Deciding which touring bike to purchase is no small undertaking. When you’re going to be spending so much time and money on a bike, it’s important to get it right.
Over the past two years, my partner and I have used our trusty Long Haul Truckers to carry us up and over the hills of Wales, along the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, across the Peaks and the Pennines of England, and – in our most extensive trip yet – around New Zealand’s beautiful South Island.
But before we did all that, we spent hours poring through internet forums, blogs and reviews in our quest for the ultimate touring machine. We also talked to friends who have been cycling touring and were a wealth of knowledge. A few of them had the Surly Crosscheck or the Long Haul Trucker and rated them highly.
We looked at the Dawes, the Thorns and the Koga-Miyatas among the many touring bikes on offer. But it was the Long Haul Trucker that kept popping up as the touring bicycle to have: a steel frame with all the braze-ons that you would ever need for v-brakes, racks, bottle cages and even spare spokes.
We already had a Surly in our stable, the Steamroller, which had done a good service as a fixed city commuter. The Surly 4130 CroMoly steel gives a comfortable and reliable ride, the paint job was smart, and we knew that we couldn’t go wrong with a Surly.
At Brixton Cycles in London we had a chance to see the Long Haul Trucker in the flesh. Beautiful, aren’t they? We had a great chat with the staff there, who are real Surly enthusiasts. After some discussion, we found the right sizes for the two of us: quite comically I settled for the towering 58cm 2009 model in green, and my partner went for the diminutive burgundy 46cm, of which, happily for our wallet, Brixton had one left over from 2008 at a reduced price. We came away from the shop buzzing with ideas about how we’d build the bikes ourselves, to our exact specifications and needs. New additions to the stable were soon to be born!
The Build & The Ride
All the Surly bikes we’ve come across (the Steamroller, Crosscheck and now the Long Haul Trucker) are certainly not on the light side. But they are built to last – sturdy and rock solid. The relaxed angles and the longer wheelbase make the Long Haul Trucker a simply brilliant ride.
Over the years, we’ve each tried many other kinds of bicycle, from custom-made titanium racing bikes to aluminum hard-tail mountain bikes. Admittedly, we’ve never tried a different model of touring bike, but the Long Haul Trucker has made such an impression that we feel we’ll never need to. Simply put, they are probably the most comfortable bicycles we have ever ridden.
The Surly Long Haul Trucker is not built for speed, but for carrying you and the kitchen sink. It really does handle and feel most at ease when you have loaded it up. This is, I’m sure, a common principle of all good touring bicycles.
We’re ashamed to admit that our other bicycles have more or less been put out to grass since we got the Long Haul Truckers. We have a couple of fixed and road bikes along with a MTB commuter. But, over the last two years, they have just been gathering dust, since the Long Haul Truckers are so comfortable and a joy to ride. While the titanium road
bike is a flighty thoroughbred, the Long Haul Trucker is a sturdy and reliable cart horse.
We’ve even used our Long Haul Truckers as commuting bikes in London. They are slow and heavy but always get you there in comfort and with a smile on your face. It is no racer, but let’s face it, you’re not going to do a sprint finish when touring. Need to take lots of luggage, extra water and a stock pile of food when away from civilization? The Surly doesn’t complain. It just takes the load and keeps on going. You can almost hear it say “More luggage? Bring it on!”
Even at low speeds and fully loaded it handles very well. Nor is going up steep hills a problem. In the fastnesses of Wales and the Pennines we managed a few serious lumps – even a 25% incline – fully loaded, with the front wheel firmly planted on the ground.
I’m told I sound like a broken record when telling people about this bike, but it’s honestly the best way to describe it: It’s like riding a four-wheeled sofa. Heavy, but comfy as anything.
The Build & The Cost
We got hold of our two Surly frames at our local bike shop in London, Brixton Cycles. The 46cm was £50 cheaper than the 56cm, which set us back £350 since it was an older model (2008 rather than 2009). There are no substantial differences between the two frames aside from different lugs on the dropouts, and the colour: the 2008 frame was
only available in a rather fetching burgundy. Otherwise, they’re exactly the same. The 2010 model seems to differ from the 2009 frame in colour alone, and if there are further differences, they must be subtle as they’re not immediately noticeable. And, from discussions with other Long Haul Trucker riders, the ride quality doesn’t differ from model to model.
When it came to selecting the correct size, there were a few different schools of thought to consider. We took the advice of the bike shop to go for a smaller size than usual in a touring frame. The 60cm, and maybe even 62cm frame would certainly have fit me, but our man Barney at the local bike shop advised me to go for the 58cm in order to have
greater control over my steed when fully loaded, especially when getting on and off. I do have a rather long seat post and a raised stem. I didn’t even need to cut the fork down. What matters is that I feel comfortable on the bike, and so I’m absolutely sure I made the right sizing and set-up choices. Even my partner took the size down from her normal size, 46cm, and she just loves riding her Surly Long Haul Trucker.
If you prefer an off-the-peg bike, you can get the Surly Long Haul Trucker built up from Surly for just over £890. We decided that we wanted to build our tourers from scratch, as we had particular ideas about our preferred components. For example, I don’t get on with drop handlebars or downtube shifters, and my partner prefers shallow drops and women-specific saddles. I also looked forward to the process of sourcing the parts and building up our new steeds. And then there was the practical benefit of helping me understand the bikes inside and out, and be prepared for any potential mechanical breakdowns while out on tour.
I built up our Long Haul Truckers with XT groupsets, 44, 32, 22 chainrings and a 11-34 cassette which gives us plenty of low gears for going up the steepest of hills. I chose the Hollowtech II bottom bracket, which I admit I was a little worried about at start (new-fangled technology!), but they are running just fine.
My bike has butterfly/traveller handlebars, which I’m still playing around with to find exactly the right set up. I’m almost there. The wheels, 700c, I bought second hand from a friend who’d built them up himself with a HOPE XC rear hub and SON dynohub on Mavic A319 36 hole rims.
The smaller Surly was set up with women-specific shallow drop Bontrager handlebars and Ultegra STI shifters which work great with v-brakes when you use travel agents. The wheels, 26”, were built with HOPE front and rear hubs on Mavic A319 36 hole rims, by our very good friend and wheel builder.
Both bikes run Marathon Plus 35mm tyres which are pretty much bombproof, which is much needed for touring and commuting in London. Admittedly the tyres are slightly on the slow side (see a theme emerging here?), but it’s not speed we care too much about. Rather, it’s durability and longevity that are important. The Marathon Plus ticks these boxes. As for the racks, we chose Turbus Cargo and Ergo racks because we’d heard good things about them and I was lucky enough to get them on discount through my work.
It’s a bit hard to state the total cost of the bikes. To be honest, we got rather carried away when building our new toys and didn’t keep a close eye on the budget. Plus, we did have some of the parts stored up already along with several great offers we managed to pick up online and through my work. The bike building project began in January 2009
and the first bike was fully built by June of the same year. If you have time to spare, gradually picking up bits and pieces through online offers can save you quite a bit of money. For example, we picked up my partner’s Ultegra shifters for half price, and got the Hollowtech II crankset for over £100 less than the street price.
But I’m pretty sure if you go into a shop and order what we have, you are going over the £2000 mark for each of these bicycles. That said, I’m sure that the off-the-peg Surly would be a great ride still and a great starter tourer to build up when you can afford to upgrade.
The Small Things
The paint job is good quality. I have used my Surly heavily over the last two years and of course there are a few scratches, but the paint job is still sound. I had read that the paint job on the burgundy coloured Surly wasn’t the best. But, we have not had any problems with ours. There was a rather big scratch inflicted by the journey to New Zealand but no paint job would have survived that.
The smaller 46cm frame is rather compact so you can only have one 750ml bottle in the three cages. The one on the seat tube can just about hold a 750ml bottle, and it’s a bit of a faff to get the bottle out and in. The one on the underside of the down tube can only take a small bottle as there is no room for it because of the front wheel.
Since the Long Haul Truckers are on the heavy side, you will be a bit pushed keeping your packed up bicycle within your luggage allowance when flying. We try to add a little bit extra into the box, such as your sleeping bags and tent. But with the Long Haul Truckers you don’t have many extra kgs to play with.
The standard sized bike box you can pick up from your local bicycle shop, is a tight fit for the 58cm frame. Even with front rack and mudguards off your Surly will be bigger than the box. I had to take the forks off as well in order to get it all into the box. The 46cm frame, however, fit nice and snug into a standard cardboard bike box.
My very first ride on the Surly Long Haul Trucker was quite an epic one: a ride called the Dunwich Dynamo, a 110’ish mile long ride over night from London to a beach north east of London. Around one thousand people take part every year in the summer. It was pretty much thrown together in the morning before the ride, a quick spin in the carpark
to see if it worked, loaded it up and off we went.
After around 40-50 miles my shoulders started to hurt. I then raised the stem one spacer and the pain started to go away. And that was it for the rest of the ride. It was just so comfortable. When I got back onto the bike after a quick swim and breakfast it was not painful.
When people see the Surly they are really interested and only tell you good things about it, either from their own experience or from what they have read or heard. I recall that at 4am on the Dunwich Dynamo, I was passing two ladies on a hill, and we all were rather tired at this point. One of them asked me, “Is that the Long Haul Trucker, with the
long wheel base?” This made me smile, gave me a boost and made me rather proud that I had picked such a well thought of and famous bicycle.
The only thing that has broken on the Surly is the rear wheel which was second hand. After nearly 10,000 miles in total, the rim cracked. I think it handled it responsibilities very well since I’m not the smallest of people and do carry a lot in my panniers, including a heavy tool kit, while commuting in London. And we did ride on some rather rough gravel roads in New Zealand. Otherwise they just roll along taking in whatever you throw at them.
The Surly Long Haul Trucker: In Summary
You’re not going to win any races riding a Long Haul Trucker. But it does exactly what it says on the tin. It carries you long distances, with all your worldly possessions (well, almost) in comfort and style. It just gets better the more you load it up.
I’m now coming up to 8,500 miles on mine and when it’s clean it still looks like a new bicycle. In the meanwhile, our other bikes look out jealously from under the washing draped over them; they’re just glorified laundry hangers these days. We were warned that once we’d joined the Long Haul Trucker club we’d have trouble weaning ourselves off… and it’s true!
I know for sure that these lovely, dependable Surly Long Haul Truckers will be in our stable for many years to come. It’s testament to the comfort and quality of the bikes that we really can’t think of anything that we want to change about them. We might just top up the paint job when it’s needed. In the meantime, there’s a lot of world left to explore, so we’ll just keep on Long Haul Trucking.
About the Author: Henrik Risager (aka “woollypigs“) is a pootling touring cyclist, who discovered the delights of cycle camping in 2009 and has since toured with his partner in Wales, England, Croatia, New Zealand and his native Denmark. He always stops for cake and daydreams about where the next tour will take him.