20 July 2016

Just about a bike: Surly Steamroller [UPDATED]

4.8 gain ratio, 65.6 gear inches
Long before I got my Pugsley, which of all my Surly bikes I hands-down ride the most these days, I got a Steamroller (and a little later, a Cross Check).  A mud brown, first-generation Steamroller, in fact, sold then (as now) as a frame-set only.  I like to imagine that I was an early-adopter of the whole fixed-gear thing.  Not true by a century or two, I know.  But still, in these parts, when I bought it back in 2000, there weren't very many of us riding fixed, that's for sure.

I built the bike from the ground up, including the wheels, doing what I could to emulate Rivendell's whole older-is-often-better ideal wherever I could along the way.  So I've procured a few choice parts for it over the years: high flange silver Suzue track hubs, silver Nitto B115 bars, black cotton Velox bar tape and end-plugs, a black Suntour XC stem, a black IRD seatpost, a black Chris King 1" 2-nut headset, non-aero Dura Ace brakes and levers, and a set of purple Cook Bros. cranks (a gift from an old friend).  I also plus-nutted a second bottle cage mount into the downtube, just because we had the jig and template for doing so at the bike shop where I was working that summer.

The rear singlespeed hub flip-flops, but I usually run it fixed, even though I always keep two brakes on it, because if I ride it I'm probably going to ride it in the woods.  And, trust me, two brakes are better than one when you're riding a fixed gear bike on slick road tires out in the woods.

I rode the Steamroller a lot back in the day, when it was pretty much my only "road" bike.  Centuried on it a couple times, and took it on some pretty fun, gnarly, long forest road-and-trail rides, too.  We call them gravel grinders now.  Back then they were just rides where we took the wrong bike out on a long ride and had a blast.

Sad thing is, I hardly ever ride the Steamroller anymore.  It tends to get forgotten, gathering dust as it hangs from the ceiling in the garage. In fact, just the other night, when posting to a thread in an online forum, Post Your Steel Singlespeed, I put up pictures of my Coconino and my Rock Lobster singlespeeds and forgot all about my classic Surly Steamroller.  That is until the poster who posted after me put up a picture of his Steamroller, inspiring me to: A) write this blog entry and then B) go and amend my post in the forum to include my Steamroller, too.

In order to do so, I rode the Steamroller out into the woods this afternoon, on a quick jaunt just after the rain stopped.  'Twas lovely out and the bike was a good and solid ride on the soft wet trails.  A nice reminder of why I've always enjoyed riding it and why I should do so more often.

I intend to.

Update below...

UPDATE: 19 May 2021

A buddy of mine knocked-off some rad classic Surly decals, from Surly's "Eat less dirt" era.  I've affixed a set of white ones to the downtube of my Steamroller and, while I never would have believed it possible, I think the bike looks even cooler now.

Also, between back-then and now, I removed the Conti Top Tours and replaced them with a set of Panaracer RiBMo 700x32 tires that I got on spec for a review that I wrote for a friend's website years ago.  I wasn't crazy about the RiBMos back when I first reviewed them, but they've grown on me over the years. As tires go, they're pretty cool, I guess. Definitely much bigger, lots taller anyway, than the Contis were, but, still, they're shaped kinda funny, which is hard to get used to. They come to sort of a point on the tops. This is okay when you're riding on smooth pavement, they roll really fast with minimal drag due to the smallish contact patch.  They corner pretty well, too, I think, not that fixies take a lot of corners super hot, ya know. At the end of the day it's fair to say, I like them for their bigishness. I figure: there's lots of air in there, and that's good, 'cause in my world, I believe bigger is always better. Try to prove me wrong.  You can't.

As far as the off-piste performance of the RiBMos (stands for Ride Bicycles More, by the way, sidewall says so) on the dirt where I usually still end up riding my Steamroller, well, ya know, they're roadish tires, so they're sketchy, they drift and dive, they wander and haphazardly careen.  But, as all Paris-Roubaix racers are fond of saying, "When you have come off the cobbles, and you are trying like the Hell to stay on top of your wheels in deep gravel, so, you know, how do you say in English, you do not end up on your ass in a cornfield, which tires you are running is very much down the list of important things you are thinking about." And they say this a lot. I'm pretty sure.

So do I.


50voltphantom said...

Steamrollers are happiest off -road. Yours looks awesome!

Lawrence said...

I really enjoyed reading this blog. I am 56 years old and just getting into biking the past couple of years. I have a Surly ECR, Moots gravel bike and Trek hard tail mtb. I am eagerly awaiting the new Surly Krampus, but was curious about a fixie or ss. I am trying to read all about the Steamroller as i like the Surly brand. I live in Durango, CO so the terrain isn't really flat. I have read some about how hard fixies and ss are on the knees. I don't know whether or not to "go there" with this type of bike. Your thoughts? Thanks.

johncoe said...

Thanks, Lawrence. I've not had too much trouble with my knees thus far in my SS/fixed career, and I'm 50 and have been riding this way for half my life now. Have done some damage to my knees skiing and to my piriformis riding bikes. But I don't think I'd blame a lack of gears for that but rather my poor technique in both regards. Still working toward mastery of most things, I guess. Life is like that.

My love of singlespeeding has not abated as I've aged, nor has my proficiency or fitness for it (well, my fitness has some, I suppose). If anything, my passion to ride singlespeeds has increased over time, as I've developed a fondness for the zen of it all, the quiet, the opportunities to bond on a deeper level with my bike, our momentum, and the way I am enabled by doing so to self-propel myself with such efficiency all over the woodland that surrounds my home. Can't recommend it highly enough, as a form of transport and as a way of life.

But I will stipulate (as I have elsewhere on this blog) that riding fixedgear bikes (as opposed to freewheelin' singlespeed bikes) in the woods, if you can't find the right mindset, is a great way to take away most-if-not-all of the fun that is otherwise the payback from riding bikes on trails. I've ridden thusly with decreasing regularity as the years worn on. They're not just hard work going up, they're hard work going down, too. So, caveat emptor, friend.


Anonymous said...

i have a 2000 brown surly ,, bike twin!! awesome bike!! :)

Post a Comment

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. -- Ed Abbey