Thursday, 27 December 2012

First impressions

A frustrating couple of weeks unable to ride because of weather or work or some other commitments. Finally I've managed to put the bike through its paces. I know it's early days, but I really can't think of anything I would change about the build. First of all, it is so comfortable. I have ridden on the same roads that I regularly ride on my road bike - the effort and concentration required to avoid all the imperfections in the road surface is hard work. The Surly simply floats over previously vision - blurring sections of roadwork scars.
Other LHT reviews that I've read invariably make some mention of the bike being slow. My first impression is that this is not the case. It certainly does not have that feeling of instant response that my road bike does - I wouldn't expect it to. However I found that I could easily wind it up to some fairly respectable speeds and maintain the momentum without too much effort. When I get my Cateye speedometer fitted I'll be able to make a more accurate assessment of this aspect of the bike.

I fiddled about fitting my SKS mudguards prior to the ride. Pretty straightforward - just a bit of re-shaping of the stays to achieve a nice fit around the front disc caliper. I got home with a clean and dry bike. Now that's a novelty!

The Avid BB5's instead of BB7's were a cost saving compromise and I was concerned that I might have made a mistake here. However, after a few miles of bedding the pads in, they are working with no issues and are not too far off the performance of the hydraulic tektros on my mountain bike.

I found that I was on the big ring at the front and a high gear at the back for much of the time - but this is a touring bike - and, as I mentioned, I could get up to a pretty reasonable lick (mid to late 30's at a guess) without spinning out. At the other end of the scale, climbing hills was effortless. There were a few reasonably steep climbs today and I never resorted to the lowest gear - loaded up should be no problem on steep ascents.

During brief moments of taking my hands off the handlebars, the bike felt absolutely rock solid and planted to the road. This feeling of confidence continued on fast descents. Looking through the bends, the bike followed the line perfectly and never felt like it was on the limit of its handling.

So my first "taster" of the Trucker has definitely left me looking forward to some big rides. I really should have had one of these years ago!

The On One Midge handlebars are an absolute joy to use. The brake levers are easy to reach from the bar tops or the drop position. 

The road bike's now at the back and could be there for some time after today's ride!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Taking shape

Headset fitted.
Forks and stem / spacers in place.
Bottom Bracket on.
Tyres / tubes / cassette / discs fitted and wheels on.

Prior to assembly I gave the inside of all the frame tubes a liberal dose of anti rust treatment.

Everything fits as it should with no issues. The frame appears to be perfectly well aligned with even distance between the wheels / chainstays / forks.

I've checked the stand-over height and the 54cm was the right choice for me. I normally ride a 54 frame, but suspected that the Trucker might be a small 54. It's not. It appears to be consistent with all other 54cm road bikes I've had in terms of stand-over height.

I'm still waiting for the Tektro brake levers. This is the only component outstanding, preventing me from completing the build. It's been a frustrating Sunday, periodically visiting the garage to look at my new toy begging to be ridden. Hurry up brake levers!

Toe Overlap

During my extensive internet research on which frame to use for this project I read confusing and conflicting reports on the subject of toe overlap.

The term toe overlap refers to contact between a cyclist's foot and the front tyre of the bike when the turning of the steering coincides with the pedal / crank arm being at its most forward horizontal position. This is not a problem in normal cycling, but if attempting a tight u-turn you simply have to keep the cranks in a vertical position and move by "tapping" the pedals rather than a full revolution. My road bike has toe overlap, as do most road bikes. It's not a problem.

I have read reviews on bikes having "occasional" toe overlap. What? It either has it or it doesn't. Or one reviewer says it does and another review of the same bike says it doesn't. Confusing.

In mountain biking with lots of tight, low speed manoeuvres, toe overlap would be extremely undesirable. The frame geometry of MTB's avoids the issue completely.

I wanted my tourer to have absolutely no toe overlap - even with mudguards fitted. I want to be able to do tight turns on trails etc. without having to worry about an altercation between foot and front wheel. After reading so many reviews of the Long Haul Trucker / Disc Trucker, I still wasn't sure what I was going to get. So I was keen to have a look at this as soon as the wheels and crank where fitted.

So if you are interested..... a 54cm Disc Trucker with 26" wheels and Schwalbe City Jet 26 x 1.5 tyres with a 170mm crank arm and an old size 9 pair of paint spattered rubber sandals (bigger than my cycling shoes!) DOES NOT HAVE TOE OVERLAP!

There's a huge clearance - plenty of room for bigger tyres and mudguards. Phew!

Thursday, 6 December 2012


I've now got most of the stuff together for the build. Some things I already had so I will be using them on the Disc Trucker to keep costs down. These include tyres (Schwalbe City Jets), a Thomson Elite seatpost and an adjustable handlebar stem. 
The headset was fitted to my frame yesterday at my local bike shop. It's an FSA Orbit MX one and an eighth inch. This is the only job that I can't do myself as I don't have a headset press. I briefly wondered whether to go nuts and buy a Chris King, then sanity returned - it's only ball bearings!
Dura Ace bar end shifters. I used this type of shifter on my Planet X and loved them. I especially like the non - indexed friction shifting on the front mech that gives lots of trimming adjustment that you don't get with STI shifters.

Deore hubs are pretty much bomb proof. These have 6 bolt rotor mounts for the disc brakes.
Mavic MTB rims - hopefully should be pretty strong and work well for the type of riding I'll be doing on the Surly.
The On One Midge handlebars were chosen as I also used these on the Planet X. I found them extremely comfortable - no aches and pains whatsoever after 60 or 70 miles. They offer lots of hand positions and have really shallow drops. This makes it easier to ride on the drops, and the bar-end shifters and brake levers are also easy to reach from the drop position. They are also very wide which inspires a bit more confidence on fast descents. Oh, and they look bloody weird as well!
Thomson Elite. Already had this, so might as well use it. It's only a seatpost but people do seem to get excited about them for some reason. 27.2mm and it's a nice smooth fit in the frame.
Now, these are Avid BB5's rather than BB7's. I might live to regret this money saving decision, but it's always something I can upgrade if necessary. 160mm rotors. I'm still waiting for the Tektro RL520 brake levers to arrive. I've gone for the same levers as on the stock disc trucker as they should be compatible with the Avid mtb disc calipers.
Not much to say about the rear mech. Deore. They work perfectly. Another decision based on my Planet  X experience.
Deore Hollowtech crank. Tried and tested on previous bikes, so I know it'll be good. I've gone for the 48-36-26 rather than 44-32-22. Having a 26" wheel will effectively make the bike lower geared than the equivalent set up on a 700 wheeled bike, so a bigger chain ring will compensate and hopefully mean I'm not "spinning out" at modestly high speeds. Again, this is the same number of teeth that Surly use on the stock build. It's a 170mm crank arm length. This is the length I normally go for and I'll just have a bit more mudguard / toe clearance than with a 175mm crank. (The clearance issue is probably insignificant on this frame, but I'll check when it's built up.)
Stem. Mystery brand! No name on it. It was in my parts box and it's adjustable, so I'll use it!
Selle Italia. XR XC Flow saddle. I deliberately avoided choosing Brooks as I want to avoid a contrived retro - bike look. I've had a Brooks B17 before and wasn't especially blown away by the Brooks thing. This one should be fine.
11-34 cassette.
I completely and utterly loathe and detest Sram gears. But their chains are the best!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Surly Long Haul Trucker or Disc Trucker? Building a touring bike.

I've owned lots of bikes over the years. Mainly road bikes. And my cycling has been mainly road bike type rides - A fast 30 miler on a Sunday morning with a mate - and home in time for breakfast.  Over the last couple of years I've been increasingly drawn to the idea of bike touring and the sense of freedom and satisfaction that comes from a really long bike ride. I've found myself looking at bikes and wondering not how much it weighs, but how much luggage it can carry.  Lands End to John O Groats is now firmly on my "Things to Do when the dogs are dead" list.

I cycled the Coast to Coast from Whitehaven on the west coast to Tynemouth on the east earlier this year. Three days with my Brother. A fantastic ride through the magnificent Lake District - nothing to do but cycle, eat food and drink beer. Heaven. This experience further fuelled my interest in touring bikes. I'd done the ride on my steel Planet X Kaffenback. It did the job OK, but somehow it just wasn't right. It was more a cyclo cross bike than a real round the world tourer. 700 x 35's were the biggest tyres I could get on the Planet X - and that left no clearance for mudguards. It had braze-ons for a rear rack but not a front one. I was getting some heel strike on my panniers and toe overlap on the front. No, this wasn't my dream tourer. I wanted something different but didn't know what.

Prior to the Planet X, I'd briefly owned a Koga Miyata Lightrunner. It was an expensive disappointment. The aluminium frame gave a harsh ride, and it felt slow even for a tourer. The butterfly or comfort bars felt awkward. They shortened the reach too much and put me in an uncomfortably upright position. The bike soon found it's way onto ebay and I was lucky to get back what I had paid for it. This was before I had really started to understand the benefits of steel as a frame material. (Even my road bike is now steel.)

So obviously I need a suitable bike for my pipe dream cycle tours of the future. Hours and hours of internet research every night until late. It was becoming some kind of obsession. Occasional checks would be made by my wife who clearly found it difficult to believe that a man could spend so long looking at images of......bicycles - on his computer.

Thorn. Bob Jackson's World Tour. Dawes Galaxy. Ridgeback Voyage. All great bikes. I knew it had to be steel after my Koga experience. I genuinely like the feel of steel bikes. I like the tradition of steel frame building and the feeling that it's permanent - something to last forever. I don't like aluminium frames and I certainly don't want a bike made from strands of fibre held together by glue that will one day snap and kill me. I wanted a longish wheelbase for stability and to prevent heel strike on panniers. I also wanted a relaxed head angle for handling that doesn't feel "twitchy" on fast descents. There had to be rack mounts front and rear and enough room for BIG tyres with mudguards. There was one bike that I kept coming back to. The Surly Long Haul Trucker. I'd read so many reviews from owners who simply loved their LHT's. Google images was full of muddy, well used LHT's in remote parts of the world and I really struggled to find anything negative written about them. Most other frames didn't seem to have the tyre clearance of the LHT, and I firmly believe that the comfort of high volume tyres outweighs the minimal increase in rolling resistance. This bike has to be about comfort and the ability to ride on rough stuff if necessary. I was nearly seduced by the Genesis Croix de Fer. However, the positioning of the rear disc caliper would cause issues with fitting a rack / mudguard - something that the Surly has solved by positioning the disc mount differently. The Kona Sutra was another close call, but too expensive, and not available as a frame only option - I want to build the bike myself. The Bob Jackson World Tour was considered. My road bike is a Bob Jackson and I love it. I love the idea of a frame hand built in Leeds by a company started in the 1930's, but with a maximum tire size of 700 x 32 the World Tour seemed a bit too "roadie" and not rugged enough. Every bike had some issue that concerned me. Again and again the LHT seemed to be the only one to tick all the boxes.

So the decision was made. Nearly. Long Haul Trucker (rim brakes) or Disc Trucker (disc brakes).
My experience on the Coast to Coast of  vainly trying to stop my loaded Planet X on steep Lake District passes in wet weather, with cantilever brakes carving gritty grooves into my wheel rims made it a no - brainer. It had to be discs (mechanical ones for ease of repair and servicing).

So this blog is simply to document the build of my tourer from start to finish. It'll be fun for me and if you are looking at building a bike and wondering which frame to choose, it might help.

Here is the frame fresh out the box from Triton Cycles. A 54cm / 26" wheel Surly Disc Trucker beautifully finished in dark green. The TIG welds are really neat and the finish on the powder coating is exceptional. There's lovely lug work on the forks with the letter "S" embossed on the fork crown. Three sets of water bottle bosses and separate eyelets for rack and mudguard mounting. The chain stays look really long, so with 26" wheels it will look a bit gappy - but that will give me the ride / carrying qualities that I'm looking for. The long steerer tube on the fork will remain uncut, allowing plenty of height adjustment on the steering.  I'm eagerly awaiting the delivery of the final few components so the build can commence.

That's it for now. More soon!