Surly Wednesday Review: Sun, sand & snow in New Mexico
Sibling to both the classic Pugsley and the goliath Ice Cream Truck, the Wednesday is Surly’s latest addition to its fleet of fat bikes – or Omniterras, as it prefers to call them. Over the last couple of months, we’ve taken one bikepacking, snow riding, and arroyo exploring around the high desert of northern New Mexico.
Amongst long distance ‘fatpackers’, the venerable Surly Pugsley has always been a favourite, thanks largely to an offset frame, and its resulting ability to run a 135mm rear hub – neatly circumventing chainline issues that arise from sporting such wide tires. Yes, it’s a pain to adjust brake pads, but that 135m hub bodes well for backcountry repairs, and there are few places in the world where one can’t be sourced. I count myself amongst its fans, having ridden my own Pugsley from Patagonia to Peru.
Fast forward almost a decade, and the fat biking arena has changed considerably since the Pugsley first came into the world. Now symmetrical frames are the norm and 170/177mm hubs are relatively prevalent – there’s even an XL Rohloff available too. And while you’re still unlikely to unearth them in the more remote bike shops of our planet, given the recent fat bike explosion, there’s a greater choice of specialist fat bike components available than ever before.
Enter the Wednesday, Surly’s latest all purpose Omniterra, a contemporary – dare I say it – reinvention of the Pugsley. Which is not to say it’s replacing it, at least for now. In fact, the two bikes are distinctly different, a point Surly is keen to emphasise, for reasons that should become clear below. Nevertheless, if it’s a fat bike capable of both overseas odysseys and local explorations that you seek, chances are both will feature on your list of contenders. Especially given that the Wednesday rings in at just $1500 – leaving enough change in your pocket to go traveling.
So what else sets them apart? For a start, the Wednesday is noticeably more light footed than its older brother. Surly’s marketing talk suggests its character lies somewhere between that of the Pugsley, and its big bruiser of a sibling, the Ice Cream Truck. I’d agree; its internal routing for a dropper post certainly hints at a more playful nature than the Pugs. In fact, it could even be that its the nimblest of the three, given its short chainstays and relatively modest weight. Certainly, I never struggled to keep up with the fat bike clan I regularly ride with, several of whom own ICTs.
Ballast it with bikepacking bags and a couple of days of food, and the Wednesday takes on more responsible trail manners. During a three day trip to the Jemez Mountains, I found it struck a pleasing balance between out and out fun, and long distance comfort. By way of comparison, I’ve always felt my Pugsley had a somewhat methodical feel to its handling (no bad thing when pedaling day upon day in the backcountry), though I’d also stress that with the right ‘body english’, it never failed to get me where I needed, with no shortage of smiles either.
Another clue to the Wednesday’s penchant for trails is its readiness to run a 100mm suspension fork. Doing so will slacken the head angle by a degree (69 to 68) adding another notch to its off road prowess. As a committed overseas bikepacker, I’ve weened myself off suspension in the interests of simplicity, so it’s probably not an avenue I’d explore. This said, every Bluto-owning friend sings their praises, despite the once prevalent view that dampened suspension has no place on fat bikes. Same goes with dropper posts. I’ve never really needed one when I go bikepacking, but I can see their benefits when I’m riding local trails.
On a general note, fat bikes bring back a sense of pioneering exploration to mountain biking. They eschew the goal of covering vast distances at great speed (though with the right legs and mentality, they’re certainly capable of it). Rather, fat bikes are about the way in which you choose to see the world. It’s this feeling of off grid potential that makes them such refreshing bikepacking rigs.
The Wednesday proved to be no different. It opened up a whole host of new riding textures, from snowy escapes on familiar trails, to arroyo explorations I’d never have considered otherwise. It even made riding across soft sand relatively enjoyable, yet was as fun to rail round singletrack as any other bike.
The New Mexican desert is laced with rock strewn jeep tracks; as with my Pugsley, I’ll admit to savouring the sense of invincibility that coursing through my veins when at its helm. Indeed, the Wednesday tore through rock gardens with enviable nonchalance, and its oversized tires bit deep into the earth, winching me up steep arroyo climbs. Most likely, it flattered my riding skills.
As ever, the Wednesday uses 4130 ChroMoly steel, always reassuring for those planning on throwing the bike around, be it in a bike box or the roof of a bus. A look at the frame reveals the Wednesday to be a thoroughly modern bike in terms of ‘standards’, as shown by its symmetrical spacing, 44mm headset, 30.9 seat post and the use of front and rear thru-axles, rather than the 135mm hub spacing found on the Pugsley. This means that unless your spares box is unusually well stocked, you won’t be pillaging from it in quite the same way as with other Surlys.
As for designs, immediately noticeable is the lack of triangulation between the seat tube and top tube, typical to Surly mountain bikes over the last few years. The resulting seat tube is almost two inches shorter than a Pugsley, with a smaller internal frame space too. In other differences, the fork is shorter than on the ICT, balanced out by a headtube that’s a touch longer. Incidentally, both Schmidt and SP now make dynamo hubs that will fit its 150mm tru-axle spacing.
Both bikes sport a longer, more low slung stance than the Pugsley, and offer increased standover clearance. This may be good news for shorter riders, but as someone with long, lanky legs, it meant stacking up headset spacers like casino chips to get a multi-day riding position I was happy with. Surly even suggest riser bars for taller folk.
The good news for bikepackers of any height is that Surly haven’t skimped on braze-ons. There’s provision for front and rear racks, mounts on the fork blades for Anything Cages, and water bottle eyelets under the downtube, a much maligned oversight on the company’s other fat bikes. This is especially pleasing given how well such steeds lend themselves to desert exploration. Of course, I’d have welcomed the capablity to fit an Anything Cage under the downtube too. Although this would have worked fine on my XL frame, I expect there might be clearance issues on smaller models, especially when running a suspension fork.
Like the Pugsley, the Wednesday features the Breezer-style, rear facing slotted dropouts, except that nifty Adaptor Washers allow the use of quick release hubs too. Granted, slotted dropouts are a fiddlier way to tension a chain for singlespeeding than an eccentric bottom bracket. But they’re also simple, reliable, foolproof and help keep costs to a minimum. If you’re running thru-axles (as the bike comes) there’s a slot that allows the wheel to be removed vertically. Aside from singlespeeding, horizontal slots open up the Wednesday to running a Speedhub XL, making for a relatively affordable Rohloff build; we’d recommend the bolt-on (TS) axle version, to prevent any chance of the wheel shifting in the dropout, teamed with one of Cycle Monkey’s Monkey Bones to anchor the hub.
I won’t dwell on weight, as most people considering steel fatbikes aren’t likely to be overly obsessed by shaving grams; still, it’s good to know that the Wednesday tips the scales at only a smidgeon heavier than a Pugsley despite its beefier tubing, and it’s almost a pound lighter than an Ice Cream Truck.
Unlike the ICT, I should also point out that the Wednesday is ‘limited’ to 4.6in tires (though given the general jump in tire sizes from 3.8 to 4.8 inches, it’s perhaps more accurate to say it fits a 4in tire with bags of mud clearance to spare). Prior to living in New Mexico, I could never quite fathom the need for anything wider. Now that I’m here, I can certainly see that they have their place. I can also imagine certain bikepacking adventures where they’d be of real benefit.
Does a 5in tire offer enough of an advantage to merit choosing a frame with larger clearances, even at the expense of increased weight and a wider, non-threaded bottom bracket? This really depends on where you aspire to spend most of your time. For sand and snow, certainly. But as a Middle Way (when it comes to fat biking, at least), a quality 4in tire on a 80mm rim feels capable enough for the majority of off grid conundrums you might encounter. If you’re feeling left out, at least you run a 5in tire up front. And perhaps most importantly, the Wednesday fits 29+ rubber, adding greatly to its versatility, especially if you fancy loping along at higher speeds.
Onto parts. During my time with the Wednesday, everything worked just fine. Which is what I’d expect: new bikes always tend to feel pretty good. My only issue was needing to straighten out a bent derailleur, and that was user error more than anything; the result of an extend hike a bike across deadfall in the Jemez.
I can’t say I’m especially familiar with Sram’s budget offerings. Although the Wednesday’s X5 shifters clunked through the gears just fine, they’re not the most comfortable shifters to use. Also, I favour a Shimano-compatible drivetrain (like Surly’s OD) simply because I’ve never had any issue finding Big S bottom brackets anywhere I’ve traveled. The same cannot be said of Sram, despite it’s popularity here. Still, it’s no biggie. Just pack a spare BB with you, they’re light enough. As a personal preference, I’d have preferred the burlier Microshift thumbies found on the ICT Ops, which have a crisper feel to them. Initially I grumbled about the Wednesday’s Hayes mechanical disc brakes. But once they bedded in, I soon forgot about my initial suspicions.
All this said, while its finishing kit can hardly be described as boutique, I wasn’t rushing to swap anything out, except for the 11 degree straight bars that it wields like a quarterstaff. Recently, I’ve become so accustomed to generous arc of Jeff Jones’ Loop H-Bars that anything else makes my elbows stick out like chicken wings. I also fitted a stem with more rise, cranking up my bars to a position more conducive to long distance bikepacking.
I was especially impressed with Surly’s 3.8in Nates, tires that performed incredibly well in both snow and sand. As a tread to start with, they certainly bring out the best in the Wednesday, although on the flipside, they wouldn’t be my choice on a trip with extended hardpack or pavement. Note that my test rig came with the 120tpi versions, while standard production bikes ship with the heavier 27tpi ones. Not that I’d consider this an issue; I’ve always found the 27tpis less prone to sidewall nicks, always welcome in a tubeless setup.
On that front, there’s good news to report. Surly’s brand new My Other Brother Daryl tubeless-ready rims converted easily and without issue. No problems running them at low pressures either. A special rim kit is apparently due out, though a couple of rounds of Gorilla Tape works just fine too.
As for hubs, the Formula 150 and 177 used on the stock build are something of an unknown quantity, longterm wise at least. But it’s good to know they use cartridge bearings, and the freehub body is Shimano compatible.
- Handling that strikes a balance suited to both engaging singletrack, and loaded bikepacking.
- Provision for suspension fork and dropper post means no compromise mountain biking!
- The price: a very accomplished bike for the money.
- Somewhat basic components (though they actually work fine).
- Low front end means tall riders may need riser bars.
- FRAME Surly Wednesday, 4130 CroMoly steel. Double-butted main triangle.
- FORK Surly Wednesday, 150mm x 15mm thru axle dropouts.
- SEAT COLLAR Surly Constrictor, 33.1mm
- HEADSET Cane Creek 10
- STEM H.L., 31.8mm, 80mm
- HANDLEBAR Primatec SM
- BRAKES Hayes MX Comp, V-Series 160mm rotors front & rear
- SHIFTER SRAM X5, trigger shifter
- REAR DERAILLEUR SRAM X5
- CRANKS & CHAINRINGS Truvativ X5, 22/34t
- BOTTOM BRACKET Surly Threaded BB
- CASSETTE Microshift H100, 11-36t, 10-speed
- CHAIN KMC X10
- FRONT Formula 150 x 15mm thru-axle, 32h
- REAR Formula 177 x 12mm thru-axle, 32h
- SPOKES DT Swiss Comp, 14g/15g Black
- RIMS Surly My Other Brother Darryl, 80mm w/speedholes
- TIRES Surly Nate 26 x 3.8˝, 27tpi
- SEATPOST Kalloy SP-342, 30.9mm.
- SADDLE Velo VL2155, steel rails.
- WATER BOTTLE MOUNTS 1 inside XS-MD frames, 2 for L-XXL, 1 below down tube
- RACK MOUNTS Front and rear rack mounts, triple fork cage mounts
- EXTRAS 177x12mm thru-axles or 170 x 10mm QR axles dropout
Like most Surlys, the Wednesday encourages reinvention. Even in its fully rigid guise, it’s a blast to ride, while its ability to run a suspension fork and dropper post guarantee no compromise mountain biking potential too. Of more interest to bikepackers are the plethora of braze-ons and eyelets with which its endowed, ensuring the Wednesday’s a very capable travel steed too.
As a tall rider who favours an upright riding position – especially for bikepacking – I’d have preferred the frame to have had a longer headtube and a little less standover, creating more internal frame bag space, and helping hide the ungainliness of an uncut fork. But a part of that is aesthetics. Once I had my set up dialled, I was happy. And besides, the extra standover is likely welcome when running a suspension fork.
Yes, the finishing kit is basic. Yet despite my initial concerns, nothing felt immediately lacking out of the box, except those undeviating handlebars – and that’s very much down to personal taste. A part of me would have preferred the Wednesday to feature Avid BB7s and Microshift thumb shifters, and have cost a little more. But I also appreciate how inclusive it is financially. And besides, you can never please everyone.
Would I choose the Wednesday over a Pugsley for a long distance, overseas adventure? Probably, unless I was especially prone to gear misfortune, or heading into the sticks for an undisclosed period of time (ironically, there’s such a stockpile of 135mm hubs, that the Pugs is arguably more futureproofed given ever changing ‘standards’). Rebuild the Wednesday’s rear wheel with a Rohloff XL and the answer is a definite yes. For explorations that focus on sand and snow, a frame with clearances for 5in tires and 100mm rims will likely make a more suitable investment. But for those on a budget, or anyone who desiring a single bike that will do just about anything you care to throw at it, the Wednesday is undoubtedly $1500 very well spent.
- Size Tested Extra Large
- Sizes Available XS-XL
- Weight (as tested) 34.23lbs/15.5kg (with 120tpi tires)
- Price $1,500
- Contact Surly
- Recommended Uses Off grid bikepacking, trail riding, winter escapades and arroyo exploring
I’ve been embarking regularly on two-wheeled explorations for the last 18 years. Most recently, I connected the length of the Americas via the road less traveled, and traversed Mongolia. Given my love for mountain biking and touring, my ideal journey fuses the two, keeping to quiet dirt roads and singletrack where possible.
Weight: 165 lbs
The Wednesday was loaned to me for two months, for the purpose of this review.