Sunday, November 4, 2012

Krampi and fat tires and unicorns and such

More mountain biking, please.
Scout and I took Surly and Salvagetti up on their invitation to experience the Unicorn Petting Zoo, not far from where we live. As promised, the event included many mystical steeds, free not only for petting, but for riding around in a magical alpine setting. To the delight of all involved, it turns out these unicorns were shod in fat rubber.
Scout tracking elusive beasts.
In our pursuit, we wended our way along a section of the Colorado Trail...
... and through an area that burned about a decade ago.  If you squint your eyes, you might just make out a grazing unicorn among the charred trunks.
We were getting close. Those aren't anemic, skinny-tired bike tracks.
Through the assistance of some Surly elves, I was able to wrangle a wily Krampus for a ride. It's a unique and highly inspired thing; a convergent product of two evolving forms of off road machinery. Surly has been central to the development of both antecedent gene lines, 29er and fatbike, so the cross-pollination that led to the Krampus is no surprise. Think of it as the offspring of a Karate Monkey and a Pugsley, with a bit of beneficial spontaneous mutation.

The Krampus rides a lot like a 29er, because it is. It also rides quite a bit like my Pugsley, largely because of the fat 3-inch wide tires at low pressure. Then again, it exhibits the characteristics of just about any rigid off road bike, with perhaps just a bit of something more. It is, in many respects, a sense of more-ness that is probably most descriptive of riding a Krampus.

The following is by no means a review, but instead impressions of spending a half hour or so on the trail with a Krampus. This bike is full of innovations and is legitimately boundary-pushing. In short, it's chock full of more-ness, as previously mentioned. If you're a fan of fun bikes, or of getting a sneak glimpse of the not-so-distant future, it's a bike that you would do well to find a way to take a ride on, or at least to ponder.

Although it is probably not overwhelmingly light on the scale, the Krampus feels light on the trail. The fat rubber eats up trail obstacles and smooths the ride, creating the impression of easy acquisition of speed. It floats and hops readily, but with those big wheels spinning, it stores enough embodied energy to maintain considerable momentum to roll up small rises with minimal effort.
Why didn't I think of that? The Surly Krampus is a conglomeration of several deceptively simple, great ideas. 
Color doesn't make or break a bike, but photos can't convey how terrific the metallic green looks on the frame. 
The Krampus has a lot going on in the front end. More on that in a bit.
With the Krampus, Surly has brought into focus a re-imagined trail bike. I predict that in a few years, there will be no shortage of manufacturers offering bikes with many of its features.
Perhaps one of the oddest things about the Surly Krampus is that it uses mostly normal parts. It takes a 100 mm front hub and a 135 mm rear. It has a 73 mm bottom bracket, and a 44 mm headset, which, although it's a size new to me, I'm told is standard to many newer bikes. All this means that a Krampus frame is ready to receive parts from just about any existing bike a prospective owner may already have.

However, going with the theme of more-ness, the parts that are different on this bike make for an end product with more capabilities. It's designed to use 50 mm wide 29er rims with 29" x 3.0" knobbies. Important to note is that those two items did not exist prior to this bike. A fat-tired 29er previously topped out at about 29" x 2.4" tires on 35 mm wide rims. The extra dimensions translate to delivering a ride that is more cushioned, grippy and confidence inspiring. Somehow it just feels right, as if this is how a rigid mountain bike is meant to ride.

However, what makes the bike is not all about its ability to encompass fatter rubber. In purely aesthetic terms, the powdercoat on the Krampus is likely to turn the world of bike colors on its head. Surly has long been known for love-it-or-hate-it colors, most of which are monochromatic. I find this refreshing when compared to other manufacturers who slather on a lot of graphics and racing stripes in overly complicated patterns. The deep metal flake finish on the Krampus that they've termed 'Moonlit Swamp' is simply amazing, yet maintains the design simplicity of its earlier paint schemes. It's reminiscent of a nice metal flake finish on a fiberglass speedboat, circa 1975. I'll admit that green is my favorite bike color, but man, does this powdercoat look good.

Another innovation subtly integrated in this bike is the use of single-wall, cut out rims on a bike overtly promoted as being a trail bike. The inclusion of these rims may be a game changer in a number of respects. It signals that lighter, wider rims may be good for much more than just the snow or soft surfaces for which they were seemingly originally intended. These rims probably have a strength threshold short of downhilling or acrobatics, but are apparently just fine for regular use.
As wide as the length of my index finger on my size L/XL hands.
Enough room for mud clearance, even fenders, if so inclined.
The specially shaped yoke joining the bottom bracket to the chainstays is perhaps the central key to the whole bike.   
The Surly Rabbit Hole rims are somewhat concave on the inner face. 
The Krampus does more with available space by doing what Captain Kirk would do: rewriting the rules to serve its own needs. Instead of deferring the arbitration of maximum tire width to the limitations of existing design, some Surly engineer re-configured the chainstay to bottom bracket connection to provide enough clearance for fatter tires while still allowing room for chainrings, all with a standard bottom bracket shell width. Success in this area appears to have been the crux, past which the rest of the bike was able to come into being. Give that engineer a raise.

The design around the bottom bracket makes a strong structural suggestion in favor of a single, or at least a more outboard double chainring setup, as enabled by offset double cranks. Running a single ring in front with a wide range cassette out back is becoming more of an accepted way of doing business for many mountain bike designs. It makes a lot of sense, and reduces some mechanical complexity to run a 1-by-whatever drivetrain. However, as with anything regarding bike setup, personal preferences come into play. The test bike that I rode had a 39-tooth ring, which left me wanting a lower gear. A 34 or 32 up front would have been more ideal for me.

The Surly Krampus features an astonishingly wide handlebar, to wit, a 780 mm wide Salsa Whammy bar. I have long been a fan of wide bars, but this was easily the widest I've ridden. The effect was to force the bike to submit to my complete control through superior leverage. Here, once again, more is more. The super wide bars somehow make the bike more nimble and controllable, with solid reinforcement in the knowledge that the bike would go precisely where I told it to go. The enormity of this bar seems to be the central element around which the front of the bike was built. The bar deserves no small credit in imparting supreme confidence while on the trail, and feels in perfect proportion with the rest of the bike.
Salsa Whammy bar on a Surly Krampus. The combo will put hair on your chest.
My elbow is even with the end of the bar. For reference, I'm about 6'2" and standardly proportioned.
Salsa Whammy bar. It says 11 degrees on the front, but that could just as easily stand for turning up steering control to 11. 
I came away from my time with the Surly Krampus quite impressed with its more-ness. My immediate reaction was that I had just ridden the bike that will retire the 26-inch wheeled mountain bike from serious off-road consideration, perhaps permanently. There are enough clear advantages to nicely fat tires on large diameter wheels to call into question the wisdom of riding anything smaller.

The rolling diameter of a standard 29er, among which I would include 26" x 4.0" or larger tires, just makes for a better, smoother ride as compared to the traditional 26" x 2.X combo. I don't make this assessment lightly, as I have more than 25 years on traditional 26-inch mountain bikes. However, it may more accurately be that my realization was that, for me and/or people around my height, traditional 26ers are out of proportion and have probably always been. I'm not yet certain of this, and probably only time will tell.

Another impression I had was that, apart from the differences in wheels and tires, the Krampus felt a lot like my Pugsley. After talking with the Surly guys a bit, I discovered that Krampus wheels and tires suitably built to fit my frame should imbue my Pugsley with ride qualities much the same as the Krampus. This has left me with something to ponder, and for the weighing of finances.

So, as I established that my Pugsley can handle 29" x 3.0" tires on suitable rims, I also determined it can handle tires more likely to be found on a Moonlander. There were so many fatbikes around that I easily found a bike similar to mine, but sporting fatter tires. I already knew that I could swap a 4.8" tire for my 3.8" on the front of my bike because I have a Moonlander fork, but apparently a 4.8" will also work on the rear, provided I cull a few of the smaller cogs from my cassette so that the chain doesn't rub on the sidewall of the tire. That's a sacrifice I'd be willing to make. So now I'm left to weigh the benefits of even fatter rubber for my bike. Decisions, decisions.

What it all amounts to is that the Pugsley, a perhaps somewhat overlooked grandfather of modern fat bikes, is able to run tires from the current spectrum of fatbike possibilities. The Moonlander's offset of 28 mm in the rear is more than a 29er wheel can easily be built to handle, so Krampus wheels seem unlikely on a Moonlander. Likewise, a Krampus can't handle 26" x 4.0" tires. Therefore, I left appreciating the adaptability of my Pugsley all the more.
My Necro Pugsley front end with a 3.8" Larry in a Moonlander fork.
Another Necro Pugsley with a 4.7" Big Fat Larry, also in a Moonlander fork. 
A nice n' beefy Surly Lou 4.8" tire on a 100 mm Clown Shoe rim, in a Moonlander.
After the bike riding and mucking about was mostly over, the die-hard core gathered around a fire for some brew and hobnobbing. I hadn't been to Buffalo Creek before, but it reminded me a lot of the rock formations at Happy Jack and Vedauwoo in southeastern Wyoming. It's more populated than Wyoming, but a bit closer and easier to get to, so I'll be back.
Time for a fire.
Scout, who is often aloof around other people, kept at a distance from much of the activity. She occasionally exhibits cat-like tendencies, and true to form, she found an elevated notch in a boulder of sculpted granite from which she could view what was going on around her. She snuggled in while I boiled water for tea and dried soup. She was more than happy for me to share food with her, and especially appreciated the summer sausage.
Scout in a rare photo: one in which she's not blurred due to movement.
I think she may have actually been tired by this point.
My pop can stove getting the job done.
A while later, a trailer-mounted wood-fired pizza oven showed up and the level of cuisine dramatically increased. It's going to be hard to top having freshly baked pizzas with creative toppings immediately adjacent to the campsite.
Phil at work making what ended up being a calzone.
The fiery furnace of the wood oven.
This tomato basil slice tasted even better than it looked.
I couldn't stay up as long as the younger and/or more inebriated contingent present. That meant I was up before all of them, so Scout and I took a walk.
Basic Kneads is the pizzeria on a trailer pictured here. Highly recommended.
A Surly Krampus with a suspension fork and a flat tire.
Phil's half fat Karate Monkey. The cage on the fork ensures that he's well prepared for morning rituals.
My Coleman Feather 442 stove and pop can stove are both in action for breakfast.
After breakfast, Scout and I took another ride along the nearby Colorado Trail. The sun had only recently come up, and was still only occasionally visible between the trees. We had the trail all to ourselves and followed its undulating rise and fall as it rippled across a valley and up the side of a hill. Scout kept pace with me perfectly and made many orbits of me and the bike in conjunction with obstacles. She's blossomed into a full-fledged trail dog.
Furry paws and fat tires.
The part of the grizzled old prospector is played by me.
The Colorado Trail is well-marked and easy to follow.
At trail speed.
The trail gets swoopy through these rocks.
Bike and dog are both well adapted to their purpose.
Surly and Salvagetti put on a good party, and I'm sure that it will result in bikes and parts sold to people who will make good use of them. It was great to be able to sample and peruse a range of bikes that are not always readily available. I think the main outcome of this whole enterprise is to underscore the idea that fatbikes are not just for snow or sand anymore.
A pile of PBR cans seems to often be in the wake of Surly bike people. Perhaps it's unicorn fuel.
Phil had the best camping rig of the group. You can't really top a Volkswagen camper for this type of event.
The most fat tires I've seen in one place at one time.


  1. Yay! I've been waiting for this post all day. While I found the bike content compelling, I was most taken with Scout all curled up in a ball on that rock. Oh, and you with a rather unkempt beard. Looks like it was a great time and makes me long for a Eurovan.

    1. Scout was the dog that everyone wanted to make friends with, but true to her nature, she stayed just out of petting reach or hid behind my legs more often than not. We sometimes refer to her as a cat-dog for her personality and propensity to seek out cat-like places to curl up.

      My beard is a bit out of control. I haven't had one in about seven years, and it came back grayer and a little wilder than before. I suppose it's an allegory to my present self.

      The only car that has consistently been an elusive dream car for me throughout my life is a VW camper bus. However, logic tells me that it's now moved into the category of being too old, and therefore, too expensive to own.

  2. Replies
    1. The Krampus may just be the bike to make a mountain biker out of you. It could be described as a fatbike with a bit more refinement and less burliness to it. The bottom line is it's lively, well mannered and inescapably fun.

      I'll have to say, a Krampus is at the top of my short list of bikes that I can't (yet) quite justify, but I'm working on it. I think I may be finished for good with skinny tires. That means a lot of my bikes may just have moved to the endangered list.

  3. Rabbit hole rims on the pugsley frame sounds like a win to me!

    1. I think a Pugsley with Rabbit Hole rims sporting 3.0 Knard tires and a crazy wide Salsa Whammy bar would have a ride nearly indistinguishable from a Krampus. Yet, such a Pug would still have the capacity for truly fat tires. A win in all departments, I'd say.

      I'll be surprised if by next year I don't have a Pugpus. Or would it be a Krampug? In any case, there's a reason why Rabbit Hole rims have a dual set of eyelets, and I intend to make use of them at some point.

  4. Andy, Several things impress me: this is the best Krampus review on the internet, the Pugsley is more versatile than the Moonlander and any other fatbike (although 170 is great, 185 or 6 is better, but 135 is best), and you are an off-road biker at heart.

    Buffalo Creek trails are pretty slick, eh? Make you feel like superman.

    Nice Pendelton.


    1. Nicholas, that's all quite high praise, especially coming from you.

      Much of what I wrote about the Krampus came after letting the experience soak in for a while. I really do think it's a bike that will send shock waves into the future. Still, it sure makes the original Pug seem fairly prescient itself.

      If I could viably do it, I'd follow your lead and make a life on the trail. As it is, I'm satisfied with getting off-road whenever and wherever I can, and savoring the experiences. I haven't even made a dent in Buffalo Creek yet, but it does indeed make me feel like superman.

      The Pendleton came about via a 70% off sale while getting dog food at the farm store. It's now one of my favorite things.

      Hope you're settling into Albuquerque nicely. Be sure to look up my brother for a beer or a meal sometime. He's got a lot of great books and knowledge of the area.

  5. Great write up Andy! I agree with you on most everything. The Krampus is a good trail bike. It feels so good that kind of stuff.

    I can't believe you haven't been to Buffalo Creek!

    1. For a long while, perhaps a decade or so, I had a self-imposed rule of not driving for the purpose of getting somewhere to ride. This rule was fairly easy to enforce because for that period I was either working too much and/or attending grad school. The rule limited my mountain bike exploration considerably, of course.

      I had actually been to the Buffalo Creek area for hiking about 25 years ago, and had sort of forgotten about it. I've now begun to relax my no driving to ride rule, so my world will probably open up a lot. The trail network there is very impressive.

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  7. I've been thinking that the NecroPug is the way to go. Fat, superfat, or skinny fat. With a few extra tires and another wheelset you end up with a lot of versatility.
    Great writeup on the Krampus, sounds like a fun weekend.

    A camper van has long been on my wishlist. When it was just me, the Mrs. and two dogs we had our sleep in the back of the pickup set up pretty polished and dialed. With the little man around the little truck doesn't quite cut it. A Eurovan camper is now top on my vehicle wishlist.

    1. I've been happy with my NecroPug, and landed on it for the same reasoning as yours. Adaptability is key. So far though, I've kept it mostly stock, and it may remain so until parts wear out. I am heavily considering a Salsa Whammy bar, though. It seems a Whammy might instantly add Krampus-like flavor to a Pug.

      My Endomorph isn't holding up to the rough granite-strewn terrain as well as the Larry, so I'll be looking at something for replacement soon. I really like the Knard tread, but I may go for a Nate. Then again, a Bud and Lou set would really up the ante. A Pugsified set of Krampus wheels and tires are probably still over the horizon, as they're not yet available and would cost more than a set of regular fatties.

      A kid changes everything when it comes to vehicle camping. A couple of years ago we got a tiny 10 foot Scamp trailer that is set up much like a Westfalia, which worked great for two big people and one little one. However, with a second little one and a dog, it's feeling pretty tight. One of my neighbors has a smallish Mercedes RV that would be terrific, but I'd have to move up several tax brackets to join that club.

      In any case, good luck with your fatbike and/or camper van hunting, and whatever that big home project it is that you're working on.

  8. Great writeup and pics- thanks for taking the time. I loved the Krampus! Scheming to get my own Krampus.

    1. Thanks! It was a lot of fun to ride the Krampus and it's well deserving of the attention it has been getting. I really think that it is a bike that will transform the mountain biking landscape. Keep scheming, and one of your own is sure to become a reality.

      BTW, it looks like you're working on an ambitious camper van project. That's some serious commitment.

  9. Had a great time camping and Kramping! The Rabbit Hole / Knard combo is the secret sauce. Would breathe new life into my Necro, as would Bud/Lou. What a versatile platform. The Pugs and Fatback are gonna fight over who gets what... Gonna be an early Christmas.

    1. Wow, both a Pug and a Fatback! If I had two fatbikes, I'd probably keep one standard fat (or go the Abbot and Costello route) and make the other "skinny" fat, via the Rabbit Hole and Knard combo. The combo is enough skinnier and lighter than 3.8" tires to make them feel pretty darn fast, yet without losing the great fat feel.

      I'm really keen to see how the Rabbit Hole/Knard setup would translate on a Pugsley, but parameters of product availability and personal finances will probably delay that experiment for a while. If you get there first, be sure to let me know.

  10. Nice write up of the Krampus, Andy. I look forward to hearing your review of the affects of a Whammy bar on your Pug - that could be VERY cool.

    My friend (Jason) and I were up for the Saturday part of the Surly/Salvagetti demo last weekend. We saw you (and Scout!), but didn't actually get a chance to talk to you. I'm primarily a road bike guy, looking to get more into mountain biking -- and, after developing a love affair with Surly over a couple of years of commuting on my Long Haul Trucker -- was very interested in demoing the Surly fat bikes and the new Krampus.

    I was able to spend a lot of time on a Moonlander and a shorter (but very exiting) time on a Krampus, but I didn't have an opportunity to try out a Pug, which was the original purpose of my mission. If time had allowed for a night of camping, I'm sure I would have been able to try a Pug Sunday, but other responsibilities were calling.

    The Buffalo Creek event was a lot of fun: cool people, a great location - and really awesome bikes to demo/ride. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on the Krampus and your Pug.

    1. Thanks, Sean, glad you enjoyed it. It's kind of fun to get a chance to try a new product that isn't yet available and to develop hypotheses about why it is how it is and where it may be going.

      Surly and Salvagetti did a terrific job and I hope that it's just the first of this kind of event. It was indeed a great setting and group for the purpose. You won't regret incorporating more off-roading into your diet. I've done a fair amount of road riding, but my two-wheeled life originated in the dirt and I keep going back. My skinny-tired bikes don't get much action any more, simply because fatter tires offer more possibilities on vastly more varied surfaces. Plus they're more fun.

      Surly is a unique and worthy creator of bike things. I bought my first Surly, a Cross-Check, in 2001, and now have three, including a Big Dummy and a Pugsley. I'd have several more if I could justify it. In my opinion, they offer a great balance of bike for the money, and always seem to be exploring new ideas. As a company, Surly has been a big promoter of new and useful genres, and virtually every bike model they've made breaks new ground. The Trucker is a fine example of resetting touring bikes for a new generation.

      My primary objective was to ride the Krampus, and although I had hoped to ride the Moonlander, I gave up my spot to someone who hadn't ridden anything yet. After all, I have a fatbike of my own and don't often have the time to get to the mountains to ride it. If you're looking to test a Pugsley in size large, let me know and I might be able to hook you up for a test ride on mine if you're in Denver.

      Best of luck in your exploration of mountain biking.

  11. I really appreciate the offer, Andy, but my stubby little legs would cause some bio-logistical problems with the stand over height of your large Pug frame.

    I'll see if I can find some time to head across town to Salvagetti and check out a pug sometime over the next month or so. I think for me the choice between the Pug and the Krampus is going to come down to figuring out how much I plan to use the new bike for commuting and snow duty -- and how that special duty work would balance against singletrack functionality.

    1. Good luck with your quest for fat tires, Sean. I'm one of those guys with too many bikes, and seemingly one for every purpose. However, I've recently reconsidered how adaptable any specific bike can be, and have been inspired by the likes of Nicholas Carman of gypsy by trade (, who rode a Pugsley as his only bike for a year, and from Alaska all the way to New Mexico.

  12. Andy, I read your post several days ago and I've been kicking what you've said around in my head since then, I just wanted to come back and let you know that your review of the krampus was one of the best bike reviews I've ever read. Prior to reading, I "sort of" got what the krampus was about, but your review really got to the heart of the matter. And considering that, it's probably better for my wallet that I don't have an immediate opportunity to ride one.

    1. I've had a month now to ponder the Krampus after my brief encounter with it. During that period of time, I've come to think of it as a creation that is pushing the boundaries of conventional thinking, and is more than the sum of its parts. It's sort of like the impression upon first hearing The Dark Side of the Moon, or watching 2001: A Space Odyssey. Each of these examples may not now seem impressive after decades of constant play, but each induced tectonic shifts in their respective landscapes, redefining norms.

      With all the buzz the Krampus has had, I expected the bike to be a bit different, but I wasn't expecting what I found. A lot of advancements have occurred in mountain bike development from a functional perspective over the past 30 or so years; improvements to suspension, gearing, braking, weight reduction, etc. These are all important contributions. However, the Krampus is the first bike that I've encountered that has re-imagined what a mountain bike is from an ideological perspective. For me, this is truly groundbreaking.

      Coming from the academic world, I'm accustomed to encountering technological progress on a recurring timeframe, but I know that shifting a paradigm is not something that happens every day. Like you, in practical terms, it's safer for my domestic tranquility that I can't (yet) afford to fully immerse myself in the new paradigm, but I'm excited to know it's there.

  13. did you get a suspension fork to fit the krampus? if so, how did it ride then?

    1. One of the test Krampi had a suspension fork fitted, but I didn't ride it. I don't think that there is an officially sanctioned suspension fork for use with the Krampus yet. The fatter tires have very limited clearance with the crown of a suspension fork. I suppose a suspension fork would be useful on a Krampus for some types of riding, but it is certainly not necessary. The big fat 29x3.0 Knard tires of the Krampus provide enough cushion for a wide range of off-road riding. Personally, I think the rigid fork of the Krampus is an important part of a very system integrated bike.

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