After 15 months and close to 6,000km of bike touring and commuting using this rig, I offer my long term review of the Surly Troll. While other riders have written similar reviews with more distance covered in varying terrain, I focus my review on the observed strengths and shortcomings in a range of purposes.
The Troll shines in three areas: versatility, comfort and cargo hauling
Dubbed as an apocalypse bike, the Surly Troll is a 26er touring bike made of Chromoly steel. The beefy build is complemented with a versatile set of dropouts that can accommodate a variety of drivetrain builds (Single Speed, Geared, Rohloff/IGH) as well as ample clearance for wide tires (as wide as 2.75). Some have even used 27.5/29 wheels for this build.
Using for touring and commuting, ive setup the troll as geared and single speed. With the capacity to accept different parts, I didn’t experience problems with using existing parts from previous bikes (when I got the frame early 2016, I simply had the parts transferred from my old Cannondale badboy-which makes this model an economically sensible purchase).
As regards comfort, the Troll allows you to ride in a relaxed position. Whether you’re cruising or tackling steep climbs, the frame geometry allows you to securely position yourself for a much more enjoyable ride. Moreover, the solid construction of the frame assures you that you’re ready to deal with a variety of terrain as the chromoly steel material can take a lot of punishment and satisfactorily flexes for more comfort. Personally, with the 26/27.5 and 29 configurations, I felt that the Troll was perfect for me as I didn’t experience toe overlap and climbs have been more manageable as opposed to using a 700c/29er bike.
Finally for cargo hauling, I believe the troll is perfect for those doing lengthy tours, bike commuting and carrying light/heavy stuff using your bike. With a lot of bottlecage, rack and fender mounts, you’re sure not run out of attachment points for your racks and others.
Overall, though I believe that any bike can be made into something to fit your purposes, the Surly Troll’s features obviously makes conversions easier to meet your expectations.
you can check out one of builds i used in a tour here
One of the problems if you intend to do touring in different countries is places to stay. In my recent trip to Singapore, I wanted to stay at a place which I’d learn some things about my hobby but at the same time, learn something about the culture as well.
I got in touch with Sk Lah from the Tree in Lodge mid 2016 since they were also selling items on bike touring (check out greenbasikal.com) and I was able to check their place as well.
Early this year, since I had a month long stay in Singapore, I decided to check in their hostel and gained several insights and experiences.
For starters, the hostel is a few minutes walk from Outram station MRT and is near to several hawker centers as well as grocery stores. The hostel has several rooms for sharing. In my case, I stayed with three other people who were staying longterm and had no problems with getting along with everyone in the place.
With free breakfast, wifi and information needed to get around the country, the hostel is the perfect place for the authentic Singaporean experience as they give recommendations as to where to go and what to try.
For the bike tourer, SK and other staff are knowledgeable about routes in Southeast Asia as they have hosted many tourers from the US and Europe. Aside from recommendations on itinerary and all, their stories about their own bike touring adventures have been inspiring. For instance, Sk and his friends did cycling trips from Finland to Singapore, Taiwan and other parts of SEA. In fact, their stories have prompted me to plan for future cycling trips in the region as well since the costs can be very minimal but the experience is all well worth it.
While many believe that staying in Singapore can be very costly, the experience with the Tree in Lodge (https://www.treeinlodge.com/) will make you think otherwise. Best of all, it is one of those much needed places in other countries that can open interactions with other bike tourers from different parts of the world.
For the past two years in doing long distance trips on a bike, I’ve never had a chance to do cross country cycling. Probably due to our state of living in an archipelago in the Philippines (as well as visa restrictions in a lot of parts of the world), bike touring from country to country is definitely a logistic problem.
However, in this adventure, I was fortunate to be guided with one experienced bike tourer-Sk Lah of Tree in Lodge (https://www.facebook.com/TreeInLodge/) to cycle from Singapore to Pengerang, Malaysia. Though it is common here to bike from SG to Johor Bahru, Malaysia via the causeway, the itinerary for this one was different. Instead of cycling with other vehicles in a massive highway, we took another route by boat.
Penegerang, Malaysia is part of the Kota Tinggi District and I was told that it was a large area where fishing villages thrived. As of late, the place has been undergoing massive development due to the petroleum industry.
Leaving Saturday night, four riders and I left the Tree in Lodge to head to the Changi Ferry Terminal. Taking the east coast park connector, we pedalled 30km from our hostel and camped in one of the camping spots.
At the break of dawn, we headed to the terminal after breakfast at Changi Village. The bumboat ride to Pengerang took an hour and costs 14 SingDollars.
Upon reaching port in Malaysia and getting cleared, we started pedalling to head to Sungai Rengit. The road was quite wide and traffic was light since it was a Sunday. We had lunch at the town and was supposed to head to Belungkor Port while passing by the coastline where several small houses or Chalets were situated…
Our trip was cut short because of a flat rear tire. Sk tried to fix but it seemed like a lemon and after three flats along the way, we decided to get a bus and a cab getting back to the port. In total we clocked in 70km and was halfway through the area…perhaps next time we’ll do this again
Some tips for tourers:
If you intend to do a daytrip or extended tour from SG to other countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and others, this would be a good entry point as the view is great, costs are manageably low and there are plenty of homestays for you.
Be sure to bring lights and there are no light posts on the road.
If you intend to tour this place, consider doing this on a Sunday as there are very few vehicles passing by on weekdays and Saturday
Let’s admit, if you’re living in a developing country, a bike tourer has limited options when it comes to quality gear. While there are some stores that carry things you need, the prices are quite high which can turn off those interested in the discipline.
Enter Ryan Blanco’s Workbench Fabrications.
Ive heard of his works from fellow cyclist/tourer JT Tanangonan and I was amazed by the craftsmanship done on the racks.
I got in touch with him and was quite surprised he was my student in 2nd grade way back early 2000s!
In November, friends and I got to visit his workshop and saw his custom creations…
saw some of his samples
As a biker, he has that keen sense of detail and finishing industrial design, he puts his knowledge to work by building wonderful racks for different kinds of bikes…
Using cold steel for his creations, his racks may be a bit heavy for the weight weenie, but these are definitely bombproof! Also, he gets to have these powercoated for custom colors you want.
There are two things that make Ryan’s works worth checking out…these are definitely custom fit for your rigs as he puts his personal touch in these designs-works of art I’d say
And best of all, his prices are very much affordable- expect to pay way less (I’d estimate these are 30-50% less) than those branded racks out there
So what are you waiting for? Drop him a line and check his stuff out!
When pedalling long distances, there are so many expectations for the rider. To be self-sufficient, to ride strong, and composed…but many take for granted the role of important people who make our trip successful and perhaps less miserable-The good Samaritan…
I’ve heard of countless stories of how good Samaritans-total strangers-have offered whatever it is needed by the biker. Whether it be food and drink, shelter, mechanical assistance or even company, these Good Samaritans are a beacon of hope for riders heading towards great distances isolated from family and friends for many days.
My first encounter with a good Samaritan was in June 2015 when I and several members of the Centurion Cycling Club did a long distance cycling trip to Baguio (estimated distance is 270km from Manila)…after pedalling the whole night and early day, we made our climb in the afternoon. And as I recall hard rain hit us at Kennon Road…witnessing rainwater bringing in soil and rock and vehicles rushing through the road…two of our companions who were ahead of us shouted …they took refuge in a small store…The old lady in the counter allowed us to stay in her small space and even offered food and other stuff to buy and allowed us to stay for the night…What I recall is that she warned us not to ride it out as land/rockslides might put everyone in danger…Most of us didn’t make it up that last climb to Baguio (and we have unfinished business with this route)…but we will never forget the kindness of that good Samaritan…
As time passed by, doing several multiday tours, good Samaritans have always been a part of the success of our trips…offering their space to rest during intense heat or rain, offering cold drinks or coffee,a hot meal, or even a place to stay for the night.
This holiday season, we are reminded of the good Samaritan for two things. Unlike the regular tourist, these good Samaritans are never part of the tourist spectacle. That is, they are never obligated to help or assist or even entertain the tourist-they are regular people who are part of the place we visit. And for that, the cyclist will always be fortunate-to have a much more enriched experience with these people. Often times, these good Samaritans give beyond what they possess-time, resources, effort.
More importantly, as cyclists who travel great distances, we live from what we get (and our success can be greatly attributed to their help), but these good Samaritans live a life from what they give.
In this post, I describe the bike and gear used for our recent Caliraya bike tour
The bike: The Smurf With No Name (Brompton P6R)
SPECS: Brompton P6R
Chain: KMC 9 speed chain
Drivetrain: Sturmey Archer internal gear hub x 50t crank
Tires: Schwalbe Marathon Racers 16x 1.35
I got this bike in Febuary 2016 and among my rigs, this remains to be the last one that hasn’t experienced a multiday tour. Initially, when I got this, the model was M6R and did a conversion of the handlebar (the P Bar) for touring purposes.
With a Sturmey Archer 3 speed Internal Gear Hub and External Cogs 14 and 16t combined with a 2 speed derailleur, the bike has a total of 6 speed configurations. Noticeably in folding bikes, the long stem tends to make the handling a little twitchy and the same is noticed with the Brompton. With a 50t crank, it does take a little more effort for the bike to power and the shifting of gears may make riders feel the difference between using an IGH and regular derailleur systems. One noticeable feature is that every shift in gear may tend to be quite abrupt-either too light or too heavy. In addition, the steel construction of the bike makes it stiff yet a favorable flex is felt similar to other steel bikes (i.e. Surly). But while the stiffness is a good thing, the small frame and fork and wheels tend to absorb vibrations weakly making the rider feel every pothole or bump on the road.
The bike has a long wheelbase comparable to bigger wheeled bikes making the ride quite stable. The 16inch wheels provide a much more sleek feel and this makes the Brompton shine as it is easy to maneuver especially in heavy traffic.
In a tour, small wheel bikes may obviously be an unlikely candidate but they are worthy for long distance explorations (ive done one in Pagudpud using a Dahon C7A) since they are easy to transport when folded and when things go wrong, you can always bail out with a small foldie!
For the Caliraya trip, the Brompton was very much agile in terms of maneuvering through traffic. It was quite easy to go through small spaces as you move along with other vehicles. The standard brakes that come with the Brompton also provide great stopping power. The feel is comparable to those high end v brakes-XT/XTR/Avid SD7s.
In terms of cruising and speed, it is similar to other steel bikes-feels a little bit heavy (slow) but is relaxing to operate and you don’t feel your body aching after the trip. Make no mistake though, it isn’t like a Surly that can take a lot of punishment in absorbing vibrations but the steel frame doesn’t make you feel like a rotten fruit after the ride
As regards its performance in climbs, the gearing may feel a bit inadequate as I had to exert effort in certain gradually elevated portions of the route. It may be safe to say that it may be a bit difficult to spin the rig given the large toothed Chainring and abrupt changes in gearing. However, the bike appears to be fine for moderate/light stretches of climbs.
For this tour, there are several features I’d like to zero in on specific parts of the bike.
The P bar
Among the different handlebars offered by Brompton, this one can be considered as their touring bar. Similar to butterfly handlebars (only oriented vertically), they afford several hand positions providing comfort during the whole stretches of the ride. Since the rider’s position is upright on a Brompton, the P bar allows you to hold on to the bottom part of the bar similar to dropbars making your posture a bit more aggressive-great if youre cruising on open road to minimize the effect of headwind. Also, the P bar provides a lot of mounting space for lights and other stuff.
The Brompton’s key component for carrying luggage is the Front Block Carrier and can carry a variety of bags. Though it does not get in the way in terms of steering the bike, bigger bags tend to be a problem if headwind is encountered. Hence, for this tour, I used the Ortlieb Mini O bag
The Brompton has its own specific rack bundled with a pair of bungee cords for Cargo hauling. Though the rack may accommodate a drybag, mounting third party rack bags or panniers may be a problem as there is very little space between the rack and the rear fender underneath as well as the railings are quite thick compared to other racks (ive tried installing a Deuter rack bag and it just didn’t fit!). Some would use dry bags or a backpack on top secured on the saddle but I used a new set of panniers which I will get into later.
One major concern among Brompton users is the difficulty in changing flat tires. In my rig I used Schwalbe marathon racers with Dr. Sludge sealant inside the tubes. I’ve been using this since March 2016 and I haven’t experienced a flat since then. Though it tends to corrode/contiminate the valves after a couple of months, cleaning it can extend the life of the tubes as well as the sealant.
Much like in my other rigs, this saddle has been spot on for me and didn’t pose problems while riding. Another advantage for the Brompton is that the use of Brooks saddle affords you additional space for attaching another bag in case you’ll need to go for a longer tour (Carradice or Ostrich bags are perfect for this)
Overall while the bike has potential for longer tours, operating this rig may require the rider more effort and getting used to.
In the trip, I used three bags-Ortlieb mini O bag, Pacgear top tube bag and the Conquer Dispatch Lite (prototype)
Ortlieb Mini O bag
This bag is custom fit for the front block carrier of the brompton and ive placed my electronics and other personal stuff. True to the company’s assurance that their products are waterproof, my stuff remained dry amidst two days of light-moderate rain. It is spacious and does not seem to cause problems when riding against strong headwind.
For this one, ive placed my tubes and Brompton Tool. Attaching the bag to the seatpost and frame, the bag is quite sturdy and didn’t pose problems while pedaling. Surprisingly, the thick fabric has a high level of water resistance, when we experienced constant raining, the contents remained dry.
Conquer Dispatch “lite” (prototype) panniers
As part of expanding the bikepacking line of Conquer bags, the dispatch lite panniers (I just gave a name to it!) is a response for riders who need bags for their small wheeled rigs or those going on extended tours but need a little extra space for their stuff. I’d say the bags are similar to Porcelain Rocket’s Micro Panniers and Revelate Designs’ Nano panniers. That is, if one finds a fully racked setup too heavy or a rackless setup very limiting, you may want to go “semi-racked” (perhaps using a low rider or light/small rear rack for extra stuff).
Made of ripstop fabric with excellent stitchwork, it has a high degree of water resistance. As ive experienced during the Caliraya trip where it drizzled and eventually rained (light-moderate) for two days, the material absorbed moisture but didn’t get through the inside (to be sure though, it would be wise to store your stuff in ziplock bags as they are always effective!). like other bags of this type (Revelate Design, Porcelain rocket and Rogue Panda Designs), the bag attaches to your rack using clip straps/Velcro with several attachment loops making it versatile in terms of accommodating different rack types. Moreover, the bag has shoulder strap loops for easy carrying when you need to take out the bags from the rack (yup, the strap is included in the prototype). In addition, the front part of the bag has loops as well for daisy chaining a ripcord or using bungee cords for additional attachment security if carrying heavy loads (much like in the Brompton!)
In terms of volume, I suppose you can store as much as 2.5 liters in each bag (5L in total). In my case ive tried stuffing 2 days of clothes on bag, my Klean Kanteen (500ml), slippers, extension cord/multi USB port and charger, toiletries kit in the other with space to spare. I would assume that for a heavy packer like me using a Brompton in a longer tour, I’ll probably stuff 4 or 5 days of clothes in the bags and have a saddlebag to store utilities and other stuff there.
The bags blend seamlessly with the Brompton as they attach easily to the rack with the clip straps. Though it touches the IGH chain, it doesn’t affect the shifting performance (and ive run through unfine contours of pavement, some puddles of water in the street and several potholes on the route). During the ride, the bags didn’t sag nor were they a problem when banking during the descent from Caliraya (they didn’t touch the ground) as it had several inches of clearance from the ground keeping your stuff safe.
While the bag may seem perfect, it is not without problems. Several improvements can be made with this prototype-good thing Conquer reports this will be released early 2017 (with a price much lower than its big brother-the Conquer Dispatch panniers).
The dispatch lite can be improved in several ways:
The zipper can be replaced with a rolltop strap clip as it helps in increasing storage space as well as water resistance.
Since I tried both Velcro and Strap Clips for attachment, the strap clips appear to be better at securing the cargo as well as ease in removing or attaching the bag.
Users of the bag will need to closely consider heel strike in attaching these to the rack (especially for small wheeled bikes). Though I haven’t experienced heel strikes during the trip, Marvin Martinez who tried pedaling felt heel strike due to his big feet and therefore, one will need to attach the bags further to the end of the rack (good thing, the clips can afford you greater ease and variation in mounting.)
Though this prototype appears to have certain minor issues, I think this may be the perfect pannier for the Brompton or similar small wheeled bikes (as far as i know, there are no existing panniers for the Brompton). Further, for those needing smaller bags for their bike commutes or extra space for extended tours and not wanting great weight penalties, this should definitely be part of your armory.
In sum, given the setup of the bike, gear and ride conditions, it would be good to see how this setup performs in a much longer tour and see how these hold.
After the Sagada Loop, I wanted a shorter tour that’ll end 2016 on a high note. During the trip, ive been curious about many biker friends camping to Caliraya, Laguna. Situated approximately 100km away from Manila, I was told that there are several resorts in the area because of the beautiful man made lake that spans several municipalities such as Lumban, Cavinti and Kalayaan Laguna. More interestingly, many have bought houses there decades ago and left them behind and since then, these have been made into vacation homes for people wanting to go camping or a quick getaway from the metro. In this entry, I detail our two day bike camp to Caliraya.
We all met at the Petron Station, National Highway exiting Alabang and pedaled our way through Muntinlupa, San Pedro, Binan, Sta Rosa, Cabuyao and regrouped in Calamba…
Though we encountered traffic in Los Banos, the bridge in Bay, Laguna was undergoing renovation resulting in MORE TRAFFIC (one jeepney driver said they have been stuck there for an hour already!) and four of us (Jiggs, JT, Ninfa and I) took a detour to Calauan and ended up in Victoria…Marvin, Jen and Nerica took a different route and ended up ahead of us several kilometers.
We regrouped in Pagsanjan and started our climb up to Caliraya…the 8km climb isn’t steep but the first 5 kilometers is a non-stop stretch of curves. Good thing it wasn’t hot and there are small stretches of recovery…What made the climb a bit difficult is rain pouring…it started with a drizzle and eventually it poured heavily prompting some of us to take cover.
Jiggs and I arrived last to Soleviento resort and we were transported to the resort via a short barge ride pulled by one of the staff…scary at first because of strong wind but the barge was very secure. Upon arrival we were greeted by the wonderful Bingo! The dog who is a popular feature would always join guests as they arrive/leave the place.
Soloviento (https://soloviento.ph/) is one of those “luxury” resorts around Caliraya -that is if you prefer cooked meals, several services offered such as kite sailing, boat riding and finishing this is one option to consider. The place isn’t big but there are spots where you can pitch a tent, build a campfire and stay in their campers. Also, the place is situated in a bird sanctuary and provides a good vantage to take photos (too bad it was raining and getting dark!)
It was 6pm already and everyone in the group settled on a table and ordered food…we shared stories about different things over coffee. We all went to bed a little past 11pm.
It was raining all night and we all met at the resort hall around 8am, had breakfast as we watched the view as it was still raining… there were other guests in the place that were doing other stuff such as kite sailing and swimming around the lake…on the other hand we decided to chill around until the rain weakened a bit and left around 11am.
The trip going down was quite easy and good thing we only encountered strong wind and the road wasnt as slippery compared to the other day.
We had lunch at Pagsanjan and rode back home. Though we all thought the trip home was a breeze, traffic was just terrible. Perhaps in the past tours that we’ve done this holds the distinction where traffic was such a problem!
Overall, I felt that the trip was nice but it could have been better if it was well timed and well scouted. Soleviento and the lake could have been more enjoyable if it wasn’t raining for the past days but im glad to see new faces join this and the experience going to lake Caliraya is something worth repeating in the future.
I remember Kuya Edan (aka Sagada Loopers) telling me that there are cheaper accommodations in Caliraya. That is, there are big houses that have caretakers that will allow you to stay but there’s no cooked food or electricity so camping outside is the go to option. For riders on a tight budget and little bit adventurous, you might want to consider these.
After the ride, I realize, the route is a good opportunity for those starting out on touring. The close to 200km trip has a mix of flat roads and climbs (though very short) and varying weather conditions (and even a dog chase!). This may be a good trip for you to test your rig/setup and gear as well as determine group dynamics with fellow riders and of course skills and endurance as you prepare for a much longer tour. Though some may claim that the route can be done in one day, I feel that you really can’t appreciate the place if you don’t stay awhile and go around (not to mention eat good food and interact with locals).
The climb to Caliraya (courtesy of Nerica Joy/Marvin Martinez)
One of the staff of Soloviento suggested that prior to visiting it would be wise to give them a call to find out the weather conditions. During heavy rain, Jiggs and I took shelter in one of the houses and one of the locals claim that weather has been fair and rain was experienced for the past month!
Personally, I think Soloviento is a well maintained facility. Even if some of the facilities are shared (dining area, bathroom), they are clean and free from flies or crawling insects which can spoil your eating.
In Soloviento, the campers are a must try for those who have difficulty sleeping in tents. It has electric outlets, a fan and the beds are quite roomy (at most 4 per camper). Tents are available for rent as well and the staff can even help you out pitch them.
The road going up to Caliraya is surprisingly well paved! The view of Laguna is definitely a must see if you’re climbing or descending back to the Metro. Also, consider leaving late morning or early afternoon at most as you wouldn’t want to be stuck in the dark as most municipalities do not have lightposts on the street.