Saturday, December 3, 2016

Trolling Around

Jeff's Troll with flat bar, minus the Surly 8 pack rack and Salsa Anything cages at Swings Coffee in Del Ray for some coffee bean pickup.
I got a fantastic opportunity for a long term test ride of my friend Jeff’s (@heyjaffy) 2015 or 16ish Surly Troll earlier this fall.  Jeff graciously accepted my proposal for a temporary trade of his Troll for my Bombadil and I had the Troll for just about a month.  While I didn’t put as many miles on the Troll as I would have liked I did get to ride it in a number of different configurations and environments.  Specifically I did my normal 15 mile roundtrip commute several times, a W&OD beer-cycling ride, a brief bushwacking (no trail) ride in the woods at my campsite in Winchester and some mixed singletrack at Wakefield Park.  These different use cases represented all that I was hoping to sample with the Troll and I got a really great impression of its characteristics.

Unloading at Caboose Brewery for a fun hop-scotch beer-bike-baby day... my wife and I took turns one of us riding, the other driving with our daughter as we hit up four destinations along the W&OD.  I demo'd the Surly with both wheelsets and this was the first extended use of the Jones H Loop bars.

Green Lizard Cycles in Herndon, one of my favorite W&OD stops got even better with craft beer on hand to complement the excellent coffee bar.
Bottom line up front… or BLUF -> I liked it, 2.5” tires and disc brakes are clear capability improvements for riding off pavement the way I like to ride.  The frame itself is perfectly serviceable and with two wheelsets I could see it as a ‘one bike solution’ however for me it lacks a magic in both aesthetics and ride feel to make me want it to be that ‘one bike’.  The configuration options available on this frame are about as open as any bike I’ve experienced and I think the changes made in the 2017 model year make it a very compelling addition to my or many other folks bike collection.

What’s next.  I had gotten extremely curious about the potential ride improvements I could get off-pavement with a 2.5-3” tire and this extended test fully answered that question. I like the larger tire offroad and I don’t have a bike frame that takes more than a 2.25” tire presently.  So is the wider tire capabilities worth a change to my bike inventory and if so what bike would I target?  I’m at a personal n+0 point in my life so something in means something out…. With that in mind right now I’m in a ‘more data needed’ posture.  I liked the tires and disc brakes enough on the Troll to make me interested but I wouldn’t say I’m ready to plunk down cash for a Troll just yet.  The other frames I want to sample and I believe I have local shop’s that’ll allow me to do this are; the Jones 29 or Jones+, the VO Piolet (with 27.5+ tires) and the Crust Evasion/DFL.  I’m going to try and get out for demo rides on the VO Piolet at VO’s hq in Annapolis, Gravel and Grind in Frederick has the Crust DFL available and there is another shop in Frederick that actually has a Jones 29er (diamond) for rent… pretty neat to have them all available locally.  I’m also somewhat curious in the 2017 Surly Karate Monky (27.5+) and will keep my eye out for one at a local shop or Surly demo.  In the meantime I’m going get back on the trail with my Bombadil (pretty awesome default option!).

Equipped to commute with the Thunder Burts, front basket/shopsack and light.  The troll is perfectly servicable for commuting duties and I continued to love the frame bag. I didn't love how high up the basket sat on the 8 pack rack but I'm guessing there is some adjustability that could be tweaked.
Finally the singletrack test I had anticipated the most, Jones Bars and 2.5" tires... the bike did not disappoint. I was on the trail with a buddy who'd never ridden offroad before so the test ride was a bit shorter and less aggressive than I'd originally planned.  That being said I got enough out of the ride to be satisfied that I REALLY enjoyed the extra large tires and that the Troll itself really shined offroad - 'disappearing' beneath me and handling everything I came across.
On to some specific observations on the Troll in no particular order.  Huge thanks to Jeff for the opportunity to get such a thorough test ride in on his sweet bike!

-solid, stable feeling
-no toe overlap
-disappeared beneath me on singletrack even with relatively loaded frame bag
-front end stayed planted off-road climbing
-precise, predictable slow speed maneuvering with wide bars

-solid, dead feeling (uninspiring to tedious on commute paved trail)
-resists ‘hip steering’ more than the Riv’s
-front rack mount is high, Wald 137 higher than normal
-large size precludes forward Jones loop and likely dirt drops usage
-felt wide in the saddle... May be tread, could be interaction between wide handlebars, visual impact of frame bag
-rear horizontal dropouts

Component specific observations;

Jones Loop Bars  - I’m buying Jeff’s from him and they’ll get tried out on the Bombadil right away.  I really like the base position aligned to the recommended brake lever position and I’m hoping to get more out of the forward positions on a higher stem/shorter reach bike than the Troll.  More later.

Thunder Burts – I don’t know why I’m surprised, or why it has taken me so long to try these out as the rave reviews abound for these tires but now that I’ve tried them – wow!  As good as any tires (including Compass EL’s) I’ve ridden.  Even on pavement the tires were transformative to the Surly’s handling and road feel.  I’ll be buying a pair for the Bombadil and may be fine doing away with my Compass SBH EL’s and Nobby Nic’s… tubeless on my WI/SP Dyno Cliffhanger wheelset (in construction).

Surly Extraterrestrial 26x2.5” Tires – Love the girth, disappointed in the grip at least at moderate inflation pressure.  These 2.5” tires totally satisfied my curiosity on whether 2.5-3” tires would give me the improved roll over/shock absorption to more confidently take singletrack obstacles and facilitate the bushwhacking I want to do at my camping property.  Mini-fat is probably all I need in my fat tire requirements.

Brooks Cambium C17 Carved – As good a saddle as I have tried (B17, B67, Flyer, Rivet…).  I’d be comfortable enough on this saddle to make it my only one.  Granted I didn’t get more than about 15 miles in any single day but I think I got enough saddle time to extrapolate.

XT Hydraulic Disc Brakes – Initially I was thrown off (not literally) by the immense power and my experience with canti brakes just didn’t translate to proper use for these brakes.  After nearly a month however I’m smitten with the 1 or 2 finger amazing braking power these things give, smooth but instant stopping available.  Offroad I noted additional benefit to the instant braking availability in taking more challenging lines and maintaining speed closer to the ‘edge’.  I don’t think I need the capability these brakes bring for everyday riding, even off road, but they did enhance my ride experience especially off road.  I was really surprised how much I liked them.

Relevate Frame bag – I flat out loved the convenient and spacious frame bag.  Access from the saddle was great and the fact it didn’t change the dimensions of the bike in any way was great.  I’d like to add a frame bag to my Saluki based on this extended test ride.  Losing the water bottle cages is a consideration but the ability to use a bladder on longer trips and easy stowage of a bottle on shorter ones mitigates that concern for my riding.

Indexed shifting – Still not impressed, if it worked perfectly I totally get it but it’s tough for me to keep it dialed in especially in a bike intended for rough use.  I’ll stick to friction on current and future bikes.