If my wife would sell a couple of hers we can talk lol.

November 10, 2015 at 8:44 pm

I only discovered Surly as a company about four years ago and just got my first frameset (Karate Monkey) a couple of months ago. I’m already thinking about a second Surly, a 26″ LHT.

Funny that you should mention Surly spawning customs because since getting my KM, I’ve been thinking how cool it would be to get identical geometry in a bike with a flat top-tube and a non-suspension corrected fork. Sort of a 29’er in the mold of an 80’s MTB.

Olov S
November 11, 2015 at 2:14 am

Well said sir. Built up my Instigator this year. My first Surly, love it. I guess it´s the only 26+ am hardtail on the market. Why did the make it? Because BRAAP!
It´s all about having fun.

November 11, 2015 at 2:39 am

Only one Surly in my life, my 1×1 which has now started it’s ninth winter. I’ve other, racier bikes for drier summer riding but for just keeping going through the slopfest that is a British winter my Surly is the one. And the vast majority of the paint is still on the frame.

Been thinking a bit lately about building a Karate Monkey with Rabbit Hole rims and 2.4s for most of the float of a Krampus but a bit more compact.

November 11, 2015 at 4:44 am

Great post. No defense required. There’s a Krampus in my future and a Troll for my wife… She likes her wheels a little smaller. 🙂

November 11, 2015 at 4:48 am

Ultimate dream bike = Waltwoks Karate Monkey

November 11, 2015 at 10:19 am

Nice post Walt, and judging by the plethora of comments, this is well received. I love my KM, and I loved my Nimble 9 (before it broke). One day, I will order a Nimble Monkey from WaltWorks…

November 11, 2015 at 6:08 am

No matter how many high end bikes I have in my stash I seemingly always have a Surly or two. They’re always functional bikes that work really well for their intended purpose.

My first fat bike was a Purple Pugsley from the very first frameset batch. Man those Endomorphs like to self-steer all over the place but what a great bike. Replaced it with a Moonlander when they released those and I could ride over or through nearly anything. It was only this year I sold my ML and bought something fancy.

Still have a Disc Trucker (LOVE it loaded for a weekend camping trips) and a recently acquired Straggler frameset I built up but have yet to break 1000 miles on.

Go Surly!

November 11, 2015 at 9:16 am

Great post. My first “real” bike was a Surly Long Haul Trucker which I used for road rides, commuting and even got me into touring and bike packing. It was the gateway drug to biking for me because it was bomb proof and could do anything. I’m now up to 4 bikes in my garage but I do still love my Surly as the bike that got me started.

Lee Hollenbeck
November 11, 2015 at 5:27 pm

Well said. Fatties fit fine? I put 3″ tires on my 1×1 with 35 mm rims, nice. My 1×1 has been single speed, dingle speed, double dingle speed( look it up), 1×9, 2×9 and such, some with a sus. fork as well. Trail bike, errand bike with racks, commuter bike with racks, fenders and hookworms too. Also touring. Used, abused and put away wet, still working well. My daily good weather commuter is a cross check. My multi purpose commuter that sees lots of single track on the way home is a karate monkey( stretch pants black) . Currently sporting a reba up front, racks and fenders with velocity P 35 rims. Using geax tattoo tires in a 29x 2.3, giant rolling stock.
True story, my daughter had to get to an after school event, her car wouldn’t start. She took the 1×1, set up ss and giant knobbies. The bike’s too tall for her to sit down so she stood up for the 3 mile round trip. Upon returning, she said” What’s up with that one gear thing” Now eyeing one of her own.

November 11, 2015 at 10:12 pm


November 12, 2015 at 1:20 am

Tough as hell. Durable paint. Fat tyres. Good value. Versatile. Great riding and sized big enough for lanky dudes like me. They don’t really have much competition.

I’d still love a custom frame at some stage but;
– when I’ve just endo’d my Pugsley down a concrete staircase
– my Cross-Check has rubbed against other frames for five hours on friends’ bike racks
– work colleagues knock my Disc Trucker over for the umpteenth time
I’m glad they’re Surlys!

Abraham Nedumparambill
November 12, 2015 at 7:28 am

I live with SURLY…. and you have spoken the gist of what SURLY is all about !

November 12, 2015 at 10:51 am

I’ve been with them since the early days when they were called
One x One and the 1×1 Rat Ride was their only model. I’m still riding that bike as well as several other Models that came out over the years.
I’m a huge fan and ride anything they make!

November 13, 2015 at 6:07 pm

While the weight weenies are counting the milligrams saved by X, I’m out riding my bike, be it fat, trials, or otherwise. I they weren’t kinda porky, they would be called road bikes! There! I said it!!!

November 17, 2015 at 7:38 am

I broke a Karate Monkey a few years ago. Granted, it was a loaner bike my friend gave me when mine got stolen, and five other guys had been intermittently hammering on it for at least 4 years… but it still succumbed to a cracked chainstay.
Caught it when I was cleaning the grime off before handing it back to my friend. It now has a nice home on his basement wall of broken bike frames. Still, it was surprising how well it rode with that 1/2 a chainstay it had.

November 25, 2015 at 8:04 am

Walt that was a great post. We have two big dummy’s and Cross Check in the garage. oh and a 6′ long Surly Bill trailer.

trailer is for the dogs and hauling tools and ladders,around 200 lbs worth, to local job sites.

the dummies are our most versatile bikes : 500 mile from fort collins to salt in 3 days on the dummy camping in style-no problem. hauling my kids 6′ inflatable dragon to hot springs-done. carrying a week’s worth of groceries -easy. we only own 1 car (gasp!!) and find with a his & hers dummy we never need to drive in town. when the weather is bad our kids just ride to school on the back of the dummy.

I’m not in love with the cross check, but my wife is. she rides that way more then her moots ybb.

Baaaaad Wool
December 1, 2015 at 3:19 pm

Awesome company! Love all their bikes and their fresh approach to the industry…Dont buy their wool… Has the longevity of a dish clothe… Buy their frames though…cause they are awesome!!!

December 9, 2015 at 7:28 pm

Good news for the room full of beards. Surly is solid and people just find them all the time when another bike’s dial doesn’t have that setting. I poke fun at them and put them on the bike. 15% of people should maintain a Surly on general principles.

December 16, 2015 at 12:29 pm

I’v had 3 Surlys (Orge, Troll and a Cross Check) so far and I’ve loved everyone of them. I had Walt mod the Cross Check a few years back with a rear disc tab and the frame bits (cable guides and cs-ss brace) to support disc brakes before the Straggler was available. It’s still going strong, still having an absolute blast on it.

I’m currently debating whether or not to have a new head tube installed on the Ogre so I can run modern forks and keep the insane adaptability of the rest of the frame at the same time. For a mass produced frame, they sure are a hell of a lot of fun.

September 28, 2016 at 7:41 pm

Two of my bikes are Surlys, a Cross Check and an Instigator 2.0, and they’re both fun, capable bikes. I’m slowly upgrading both of them to the point the parts are worth a custom frame from my local frame builder. The ‘Check is super close, but that upgrade will require discs and a new front wheel to go with it.

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