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2012 Surly Troll Long Term Test

2012 Surly Troll at Dales Cycles

Surly are a Minnesota-based manufacturer established in 1998. They offer a varied range of complete builds and frames, as well as a wide range of parts and accessories. Surly is the kind of brand that the average cyclist has never heard of, but the avid cyclist either loves or hates for their old-school approach and retro-grouch style designs. Most every bike they produce is both Spartan and utilitarian, designed with function, rather than form in mind. They also produce some wilder designs, from their ultra-fat tyred Pugsley which comes with 4" tyres, to their herculean Big Dummy, which can carry 300lbs of luggage!

The Surly Troll is a long-awaited model that takes steel-tubed mountain-bike geometry and matches it to some of the most versatile braze-ons and drop-outs seen in the history of bike building. It's a true do-anything model, and covers many genres, part MTB, part utility-hybrid and part tourer.

It's an alternative to Surly's venerable and traditional Long Haul Trucker design, built for riders who want a sturdy utilitarian machine, but prefer MTB geometry and riser bars to the drop bars usually favoured by the touring enthusiasts in the UK and US markets. If you start by thinking of an old steel Specialized, Trek or Bridgestone clunker, but updated with modern angles and fittings for disc brakes and threadless headset, you'll be right on the money.

With frames sized from 14 right up to 22 inches, there should be a Troll to fit almost any man or woman who wants one. It comes in a stealthy gloss black, or new for 2013, a rather funky purple guise.

Priced at £1249 for the complete build or £449 for the frame only, the Troll is aimed at the enthusiast, or at least avid cyclist. However, when reviewing the specification of the complete bike, you'll find it stacks up well against specialist machines from other brands, with no expense spared on the finishing kit, and no corners cut on parts like hubs, headset or brakes. This sets the Surly apart from many of the bigger brands, who now frequently fit no-name OEM components to many of their models in an effort to keep costs down.

Ugly by name and perhaps ugly by nature, the Surly Troll isn't the most beautiful bicycle, and lacks the elegance seen in many other modern bicycle designs. However, older riders might recognise a certain timeless charm and be reminded of bikes from the late 80s and early 90s, before thin tubed steel and simple colour ways gave way to neon hues and square aluminium.

2012 Surly Troll at Dales Cycles

Some people might discount bicycles like the Surly as heavyweight relics. However, with the main tubes being double-butted 4130 CroMoly, and coming in at 5.5lbs, the average Troll will build into a bicycle only a pound or two heavier than an equivalently priced aluminium frame, and is priced significantly less than any titanium or carbon offerings. Considering the added potential of a bike furnished with such varied fittings, and the inherent strength and comfort of CroMoly tubes, an extra pound or two of weight is one compromise I'll gladly make.

The main features of the Troll include clearance for up to 28/38/50T chainrings up front and space for up to 26x2.7" tyres at the back. There are guides on the tubes for full length brake and gear housings, essential for low-maintenance when riding year round in the UK. The rear dropouts are made up of track fork ends, so tensioning the chain in singlespeed or hub gear applications is a piece of cake. Also around the dropouts are separate fittings for rack and mudguards, an OEM mounting plate for a Rohloff internal gear hub and even mounting bosses for a BOB trailer or Surly's own Bill and Ted trailers. All these features conspire to an incredibly versatile machine, capable of performing many varied roles than any other single bike can.

2012 Surly Troll at Dales Cycles

Looking past all these little details, the rest of the frame caters for choice, and a 1-1/8th headset, 27.2mm seatpost and 73mm threaded standard bottom bracket V-brake bosses AND IS rear disc mount means there a huge range of possible parts which will fit the frame, from cheap and cheerful, to beautiful and boutique. The frame comes with a matching fork, 4130 CroMo like the frame, with a generous length of steerer and mid-fork and lower eyelets for mudguards and front low-rider rack.

I bought the Troll as an upgrade to my much abused Surly 1x1 frame. The Troll carries the same geometry as the 1x1, but adds the aforementioned braze-ons, as well as offering the possibility of upgrading to a geared set-up in future with a derailleur hanger built into the frame under the drop outs.

Much of the parts were swapped straight over from my 1x1, and included a Hope cartridge bearing headset, Shimano Octalink chainset, and a custom wheel set built up from DMR revolver hubs and Sun Rhyno Lite XL rims. Braking duties are taken care of by Avid Single Digit 7 callipers and Speed Dial levers. All in, the bike is part singlespeed single track ripper and part utility tourer. Keeping it simple also allows the bike to function as a great test rig for various parts and accessories.

I quickly had the opportunity to see how the Troll would function as an every day utility machine, pressing it into immediate service on my six mile commute to and from the shop. With a Tubus rack and some Vaude panniers, it easily carried my gear without complaint, and the frame and fork clearance allowed for wide Schwalbe Marathon rubber, meaning gutters, kerbstones, potholes and road debris could be dispatched with ease. The MTB geometry allowed for a comfortable and upright position, perfect for anything but the strongest headwind. The 32/16 gearing was definitely under geared for road use, but was a necessary compromise for the steeper hills and weekend off-road use.

2012 Surly Troll at Dales Cycles

Since this review focuses more on the frame and fork, rather than the complete bicycle, I think that about sums it up. Although I love my Troll, I'd recommend it with hesitation. I feel that my bike is perfect for me, and includes so many quirks that it could easily alienate a wider audience of cyclists looking for the next best thing. Some people will always see carbon as the way forward, whilst others will always prefer 700/29 to 26" wheels. More still have grown up on drop bars, and to see a tourer or utility bike with flat handlebars will have them foaming at the mouth.

However, for a brave few riders, those unconcerned with current trends and the latest and greatest, the Troll might prove to be the perfect bicycle. And even if the Troll isn't for you, it's kind of nice to know that this sort of thing still exists, the Land Rover Defender of the bicycle world. Because, as the back of your mind, you know one day you might get around to that once in a lifetime trip. Even if you're like me, and never ride it as far or as hard as it deserves, it's nice to know that the Surly Troll is always ready for a true adventure.

Over the next few months the Troll will slowly undergo a change. Recently changing from 26x2.0" Marathon XRs to 26x2.25 Marathon Extremes have improved the off-road handling of the bike, with no real weight or speed penalty. The Avid V-brakes are great for road and tour use, but reach their limits on steeper descents; an upgrade to Avid's BB7 cable discs is planned this Spring. With these changes I'm hoping to ride more on the weekends, and tackle some longer and steeper trails.

I'll keep you posted!

- Scott