Building an apocalypse-proof, off-road touring bike: The Surly Troll

It’s been about a year since I started planning a burly bike build for a big trip. After looking at a lot of bikes on various blogs and forums, I found the one that would perfectly suit my style of riding. Enter the Surly Troll, the ideal bike for off-the-beaten-path touring…

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The Surly Troll—the perfect frame for off the beaten path touring for five reasons: 1) 4130 CroMoly has a little flex and may be easily brazed for modifications or repairs; 2) 26″ tires and tubes are fairly easy to come by, in most countries; 3) it has the swiss-army knife of slot-dropouts (for a Rohloff, trailer or whatever); 4) all of the braze-ons and rack-bosses you can swing a dead cat at; 5) if you are like me and prefer dirt to pavement, the Trolls geometry is perfect. I was initially looking at the Long-haul Trucker (I even owned one for a short stint), but being a mountain-biker I feel like I am slightly more comfortable positioned upright with a slacker geometry.

Surly Troll Rohloff, Touring Bike

I am still fine-tuning the cockpit, but here is a pretty close build-list:

  • Frame: 20″ Surly Troll (custom paint RAL 6020)
  • Rear Hub: Rohloff Speedhub 500/14
  • Front Hub: Phil Wood Disc
  • Wheels: Velocity Cliff Hangers laced by CycleMonkey
  • Cranks: Shimano Deore LX (oldschool and bulletproof)
  • Ring: Surly Stainless 38t
  • Chain: Wippermann 808
  • Tires: Schwalbe Marathon Mondial 2.15″
  • Bottom Bracket: SKF
  • Brakes: Avid BB7 / Avid Ultimate levers
  • Headset: Chris King Nothreadset
  • Handlebar: Kona bar or Easton EA70
  • Stem: Easton EA70
  • Saddle: Selle Anatomica Titanico
  • Seatpost: Easton Havoc
  • Pedals: Shimano PD-M324
  • Front Rack: Old Man Mountain Pioneer
  • Rear Rack: Tubus Locc

Touring Bike Headbadge

An nice vintage ‘Roamer’ head badge!

Edited to add more pics:

Surly Troll Bike Touring Set Up - Carradice Panniers, Old Man Mountain

Loaded with Carradice panniers on a Tubus rear rack and on Old Man Mountain front rack.

Surly Longhaul Trucker and Surly Troll

My Troll on Ometepe parked next to Lee’s Troll.

Surly Troll - bike touring

Virginia’s Troll in Mexico.

  • Jessup Stain

    Your old Long Haul Trucker sure is a fine dandy ride.

  • ghnoai

    It truly is sick for you to feed my passion for this bike like this.

    Great set up. I’m looking forward to building one that is similar. Though I don’t think I’m going to get to spring for a rohloff. . .

  • -craigt

    What version of the Rohloff hub are you using? Also is it a solid axle or QR? Thanks and awesome build!

  • Thanks Craig! It’s the 36 hole disc version. Solid axle… let me know if that answered your questions.

  • -craigt

    Sure did. More questions, what chainring guard thingy is that and what bcd? I’m think I’m gonna get a stock Troll then save up for a Rohloff/SON combo of wheels. Anyways super awesome, inspiring.

  • That’s the Salsa Crossing Guard. 110 BCD. Good luck with your build! The crankset/chainline can be a challenge with the Rohloff. The SKF bottom brackets are nice because they make them in a lot of sizes, so you can match to your crankset to get the 54mm chainline for the Rohloff.

  • Sascha


    Can you please advise as to what racks are on the front of Virginia’s Troll…looks like a tidy combo?

  • Hi Sascha. That’s a Tubus Duo and the Salsa Minimalist. It is very tidy and functional. I was actually envious of her setup on that trip. If you are looking to purchase the Minimalist, I would recommend finding one in the next couple of weeks. Salsa halted production as the rack is being changed and they are slightly hard to find right now…

  • Sascha

    Thanks Logan…I will search asap!

  • lphan

    Hello, What model is your SKF BB and what spindle length do you use for your SKF BB? From my calculation, for 54mm chainline, the spndle length should be 126mm. But BAS-600 doesn’t come with 126mm. Are you using BAS-300?

  • Hi Iphan. I am using the BAS-600 121mm with a single spacer ring on the drive-side. This got me the perfect chainline with my cranks (older Deore LX). It really depends on your cranks. You may have already seen this, but if not:

  • sundance

    did you paint it green? POwdercoat? Did you have to face the head and bottom brackets after that? The ECR comes green, but I want a troll and I want it green like that.

  • Yep, got it powder coated—RAL 6020. And, yes I had to get it faced afterward, but you have to get Surly frames faced anyway. I actually just got the Troll re-coated battleship gray… looks pretty cool.

  • sundance

    I emailed home and it is too expensive for me to powdercoat the troll I am going to build. But I am going to build a troll! I’m planning to bring it to Asia for a half year long tour next winter. Im in Nepal now. Im studying your parts, getting good ideas for my troll. Also some good ideas on the website: Apocalypse proof bike, I think I linked to that site from here

  • Nice. That link didn’t come through in the comments, but glad I could help your planning…

  • sundance

    Why don’t you use S&S coupler bikes like the LHT deluxe? I want to build a travel bike, and I have been reading about them. Do they (S&S)
    lack strength, or awkward or what? You obviously know just about all there is to third world bike travel. Would it be a mistake on my part to get the S&S LHT with 26 wheels, instead of a troll?

  • S&S bikes should be pretty tough, I just don’t see the need, personally. I essentially pack my bike in a bike box (cardboard), then ride from point A to B, then pack it again. If you choose the right airline, there won’t be big fees anyway. Being able to break it down smaller would be good if you are flying in and out of the same place and using a more permanent bike case, or if you are trying to pack into a small enough box to avoid airline fees on airlines such as US Air or others that charge.

  • everywhere:nowhere

    After reading loads and loads of write ups on an all-around bike, I very nearly settled for a cross frame…and although I had read this article before, I needed more convincing back then. Now, I’ve gone full circle and finally bought my Troll. Can’t wait to build it and give him a name.

  • Andre

    Hey which handlebar did you end up using? I really like the look of the one in the top banner. Thanks

  • I ended up using a Kona low-riser bar I had laying around, but the Jones H-Bar is pretty awesome if you like a dramatic sway…

  • Nice, enjoy it!

  • Jonathan

    Niiiiiiiice. I’m about to start buying the parts to build a Troll for myself. It seems that everybody who has ventured to build/buy themselves a Troll have nothing but really enthusiastic words to say about them. I feel safe in my decision! Thanks for the pictures and specs, super helpful. Live long and prosper!

  • Jesse E Martin

    SKF does not make the BAS-600 for 73mm bottom bracket shells. I ordered a BAS-600 110mm (but received a 107mm, Compass Cycles made a mistake). When I installed it, the non-drive side was too recessed to work with my cranks. What did you do?

  • Michael Viglianco

    Three of us had the same setup with a bash ring on the outside and a 121 mm skf 121 mm to get the 54 needed for the Rohloff chain line.

  • Mustafa Kılıç

    Would you please send me the price of this configuration. Thank you very much. Mustafa Kilic.

  • Friar Rodney Burnap

    I am getting a Troll and using a Tripodding set up two large panniers on the front wheel…a large 17.5 litter seat bag and a full frame bag…Tripodding with a light weight 4 season gear kit…

  • Friar Rodney Burnap

    Can I buy forest service maps? I live in Northern Arizona . . .and will be starting my tour with my new Surly Troll sometime this Spring….?

  • Anja Antolič

    Hi there, I have a question, the blue Surly Troll that says that is Virginia’s troll…is it also home build? Because I really really like the color and it seems it is a very unique design with Rohloff if I am not wrong. I would be interested in getting more details what components did you use? All the best, Anja

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