First Look: Surly Karate Monkey 27.5+ & 2017 Troll

At SaddleDrive this week, Surly reintroduced two of their classics — each completely overhauled with a few very interesting features. We had a chance to look them over and take a few rides… here are our initial impressions.

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Surly’s didn’t bother changing the perfectly retro logotypes on these two iconic rigs, but in reality the the trail slaying Karate Monkey and the dirt touring Troll each received a complete overhaul, from the dropouts up. Both of these bikes were designed with bikepacking in mind. In our first installment from Saddledrive, QBP’s annual media and dealer event held in Truckee, CA, we take a look at these two bikes and offer a few thoughts after riding them on some of Northstar’s finest.

The All-new Surly Troll

With a standards drunk bike industry, and consumer base squabbling over the best tire size and the ideal trail geometry, some folks might gloss over the steadfast Troll. However, it shouldn’t be ignored. Having ridden the original Troll from Mexico to Panama, I took particular interest in Surly’s long awaited redesign. While their original intent was to create a simple bike, in the purest sense of the term — and that they did — the Troll ultimately became the go to rig for long distance dirt expeditions. Folks have used the Troll on everything from around the world odysseys, to epic trips on the Continental Divide Trail. Along the way, Surly took notes and answered with a well thought out sequel.

2017 Surly Troll

  • 2017 Surly Troll
  • 2017 Surly Troll

All of the tweaks to the Troll are based on making the perfect useable — and developing country proof — bicycle for seeking out long and far dirt roads. The most obvious change is in the Troll’s geometry. While it’s still based on the original lines, it’s no longer suspension corrected. This afforded a few inches of exposed head tube and makes room for a larger frame bag. The Troll also uses the 145mm Gnot-Boost dropouts. Using their 10/12 spacers and clever new thru-axle, the Troll can pretty much fit any mountain bike hub whether it be a worldwide universal 135mm QR, a newer 12 x 142mm thru-axle, or an even newer 12 x 148mm Boost hub. Futhermore, Surly resurrected the Alex Adventurer rims for the Troll as the Adventurer 2, a 36h bombproof rim with the emergency bailout option for rim brakes!

In terms of tire potential, the chainstay yoke has been redesigned to be fully compatible with 26+ tires, such as Surly’s 3″ Knard, or a the new Ranger+ 26×3. The dropouts still have all the accoutrements allowing disc brakes, fenders, a Rohloff, and racks. It also comes with more braze-ons than you can shake a stick at – including the battle club looking fork legs, each with two sets of triple bottle mounts and rack mounts; there are also two more triple bottle mounts on the down tube.

  • 2017 Surly Troll
  • 2017 Surly Troll
  • 2017 Surly Troll

2017 Surly Troll

On my initial test ride of the Troll, I started up a gravel road expecting a tame and mundane ride. I thought I’d eventually turn around, ride down some more gravel and maybe catch a little easy singletrack at the bottom. Instead I kept going and eventually dropped in on a fairly technical chunky trail that wove through rocky and dusty terrain more fitting for a full-suspension bike or solid hard tail. I grinned the whole way as I methodically picked my way down and marveled at the stability and capability of a bike that was built to do everything, and do it well. Additionally, I was surprised at how well the ExtraTerrestrial tires did on loose dirt. Even though they’re slick by comparison to most knobbies, they can certainly hold their own as a do-all tire.

Honestly, if the world collapsed in some sort of Mad Max scenario, and I could pick only one bike to roam the Earth, it might just be the Troll. It’s a do-all bike that rises above all standards, and is comfortable, stable, and a whole lot of fun whether trail riding, grocery getting, or circumnavigating the globe.

  • Sizes available XS/S/M/L/XL
  • Max tire size 26×3″
  • Colors Get Gone Maroon (complete/frame), Black (frame)
  • What’s new Non-suspension corrected, Gnot-Boost, Jones Bars, Thumb shifters
  • Intended Use Anything, but mostly dirt road/expedition bikepacking/touring
  • Price $1,649
  • Contact SurlyBikes.com

Karate Monkey 27.5+

Originally introduced at the 2002 Interbike trade show, the Karate Monkey was one of the first commercially available 29ers on the market. Prior to its release, 29ers were more of a cult item, created for outliers by small frame builders. According to Surly, “[The Karate Monkey] didn’t create the 29er category, but it helped bring it to the masses and set the standard for what a 29er could be.” 27.5+ tires have the same rolling diameter as a 29” wheel, so it was only fitting that Surly used the KM as their 27.5+ flagship.

Surly Karate Monkey 27.5+

  • Surly Karate Monkey 27.5+
  • Surly Karate Monkey 27.5+

Of course the Karate Monkey has seen a couple of tweaks and changes over the years, but this is probably the most significant revamp. In addition to added clearance for 27.5+ tires, the Karate Monkey also got a makeover that includes a new trumpeted tube set — like that of the Instigator — for added strength and stiffness. The frame was completely redesigned with a modern and progressive trail geometry provided by a longer top tube and 69° head angle. It also received a few additional modern touches such as internal dropper post routing, a 30.9 seatpost internal diameter, and new dropouts. Similar to the Wednesday, the Karate Monkey’s Gnot-Boost rear dropouts are indeed not 148mm Boost. They’re also not 142mm, the previous standard. Instead, the dropout spacing measures 145mm and can be slightly expanded to fit a Boost hub, or clamped to fit a 142mm hub. Surly also includes a new thru-axle (photos below) with a clever sliding cap system to work with both 142 and 148mm hubs. Furthermore, Surly offers 10/12 adapter spacers to allow the use of a 135mm QR hub. Additionally, the included suspension corrected rigid fork has 110mm Boost spacing and can easily be swapped for a 120 or even 140mm fork.

  • Surly Karate Monkey 27.5+
  • Surly Karate Monkey 27.5+
  • Surly Karate Monkey 27.5+
  • Surly Karate Monkey 27.5+
  • Surly Karate Monkey 27.5+
  • Surly Thru-axle Gnot-Boost
  • Surly Thru-axle Gnot-Boost
  • Surly Thru-axle Gnot-Boost

The Karate Monkey was the first bike I demoed at Saddledrive, and perhaps one of my favorites. Like the Krampus, it has a nice long and low stance that begs to be pushed and ridden aggressively. But with smaller wheels it certainly possesses a slightly more nimble feeling. Also like the Krampus, the rigid 4130 Natch chromoly frame and fork combined with plus tires soaks up a lot of the trail chatter and inspires a fluid style of riding. The new 27.5×3 Dirt Wizards kept everything in check on the rocky and crumbly terrain around Truckee.

If you are on the hunt for a 27.5+ trail bike that doubles as a bikepacking rig, there are a lot of options out there right now. The Karate Monkey should definitely be one that’s on your list. It’s a fun bike that is certainly built for trail riding, but with the added utility in all the right places, it makes a great choice for long trips as well.

  • Sizes available XS/S/M/L/XL
  • Max tire size 27.5×3″
  • Colors “Rhymes With” Orange (complete/frame), Black (frame)
  • What’s new New trail geo, 27.5+, Gnot-Boost/thru-axle, Trumpet tubeset, Added utility
  • Intended Use Trail riding/bikepacking/backcountry exploration
  • Price $1425
  • Contact SurlyBikes.com

Stay tuned for more Saddledrive Coverage…

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