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

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

Stay tuned for more Saddledrive Coverage…

  • Two awesome looking bikes, and that new KM color is a beauty! Surly’s simplicity with their frame design is always so refreshing. These 2 and the new Fargo have gotten me the most excited with the new releases i’ve seen. Looking forward to seeing more coverage from you all.

  • Gormson

    Nice review. Thank you. I would like to see some details about salsa’s
    splitted alternator dropout 2.0 .

  • James Hayes

    great insight. Some desirable and well thought out changes. Agree the new Fargo looks rather lust worthy. Has anyone heard if the Trolls updates will waggle their way on to an Ogre, as that may be too hard to resist..

  • nowhereyonder

    …and I just bought an ECR yesterday…. dang.

  • Liam Endresen

    I might have missed it but when will this be released??

  • Idle Prentice

    More 27.5+ goodness. One tire to rule them all…

  • Brian Barnhart

    Both bikes look mean! I think its time to buy a mountain bike.

  • I’ll find out and make an update…

  • Mark Troup

    On the plus side, you now have a spanking new ECR. Life could be worse. :)

  • Kurt Schneider

    The Karate Monkeys, in orange or “grape soda”, are expected mid-September.

  • Jelle van der Heijde

    So how does the 27.5+ Karate Monkey compare to the 29+ Krampus?

  • Both have a nice long top tube. The KM+ has a lower BB and shorter chain stays… this makes it a little more nimble and closer in geometry to a lot of contemporary trail bikes.

  • Adam Bowen

    I have mixed emotions about the Troll loosing the ability to run a suspension fork. I’ve never put one on my Ogre, but there are definitely some tours where I wish I had.

  • Do you know if they steepened the seat tube angle on the km relative to the Krampus so that it can run suspension a bit more gracefully?

  • Mike

    I thought it was November/December?

  • Chris Leydig

    Great innovation by Surly/Salsa to provide a solution to the hub standards innovation-war, a real statement on the status of the industry that something like this had to be made.

    I love the Troll changes, particularly the increased rear tire clearance, do you think this is achievable because of Gnot-boost dropouts? I’ve been able to fit 3” knards on mine, albeit with minimal clearance (2.75/8 is ideal), but I had to use a boost crankset to achieve the chain clearance. The new troll doesn’t have a boost crankset and still a 73mm bb shell…, hmmm

  • Kurt Schneider

    There are several dates for arrival, depending on the model. For what’s currently showing at QBP, 10/15/16 is what’s listed for both versions of the Karate Monkey. On the Surly blog, they also acknowledge a history of those dates being best guesses. The Boise demo is Sunday afternoon. Maybe those folks will have a better idea…but I’m not going to hold them to it.

  • Al Cowan

    Just when i though the new 26+ jamis dragonfly was going to be the perfect bikepacking bike for smaller riders…

  • Jared Karnes

    Just waltzed into my LBS and put down a deposit on the KM this morning. I had been being indecisive about which 27.5+ to get and almost bought a Marin Pine Mountain 1, but it’s on the large side of my fit and I’m glad I waited. The wait is going to be brutal.

  • Hi
    thanks for sharing.
    Note that your first sentence has a double “the”:
    “Surly’s didn’t (…), but in reality THE THE trail “

  • Andrew Wade

    Has anyone heard any news on the 2017Jamis offerings? Komodo (aluminum Dragonfly), Eden and 26+ Dragonfly? At this point Surly has my fully attention with this new KM.

  • Nathan Fenchak

    How did the troll pedal? Does it feel like a steel mountain bike, or does it feel like a Long Haul Trucker?

  • Al Cowan

    Mid July is what the bikerumor article says, strange that theres hasn’t really been any mention of it since then…

  • Ragnish

    Any info on how the stealth dropper routing is done? Great write up and images.

  • Alex Contino

    What size Karate Monkey 27.5 did you test ride and what is your height? I’m trying to get a ball park idea of how this bike might ride if I size up a bit… the medium and large both seem like they could work.

  • adbirds

    When will the new Karate Monkey be available with front suspension?

  • Jared

    Any further speculation about the release date on that Monkey?

  • Kurt Schneider

    I just checked the QBP site, and they’re still showing 10/15 for both models.

  • mikeetheviking

    Way to go Surly! I would love to be a fly on the wall when these guys are engineering/re-engineering already versatile machines. Surly be havin’ dem brains.

  • Travis Boss

    FYI the Troll shows as a 09/15/2016 release date on Q.

  • John Carman

    Hi guys, just got my 2010 KM stolen :,( and looking at replacement, I do have a fat bike that is bit of over kill for where i live and i used to ride Brevet’s and Tour Aotearoa (length of NZ) bike packing events on the KM 29 so this new KM i’d be looking at running it as a 29r for Bike Packing events, my question is, is this new KM much heavier than the old? Sorry, know Surly riders aren’t
    suppose to talk about weight! haha thanks~

  • Jared Karnes

    When you buy one and put the suspension fork of your choice on it :)

  • It feels like a steel mountain bike, for sure.

  • Large… I’m 6′ even. I always tend to err towards larger…

  • Without having them
    Side by side I honestly don’t know.

  • mikeetheviking

    Hey John, I have owned an old KM and a Krampus, without boring you or going into details. The new KM with 27.5+ tire option looks like a real winner.

  • John Carman

    does look awesome ae. I have a shed full of parts that will fit the 2016 model and i can make the frame up plus it be a bit of a pain for me as i prefer to do bike packing events here on the 29r running 3×10 and this be a real pain to swap back and forward. Soooo what I’ve done it get a 2016KM frame and a Specialized fuse on sale for play bike. But… just found they have dropped the top tube on the KM 30mm so 1/2 frame bag and 2x bottles wont fit. rats!

  • mikeetheviking

    Have you had a chance to ride any plus bikes yet?

  • John Carman

    Actually have managed to buy a Specialized Fuse 27.5+ with the Insurance money and building up the 2016 Karate Monkey as 29r. Test rode a Fuse when first came out and loved it, its going to be my play bike for round where i live and some more back country Bikepacking Missions where as the KM will be my normal Packer bike, for the events and a lot of the packing riding around here the plus is bit of a over kill. I did seriously think about the 27.5+KM but the hassle swapping parts over, not being sure could run a 3×10 and the having almost complete parts to rebuild same as the KM got stolen it won me over to go the way i have

  • mikeetheviking

    Sweet, was making sure you were able to ride one (a plus bike) before passing for something else…

  • Jimmy

    The KM has a more traily geometry… do you think that’s a downside on a longer tour? I want to move to + tyres… but tend to end up on my bike for months. I’d like to move to a geometry that is more playful, but wonder if my comfort will suffer too much. I have my touring 2.4″ setup for longer tours I suppose.. Any thoughts anyone??

  • Daniel

    And where can i buy it? At i just can buy the frame…..but i want the complet bike with the set-up you showed!

  • Any QBP dealer should be able to order one.

  • Shad Holland

    To be a fly on the wall, all you have to do is ride around the Minneapolis area and see that they actually ride…..a lot! Believe it or not, we have some of the best singletrack trails in the country right in in Minnesota………tight, twisty, and a lot of fun thanks to the Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists (MORC) an IMBA affiliate.

  • Jutta Roggen

    I saw the Troll today and I’m looking forward to order the frame. I heard it will be available only in january/february ? (Europe) Somebody knows what colour it will be, I saw this more brown/orange version but your review and the website show a more maroonish/red bicycle. Thanks!

  • Tyler Wymer

    Three months late here, but how do you think this geometry would do for longer dirt touring? I guess I’m trying to compare it to the ECR or Troll. Can’t get my hands on two of these yet so can’t go ride to compare, sadly!

  • Phil Thomas

    FYI date has been pushed to 02/01/17 on all KM frames and completes

  • I’m curious about the Troll. I have a 2015 Troll (Steve’s Pants Blue) that rides wonderfully all over the place — it’s the bike I rode for my Burning Man/Great Divide adventure (I still need to finish the Great Divide, but that’s another story).

    Loaded, the Troll has a bad shimmy and a degree of flex. With two hands on the grips it’s not a problem; it’s comfortable on smooth roads and screaming descents on terribly dirt “roads” where my mind was free to be terrified of bears around the corners.

    Is this new Troll stiffer? (oh dear, phrasing … ) I mean, is the tubeset the same?

    All of the other improvements look awesome.

    And I never had any interest in a Karate Monkey until now. I think my life requires I have one (and a new Troll)

  • PitPatMat

    Thanks for another great and informative read. Question time: for globetrotting adventures across Africa/Asia etc. would you recommend the Surly Troll or an Orange Velo Piolet? I was leaning towards the latter, but many seem to say it can be tricky finding 29er spares

  • Tough decision… I’d go with the Troll personally, but I’ve never ridden the Piolet. How about the ECR?

  • Hmm. Honestly, I don’t know if it’s stiffer. Perhaps the frame redesign to non-sis corrected could have changed this a bit.

  • PitPatMat

    I’m looking at the ECR now actually – It looks nice. I guess it comes down to this: 29er/29+ wheels seem most suited for long distance touring, but I’m still having doubts about whether they are so widely available in super off the beaten track places (which is where I’m looking to go)

  • Chris Gress

    Torn between this and a Krampus, been riding my Karate Monkey for five years now and time for a new one. I am 6’1″, would a Krampus be better?

  • Logan Watts

    Hard to beat the Krampus, IMO. Especially if you are 6’1″. Ride one and see what you think…

  • Matt

    I Can’t Decide on the KM or the new Krampus….. It will be my primary mountain bike, but also need to be good for long distance bikepacking trips.
    Any input? I’m sure either would be a fine choice….. Thanks

  • Peter Rhodes

    any comments on the new troll with standard 27.5 wheels x 2.25 tires?

  • Dylan Witwicki

    I was hoping to fit on a large and I’m 5’10 with a 31.5 inseam. I wonder if this is a bit of a stretch. Planning on using a short stem for trail riding and would like the extra frame bag space

  • Lance Pilbrow

    Just wondering if it would have been possible to do a tapered head tube? So many more tapered suspension forks to choose from….

  • jordan_vondy

    Dylan. I just tested out a LG karate monkey. I’m also 5’11 with a 31.5 inseam and the LG fit really well. I stood on a MD and it was apparent after a few pedals that the frame was too small for me. Hope that helps.

  • Nima

    Thanks a lot for this great review! What size is the Troll in pictures?

  • Nima

    Thank you for this great review. What size is the troll in pictures?

  • HI Nima. That Troll is a large…

  • Country Above Self

    I am looking to get a 29er as bikepacking rig. Is it really necessary to get a bikepacking bike or will an aluminum XC 29er provide the same experience for long distance bikepacking?

  • Any bike will do as long as it’s comfortable for you. However, there are obviously details to consider such as reliable components, the right gearing, etc.

  • Country Above Self

    what’s the right gearing nowadays? Is it a single chain ring? Thanks.

  • backslash

    Is there a good reason why they still stick to the IS brake mounts?

  • Bo Torrey

    Are you able to mount front and rear racks on the Karate Monkey?

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