Today, despite the weather being overcast, gray and uninspiring, I took my new bike out for a spin. Here's my first impressions of the Surly Long Haul Trucker.
It's awesome! I had my doubts about the gears at first, being used to Shimano Total Integration levers, but the bar-end shifters are of superb quality. There's a robustness in them that my STIs never had. The best part about the gear levers is that the rear gear lever is indexed, but the one that controls the front gear is not. Up until yesterday I didn't know what indexing gears meant, but now that I know I realized that it's what I've always been missing on my old bike. The front gear always used to get misaligned after a while, but having a non-indexed gear lever means that the shifting is analog, so you just move the lever however much you need in order to get the chain to catch on the next gear. Brilliant.
I didn't go very far today, but I'm very pleased with my new area. I'd been wanting to cyclo-explore the area ever since I came here, and today I finally had the chance. I was not disappointed. It took only a 5-minute cycle to end up on a winding hilly forest road with not too much traffic, and the initial hillclimb was a good challenge for someone as out of shape as I am. I kept turning right until I ended up back in the town center, after about 30 minutes of forest and countryside roads. The area is perfect for cycling. Now if only the weather would cooperate..
I can't help but compare the Surly to my old bike, the Giant Great Journey. The gear ratios feel about the same, the highest gear being not that high, and the lowest gear being low enough to haul a large load up a steep incline. My old Giant had an aluminium frame which is supposed to make it more stiff than the steel Surly, but I noticed no such thing. I think the build quality of the Surly just makes it that much stiffer. There's also the lack of suspension on the Surly, which on the Giant was nothing more than a dead weight weighing down the front of the bike. The Surly feels much more nimble.
Other cool things I noticed: the Surly comes with two spare spokes on a neat little holder on the bar between pedals and rear wheel. It also has three mounting points for water bottles and/or pump. The old Giant had but two, and the frame was so small that it wouldn't fit large bottles. The Surly on the other hand has ample space everywhere: inside the frame and between the wheels, mudguards and frame.
The only thing I don't like about the Surly is that it advertises itself with great white letters all over the frame. In a country like the UK, that makes this bike an obvious target. I'm planning to get a GPS tracker to ensure that I get my bike back if someone tries to steal it, and my girlfriend has convinced me for 90% to get bike insurance as well. I'm not sure which odds are better: that of the GPS tracker remaining undiscovered when someone steals the bike, or that of a sleazy insurance company actually paying out when my bike gets stolen.
I'm planning some improvements to make the bike perfect for touring. I've ordered the usual (lights, bicycle computer, bottle holders), but the biggest issue right now is the front rack. The current one is awesomely light-weight, and looking down on the handlebars looks like I'm driving the speeder bike on Endor, but I think I'd rather have more space on the front. Surly is selling a pretty impressive front rack, but the price is also impressive. But it offers a neat platform space in the front, which is something I'd love to have, so I'll get the bike shop to exchange the front rack for me. As usual, if you want quality, your wallet has to suffer.
(yesterday was exactly 5 months since my bicycle got stolen. 5 months since I rode a proper bicycle.)