Things We Like: Surly Long Haul Trucker

With the economy tanking, cyclists who want a high quality, affordable touring bike — meaning, under $1,200 — need look no further than the Surly Long Haul Trucker. It is not nearly as light as a more expensive touring bike such as my Rivendell Atlantis (at $1,800 for just the frame & fork) or other higher-end makes. But the Surly stands its ground in every other way. One of the many smart features is an extended headtube, which brings the bars up and back, making for a more comfortable position. Further sweetening the deal is a massively excellent Shimano XT and Sugino parts kit.

MG on her LHT at the White House Plaza

MG on her LHT at the White House Plaza

MG formerly commuted on a Novara Randonee (admittedly, a nice, less expensive bike) and liked it at first, but over time found the frame had a dull feel. Then she tried the LHT and bought it that same day. She opted for the 54cm frame with 26″/559mm wheels, which she said felt better in overall sizing compared to her 56cm Randonee. On the Randonnee she had to experiment a lot with reach and saddle setback to get a good fit, compared to an instant fit on the Surly.

Her initial frameset was marred by a slightly over-reamed seattube, and the seatpost kept slipping down. After contacting Surly, they quickly sent a free replacement frameset to her dealer, City Bikes, which moved over the parts at no charge, and all has been well since. She added a luxe Nitto rear rack, which is really stiff. It costs a ton, but preserves the bike’s handling even with panniers full of clothes and groceries.

Here’s MG’s take:

The LHT- I love it, and it’s bomb-proof!

My commute last year: Robotically fill up my panniers, plod my way into the rush hour traffic, and eventually make my way into the office. Lock up my bike and start my day. Boring. THEN I bought myself a Long Haul Trucker and my commuting life changed.

My commute today: Admire my bike, fill up the panniers, admire my bike — the color scheme, head badge, and stock parts — ride out the door, sail into the morning rush hour, and joyfully pedal my way to work. Lock up bike, thank it for its service and start my day. AWESOME!

What is the difference? Having a bike I love. Prior to the LHT, I rode an REI Novara Randonnee– a totally reliable bike, but no “it” factor. It did not feel responsive in traffic, and I never grew to love the color combination and “Novara” logo. Am I shallow? Perhaps so, but I think it was more of a personality clash between the Randonnee and me. We were just not meant to be commuting together long term. I was meant to be on the LHT.

I love the Utility Blue frame color, and the way the bike moves. The bar end shifters feel good, and the gearing is perfect for loaded commuting to the office :). I also love the 26″ wheels… it not only brings variety to the current bike stable, but the 26″ tires are better suited for international touring. That’s not in my near future, but it could be now that I have the LHT that makes me happy (and allows for some good workday office daydreaming)!

The one downside to the LHT is that it is a little heavy. However, as Ed would say, that makes for better brevet training! And anyway, what do I need a lighter bike for? I would just get to the office that much sooner!


Sun and Fun at the N.C. 400K

Is there such a thing as the perfect brevet? Saturday seemed to hold, tantalizingly close, the chance to achieve the mythic, unattainable ride. For MG and I, the perfect brevet means a steady pace. No missed turns. Efficient use of controls, with just the right amount of food and drink and no wasted time. A lot of camraderie with our fellow riders on and off the bike. And tailwinds on the homeward leg.

MG and I enjoyed all those good things except one (can you guess?) at the North Carolina Randonneurs 400K. Mike Dayton, Alan Johnson, Branson Kimball, Jerry Phelps and co. hosted us for our second brevet with them this year and it was a classic.

John Bovine (l) and John Morris leading the start

See my full Flickr set or see the Slideshow.

The start took place under cool, perfectly clear skies at Morrisville and we rode out N.C.-style, with everyone sticking together for the flat miles down to Jordan Lake. I didn’t get an exact total but the group numbered around 20. North Carolina RBA Alan Johnson uses the same out-and-back course, each time longer, for his 200K, 300K and 400K, and it’s well known that the first hills come after the lake. So, everybody takes it easy and chats before the group splits up.

We stopped early at mile 20 to take off layers and the group went on. We rode mostly solo from there to the first control at Siler City and chatted with fellow D.C. Randonneur Lynn Kristianson. She was riding solo this day on her stylish Bike Friday with Gilles Berthoud front panniers.

Lynn K. on her Bike FridayLynn K. on her Bike Friday

The day by then was warm, with temperatures in the 60s with bright sun. We avoided the many friendly dogs who scampered out to bark at our wheels and caught up with John M. at the Siler City control. The last of the layers came off and from there it was off over shallow rollers to the 100K control in Seagrove, at the Citgo/Hardees. MG and I wolfed down hot ham and cheese sandwiches and contemplated the next segment, a 60-mile round trip to Ophir, which we were told held the real hills. Chuck, John and Byron were there in high spirits.

John M. rehydrates two-fistedJohn M. rehydrates two-fisted

We put the tandem into high gear and rode quickly to the turnaround, attacking the downhills. This part of the ride resembled the terrain on DCR brevets and we quickly found our rhythm, while marveling at the lush green North Carolina woods all around us. The main group was just leaving the turnaround near Ophir as we approached. At the control we visited with volunteer Dan Gatti, Jim on his recumbent Bachetta, and John B. on his early 80s Schwinn bike that he found very inexpensively on Craigslist and has put back into service. He told us how he had sewn his own saddlebag and crafted his own bag mount, and we were very impressed.

Dan and MG at the TurnaroundDan and MG at the Turnaround

We began feeling our legs on the return. Odd how that happens after 125 miles! After riding bits with John B. and Jim, we arrived in Seagrove to find Branson, Byron, and the rest of the first two groups having dinner. This time we ordered chicken club sandwiches. I had not been in a Hardees for 30 years, and now I’ve eaten in one three times in the last three weeks. They’ve improved a lot!

Chris Clunn and Branson recover at HardeesChris Clunn and Branson recover at Hardees

We dawdled and let the fast guys go ahead of us by 10 minutes. They planned to stop in Siler City for dinner and we planned to catch them there for the nighttime 100K. Then the captain of the tandem succumbed to “get-there-itis” and took a wrong turn. I had not properly loaded the maps onto my GPS and it would not show the roads we were using, but it still showed our location and the route I plotted.
Curiously, it showed our little location triangle moving away from the purple route line. We talked about how the road felt wrong but didn’t stop until the next intersection, some 3.6 miles off course. Fuming, we made our way back to the route. It takes time to get over 7.2 bonus miles, we discovered –about another 7.2 miles. I kept my computer in place but MG unclicked hers for the same distance we added in an attempt to wipe away the mistake.

Supposed to Read 177 milesSupposed to Read 177 miles

At Seagrove we arrived at last light and again found our buddy John M. and Chuck at the control. The Branson and Jerry group, fueled with Mexican dinner, tooled past as we prepared to launch into the night.

MG and Ed at SeagroveMG and Ed at Seagrove

A nearly full moon emerged and we enjoyed a tailwind all the way in. We shared the segment with the two Johns, Schwinn and Surly, and made good time. One last brief stop at mile 30 to refuel and put on a jacket and that was it — we mostly solo’d into the finish at 1:36 a.m. for a 19:36 finish and 255 miles completed. RBA Alan, who wisely chose sleep, had us sign and time our cards at his house and leave them in an envelope on his front door. We saw Branson headed home as we arrived and finished with Lin Osborne, who nicely took our photo.

Lin gives the Randonneur SaluteLin gives the Randonneur Salute

We’ll keep seeking the perfect brevet, but we felt good about our finishing time. It was about right for us compared to our past 400Ks. We were a little extra happy with the result since we did not ride a 400K together last year and wondered how we would fare after a year off.

No doubt our success was aided by Alan and everyone in the NCR bunch, who extended their friendly hospitality on our two brevets with the NCR group this year. We had a lot of fun and hope to get back there soon.

Goodbye Bleriot. Hello Long Haul Trucker.

The news has been the lists for a few days, and now Grant Peterson of Rivendell Bicycles has confirmed his plan to discontinue the Bleriot 650b frameset.

As you know, faithful readers, I had an excellent ride at PBP last year on my coupled and repainted Bleriot. It felt light, handled well, the wheels rolled wonderfully with 32mm Grand Bois tires, and I was comfortable the entire way. Grant explained his decision on the Rivendell Owners Bunch list.

My BleriotMy Bleriot

The Bleriot deal was too good to last long: a Rivendell production frameset, lugged, at an MSRP of $750. The problem was that internet dealers were selling them for less. That was the downside of marketing the bike through wholesaler Quality Bicycle Products, which made them available to any shop with a QBP account. I bought mine for less than MSRP so I probably contributed in my own small way to its demise. Grant says Riv will continue to have some frames in stock for awhile. Interestingly, of the traffic on TDR, the My PBP Bleriot post is the top viewed page, followed by my Kogswell P/R page.

In with the new: MG went ahead and bought the 54cm Surly Long Haul Trucker she was checking out on Sunday. It is a great deal though it has one tiny flaw, which I’ll discuss in a minute. She loves it so much more than her Novara Randonnee for commuting and riding around town.

MG on her new Long Haul TruckerMG on her new Long Haul Trucker

It’s a pretty sweet build with lots of silver: Shimano XT hubs and rear derailler, Shimano Tiagra front derailleur, Shimano 9-speed bar ends and 11-34 cogset, Sugino crankset with touring-friendly 110/74 b.c.d. pattern rings, and normal non-ergo handlebars. I did the math and I couldn’t part it up for any less than the $980 list price. I would switch out the Tektro Oryx brakes but that’s more an aesthetic thing. They work fine so far.

Prospective buyers should note that the 54cm size runs a size large; MG normally rides a 56cm or 57cm in Rivendell sizing, and found the 54cm LHT fits perfectly.

The only flaw we’ve found is that the seat tube, which is supposed to be 27.2mm, is a little oversized. The post kept slipping down. The shop tried a 27.4 today and it fit. MG is going to live with it for now.

UPDATE: MG corresponded with Surly as did her shop, City Bikes in D.C. about the seat tube, and Surly is sending a replacement frame. Well done, Surly.

The Post would not stay putA Post that would not stay put

We had to pull over to try to adjust it on the bike’s maiden voyage Tuesday, amidst all the racers flying up and down West Potomac Park because Hains Point was flooded at its southern end.

Momentarily dropped!Momentarily dropped

Ok, you’re probably saying, “what’s up with all the bikes?” MG really likes the whole LHT vibe and felt she should grab it before Surly drops it or raises the price due to the tanking dollar. She’s going to sell the Novara to keep the stable in check. Even though it’s not lugged, the LHT is a pretty cool bike and a great deal. If I had to recommend an affordable do-all bike for commuting, touring and brevets, it would be the LHT.

Going GPS, Tikit Update and Long Haul Trucker

It was a long week at work and I let TDR slide, which I so dislike. Business first, play later; I don’t make the rules. MG and I did not ride last weekend nor this one, though she came out on her single today to meet me and Super D on the tandem for breakfast at Luna Cafe and Grill at Dupont Circle in the district before a visit to Eastern Market to peruse the outdoor vendors.

We found an interesting Bianchi Randonneur bike from the ’80s, built in Japan with Suntour Mountech derailleurs, half-step gearing and good lugwork. Either of us could have ridden it, but this one needed a home where it would be a prize and not one of the stable.

Super D and MG with Bianchi RandonneurSuper D and MG with Bianchi Randonneur

Bianchi RandonneurBianchi Randonneur

MG left us to go check out the Surly Long Haul Trucker complete bike. The built bike is priced under $1,000 and comes with Shimano XT hubs, Shimano bar end shifters, Sugino XD crankset and good complementary parts. She’s been looking for something to replace her Novara Randonnee for town hauling. The Randonee fits her well but is something of a tank. MG says it has no feel. While she normally rides 56-57cm bikes, she found she was a better fit on the 54cm LHT, which uses 26″/559mm wheels. Huh. Anyway, keep tuned to this space for more on the LHT.

Meanwhile, check out her mini-review of the Bike Friday Tikit folding bike at Vik’s Tikit Blog. He requested a little more than we posted last week on TDR and MG has good things to say. The only thing she’s found wanting is the cheapo SRAM twist shifter, which is incredibly hard to turn. I guess the idea is that one doesn’t use it very often. I’m going to install a thumbshifter.

Last week Bill Beck and friends rode the ROMA 400K out of Lebanon Church, Va. Fortunately no Biblical weather this time. See his Flickr set or the Slideshow.

During our brevet break I’ve decided to spend even more time at the computer by buying a Garmin Vista HCx GPS unit. My GPS buddies said it offered the best combination of screen, expandable memory, battery life, weight and price of the Garmin lineup (especially compared to the cycling-specific Garmin models), though it takes up more real estate on the bars.

Vista HCxGarmin Vista HCx

I resisted buying a GPS until we started riding brevets in other areas with unfamiliar roads. While we haven’t had a problem yet, it will be nice to know more about the area we are riding through and have some help staying on course. It will get its first test at the North Carolina Randonneurs 400K this coming Saturday.

The downside is that you have to make up a route at home before the event if you want turn-by-turn routing. It’s tedious work but it forces you to learn the route a little and that’s a good thing. The dirty little secret about GPS routing is that you can’t just input a cue sheet and have it give you turn-by-turn directions exactly as you want. You have to input enough waypoints and via points on your home computer to force it to stay on route and not route you off-course. I’ve posted Nick Bull’s handy-dandy “How to Train Your GPS” primer Here.

I’ll report back on our progress. When fellow randonneur David Lippke said “Welcome to GPS hell” when I started asking lots of questions about GPS randonneuring, I think he was kidding. I think.

Thursday Commuteblogging: the Pope and Steel Bikes

I admit I missed yesterday’s Wednesday Commuteblogging and didn’t have one at all last week. I’ll plead that when the ACP brevets are underway, I try to scale back the late evenings in order to get more sleep and generally focus on the next event. MG and I are tentatively headed south to the N.C. Randonneurs 300K in Raleigh on the 26th, and we’ll return for their 400K on May 17. Our 600K plans are uncertain right now, with the Boston 600K on July 26 the most likely.

This week Pope Benedict is in D.C. and as a bicycle commuter who rides past the White House daily, I get to see a little more of the pomp of VIP visits than your average person who drives or takes the Metro subway. That was the case Wednesday, when he was hosted at the White House. What’s he got to do with steel bikes? Nothing, really. He probably grew up riding a steel bike. We know he has a wooden bicycle to ride around Rome.

Here’s a photo of cyclists gawking at the White House south lawn on Wednesday, when the Pope was hosted by the president:

Cyclists stop to view the papal visit to the White HouseCyclists stop to view the papal visit to the White House

On to steel bikes. Randonneurs ride all types of bicycles, with steel, titantium and carbon the top frameset choices these days (did I just list those in reverse order?). Aluminum is relatively rare on brevets, save for Cannondale, which to its credit still offers a touring bike and the most affordable high-quality tandems now that Burley has given up on bikes and focuses on trailers.

Richard Schwinn of Waterford Bicycles recently spoke to Georgena Terry of Terry Bicycles about frame materials.

Check out the audio interview at Georgena’s t-chatter blog.

While he’s a fan of steel (warms my heart!), Richard notes the qualities of carbon. In particular, he recognizes the ability to shape it into cool lines, and, to him, the value of carbon forks to reduce weight, though he says the non-racer is overly focused on that aspect. He also talks about how carbon’s long-term durability is as yet unknown and how cyclists confuse its ability to dampen, vs. absorb, vibration.

We all know carbon fails catastrophically, unlike steel and to a lesser degree titanium. Richard delves into the economics of carbon, as well. China and Taiwan saw an opportunity to win market share through aluminum frames, which they sold cheaply enough to push steel bikes off shop floors, and now are doing the same to aluminum by emphasizing carbon.

Over at the Cycloculture Blog, Surly’s Andy Corson offers his take on the Surly lineup. See Andy’s comments Here.

Surly offers what I see are the best lower-cost randonneur-ready frames and bikes. They are available through any shop that does business with the big wholesaler Quality Bicycle Products. It helps to look past Surly’s ugly web site, I’ll admit. The problem is that you rarely see Surly bikes in shops, which prefer to push the brands with which they have dealership status.

I wish more shops would keep a Long Haul Trucker, Cross-Check and Pacer built up for test rides, just to show folks that affordable, lightweight (note I did not say ultralight) steel bikes are still around. I recently told a buddy who is considering getting back into cycling to check out Surly, but I have no idea if he could actually find one built up for a test ride in his size.

Seattle randonneur Paul (Dr. Codfish) Johnson reminds me that another affordable alternative is the Salsa Casseroll. The Casseroll looks great and I’ve mentioned this bike before, but it’s worth repeating. Steel, versatile, room for fenders and 32mm 700c tires. What’s not to love?