The end of the Long Haul Trucker

Last year in October I ventured out to Japan for a 2-week cycling trip with my good old Surly. It was a tough trip, not because of the trip itself, but because I was just not very fit, and only started improving near the end of the it all. Still, it left me wanting more. Sadly, that won't be happening on my Surly.

It started on the trip before that, actually. After a long flight I took the bike out of the bag and noticed I couldn't fit the rear wheel into the frame. But with a little applied force it went in anyway and I had a great trip out of it. When I arrived at my first destination of the October trip the issue had gotten worse, and I can only blame Turkish Airlines for not taking good care of the bike. It had plenty of 'fragile' stickers and even signs saying 'this side up', and instructions to not put the bike on its side but to transport it standing up. No such luck. It was extremely bent on arrival. I had to bend it back with all my strength to even have a cycling trip. Yet somehow, on the return trip, they managed to make it even worse.

In all honesty, I didn't expect any airline crew to take good care of a bicycle transported in a soft-case. But also, I never expected a frame made of high-quality steel to bend that much just from transport. I'm not blaming Surly here. Everything I've read and heard from people indicates that their frames is one of the better, seriously tough ones. Then again, speaking from personal experience, I've taken the Surly out for maybe 6-8 flights and it is now irreparably bent according to an expert touring bike shop guy, whereas my first aluminium bike has been on at least twice that many flights and never suffered any frame damage at all.

I seem to be going against the prevailing opinion here. Everyone online and everything I've read seems to agree that steel bikes are the way to go, because of the way the frame flexes under stress and how it's more comfortable to ride because of that. Aluminium frames seem to be ranked under the lowest of steel frames in the mind of many tourers, yet I can't help but wish for my old aluminium bike back. I distinctly remember when I first got the Surly and went on my first long ride. The first thing I noticed was how incredibly tough the ride was compared to my old Giant Great Journey. Part of that was me being out of shape, not being used to the bike yet, etc. etc., but I've never been able to shake that impression. So in the end, at the end of the Surly's brief but eventful life, all I can say is that I have not been very impressed by the Long Haul Trucker. It always seemed to be a bike that was meant for road racers who were willing to compromise in the direction of touring, not for touring people looking for maximum utility.

So, now I'm left with the option of getting a new frame in the UK and getting my old parts fitted on it, which will apparently set me back at least 800 pounds, getting a second-hand beater bike online and doing it myself (not my style, I am lazy af), or buying a bike at the start of my next cycling trip, which will save at least one flight of transport, which, in the case of Turkish Airlines, also cost me extra (a bit less than 100 pounds per flight if I recall correctly). At the moment I'm very much thinking of getting a new Great Journey, since at the current exchange rate the entire bike will cost less than the price of buying a new frame in the UK and getting the parts transferred, and I don't have to pay extra for the first flight. As a special bonus, my compass bell will finally work again. I honestly never realized that that wouldn't work on a steel frame until it was too late..

Anyway, the bike shop's judgment was pretty conclusive. I don't have to worry about trying to get the frame fixed because it's just not worth it. It means I can move on and get a new bike now. It amazes me how I'm actually kind of happy about this, whereas when my first touring bike got stolen I was utterly gutted. Let's hope that the third time's the charm.

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The maiden voyage

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..

Today's route, ~10km.

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.)


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