Sunday, November 10, 2013

Surly ECR encounter at Buffalo Creek

A Surly ECR perfectly at home in Buffalo Creek along the Colorado Trail.
Update: I got home to discover that this little post was featured on the Official Surly Intergalactic Regional HQ Facebook page. I am more than a bit shocked and even more honored. As one of the 12 remaining humans who is not a denizen of Facebook, I can't comment there, but I welcome your visit by proxy. And yes, whiskey does enhance language. Thanks, Surly purveyors and enthusiasts!

Last year, the good folks at Surly, Salvagetti, and Basic Kneads teamed up to bring to life a little something that they termed the "Unicorn Petting Zoo" near my little corner of Colorado. I was fortunate enough to attend and spend a little quality time with a Surly Krampus. At the time, I was blown away with the Krampus' inherent groundbreaking features. The bike as a whole felt fast and nimble on the trail as it veritably flew on its cushion of 29+ tires. Everything about it seemed to deftly redefine what an all terrain bike could be in a nearly ideal form.

In total, the Krampus is a bike that I believe to be a central catalyst in changing the perceptions of what it means to ride off road. As evidence, a distinctly Krampus-flavored milieu permeated many of the best designs of this year's North American Handmade Bicycle Show. The 29+ concept is, in many ways, the most logical evolution of the genus duo luto via rota; it offers terrific traction, a smooth ride enabled by a large rolling diameter, and a nice cushion to take the edge off without the maintenance needs of mechanical suspension. About the only shortcoming of the Krampus that I noted last year to keep it from being an ideal adventure bike was its relative paucity of braze-ons.

Once again, last weekend the three generous entities of last year's event got together to show off a couple of new Surly models, in addition to drinking bear (edit: or beer, as the case may be), eating pizza, camping, and having a good time. Again, I was fortunate enough to attend, though for a shorter time. Just as nature abhors a vaccum, I am happy to report that lack of braze-ons is no longer a concern with the introduction of the Surly ECR, the seriously capable cousin of the Krampus.

The ECR is perhaps a little darker in color than my first generation Big Dummy, but it is a good color that blends in well with the forest. Personally, green is my favorite bike color, and Surly has a track record of delivering terrific verdant hues. 

The ECR stock parts spec is no-nonsense and highly dependable. Surly's new O.D. crank is very nice. 
Please note, that this is more of a conceptual reckoning of a bike, more than a practical review, as I didn't have adequate time to make thorough acquaintance. I borrowed a size medium ECR to test; a couple of sizes too small for me but the only one available at the time. A bit later, I tried out a size XL, which fit me very well. For reference, I'm about 6'2", have a 89.5cm PBH, and ride a Surly Big Dummy and Surly Pugsley, both in size XL. I'd already taken the photos shown here, so please note that all ECR photos on this page are of a size medium.

The ECR is very utilitarian in build quality and appearance. This is a bike that exudes an aura of solid dependability in much the same way as an International Scout, a Coleman stove, or a good Thermos; each imbued with timeless aesthetic and functional value. It is no nonsense in design, and is equipped with tried-and-true components known to be simple to repair and maintain. Dependability and value are qualities with great appeal when the going gets rough, more so than low weight at the expense of strength, or any other transitory flash factor. Though this rationale may not hold true for some people, if you have an interest in the ECR, you're probably not going to be disappointed.

As seems to have been the case with the initial design of the Krampus, the ECR also benefits from cross-pollination with other Surly bikes. Its Krampus-derived foundation is obvious, but the ECR is also equipped with the copious range of braze-ons and multifunctional dropouts found on the Troll and Ogre. With a lower fork and more similar angles, the ECR's ride is perhaps closer to a Pugsley than the Krampus; feeling somewhat less aggressive and speedy, though it does not feel at all slow.
The ECR features a Jones Loop H-bar, perfectly suited for holding devices or baggage, in addition to enabling a great riding position. The MicroShift thumb shifters  have become my favorite, as similarly equipped on my Pugsley. 

Cockpit view. A Garmin GPS mount is installed to place the unit directly in front of the stem. 
The stock Surly ECR build incorporates a Jones Loop H-bar. This bar plays an integral role in establishing the character of the bike, in much the same way that the super wide 780mm Salsa Whammy bar does on the stock Krampus. I loved the Whammy bar on the Krampus, and credited the bar as being the perfect feedback device for the intent of the bike. In much the same way, there could not be a better rider interface for the ECR than the Jones Loop H-bar. In addition, the loop section provides practical dashboard space for mounting lights, a GPS unit, bells, bags or any number of items that might be favored by stalwart adventurers.

Over the years, I've become a huge fan of highly backswept bars for a few key reasons. Highly swept bars are much more comfortable for long rides, with the more natural position contributing to reduced wrist, shoulder and neck strain. Swept bars also afford a more upright seating position, and as such a better view. A good view is essential to an adventure bike, as a primary purpose for riding to exotic or difficult to reach places is for the experience. It's not a coincidence that my most ridden bikes are equipped with either Nitto Albatross or Surly Open Bars, and Salsa backswept low rise bars are close behind. In the short time I spent with the H-bar equipped ECR, I was very impressed. Perhaps my Pugsley could benefit from an H-bar.
Big and fat 29x3 tires make a lot of contact with the ground.

The specially designed chainstay yoke that makes it possible to handle 29x3 with chainring clearance on a 73mm BB shell. The ECR has a one-piece yoke that is somewhat less artisanal than the early model Krampus I rode last year, but serves the purpose at least as well. 
In the end, the ECR is currently at the pinnacle of off-road touring bike technology. It is imminently capable, superbly outfitted, and a lot of fun to ride. I can't imagine a better platform for the dedicated off-road adventurers I've had the good fortune to encounter, such as this guy, this gal, or this other guy. But, for me, perhaps the most astounding feature of the bike is in how it creates ripples in the lineage of the emerging 29+ platform, and provides cues as to the future course of two-wheeled exploration.

I bought my first Surly (a bean green Cross-Check frameset) in January of 2002, when Surly was a quirky little offshoot specializing in odd bike-y things. Then, as now, Surly is part of QBP, a large juggernaut in the bike world, but mostly unknown to the public. I now own three Surly bikes, and am happy to know that even though as an organization Surly has grown quite a bit, it retains core values embracing quirkiness, and utilizes this character to continue to drive development of innovative and fun bike products within a broader context.

Not long ago, fatbikes were a mere oddity in the two-wheeled kingdom; objects of perplexed stares at their cartoonishly huge tires. Surly didn't invent fatbikes, but with the advent of the Pugsley and supporting rims and tires, the company made fatbike technology accessible to a much larger degree than ever before, contributing to an emerging normalization of huge volume tires. This year, two of the industry's largest players, Trek and Specialized, have fatbike models, which would have been unthinkable just a couple of years back. From the vantage point of the present, I can foresee the impact of 29+ resonating in much the same way.

The fact that Surly's revelry in what would be considered odd within the greater sphere of the bicycle industry has served as a bellwether to eventual change, is at the heart of what, to me, makes bicycles much more than just machines. The ECR is a precursor of the larger off-road bicycling landscape. It is a significant step along the way to the next big thing. Surly has been a bit evasive as to its intended meaning of the acronym ECR, but for me it means "Evolutionary Change Rocks!"


  1. Andy, A+ for this thoughtful reckoning of the ECR, Surly bikes in general, big tires, and useful touring features. With even less time on the bike than most professional reviewers, you've made more relevant discussion than most printed reviews, even as a size M frame would be something of a 29+ trials bike for your large frame.

    Elsewhere on the internet, Lael ('this gal') has already committed to shaving "Surly" into the side of her head when a Krampus arrives at the post office in her name (preferably, overnight shipping, General Delivery, Somewhere, AZ).

    this guy

    1. Thanks, Nick. With 20 minutes on a too small bike, I thought it would be presumptuous to call it a review. I'm sure there are enough of those out there already. I'm more predisposed to philosophical pondering anyway, and the whole 29+ concept is rich with food for thought. The M was indeed quite small, but unfortunately too big for Stella to ride.

      I saw Lael's hair shaving offer and hope that when Surly comes through for her, she'll also go for a dye job in a nice metallic green. Perhaps you could join in. National Geographic had a photo essay on regional character costumes earlier this year, of which a Krampus was one. A Krampus riding a Krampus just might be what Anchorage needs in a month or so.

  2. Great ponderings on the position of the 29+ platform in the milieu of fatbikes! Also, glad to hear that it still feels fast. I rode a Krampus for the first time a couple of weeks ago and I am addicted. The friend who let me borrow it has eschewed his beloved full-suspension VooDoo and thinks he could exist on a Krampus-only diet for some time. After riding it, I got the gist of where he was coming from...

    1. The Krampus (and the ECR for that matter) have qualities found in most well conceived devices, and especially in really great bikes; they embody an energy that adds up to more than the sum of their parts. I think that many who try bikes like these have a hard time getting them out of their heads.

  3. Evolutionary Change Rocks. Like it.

    1. Thanks, Cass. It may just be me, but I think I can see your fingerprints on what the ECR has become. Maybe it could stand for "Essentially Cass' Ride".

  4. As one of the 12 remaining humans who is not a denizen of Facebook, I can't comment there...

    Wow, I didn't realize there's only twelve of us left! I got your back, brother.

    1. I appreciate that, Shawn. Luddites to the end!