Rider and Rig: Mathias Dammer and His Burly Surly Krampus

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We share a ride with Mathias Dammer, father, farmer, guide, and co-creator of both the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route and Bolivia’s Mama Coca, a 500km traverse of the Cordillera Real. Mathias tells us how a successful outdoor career almost came to end after a terrifying climbing accident, reminisces over a MTB racing career that started at the age of seven, and shares his enthusiasm for his simple, reliable, and affordable steed, a Surly Krampus…

Born into a farming family in Ecuador to parents of German descent, Mathias Dammer is the younger brother of Michael, whose exploits we’ve previously featured here on BIKEPACKING.com.

There are, in fact, three Dammer brothers in total – we’ll post a story about sibling Thomas later – all of whom live on the same permaculture farm, sharing duties that include tending to dairy cows, growing organic produce, and guiding within the Andean mountains they’ve grown up around. Hence, perhaps, Mathias’ well-worn T-shirt that he wore every day of the trip: All good things in life are wild and free…

  • Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking
  • Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking

Like his brothers, Mathias believes in the values of leading living a simple, wholesome, largely self-sufficient life. Much of the bikepacking gear he uses is self-made and he also built his own off-grid home on the family farm, after living in a yurt for a number of years with his wife and daughter.

  • Mathias Dammer
  • Mathias Dammer
  • Mathias Dammer

Mathias’ outdoor experiences began at a tender age. When he was just seven, the three brothers set off on their first extended adventure, a four-day horsepacking trip into the mountains, loosely chaperoned by a carefree uncle, who left them in charge of building fires, cooking food, looking after the animals, and planning the route.

His love of mountain biking developed shortly thereafter, when his father Francisco – also a well-versed adventurer and explorer – imported all three of his sons mountain bikes from the US. There was a caveat though: first, they had to pay them off by working at a local canning factory. Mathias was soon racing locally, albeit on a 21″ Raleigh frame, his feet unable to touch the ground. Talk about investing in a bike with room to grow into!

A respected climber and alpinist, Mathias’ rich and varied outdoor career almost came to an abrupt end in 2009 after a horrific climbing accident in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. Falling some fifty meters off a cliff face, his breakages included five vertebrae, a femur, tibia, perone, right shoulder, and left wrist. Once his crumpled, bloodied form had been laboriously medivaced to safety by his brothers, he spent a month in intensive care, followed by several years of slow recovery as he adapted to his new, metal-implanted body. Undoubtedly in part thanks to his strong-willed character as well as a formidable strength, Matthias not only defied his doctor’s morbid predictions he’d never walk again, but went on to continue making the outdoors his life and business. He now co-runs Nahual, a youth development program that teaches wilderness living, navigation, bikepacking, and paddling to students from both Ecuador and the United States.

THE BIKE

As for his bike, Mathias says: “I like its simplicity. It’s versatile. It performs well in any terrain. It’s reliable. And best of all, it’s cheap to run.” Although he’s interested in trying front suspension, Mathias – a man who clearly favors gear that lasts – reckons the fully rigid Krampus does well without, especially for farm life and the expedition-style trails that he likes most.

Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking

  • Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking
  • Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking
  • Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking
  • Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking
  • Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking

Over the time he’s been riding it, the tires have changed from Surly Knards to Maxxis Chronicles. The current setup features slightly narrower Dirt Wizards, chosen to help offset the first generation Krampus’ relatively tight spacing in the rear triangle – mud clearance is a necessity in Ecuador. Future plans include running a higher volume Chronicle up front. While his wife Nicky has a Karate Monkey set up with a 27+ wheelset, Mathias reckons he’s happy sticking with 29+ rubber, adding, “Once it gets rolling, it eats a lot of the terrain.” Watching the speed at which Mathias descends Ecuador’s intensely burly trails, it’s hard not to see his point. Also worth noting is that the bike’s original Rabbit Hole rims have proved incredibly resilient to his many uncompromising bikepacking adventures, as well as trailer pulling duties during family trips in Peru and Guatemala. Thorns mine the cobbled roads of the Dammer farm, so the tires are set up with sealant using the simple and time-honoured split tube method, and run at a low pressure to really make the most of the mid-fat platform.

  • Surly Krampus Bikepacking
  • Surly Krampus Bikepacking

THE BAGS

Given his years of climbing experience and an undeniable penchant for gruelling hike-a-bikes in the quest for remote singletrack, Matthias is a lean packer; his setup includes a handmade leather framebag stitched for him by his brother Michael – made with leather sourced on the farm – and a massive leather gas tank to add some capacity to the medium-sized frame. The front harness is made in the farm workshop too, designed for accommodating a capacious (20L) Sea to Summit rollbag. A Revelate Terrapin is the only commercially made bag on his bike; it’s tough and fully waterproof, a necessity given Ecuador’s wildly mixed climate. A homemade feed bag accommodates his valued thermos, always filled with hot coffee. An early riser, Matthias is always the first to get the brew on.

  • Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking
  • Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking
  • Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking
  • Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking
  • Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking
  • Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking

Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking

And then there’s the Andes factor. Most of his riding takes place between 3000-4000 meters (10,000-13,000ft), so gearing has been modified from the factory setup. The family farm is surrounded by steep, protracted, lung-busting inclines, so the front chainring has been replaced with a 28T model (stainless steel for longevity, of course), teamed with an 11-speed cassette now adapted with an expanded 42T Wolftooth GC cog. In fact, he’s already on his second Wolftooth, which just goes to show how much time he spends in those low gears when mountain biking and bikepacking in Ecuador. Tempted to go ride the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route he co-created? Bear this well honed setup in mind!

  • Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking
  • Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking

BIKE BUILD HIGHLIGHTS

  • Frame and Fork: Surly Krampus (first generation)(medium)
  • Headset: Cane Creek
  • Crank Arm Set: Surly OD 175mm
  • Cassette: Shimano 11-36T with 42T Wolftooth GC cog
  • Chainrings: Surly stainless steel 28T
  • Handlebar: Answer
  • Saddle: WTB
  • Grips: Ergon GP-1
  • Pedals: Shimano SPD
  • Chain: KMC 10 speed
  • Shifter: Shimano SLX
  • Brakes: Avid BB7
  • Front hub: Shimano Deore
  • Rear hub: Shimano Deore
  • Rims/tires: Surly Rabbit Hole with Dirt Wizard 29×3.0

Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking

  • Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking
  • Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking
  • Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking
  • Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking
  • Rider Rig Surly Krampus Bikepacking
Mathias Dammer

More info on Mathias and the Dammers

Find out more about Mathias’s adventures, as well as those of his brothers, by checking in at the family blog, El Taraumara. Details on the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route – the singletrack/hike-a-bike version is more Mathias’ style – can be found here. With thanks to Michael Dammer for additional photos.

23 Comments
  • Pretty badass, the guys home made stuff looks awesome. I just got home from an overnighter and now I want to get out again after this :)

  • Doug Reilly

    Is there an advantage to the wolf tooth expansion cog over a cassette that comes with a 42t cog natively?

  • Cass Gilbert

    The first gen Krampus came with 10-speed, which limited options somewhat… This said, there’s now an 11-42T Shimano and an 11-42T Sunrace cassette on the market, which would be good, affordable alternatives.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Yep, Mathias is the real deal! Amazing rider and amazingly down to earth guy.

  • Andy Purkis

    Mama coca 500?
    Is there a route and gps file somewhere?
    It would be good to take a look.
    I’m heading that way soon. I may want to ride it.
    Thanks
    Andy

  • Cass Gilbert

    Hi Andy, there isn’t yet, but it’s something we’re working on. In the meantime, you can check out the Tres Cordilleras, which may also appeal if you’re headed this way:

    http://www.bikepacking.com/routes/tres-cordilleras-boliva-peru/

  • EnlightenedStudent

    This is why I love this website. Last year, I was looking at for a LHT, became conflicted when I saw the Troll and Ogre, found reviews of them here, learned about bikepacking, fell in love with the website and bikepacking, read all articles, found the Krampus, and have ever since been dead set on buying one for a South American year long odyssey next year. Hopefully I’ll get a good deal on one with the post-summer sales. Keep up the good work, it has kept me inspired and motivated every single day for the past year!

  • Bill Poindexter

    Well done Cass, but now a new choice of bike, too many choices…ecr, ogres, trolls, Krampus, the pressure and now bridge clubs. Your relationship with The Dammers is extraordinary and I really appreciate your tales with and about them!

  • Cass Gilbert

    Yes, aren’t we spoilt for choice on the market these days! So many capable bikes that are so well suited to backcountry travel… Pick one and ride… it’s bound to be a great adventure!

  • Cass Gilbert

    Glad to hear! The Krampus is certainly a simple yet incredibly capable (and genre defining) bike… even suspension-free.

  • justushere

    Hey great article. Love the home made bags. I was wondering if the dry bag on the harness in front is really only 20L? Might it be bigger? I am trying to decide on what size will work for me. Any info is appreciated!

  • Andy Purkis

    Hi Cass. Thanks for that. It is also on the lost. I’m in Suriname at the mo. About to ride to Guyana and then Manaus before heading to Macchu Pichu amd then south. So many routes, so little time.
    Cheers
    Andy

  • Cass Gilbert

    I asked… and was told 20L…

  • Nathan North

    Incredible write up! Always love these stories. What a guy. I love the DIY approach to this type of travel/adventure. Makes it so affordable, enjoyable and accessible to all. Any better pictures of that home made handle roll harness? Looks ace!

  • Michael

    Yup, look up badass in the dictionary and I’m pretty sure this entire family would be it. Totally awesome.

    I’ve been on the fence about selling my Krampus, life circumstances keeping me from any real bikepacking trips for a while. Thinking instead to use the hardtail I have with some of the new 2.6 rubber… Still, every time I take that beast out I’m taken by just how well the Krampus covers terrain, any kind of terrain, it’s a solid off-road mile muncher.

  • Thank you for this and again all your write ups, you guys are killing it in the adventure freedom writing category. I spent the winter in recovery from a cycle related accident. There were times where I thought my riding days were over but the long dark nights were spent reading though all the rider set ups with hours staring at my bike trying to make it fit my current situation. I swapped the Dirt Wizards for Maxxis Chronicles, threw on a Wolftooth 28 oval and shortened my cranks from 175 to 170, it’s a completely different bike. I’m back up to 18 miles a day which still feel like a 100 but I’m getting there. This website is a gift to all and the single largest contribution to the lifestyle. Again thank you :)

  • justushere

    Thanks Cass! I appreciate it.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Thanks for the feedback! And all the best for the ongoing recovery.

  • Lukey

    Hahaha, I had the exact same journey, LHT, saw the ogre and troll then came across the Krampus and fell in love with the bike and the freedom of Bikepacking. Having had so many near misses on the road I was beginning to find it hard to enjoy ravelling by bike. This website and the approach you all have to cycling has helped me see that all is not lost!

  • EnlightenedStudent

    Yes I am definitely with you on that. I’ve somehow managed to walk away from 4 accidents with only minor injuries, with the last one totalling my 1970s roadie. Getting away from cars is definitely a priority.

  • Lukey

    A lot of drivers just aren’t respectful and have their own busy lives to look after. I have just read the article on Eduoard Sepulchre’s photography and his expression of how driving a car amputates yourself from the world is so true. The world and most living things on bikes in it!! Glad to see you have escaped well!!

    Also I have an update on the Krampus> I received mine today and I’ve just been out riding it for four hours. The Dirt Wizards are a bit of a slog on the tarmac to the trail run but boy do they grip on Dirt!! The bike is phenomenal, yes you have to get it up to speed but it charges and once at speed goes like an angry gorrilla charging out of the jungle. It’s completely bonkers and had me hooting through the trees, laughing at the grip and how it rails. I have ridden mountain bikes for a fairly long time but have never been so horizontal going through berms/round corners. It takes a while to get used to it but I’ve found if you commit you are rewarded with immense smiles! If you are thinking about buying one, buy it. I can’t wait to take this 2500 miles around France and Spain this year, OFF ROAD!! ;).

  • Zachary Brown

    Going to bag my first deer this year with a recurve and haul it out on a cargo bike and then tan the hide and start making some bags like these. And deer jerky for bikepacking trips of course! The bags are envy inducing

  • I think you and I are in the same boat. I too spent the winter recovering from a bad injury and surgery… things got bleak. Anyways, good luck in your recovery and thanks for the kind words…