The Surly Pugsley Adventure Bike

I honestly don’t remember when I first saw a fatbike. I know it was a Surly Pugsley. It may have been a prototype floating around the interwebs. I do remember when they first put a production one in the catalog. I remember thinking that it was awesome. And I knew instantly a lot of people weren’t going to get it. Not right away anyway. I was excited about it.

Many years later, after following along on the development of fat, I finally landed a Pugsley. It was winter of 2013. All along I had been drawn by the snow capabilities of it. After all, that was what was being touted too. I planned to try and commute with it through the winter along the snowmobile trails in my region of the world. Though it proved to be – and still is – plenty snow-capable, my commute just turned out to be too long geographically to make it work – for the time being. Having to get kids out of bed, moving and on buses in the am didn’t leave me enough time to get to work through the snow. I resigned myself to the evening and weekend blasts through snowshoe and footpacked trails in the woods, still good times.

Even before the snow melted, I started to get curious. I had suspicions. “I wonder how this thing would handle on dry singletrack? How would it feel on the trails?

Turns out – as many people now know – that answer was pretty damn fantastic. The big tires suck up the bumps, provide a smoother and more enjoyable ride and give beginners and more advanced riders alike a much bigger margin of error. After a few rides in the spring through the woods, I was sold. My conventional MTB hung in the garage all summer. I had a new #1.

Many of the local XC/race cats all poopoo’d it. “It’s slow. It’s heavy. There’s no front shock.” I wasn’t concerned too much with going fast. I was just concerned with going. Even then, having had a taste of how the bike handled the trails, I told ’em, “you wait. The tech will catch up. They’ll get lighter, faster. People will be racing ’em.

Even more than that, I saw fatbikes as a primo beginner mtb. They offered some of the benefits of a full-sus bike, but still provided some rigidity and had less moving parts. Initially they were cost-prohibitive, but again, I told people who came into the shop – “you wait, the price will come down. More people will be making ’em.”

I still maintain that anyone looking for an entry level MTB hardtail now should at least give a fatbike a try. Especially considering that the cost of fatbikes has come down and many can be had at the same or lower pricepoint than an almost equally appointed hardtail. I know several people now who have started mountain biking on one and now have no intention of going to a conventional MTB. And as a bonus, they’ve got way more riding season.

Around this time too, I started commuting on mine as well. Being that I could ride to and from work almost entirely on crushed rock trails, I wasn’t worried about being speedy on the pave. I was worried about carrying stuff from time to time though. Groceries from the farmers market. Clothes for work. Stuff. Never been much a fan of backpacks on the bike though.

I started checking around for gear. Racks, bags etc. There wasn’t much initially. People still thought fatbikes were a fad. They were gonna go away.

Then 2 things happened – and I don’t remember what order they happened in, but they did. I stumbled on an article whereby someone had built up a set of 29″ wheels for their Pugsley and I started noticing lots of blog posts about guys strapping all kinds of junk on their bikes and going camping. These were holy shit moments for me.

Eventually, as I kept slogging along in my commutes and reading the internet all day, guys started putting bigger than usual mtb tires on these 29″ rims and also started making custom bags to carry stuff into the woods as it was easier handle the bikes in tight spaces with the gear secured closer to the bike vs. hanging about on racks a la more conventional touring.

These guys were camping, and mountain biking in between camping spots. Hnnnnng. Count. Me. In.

So eventually the formal monikers of ‘bikepacking’ and ’29+’ eventually became lexicon. During this time it dawned on me that the Pugsley would be an excellent platform to launch a sort of ‘multi-purpose adventure bike’. I could set it up with different wheels and tires, as well as different cargo configurations to suit all kinds of different terrain and trips and still maintain relatively the same feel and cockpit.

So that’s what I did.

There’s no argument that there are other bikes out there that will excel in some conditions where this one will be only ok, but there’s no one perfect bike. I wanted to try and create a jack-of-all-trades, knowing it would be a master-of-none.

So I had the stock 26″ wheels with 3.8″ tires. I built me up some 29″ rims to run 3″ tires. I got some racks and panniers for hauling the kitchen sink on trips to the market, or say, with the kids where I might have to carry gear for 2 or 3, but also got some fast and light bikepacking bags for solo adventures. If I really want to pack some shit, I can combine the two.

So thats what we’ve come to. What I’ve dubbed the Pugsley Adventure Bike. Snow? It’ll do it. Sand? Yep. Singletrack? Loves it. Long gravel grinds? Sho’ nuff. I’ve yet to christen it with an overnighter, but I will. That’s the only thing left to do.

Build Spec

Surly Pugsley ‘Necromancer Edition’, Moonlander Fork
Seatpost clamp: Surly Stainless, 30.0mm

Crankset: SRAM x5
Chainring: Blackspire narrow-wide, 32T
Bottom Bracket: SRAM
Rear Derailleur: Shimano XLS, clutch, 9-speed
Cassette: Shimano Deore, 9-speed 11–32t
Chain: Shimano Deore, 9-speed, narrow-wide
Pedals: 45 NRTH Heiruspecs/Crank Bros. Candy C

Headset:Cane Creek 40
Brakes: Avid BB7, 160 mm rotors front and rear
Brake Levers: Avid BB7
Shifter: Shimano XT 9-speed
Stem: Bontrager RL
Handlebar: Jones 710 mm Loop Bar, Aluminum
Grips: ESI Jones, Extra Chunky
Saddle: Brooks, Cambium C17
Seatpost: Kalloy

Wheels – 26″ Fat Setup
Front Hub: Surly Ultra New, 135 w/ bolts
Rear Hub: Shimano Deore
Rims: Surly Rolling Darryl
Spokes: DT Swiss Champion, 12mm brass nipples
Tires: Surly Nate, 26″ x 3.8″, 60 tpi rear, 120tpi front

Wheels – 29+ Setup
Front Hub: Surly Ultra New, 135 w/ bolts
Rear Hub: SRAM X9
Rims: Surly Rabbit Hole
Spokes: DT Swiss Champion, 12mm brass nipples
Tires: Surly Knard, 29″ x 3″, 120 tpi

Cargo Components
Frame Bag: Porcelain Rocket El Gilberto
Handlebar Harness: Porcelain Rocket MCA System
Seatbag: Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion
Salsa Anything Cages on Fork with Porcelain Rocket Anything Bags
RandiJo Fab Bartender Handlebar Bag
44 Bikes feedbag
Old Man Mountain Phat Sherpa front and rear racks
Serratus (formerly MEC house brand) front and rear pannier sets

Surly Pugsley First Ride Impressions

So back in October of last year I officially put in an order for a Surly Necromancer Puglsey. Having wanted one for years, I’d finally managed to save up the scratch to get one. My goal was to bomb it around all winter, but also to hopefully commute through most of the winter up here on it. I’ve commuted winters past on my Cross Check, running studded tires, but once the snow really flies and the old railbed-now-trail that I usually commute on is covered with 2 feet of snow, I was forced to slice and dice with the cars and logging trucks on the backroads. Quite frankly, after a few years of near misses – and a few not misses at all – I decided I’d had enough. But I didn’t want to give up commuting in the winter.

That left me with the trail that I ride most of the time, which is great 3 seasons of the year. Nice, relatively flat gravel-covered double-track, with little-to-no traffic (specifically the motorized kind), nice scenery, and plenty of great vibe. In the winter-time it’s taken over by the snowmobilers who pack it down pretty good. I’ve tried riding it with an MTB and the skinny-tired cross bike, and though the MTB can get through, it’s a painfully slow go, and for the most part, even larger MTB tires don’t pack the float needed to keep it from being an overall miserable experience. Many years back I’d seen the introduction of the Pugsley by Surly and followed fatbike tech development. It was clear to me that this was a perfect niche for just such a steed.

Being that I live in the remote hinterlands of Canada, there wasn’t a shop with one readily available on the floor for me to try, so I basically measured up my fave MTB frame and ordered based on that. A couple of months later (around 4) I gota FB message from my man Josh at The Radical Edge. The Pug was in.

I picked it up on a Saturday and took it home. And it sat. A full docket of honey-dos and kid engagements conspired to keep me from riding.

Finally, one day during the work week, I had to run home to let the dog out. It was a nice, clear winter day and I thought, “Hey, I can take that thing out for a spin!”

I got home and jumped on – in my work clothes – and headed out the back door with the dog. I’ve got a little loop in my backyard woods that’s sort-of single track in the summer time – though VERY technical and rocky. It’s difficult to even walk in spots. There was about a foot of packed snow base and maybe 2-3 inches of fresh snow on the top.

I was amazed at the way the Pugsley rode over this stuff. Right through and over everything. To my surprise, it even climbed pretty well too. You could drop it into the low gears, get some weight over the back tire and actually go uphill.  The big 3.8″ tires made it really stable in rough conditions and I could understand now why I’d seen guys running big 3+ inch tires on the front of conventional mountain bikes in the summer. The big ballon tires offer some great suspension, roll over anything, and the front end tracked really solid. I was psyched. It was a fun 20 minute ride and a great intro to fatbike ‘feel’.

Few days later and they’re calling for a blizzard pretty much up and down the entire east coast of North America. Ok, I says. It’s gonna be on a weekend – it’s ON.

So I suit up for cold weather proper, this time, with intentions of taking a bit of a longer spin on the Pugsley. When I finally got around to getting out the door, it was -15C, snowing like mad, gusting up to 30-35km/h and there was about a foot of fresh powder on top of the base.

Things went a little differently.

First off, trying to hop on and get going was an adventure. I’d jump up on the pedals to get started and the combination of the snow in front of the tires and the fact that I’d unweighted the rear meant that I pretty much went nowhere – rear wheel spinout. I chuckled at myself and hoofed the 15 yards to the backyard trailhead, which starts at the top of the hill.

So I managed to point the thing downhill and get in the saddle and off we went. What a total blast. Barely feathering the brakes, the resistance of the almost 12″ of snow in front was enough to keep the speed just right. The fat tires made it easier to stay upright at slower speeds. At a couple of off-camber spots, the front wheel wanted to slip out a bit – to be expected in these conditions – but a small correction and weight shift would get things righted.

Going downhill was all well and good, but once things started to level out, it got interesting. Trying to pedal in that much snow with any kind of bike would be a challenge – I knew that going in – so for the most part, I was happy to experiment and just ride along.

My backyard loop empties out at one point to a chip-sealed logging road that’s nice and flat, so I bottomed out there. I made some decent progress along the flat road, but it’s a pretty good workout. With that much snow as well, if you didn’t keep enough forward momentum and/or shifted the bars the littlest bit, the front wheel would start to get squirrely to the point that sometimes you’d have to step off. Then getting started again was tricky.

I wondered at the time if a more aggressive or studded tire would have made a difference, but I’m inclined to think not. Really, there was just a silly amount of snow to be riding a bike in – and it was the light/fluffy kind that gets really slippery when it’s rubbin’ together. No matter it was still fun.

So after noodling around the flats for awhile I decided it was time to head back – which was uphill. THAT wasn’t happenin – especially off-road. It might have been partially due to rider fatigue/too many weeks off the bike, but I simply couldn’t get the rear wheel to hook up in that much loose snow. I couldn’t get out of the saddle to get any sort of momentum going either, so hike-a-bike home it was.

All in all, a good time and a learning experience. I wanted see what the Pugsley was made of and I got a good idea. I suspected it would be great for hard packed – to semi-packed trails, so taking it out in fresh axle deep snow, I knew I was pushing it. A rider with Hincapieesque thighs and/or lungs might have been able to hammer back up hill in the singletrack sections, but I still kinda doubt it. It wasn’t just wattage that posed a problem, it was balance and inertia as well.

Still good times though, and I look forward to tons more – especially the commutes!

Awhile back on Google+ a bunch of commuters were sharing their foul-weather kit photos and manifests. For the bike/gear geeks that care about such things, here’s what I was kitted up in for the ride, which would be pretty close to what I’d probably wear to commute:

  • Outer shell: MEC Derecho Jacket and Pants
  • Performance Thermal Jersey – I have 2 of these I really dig, mostly because they feature a built in Lycra hood, which is just enough to keep the cold off your ears and the back of your neck and not too bulky to be uncomfortable – think wetsuit hood, only a little thinner.
  • Performance Thermal tights
  • Run of the mill Performance lycra shorts and Under Armour Cold long sleeve shirt
  • Pearl Izumi AmFib Gloves
  • Smartwool socks/Sorel Boots
  • Bern Baker Helmet – After many years of cold weather commuting and trying various combinations of bike helmets, hats, hoods, beanies and sizing, I finally just picked up this ski/snowboard helmet when I got the Pugsley. Verdict? Awesome. It’s got no vents (stays warm), goggle clip, and toasty removable ear covers. WIN.