Post-Trip Review: My Surly Pugsley Bikepacking Rig

There’s nothing like waking up every morning and riding my favorite bike.

When I bought the Pugsley in December, just nine months ago, it was a bike I didn’t need. I had my road bike, I had my mountain bike, and the fat bike “gimmick” was interesting enough for me to give it the old college try. Snow riding seemed like fun, but I didn’t figure on riding the Pugsley very often.

Well, color me part of a new, not-so-exclusive crop of riders; my fatbike replaced my entire stable. This one bike now constitutes 95% of my riding.

I took the Pugsley to Iceland with the 29+ Krampug wheel conversion because I had loved every minute I spent on the bike leading up to the trip. I commuted on it exclusively through January, February, and March. Once spring hit, I kept riding it on thawing trails, and did a few overnight bikepacking trips. After classes ended, I was mountain biking on the Pugsley (with 26″ fat wheels) full time, and I did a few longer rides and a lot more bike-camping.

In May, Noah at Laughing Dog finished my 29+ wheelset, and I put down an imperial century with full camping gear. That was the real “Ah-ha!” moment. I was all done with my mountain bike; the Pugsley was my new touring rig. And my new mountain bike, commuter, cruiser — my everyday ride.

The Pugsley frame might be the star here, but it’s nothing without the supporting cast. Here’s a quick rundown of my favorite components, and how they performed on my 30-day trek across South Iceland this July.

Endless Bike Co. Kick-Ass Cogs and Chris King Cogs

Endless Bike Company, run by the very radical Shanna Powell, is a small USA-based manufacturer specializing in the best looking cogs in the market. That beauty isn’t just aesthetic; Shanna’s cogs are highly functional, supremely durable, and manufactured right here in the United States. Shanna hooked me up with her massive 25T rear cog, which has performed flawlessly on the steepest climbs here and abroad for the last six months. No skips, no major wear, and lots of compliments. I highly recommend Endless, mostly because it’s nice ordering from someone as passionate about cycling as you are.

I wish I had heard about Shanna’s operation sooner so I’d have an Endless 18T cog to match. I missed a great opportunity for a sick Orange/Yellow anodized color splash, too. But, the Chris King 18T cog performed perfectly, too. It’s stainless steel, so the teeth look pretty much new after over 1,000 miles of loaded touring (and a lot of climbing).

King Cage Manything Cage and USB Bolts

King Cage has a brand new website, and a few brand new products in their lineup. As the undisputed veteran of stainless steel and titanium bottle cages, Ron at King Cage wouldn’t dare release a product that wasn’t vetted for durability. The Manything cage and Universal Support Bolts, two new products for 2016 made especially for bikepacking, definitely delivered. After giving me a call, Ron was happy to hook me up with an industry discount in exchange for my feedback on the new cage’s performance in hostile conditions.

A full nalgene bottle weighs about 2.5 pounds. That’s a lot of weight getting thrown around under your downtube. I’ve bent the sides of my first-gen aluminum Salsa Anything cage when my nalgene bottles were jerked around on rough trails, a testament to the forces a downtube cage has to stand up to. Over 1000 miles, the Manything cage never slipped, never bent, never lost a bottle, and never showed any signs of fatigue. It still looks like the day I bought it, albeit caked in trail dust!

Maxxis Chronicle 29 x 3.0″ Tires

The Maxxis Chronicle might be the most bikepacking-friendly tire on the market. I asked a lot of the Chronicle on Iceland’s F-roads, with gravel the size of tangerines and shards of metal and glass from the bikes, cars, and trucks that died trying to traverse some of Iceland’s rougher spots. The Chronicle rolled over all of it, and I finished the entire tour without a single flat. Beat that!

Here’s a picture of the tread after 1,100 miles of dirt, pavement, and sharp volcanic rock. Still plenty of life!

Kelley used the Maxxis High Roller and Maxxis Ardent on her bike, which fits conventional 2.4″ tires, and she didn’t have any flats, either. The EXO Protection makes for a damn good casing.

Thomson Titanium Handlebar with Paul Love Levers

This cockpit setup was definitely a splurge. It was my graduation present to myself, for finishing my masters. That said, the bars were picked up on ebay for around $120, and the Paul Love Levers were a bit over half that, on sale.

Bling-bling aesthetics aside, this setup was unbelievably comfortable. I’ll be the first to shoot down handlebar reviews as placebo (or purchase justification), but the flex of the titanium coupled with the smooth CNC-bevelled love lever just feels damn good.

How much better does it feel than a regular aluminum bar and Avid lever? Ugh, who knows…

Old Man Mountain Phat Sherpa Rack

The Sherpa rack performed right at the edge of its intended purpose, and then beyond. We took our bikes on some incredibly rough singletrack, all with 20-30 pounds strapped on tight. That weight pulled hard on the Phat Sherpa, but it never swayed and never failed. It’s a beautiful rack, and it enabled us to overstock on food and water for long excursions in Iceland’s backcountry.

The Pugsley’s rear wheel offset makes the frame look like it broke an ankle. Getting a rear rack to fit straight over the back tire is a pretty decent challenge, and usually takes a handful of washers and some extra-long bolts to get right. Old Man Mountain skips the headache with a custom mounting hardware design just for the Pugsley. Channing and Elyse were very helpful getting me outfitted for the Iceland trip (and provided me an industry discount to test the rack at it’s limit).

The verdict? It’s rock solid.

DT Swiss RWS Skewer and Surly Tuggnut

The way my bike is set up, I adjust my rear wheel often. I have to release the skewer in order to switch between my two gear ratios. It’s a complicated step, but the RWS skewer cut my gear-change time down to about 30 seconds.

Ever carefully line up your rear wheel so the tire is perfectly straight, only to have it pull a millimeter to the right when you tighten the quick release? So annoying! The ratcheting action of the RWS eliminates that; you can spin the skewer nut until it’s hand-tight, and then the ratchet arm snugs things up without budging the wheel in the drop-out.

Coupled with the Surly Tuggnut, I never pulled my wheel out of alignment, even when I was hammering at full gas.

GravityDropper Turbo LP Seatpost

The GravityDropper Turbo LP Seatpost is a great piece of tech. As the oldest and most reliable mechanical dropper seatpost on the market, the GravityDropper was completely solid and never even hinted at failure. Unfortunately, the concept of a dropper on a bikepacking rig is not one I really think I can endorse.

If you’re carrying less than 10 pounds and your bike’s performance is your only concern, by all means, throw on a dropper! For more traditional loads of 15-20lbs, I found I was using my seat often to balance and control the bike at speed. Moving the seat out of the way actually made my bike feel more unstable. I ended up not using the GravityDropper much at all, and have since switched back to the silver Thomson pictured in this post.

Oh well! I’m glad I tried it!

Post-Trip Changes

There’s not much to say here. I’m going back to a seat bag instead of a rear rack (no knock on the very lightweight Phat Sherpa), and I got rid of that dropper post. I refreshed the Pugs with some new cable housing this week after tearing out the ends of my previous housing. Tubeless is on my docket for the fall, and that’s it. No other changes.

There’s not much to change because the durable components I picked out for the trip all have thousands of miles left on them before they’re needing a replacement. That’s great for me, great for my budget, great for the planet, and great for the next trip.

Keep riding!













9 thoughts on “Post-Trip Review: My Surly Pugsley Bikepacking Rig

  1. “How much better does it feel than a regular aluminum bar and Avid lever? Ugh, who knows…”

    Actually, I think you now know very well, from your experience. I don’t have any ti bars, but the difference I have found between good carbon bars and aluminum makes me never want to use an alloy bar again. Alloy is inexpensive, and that’s really about all it has going for it.

    Thanks for the write-up and sharing your thoughts – it’s always great to see reviews based on extended, real-world experience!

  2. I just bought a Pugs second hand. I’m making a few adjustments in the cockpit to fit, but I think part of it is just getting used to a more upright riding position coming from my Surly Straggler which has quite a long top tube.

    Even that little bit aside, I’ve still been enjoying romping around on fat tires. At the price, a Pugs is hard to beat!

    1. I don’t want to get too excited, because I don’t want to go around recommending that people pick up Pugsleys, because there are like 20 reasons that bike is antiquated and less than ideal…. But HELL YEAH ANDY! I am so pumped you picked up a Pugsley! I would love to see a picture. Which generation/color is it?

      1. It’s second hand, and by some of the surface details, it’s Def seen a couple of winters or 3. But the mechanicals are mostly new and very smooth. It’s a Necromancer version with the moonie fork.

        I know what you mean in terms of it being “old” geometry/design. But I feel better about leaving this locked up while I’m at work vs the 3000$ salsa blackborow that I had. (Never mind the fact that I’ve built up a 3600$ straggler that I use every day) 😉 but it’s a great tool for the job!

    2. Haha, the Necromancer version is very, very cool. That’s an awesome bike. Mine has the moonie fork too.

      There are a lot of advantages to the old design, and I don’t care if the geometry is old or new, it feels great to me.

      I also feel you on the expensive bike thing… The parts spec on my Pugs is worth a lot more than a stock build…

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