7,500 Kilometer Review: Surly Knard 27tpi & Velocity Blunt 35

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A week before finishing up our tour, I looked down at my tires and smiled. Luckily I made the right choice just one day before we left six months ago.

At that point, a fleet of freshly powder-coated ECRs had recently shipped to the US. I found out that mine would be delivered only three days before we were flying out of the country. There really wasn’t too much information out there about 29+ bikes on big international tours, especially in a harsh and isolated place like east Africa. The fact that I would be riding a 29er alone was enough to draw several guffaws from seasoned touring diehards. On the evening before we flew out I was tinkering in the garage and putting some finishing touches on my new army green steed. I mounted a pair of Schwalbe Smart Sam Plus tires on Velocity Blunt 35s while simultaneously keeping the corner of my eye out for the UPS driver. He would soon hand over a pair of Knards, for which I had paid a hefty overnight fee, and they were a day late. We had planned an off road tour through the Dark Continent and the Schwalbes were the conventional choice of rubber. They had all of the off-road touring tire keywords covered: a solid tire that would roll well on pavement but was still tough enough to outlast a rocky, thorny, unforgiving, and remote landscape. The ECR would have ridden just fine with them. The BB might have been a little lowish, but it would’ve been OK.

The UPS truck crept through the neighborhood after dusk, a little later than usual. I was nervous and had sucked down a couple IPAs as I finished the cabling job. After mounting the Knards I was torn. Earlier that day I emailed a friend at Surly to get his opinion. He said, ‘Knards.’ I called a couple of buddies and got mixed recommendations. In the end, I decided to go with what makes the ECR’s geometry more than ‘OK’, and, of course, what looked the coolest.

So after 7,500 kilometers, eight countries, very rocky off-road tracks, long stretches of tarmac, thorns, broken glass, mud, stream crossings, and the Sahara Desert, here are my thoughts on the metal and rubber circles that carried me this far:

Surly Knard 27tpi – A Proven Touring Tire

Velocity Blunt 35 29er wheels for touring and Surly Knards
  • Surly ECR with Velocity Blunt 35 29er wheels and Surly Knards, Tubus Rack
  • Surly Knards Review, long life tire, tough
  • Surly Knards Review, long life tire, tough

I mused a bit about Knards in a previous post after the initial 1,000 kilometers, but tire pondering is pretty important. My current position could probably be summed up with one sentence: for off-road, mixed terrain and gravel touring, the 27tpi Knard 29 is perfect. Of course, the churning machine of the bike industry might spawn something else that will change my mind, but right now I am not sure if there could be a better option. My original concerns fell in the three categories below, and here are my thoughts:

Durability

On initial impression, when compared to a purpose made Schwalbe, the Knards felt a little thin at the tread bottom. It might be a sensory illusion based on the largeness of the tire as a whole. This fueled speculation that a plague of flats might set in through places such as South Africa’s Klein Karoo, a thorny desert punctuated with rocky ranges that cut across the landscape. Ultimately there were more thorny places in Africa than I ever imagined. All in all I had 5 flats in 6 months. That’s fewer than I had on my last tour while running the proven Marathon Mondials. Of course I used a few squirts of Stan’s in each tube this time, which I am sure helped.

Treadware

I had anticipated going well over 8,000 kilometers in six months, but going off-road is naturally slower than the pan-American roadway. I was fairly convinced that a dirt specific tire would wear out well before I reached 4,000 kilometers, especially since we’d have to resort to our fair share of tarmac. In order to prolong the tread I rotated the tires after 2,500 kilometers. In hindsight, I think this would have been better done at 3,500. As it stands now, the front tire probably still has 1,000 kilometers of life on it. The rear has maybe 400, if I pushed it. So if I would have delayed, I could have rolled these tires for a lifespan of maybe 8,500 kilometers. To me that’s pretty impressive, and surprising. I carried a spare on this trip thinking that I may either suffer a sidewall tear or they would just wear out; I’ll be leaving that spare at home next time.

Performance

This is my favorite part. We spent at least half of these kilometers offroad, on gravel, pisté, primitive tracks, single track, rock, and sand. These conditions, in my opinion, are home for Knards and the ECR. The tires eat up the vibrations that this sort of terrain dishes out for kilometers on end, especially at speed. I felt for Virginia. After one month we switched her Troll to the largest UST tires we could find somewhere in South Africa: 2.2” Contis. They helped, but still the lower pressure in the 26” tires did not have nearly the suspension benefit as 29×3”. The Knards completely absorbed the egg-sized rocks that seem to be strewn all over these tracks. They simply barrel over almost anything without consequence.

The closely spaced low-block tread is specced for packed dirt, gravel, and dry rocky conditions. They do fairly well in sand, and somewhat muddy environs as well (as long as it’s not sticky mud). But what about tar? No matter how much you intend on stringing together dirt and gravel roads on a long tour, these days there are always paved sections to contend with. I was immediately impressed with how well they rolled on pavement. Not the fastest, but not bad at all.

Velocity Blunt 35 29er – Swiss Army Hoops

Velocity Blunt 35 29er wheels for touring and Surly Knards
  • Velocity Blunt 35 29er wheels for touring and Surly Knards
  • Velocity Blunt 35 29er wheels for touring and Surly Knards
  • Velocity Blunt 35 29er wheels for touring and Surly Knards

Before leaving on this trip I took Gin’s Velocity Cliffhangers to get trued. My LBS wrenchman phoned thirty minutes after I dropped them off to tell me that they were perfect. No need for a truing. I was pretty impressed, considering that these rims had made it through our Central America tour, which consisted of 5,000 kilometers of pretty rough roads, gravel, falls, being beaten up in busses, etc. So, without hesitation, I went with Velocity rims again.

At the time I had these built by good hands at The Wheel Department, the choices included the 50mm Surly Rabbit Hole and the 35mm Velocity Blunt 35. Now there are several additional options including the 45mm Velocity Dually, 41mm Ibis carbon rim, and the 47mm Northpaw. The Blunt 35s meet Surly’s minimum width spec for running Knards, but the numbers also work well for conventional 2.2s or 2.4s. I was a bit worried about the Rabbit Holes being a bit too wide, in the case of using the Schwalbe Smart Sam. A wide rim spreads out the tire and creates more tread surface. This is great for off-road traction, but what about rolling resistance on the road? As mentioned above, the Knards perform surprisingly well on asphalt. I think the Blunts width of 35mm contribute to this performance. The narrower rim creates a rounder tire profile which may give the Knards a bit more tracking ability and straight line stability.

Although the width differences are seemingly subtle, if you want the most traction out of the Knard, a centimeter will make a difference. For a dedicated off-road trail build I would go with the 45mm Duallys or 50mm Rabbit Holes, but for mixed terrain touring the Blunt 35 is a solid choice, with the availability of 36 spokes to boot.

Durability

On the road I always here about people breaking spokes. So far I have never broken one (knock on wood). I might owe this to one bit of touring convention that I follow: 36 spoke rims. Initially, that choice was at least partly due to the Rohloff I had set up on a panzer-proof 26″ Troll. But, what do you know? The only rim listed above that is available with 36 spoke drilling is the Blunt 35.

Although comparatively minimal, I have been packing quite a load. I figured that after running slightly lower pressures off road there would be a couple of sidewall dents and dings, but, after inspection, there are none. And, after all those rough tracks, these rims are still perfectly true.

Performance

The Blunts are stiff enough to make the ECR feel sure footed on any terrain. Whether bombing a rock descent or picking through a technical climb, they feel generally solid. No doubt the Duallys or Rabbit Holes would perform slightly better off road, but as mentioned earlier, I think the Blunts are owed some credit for there on-road performance.

I am not a gram counter, but Blunts are certainly not heavy. When I first got the build back from The Wheel Department, I was surprised at how light they were, even with 36 spokes. My front wheel, with a Velocity hub and the heavy Avid rotor weighs about 1,278 grams. That’s only slightly more than the 26″ 36 spoke Cliffhanger with an XT hub, weighing in at 1,213 grams.

Tubeless Compatibility

It’s fairly rare to hear of someone touring internationally on a tubeless setup, especially in more remote locales. Because of flight restrictions, and the danger of exploding a tire, it is required on most, if not all, airlines to deflate the tires on a boxed bike. This, of course, will break the tubeless seal. Fortunately we were able to set up Gin’s Troll tubeless in South Africa with credit to the capacity of local bike shops and the vast mountain bike scene. Otherwise, tubeless conversion could be preplanned and implemented DIY once landed, given the skills.

Velocity claims both the Blunt 35 and the Dually to be tubeless ready. There is a catch though. The claim hinges on matching the rims with ‘tubeless-ready’ or UST tires, which Knards are not. The difference in a true UST rim and a tubeless-ready rim is ridge on the inner side of each bead shelf which provide extra support to prevent seal rupture. I have heard that folks have had success using several layers of Gorilla Tape or Velocity Velotape to build up a faux bead shelf ridge. I plan on giving it a shot soon and will update this post.

  • Velocity Blunt 35 29er wheels for touring and Surly Knards
  • Velocity Blunt 35 29er wheels for touring and Surly Knards
  • Velocity Blunt 35 29er wheels for touring and Surly Knards

A couple years ago only a handful broke the rules and rode a fatbike through technologically isolated places such as Nepal and Peru. Expedition specific fatbikes and 29+ Knards are changing this. The Pugsley created a new game, and the ECR made it accessible. More people are interested in routes that are off the beaten path, or at least off the pavement…unconventional means to discover authentic and untouched places. I am looking forward to the progression of this trend, the stories that come from its front lines, and the bikes and gear that will make it happen. But for now, I think I have the perfect setup.

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  • Jeff Bartlett

    Love the review. For what it’s worth, I have 3000 km on knards on my Krampus with very little or no visible wear. It’s almost absurd how these tires seem to be holding up!

    I will also mention that about 1200 of these kilometres are on pavement, as I was riding while many of the Canadian trails were too snowy and I needed base miles over snow bike fun. Even on the 50mm rabbit hole rims, the knards roll really nicely. I just had them pumped up to 30PSI for road stretches and backed off to 12-18 off road, depending on the terrain.

    Loved watching your trip and love hat you’ve discovered 29+. There is no going back! My carbon FS bike is nowhere near as fun as the Krampus!

  • John Q

    John Q.

  • John Q

    Very good review. I wondered why you had run the 35’s instead of 45’s, of course unless you switched out mid trip or the 35’s just sucked the comparison is educated guessing. I may be setting up my steel Jones Spaceframe for touring and will take your various, rigorous reviews into serious consideration.
    At this point I enjoyed your trip and it’s photos and commentary a great deal, though it has made me antsy to do more than day rides. In 39 days I begin “kickback”, semi-sortof-retirement and a bit of touring will begin.
    Thanks, John Q.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks John! No, only the 35s, no complaints though. My only wonder on the 45s is whether they would spread the tread out a little too much for tarred surfaces, might be fine though. I definitely would see them as a better option for dedicated off-road though! Congrats on the kickback; let me know if you are posting pics of your ‘retirement’ trip…

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks Jeff! Yeah, I have been extremely impressed with these tires. Good to hear that they roll well on Rabbit Holes… I’d love to compare the two. I am actually considering adding a Krampus to my stable as my ‘fun bike’. The ECR is fun, but the more aggressive geometry on the Krampus adds an extra bit of smile! Cheers.

  • http://www.gypsybytrade.wordpress.com/ Nicholas

    Logan, some great thoughts. For most 29+ riding that does not require extremely low pressures (sand and snow) or aggressive cornering (technical mtb), 35mm may be the ideal rim size for this tire. It keeps the wheel weight down and provides a fast-rolling profile.

    As for tubeless systems, I don’t see the need to deflate the tires for the flight. The cargo hold is pressurized, or else every bag of chips and bottle of wine would explode. Even if you did need to deflate the tires a bit, a reliable tubeless setup should hold its seal down to 0psi.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks Nicholas! I figured most, if not all, cargo bays were pressurized so I always thought was a bit over the top. But on this trip, on two different flights, baggage handlers asked and one guy even made us open the boxes and show him that the tires were deflated (that was the flight that killed Gin’s tublessness). I deflated them to somewhere around 5 or 10 psi before packing it up, so it wasn’t completely flat. When I started the unboxing I saw fluid and knew right away that the seal had broken… maybe not the best tubeless setup, but it could have been the jostling of the box that stressed out the seal…

  • adamgnewman

    Logan, what sort of tire pressures are you running? I have my 29+ Knard’d Mukluk at about 20psi for road and go lower from there. Thanks!

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Hey Adam. I honestly don’t know the numbers exactly (my travel pump doesn’t have a gauge), but I think I run at about 30 on the road and I let it out to maybe around 15 or 20… probably not soft enough. I did go pretty mushy in a couple of places in the high atlas and the Transnevada in southern Spain…

  • http://Www.adventurefamilyinmotion.com/ Adventure family in motion

    Great review. I was interested to see how these tires would hold up. So many bikes to choose from, I’m kind of torn between something like an ECR or a Salsa Fargo.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks! I guess it depends on what kind of riding you want to do. Knards are definitely great for off-road playtime… and pretty good on the sand as well!

  • http://matthewplummer.org.uk Matthew Plummer

    Love your blog. Just so you know – Velocity does occasionally run batches of 36 spoke Dually rims. I have a set laced to a Hope Pro 2 Evo rear and a Son 28 dynamo front hub for my ECR – which I’m very happy with!

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks! Good to know about the Duallys… looking to get a Dynamo myself.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks! Good to know about the Duallys… looking to get a Dynamo myself.

  • Patrick

    Great blog! recently had a crash with my fargo. I survided, but I regret to say my fargo was killed in action. The wheelset I used were salsa gordo, alsa 35mm. I’m now thinking of a new project: ECR with salsa gordos and surly knards.

    Also thinking of a rohloff, how do you keep chaintension? Isn’t that a hassle to adjust with horizontal dropout and adjust discbrakes?

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks Patrick! Sorry to hear about the crash, but glad you are OK. Are they still making the Gordos? If not, you may look into Velocity Duallys. They are 45mm and spread the Knards out well. Chain tension is kept with a Surly Tugnut. it’s very easy to adjust on the fly and the ECR dropout was built for it…

  • Michael Viglianco

    Did the shop in SA do anything special to build up ridges in the Cliffhanger to mimic a true tubeless rim? Reading some of the knowlegable wheel builders in MTBR warning of the danger of not using a proper rim even if it holds air.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Nope. As far as I know, it doesn’t matter if it’s UST tire on a regular rim…

  • http://aushiker.com/ Aushiker

    Thanks for the review and the blog. It has been very informative as I investigate going from my Surly Long Haul Trucker to a Surly ECR.

    Anyway I am curious as to whether you have run the Velocity Blunt tubeless with the Surly Knards? I am assuming up to this review at least you where running tubes.

    Thanks.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Hi Aushiker, thanks! No, I currently have them set up with tubes. I know you can set them up ‘ghetto’ tubeless, but I haven’t gone that route yet…

  • http://aushiker.com/ Aushiker

    Nice timing. I was just re-reading your thoughts on the Surly Knard tyres. I am more and more thinking just stick with Toobs too to keep things simple and will probably go Velocity Blunt rims to have the option of running narrower tyres for black-top only touring should I go down that path in the future.

    However my next dilemma is 27 TPI versus 120 TPI or a combination. I appreciate you went with 27 TPI but wonder if you would change that for maybe 120 TPI up front?

    Thanks
    Andrew

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    I would definitely recommend the 27tpi version. They hold up much better with thicker sidewalls, and the tread seems a bit more durable as well.

  • http://aushiker.com/ Aushiker

    Thanks for the feedback.

  • mike

    If you had to build this bike over again, would you use the Blunt 35 or the Dually given the style of riding you do. Awesome site! Thamks, -m.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    It depends. If I planned to have a rack I’d go wirh blunts… if not dI’d run duallys or Rabbit Holes. The vega barely sneaks enough room with the blunts…

  • Georges

    Thanks a lot!

    By the way: IMHO, the Rohloff is dead and was replaced by Pinion.eu P1.18
    A bit more weight and you need a New frame. But the weight is more centered, you have a larger development, you don’t have the grinding in certain fears, no oil from the gear can flow on your brakes and you can change your rear wheel as you want.
    And I’ve had up to four Rohloffs…

    Cheers
    Georges
    Bycycle.ch

  • http://pedalspacksandpinots.wordpress.com/ Ben Handrich

    Sorry about replying on such an old post, but it seemed the most relevant for my question: I noticed you recently went tubeless with your Krampus and am wondering if you were able to pull it off with your Knards or whether you did it with a different tire? I tried going tubeless with the rabbit hole rims/Knards combo but was unable to get the tires to hold air for more than a couple hours. Was there a trick you used to get it to hold air? Did you use the ‘ghetto’ setup or set up tubeless the conventional way? I’d like to go for tubeless but would rather not buy new rims in order to make it happen, so if you did go tubeless, which tires did you use if it wasn’t the Knards? So many questions… thanks Logan

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Hi Ben. No worries. I am currenly set up with Maxxis Chronicles on RHs. I’ve also had Dirt Wizards tubless on RHs, but never Knards. I think it’s doable though. I use 2 layers of gorilla tape over a slighlty trimmed strip (about 3/16″ on each side). It works well although sometimes the cutouts become an egress for sealant. Hope that helps!

  • Lewy

    Not sure if you check older posts, but anyway. How are the rims holding up? I recently put a Krampus fork on my 29er and want a rim that will be suitable for use with 29+ tyres and normal 2.4-2.5 29er tyres.

  • danaia

    I have been running my p35 Blunts with 3″ Knards tubeless on my Ogre (very similar setup as this) for about a year. A lot of single track, limestone rails to trails and a good amount of asphalt. They are perfect without issue. Very impressed. Thinking about doing the Divide with them but not sure.

  • Chris

    Did you ever happen to measure the width of the Knard once mounted to the Blunt rim? I’m looking to put tires on my Surly Ogre and wonder if this combo would be narrow enough to fit. Thanks! – cz

  • Chris

    I’ve seen pictures of Knards mounted on Rabbit Hole rims being used on Surly Karate Monkey’s, so I have hope it may work. Thanks! – cz

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    I didn’t, but I have heard that it won’t fit on the rear. The front maybe.

  • Jon Dicus

    Jobst Brandt suggests that tire deflation for air travel is unnecessary. Years ago my rear rim suffered irreparable damage, because I deflated the tires and the box was thrown around. I recently received shipment on a bike where the bikes were mostly, but not completely, deflated and had pinch flats.

    See info below. Anyone have an experience one way or the other?

    “Myth: You need to let the air out of your tires before shipping your bike on an airplane – if you don’t, the tires will explode.

    Assume your tire at sea level, pumped to 100 psi. Air pressure at sea level is (about) 15psi. Therefore, the highest pressure which can be reached in the tire is 100+15=115psi. Ergo: There is no need to deflate bicycle tires prior to flight to avoid explosions. (Giles Morris)

    Addendum: The cargo hold is pressurized to the same pressure as the passenger compartment.”

    http://www.sheldonbrown.com/brandt/cycling-myths.html

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