Surly Ice Cream Truck Ops Review: Five Fun Days
When loaded with standard bags and modest bikepacking weight, Surly’s Ice Cream Truck is a pleasure to pedal: easy to steer on loose ascents, confident and quick handling down technical chutes, and predictable through twisting treelined singletrack. It’s a capable and flat out fun bike.
It’s no secret that many of us think of our fat bikes as the Platonic Form of bikepacking rigs. They make short work of terrain that would be a jostling slog on narrower tires, and they open up tracks that just can’t be ridden on other kinds of bicycle. Fat bikes recapture what was compelling about mountain biking from the start, namely a sense of adventure and a glad-to-be-lost attitude, whether on a Saturday ride in nearby woods or for months high in the Andes.
I rode the Ice Cream Truck unladen for a couple of days on the local trails in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and then on a three day/two night Autumn bikepacking trip high above town. The ICT wasn’t my first go with Surly’s steel frame and fork omniterra offerings, as my primary expedition wheel for the last six years has been a vintage Pugsley. Notable innovations for the ICT over the Pugs include 190mm spacing on a symmetrical rear triangle, thru axle hubs, a press fit bottom bracket, clearance for 5″ tires (though the Ops comes standard with 4” tires), and a substantially different geometry.
It’s that last change that is most notable. The ICT is a genuinely jolly bike, even with a handlebar roll and a couple of liters of water on the forks. It wants to turn. I could enter downhill switchbacks at speed, brake, shift, and lean hard downslope to flick the bike around. It manuals with scarce effort, and that had me whooping like a happy newbie through rock gardens. If you’re willing to muscle the heft, it willingly jumps. Like all fat bikes, it can go over boulder and log piles that you wouldn’t normally point your fully rigid machine at. But in case you want to go around obstacles instead, it gives the feeling of responding to input directly and quickly.
As a mountain bike to take out for a few hours of frolicking whoops and hollers, the ICT is terrific. To be crystal clear: the downsides of most fat bikes are weight, no chance of instantly spinning the rear wheel up to speed, and rolling resistance. The upsides are astonishing traction, unflappable downhill straight line momentum, and complete confidence in slow speed problem solving through technical sections. I go with the upsides every time.
To read Surly’s advertising, the ICT is intended to be a playful everyday ride and they absolutely succeeded in that mandate. I was surprised to find, though, that as a multi-day bikepacking bike, the ICT is sublime. My view is that a bikepacking bike should feel a bit quick steering when it has no bags on it. The addition of weight hanging off the bars and the fork will then yield a neutral feel. The problem is that quick handling with no bags can easily turn the bike into a nervous handful for everyday riding, while swinging in the other direction can make the bike lamentably slow steering when loaded (that’s my experience of the Pugsley).
The ICT angles right into the sweet spot of great handling with nothing on it, and excellent handling with all the bikepacker’s luggage. We dropped down off of the high point of the route on a kilometers long stone and root staircase trough right up against a barbed wire fence. I let it rip, all grins and laughter. If you’ve been mountain biking for years and want to keep an element of aggressive romping in your fatbike bikepacking, the ICT will accommodate you like few bikes can, and not any that I’ve ridden at its price point. What you will sacrifice is the straight ahead autopilot zoned out feeling that is helpful when you’re riding twelve hour days for weeks and weeks at a time. To compare it to the Pugsley again, the Pugs has this meditative quality in spades, but that—and the ability to use 135mm replacement rear hubs—remains the only reason to prefer the Pugs over the ICT.
I rode the ICT hard and in reasonably diverse conditions, and I was carrying something close to my standard gear. But that’s not nearly the same as riding a bike day in and day out for months at a time far from maintenance and spares. The nearly new and well maintained bike I rode did every mechanical thing flawlessly just as it should have. Looking it over with an eye toward a big trip, honestly there’s hardly anything I would change out of the box. None of it is fancy but I know first hand that most of it is reliable, since many of those parts–like SLX derailleurs and the Surly crankset–have been on my bike for years. (For what it’s worth, I do not have that reaction to the spec on the new Surly Wednesday.) For the ICT, I would put my own saddle on, cut down the bars, and brush up on how to service the rear hub, which might be a weak spot given how specialist it is.
The Nate 3.8 tires mounted on 82mm wide rims were great in the loamy dirt we encountered. I’d be reluctant to take that tread on a long trip with significant hardpack sections; other tires are more efficient for conditions like that. Speaking of tires, I would not often run 5.0’s on a bikepacking trip, but having the option to do so is handy. Last summer in Norway, crossing wet bogs and snow pocketed tussocky hills not on a track but just following the GPS, persuaded me that the biggest tires have a place in the bikepacking world.
Press fit bearings take some heat from folks sitting at home in their underwear and commenting on bikes on the internet. The idea behind press fit bearings here is that they allow for more material in the bottom bracket area for welding the chainstays at a wider and thus more stable stance. Generally, rear triangle stiffness isn’t that big a deal for bikepacking, especially when you are not running a rear rack and panniers. But the ICT does certainly track well in choppy conditions. I wouldn’t worry very much about the bearings. One of my best bikes—an ’89 Wicked Fat Chance—has press fits. It’s a straightforward matter to knock them out and put fresh ones in. Carrying around a spare set or two on a tour would be no issue at all, and it beats hauling a special tool for tightening outboard bearings. This is just as well, since we’ve heard field reports from others that weren’t encouraging with respect to longevity. It’s true that tolerances matter a whole lot more with press fit bearings. If the potential for creaking bothers you, make sure you learn how to troubleshoot them.
Quibbles? I find it baffling that there are no below the downtube bottle cage mounts. My own preference would be for a triple mount there, but having no mounts at all is a head shaking oversight. It would be a relatively quick job to remedy this with a drill and rivnut gun, or even a couple of hose clamps, but there is absolutely no reason why it’s not there in the first place. Secondly, the front triangle is tiny on the size small that I ride. It seems to me that Surly has gone overboard in lowering the top tube. I’m not jealous of the cavernous frame bags that my taller friends are able to use. Or anything.
- A fat bike that can turn, jump, and play.
- Great, full on mountain bike handling with bikepacking bags.
- Solid parts spec, ready to take out on long trips right out of the box.
- An undeniably heavy bike.
- Small main triangle.
- FRAME Surly Ice Cream Truck, 4130 CroMoly steel (S).
- FORK Surly Ice Cream Truck, 150mm x 15mm thru axle dropouts.
- SEAT COLLAR Surly Constrictor, 33.1mm
- HEADSET Cane Creek 40, ZS44/EC44
- STEM HL, 31.8mm. 7° rise. 4-bolt.
- HANDLEBAR Salsa ProMoto 2, 31.8mm. 11° bend.
- BRAKES Avid BB7, Cable actuated. 180/160mm rotors front & rear
- SHIFTER Microshift SL-M10, 10-speed mountain thumb shifters
- REAR DERAILLEUR Shimano SLX M675 – 65
- CRANKS & CHAINRINGS Surly O.D., 22/36t
- BOTTOM BRACKET Surly Pressfit BB, PF 41/132 w/sleeve
- CASSETTE Shimano SLX HG50-10, 10-speed 11–36t
- CHAIN KMC x10RB
- FRONT Salsa, 150 x 15mm thru-axle
- REAR Salsa, 197 x 12mm thru-axle
- SPOKES DT Swiss Comp, 14g/15g Black
- RIMS Surly Darryl, Single wall aluminum. Welded seam w/cutouts. 82mm width. Black.
- TIRES Surly Nate 26 x 3.8˝, 120tpi
- SEATPOST Kalloy SP-342, 30.9mm.
- SADDLE Velo VL2155, steel rails.
- WATER BOTTLE MOUNTS 1 inside XS-MD frames, 2 for L-XXL
- RACK MOUNTS Front and rear rack mounts, triple fork cage mounts
- EXTRAS Surly Modular Dropout System offers 142×12 thru axle, 10mm QR geared, or singlespeed
The Surly Ice Cream Truck is a joyful local trails bike and a (perhaps unintentionally) superbly capable bikepacking platform. The high base weight won’t make it magically easier to inch up inclines at twelve thousand feet, but inch up it will – and the way down and all the rollers in between will make for big smiles.*
- Size Tested Small
- Sizes Available XS-XXL
- Weight (as tested) TBC
- Price $1,850
- Contact Surly
- Recommended Uses Trail riding when not trying to keep up with friends; all conditions bikepacking.
I have toured and raced bikes around the world for over twenty five years. These days I prefer long rugged bikepacking trips off the beaten path and in culturally interesting places. Drop me a line a joecruz.wordpress.com.
*For this review Joe rented the ICT from the great folks at The Broken Spoke in Santa Fe, New Mexico.