Surly Straggler

Can’t help but think this will be compared to the Genesis Croix de Fer in the UK and not look so good but cheaper overseas and may be more value. $1700

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Surly’s Straggler is a sturdily built and eminently adaptable steel all-rounder. It boasts a handful of interesting design touches, an unusual amount of tyre room, plentiful luggage rack mounts and a very comfy ride. It has a strong bias towards rough roads and trail use, but weight-weenies should look away now.

If you’re not sure why Surly’s bikes are dramatically different from the mainstream, take a look at their info-packed websitewww.surlybikes.com. It explains a hell of a lot about their design and build philosophy. It’s a very enjoyable read that takes you way beyond the marketing jargon you usually find on a bike maker’s website.

The Straggler is effectively a new approach to one of Surly’s most popular all-rounder bikes, the Cross-Check. The Straggler has disc brakes instead of the Cross-Check’s cantilevers, adding extra appeal for serious off road use, fully loaded touring or, in a perfect world, a combination of the two. Both are built around the kind of purposeful, adaptable and durable framesets Surly are known for, in this case inspired by cyclo-cross and touring applications, but the discs add to the Straggler’s appeal as a true all-rounder.

There are other instant appeal factors in the frame design too. The rear dropouts are 135mm wide (mountain bike standard) and have a screw adjusters so you can use a single speed or hub geared wheel or simply to slide the wheel back for extra clearance around big tyres. There’s already far more tyre room than on most cyclo cross or touring bikes.

Frame fittings include threaded bosses, doubled up on the fork dropouts, for full mudguards and every common type of front and rear pannier rack plus two sets of bottle cage bosses.

As per usual with Surly, there are loads of closely spaced sizes to choose from, ten to be precise, from 42cm to 64cm. All get a 72 degree head angle, with seat angles ranging from 75 degrees on the 42 to 72 on the 64. Our test bike is a 56cm (22in) with a horizontal top tube length of 58cm.

The frame shape is unusual. The top tube slopes down slightly to the head tube, which in turn extends about 2cm above the top tube. With the 30mm stack of washers on the steerer that gives you an option of a very high or very low handlebar position and good standover clearance.

Road and trail notes

The Surly guys are refreshingly honest in how they describe the Straggler.

They say: “It’s a day tripper and a weekender. It’s a ‘rough road’ road bike. It’s a cyclocross bike with no pretense about racing. It’s a utilitarian townie. It’s a light-duty touring bike. It’s an all-weather commuter. And when you get tired of one set up, you can swap parts around and turn it into something else.”

It’s that all purpose adaptability that’s the key to its attraction. And that adaptability means it’s built to take a beating on all types of terrain, whether it’s laden with bags or stripped down to the metal and rubber.

I tested the standard build from Surly’s UK distributor Ison Distribution. It weighed in at 11.9kg/26.5lb without pedals. That’s pretty close to the weight of a rigid forked mountain bike at around this price but not as capable as a mountain bike on really demanding terrain.

The Straggler’s obvious rough roads and trails bias makes that comparison inevitable. It bridges mountain bike, cyclocross bike and touring bike, with both positive and negative aspects of all three.

Most of its positive attributes are centred on the fact that it’s obviously built for durability, so you’re not going to be interested if you’re a weight watcher.

The 4130 chromoly steel tubes are cleanly TIG-welded, the main triangle is double butted, the chunky 4130 chromoly fork has a lugged crown and dropouts with curved butted blades fitted with dual rack eyelets.

If you have your own ideas about how you’d want to equip the Straggler, you could start with a frame and fork for £449.99, but the complete bike package is very thoughtfully equipped and looks like a good starting point for the sort of bike that could theoretically tackle pretty much any terrain you choose to ride it over.

Surly’s Knard 41mm knobbly tyres are a strong indicators towards its intended territory, but there’s nothing to stop you fitting skinny treads if your bias is more towards road use.

Inevitably it’s not a particular fast bike on the road with the 41mm tyres fitted, although it is remarkably comfortable and the Knard’s tread pattern features a round close-knobbed profile that runs surprisingly quickly on tarmac.

The weight means that climbing on the road is more sluggish than on a skinny tyred aluminium or carbon framed cyclo-cross bike, but it bears comparison with other steel-framed touring bikes. The Straggler’s high-speed handling on descents is massively confident in places where you’re not quite sure what the surface is going to present you with.

The tyres are fat enough to allow you to run them fairly soft off road for more control and comfort, but you’ll quickly become aware of the limits when the going gets overly rocky or rooty. But away from truly difficult mountain bike terrain its trail handling is superb.

The combined wheel and tyre diameter is 28.5in, an inch more than on a typical cyclocross bike and that helps in terms of creating an easier roll over the bumps, but there’s still plenty room for mudguards.

The finishing detail of complete bike packages is well thought out. The parts package uses wheels with tough Alex DX-Lite eyeleted rims, 32 black stainless spokes and Surly’s own hubs, allen bolted up front, quick release at the back.

The Shimano drivetrain mixes a 46/34 cyclocross crankset with Tiagra shifters and rear mech, CX70 front mech and an 11-32 ten speed cassette, a good option for off road use or laden touring.

The brakes are the well proven and easy to adjust Avid BB7 cable pull discs, with full outer cables. The seat post and stem are from Kalloy; the saddle from Velo; and the handlebar the compact drop and slightly flared Salsa Cowbell.

If you don’t like the ‘Glitter Dreams’ sparkling finish of our test bike you could go for the  much more conservative ‘Closet Black’.

The Straggler has a rock solid character in terms of both handling and have a go at anything durability. Sure, there are times when it feels like a bit of a lump, typically when you’re trying to keep up with a bunch of mates on skinny-rib road bikes. But there are also times when its steamroller personality becomes very welcome.

On trails it’s inevitably much less skittish than a lightweight race bred cyclocross bike, and that’ll give you confidence to explore further afield. With a fast rolling set of touring tyres, it’ll be competing for desirability honours with lots of traditional touring bikes.

The braking is better than a lot of other disc equipped cross-bred bikes because it doesn’t flutter or judder: that’s presumably down to the hefty build of the fork and the bracing tube between the stays out back; adding weight has pros as well as cons.

The Straggler is a bike for those who value a comfortable non competitive ride and a lot of adaptability in one bike. It’s not for those who obsess about weight or who are  always in a rush.

It could even be the only bike you need to own if you’re an all-round rider of the type who currently owns half a dozen bikes and is trying to trim the fleet back to a sensible number.

You might still need that fast road bike, though. Oh, and the mountain bike, and, and, and…

Verdict

Wonderfully versatile all-rounder that can hit the trails, the streets or the long-haul open road; it might be the only bike you need, except for all the others.

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