Building the Ultimate Touring Bike > Wherever I Lay My Pack

Building the Ultimate Touring Bike

June 15, 2018

Surly Troll

For over a year now, I have been riding a Surly Troll as my bike of choice for off roading, bike packing and touring adventures in New Zealand. New Zealand’s roads are somewhat different to what you might expect; many are steep, narrow and windy, with gravel, pot holes, land slips and fallen trees thrown in to give it that extra zing of adventure. The off road cycle tracks – such as the Timber Trail – are great fun, a zesty mix of singletrack, wild gorges, cloud forest, historical sites and that ever so dreary drizzle that accompanies many a cyclist on a Kiwiana ride. Whilst the Troll has performed perfectly on many a Kiwi experience I’ve thrown at it – beach riding, river crossings, mountain passes, to name but a few – the geometry, for me, is a little too uncomfortable for long haul tours.

And that’s where building the ultimate touring bike comes in. The Troll is definitely a go-anywhere, do -anything kind of bike, and I like that style about it. Its gnarly and souped up for everything. Bike packing, bike touring, mountain biking, daily commute – whatever you throw at it, it’ll handle. But for long haul touring – and I must stress here, for tours primarily on road and gravel, not mountain biking – it’s cousin, the Surly Long Haul Trucker or Surly Disc Trucker may be a better option.

Surly Troll and Long Haul Trucker

Surly Troll and Long Haul Trucker on tour together – note the geometric differences in the frames, plus the bike packing cages and water bottle mounts on the front fork of the Troll

This is mostly due to the geometry of the bike frames. The LHT and DT have their roots in touring and are designed for carrying heavy loads over long distances in supreme comfort. Their stems are longer, giving extra height, whereas the Troll, even with an extender, I have found leaves me hunched over the handlebars (and yes, I was sized and measured for the bike before buying). While the Troll is excellent at all terrains, for me slight pains, tingles and aches have made me look to the Disc Trucker as a more suitable mount for longer tours. However…’off the shelf’ Disc Truckers have drop handlebars, with gear shifters and brake levers in completely the wrong position for someone like myself – aka, used to mountain bike set ups, with everything in easy reach.

So I have now ‘copied’ the set up of another bike tourer – a great female adventurer who has toured Europe, Alaska and Canada on her customised Long Haul Trucker, and gave me the opportunity to test ride it out on a short tour. Her bike has Ergotec butterfly handlebars, with mountain bike shifters and brake levers, which give her a great level of control, ample hand positions to ride in and a ‘sit up and beg’ position for watching the world go by. What a difference to the Troll! After a few minutes of sitting on this bike, I knew I had to make the swap. What I wasn’t aware of at the time was that Truckers come with drops and a roadie set up from the box. So now I am slowly building the ultimate touring bike – a Disc Trucker, with Ergotec Contest Handlebars, Shimano Shifters and Avid FR5 brake levers – the latter of which the Troll already has and which have performed superbly. I’m also switching the ‘out of the box’ tyres from the Disc Trucker to more beefy, tried and tested Schwalbe Marathon Tour Plus tyres – these are incredible tyres which have outperformed many others in the field and I wouldn’t want to embark on a trip without a pair of these.

Two Surly Trolls together Cycling through Caves - Trolls taking in the view

Two Surly Trolls together – one in bikepacking mode, one in touring set up

The downside with the new bike is that Surly LHT’s and DT’s come in V Brake only or Disc brake only, respectively. The Troll allows you to set up for both. LHT’s and DT’s also don’t have a place to attach a kickstand – you have to purchase a Surly Kickstand Plate separately, which is made specifically for these bikes. The Troll, however, has room for a kickstand integrated in to the frame. The Troll can also be set up to run with a Rohloff hub – it’s an easy switch to make if you know what you’re doing. Trolls also have an impressive array of braze ons for attaching extraordinary amounts of kit. Bike packing cages, water cages, racks, fenders – the works. LHT’s and DT’s will only really accommodate water cages, racks and fenders – there’s no braze ons on the forks to add bike packing cages and extra water or fuel cages. In many respects, the Troll wins hands down at being the more versatile of the bikes. If it were only as comfortable as the Truckers, it would be the ultimate touring bike. You’d never need another bike again. But the comfort factor is paramount when spending hours, days, weeks and months in the saddle. Living off your bike, you need it to be fine tuned to your preferences. I know there are several people successfully touring on the Troll, and it’s adaptability is what made me chose it in the first place. But a year on, my wrists, back and neck are saying – time, for me, for a change.

Surly Troll - Long distance cycle touring - Trickle of Te Paki Stream

I’m currently building my ultimate touring bike and once it’s complete will post pictures so you can see what an overhauled Trucker looks like. In the shop section on this website you’ll see many of the new components that I am adding to it so if you, too, want to copy the build on my ultimate touring bike, you can!

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