Jimmy and I built up a new horse!
“I want to build a bicycle.”
Maybe fifty people have said this to me over the past year. Only a handful have actually pulled through on it. My girlfriend Kelley stepped up to the plate with her Ogre build, and our friend Sarit worked with me to build up a Karate Monkey.
Jimmy asked me over a wood-burning stove in a cold cabin in February, and we spent about two hours talking through the myriad options available that might suit Jimmy’s new bike lust.
The Karate Monkey (and similar Ogre) is one of my go-to recommendations for most people, for a few reasons:
- A Karate Monkey is a great intersection between price, quality, and utility.
- KM’s are fantastic chameleons- they’re excellent commuters, great touring bikes (as I used it), competent mountain bikes, and behave like big BMX bikes, too.
- A rigid steel hardtail is a great first mountain bike, skill-building bike, singlespeed, or MTB for less ambitious riders like Jimmy and I (sorry, Redbull) who don’t need the advantage of suspension.
Jimmy ordered the parts from his local shop in Boston, but with some tricky scheduling and a shipping mishap, it was months before we had a weekend to finish the build. We got lucky; it rained all morning, leaving Laughing Dog Bicycles mostly empty for us to use the stand and make a general mess of the shop while Tyler, Steve, and Noah straightened up and did repairs.
It took us the better part of two hours to finish it. Jim, an engineer by trade, was pretty alarmed at the trial-and-error nature of the build. When the bottom bracket wasn’t a tight fit, we started messing around with spacers until we found the right fit. According to Parker, “Raceface instruction sheets are to be ignored.” Noted!
Even a familiar frame (I owned a KM for over a year, and built up three) still posed the occasional roadblock. We enlisted Tyler to help us get the derailleur set up. But, once it was done, it really ripped!
Jimmy went with all-black, and plans on stripping off the Surly logos (a decision he can always revert later, since Surly sells decals). The wheels are stripped down WTB Frequency i19 rims laced to XT hubs, to be set up tubeless later. Nice and light and super stiff, and narrow enough to run a touring/commuting tire later if Jim wants to.
I had a pair of Panaracer tires kicking around, so it was an easy fit on Jim’s bike until he finds something he likes better. Grip on the climbs was just fine, worse than my fatbike and better than Ryan’s 2.1″ slicks.
The cockpit is old Surly stock and Salsa bars/stem, with an SLX shifter and Avid brake levers cabled up to the classic BB7’s.
Not sure how I feel about the indicator. Kelley said “WOW, how come mine don’t have that?” which sheds some light on Shimano keeping them in rotation for so many years. No knock on Kelley’s reaction or the indicator- it does look pretty cool. People like seeing a little gauge, even a useless one.
Shifting is under the strict supervision of an SLX clutch rear derailleur. The 11-36 cassette is enough range for almost all of Jim’s riding, paired with the 30T chainring.
Despite being finicky to install, the RaceFace crankset is light enough and burly enough, and most importantly, cheap. It also has the spider mounts for a second ring if Jimmy wants to go with a 2x system and a front derailleur later on, which is convenient.
We took the freshly minted bike out for a proper inaugurate ride, connecting Earl’s Trails to B-Street in an awesome loop I’ve been especially fond of, lately. You get about 15 miles of off-road riding and a ton of technical, rocky climbing up trails that more closely resemble streambeds.
The weather behaved, too:
Some sections of trail are gorgeously smooth sailing, but others are unrideably steep and technical. With the variety, we started “cooking and cleaning,” or trying to clear as many of the technical sections as we could. Since we all traveled at different speeds, I took up yelling “I’m cooking!” if I had the momentum to get to the top of a climb and needed someone to step a bit to the left or right. Ryan is arguably a better descender than I am, and Jimmy cleared a particularly slippery downhill section that I walked, but nothing climbs like a fatbike – I ruled the upward slope.
The highlight of the route is the descent to the B-Street Gate from the base of Mt. Norwottuck. You transition from deciduous forest to coniferous forest through a thrilling, rocky descent into what looks like a tunnel of Hemlock trees. All your climbing, all the effort of the day, is completely rewarded over the 1/2 mile downhill stretch into what feels like a completely different region, landscape-wise.
We had a grand old time. Jimmy and Ryan are awesome riding buddies. We’re all pretty close in skill level, and morale is always outrageously high.
After about three hours, we got back, completely coated in mud from intentionally slamming into every puddle left over from the morning rain. Our bikes were filthy, our muscles exhausted, and our grins permanent. What a great weekend!
I did something else this weekend, too. I just finished a Master’s degree in Sustainability Science, focusing mostly on urban systems. I dig trying to make a difference in the built environment so much, I’m continuing on for a Ph.D. in Regional Planning, with a focus on adaptation and resilience to climate change in urban areas. I love my work, and I love teaching for UMass, and I love having the freedom to ride, write, and adventure as much as I do.
Just in case you were curious what I do when I’m not Max, The Cyclist.
Anyways, if anyone wants to be talked into buying a Karate Monkey, I have never had a more convincing argument. Surly for life!