Saturday 23 June 2018

London to Brighton Overnight on my Surly Disc Trucker

If you have read any of my blog post about night rides to the coast you will already know that I am more than a little fond of them. The offering on Friday 8th June was back to where my night rides truly started - London to Brighton. Click here to read my entry from 2013. 

The week was dominated by thoughts of this ride and it would be my first opportunity to give my new Surly Disc Trucker a really good run. As the day approached I started to look forward to it more and more. In fact the 'London Nocturne' folding bike race - which I have participated in for the past 6 years - was also on that weekend but if I went to this I could not go to the London to Brighton overnighter as I would be too tired. It was a very easy decision for me. I mean 25-30 minutes racing on my Brompton just cannot compete with 8+ hours riding through the night.

I was itching to take my Surly out! The Surly Disc Trucker is not a lightweight in any way. It is built like an Abrams tank and as tough. I could have taken a small saddle bag but decided I would take one  Ortlieb City pannier bag. In this I packed:

Light waterproof jacket
Ultra-light Gillet
Windproof Altura jacket
2 x inner tubes
1 x spare chain
3 x oat bars
Battery pack

I certainly wasn't packing light and consequently my bike was quite heavy - just the way I want it. This may seem a rather unwise thing to do - especially as we had been advised to pack only the essentials - but the way I saw it the Surly is a touring bicycle and I wanted to see how it would perform for light touring - assuming you can call this ride, light touring?

I set off for the short ride to the tube station in the knowledge that both Geoff and Dr John would not be in attendance. Thankfully Mark (King of the hill) was though. I arrived at the meeting point on the South Bank in good time. With Mark arriving shortly after we were soon listening to the interactive instructions from ride leader Adrian. After being told to carry out some last minute checks of our tyre and just after midnight we were off.

I found the Surly very comfortable and it was if I had owned it for many years. The bar end shifters again proved to be more than capable and I enjoyed using them. The right shifter gave a satisfying click when moving the chain up and down the cogs and the friction shifter for moving the chain to one of the 3 x chainrings was quick and easy.

It wasn't too long before the last remains of urban finally gave way to a more rural scene. The weather conditions were near perfect. It was Goldilocks weather in many ways. I simply wore a merino base layer and a light jogging top.

A combination of the 1.75 inch tyres, the excellent disc brakes and the fact I felt confident that the Surly would cope with just about any road surface, resulted in me travelling a great deal faster down some of the lengthy descents we encountered. I get I was still being rather cautious but unintentionally clocked up almost 40mph down one of them. For someone who believes in taking it easy down hills, this was quite a shock.

I have to say that I was really enjoying the ride, chatting with Mark and the many other participants and cruising along on the Surly to the extent that our arrival at the halfway stop at the Burstow Scout Hut came as a surprise.

For £5 the mug of tea, sandwich, and cake was a bargain and very welcome. Conversation was rather muted for many - including me - as tiredness crept up slowly in the warmth of the Scout Hut.

Coming out into the early morning dawn I didn't feel too cold at all and only get the need to put on a neck buff - which incidentally came off about 10 minutes later.

When we emerged from the Scout Hut we were about 30 minutes away from the first of the climbs, namely Turners Hill. I ascended this quite comfortably and had not needed to employ the smallest chainring.

With Turners Hill done the next was the famous Ditchling Beacon. We were making such good time that Adrian our ride leader decided to mosey and have a sit down so we could kill a little time. Sadly, the discovery of a broken spoke meant that he could not valiantly lead us over the Beacon. Adam - ride leader for many another night rides to the coast - stepped in and took up the lead for the remainder of the ride.

As we neared the Beacon, signs pointed in its general direction and the anticipation of being able to tackle this formidable climb grew.

Mark was off into the distance when we reached the car park at the base of the Beacon. I readied myself and made my ascent. I took a steady pace and at last found a use for the third chainring. I had been looking forward to using it and I now had my chance. I had a couple of cogs on the cassette left as I eventually neared the top of the beacon.  I had done it. The surly had done me proud and I liked it even more for it.

Naturally, I had to take a few photos at the top of the Beacon. Despite having done this several times in the past, I still enjoy it and yes the false summits did nearly catch me out again.

Those of us who wanted to head into Brighton started to cycle the last few miles. At the seafront and in view of the famous Brighton Pier, I stopped for more photo opportunities.

Wanting to get back to the big smoke, I decided to forgo breakfast and made my way to the Station. Getting on the next available train to Victoria with one other participant who had a similar idea, I made it back in very good time.

As much as I do not want to admit it, big wheels are a great deal easier for this type of distance than those on my Brompton. As for my Surly Disc Trucker, I get how it has such a cult following. I loved using it on this adventure!

I love these nocturnal rides! Many of my family and friends just don't get it and cannot understand or appreciate the appeal. They are truly addictive and I am always looking to see when the next one is. Sadly, this won't be until middle of August! Far too long!!

Monday 11 June 2018

Short London to Brighton Overnight Video

A blog post will follow but I thought I would share a short video I captured with my iPhone and edited on the train home from the last Friday night/Saturday morning night ride to the coast - London to Brighton.

Watch at the highest quality you can. Mac users you can watch in 4K if you open it in Chrome.

Click to watch video

Sunday 3 June 2018

Surly Beginnings

About five years ago, at about the time I was buying my first Brompton and I remember having a go on a friends Surly Long Hall Trucker who was going to use it to cycle 'The Great Divide.' The Surly LHT was so versatile and so customisable that despite being a mountain bike route, his bike was kitted out with wide mountain bike tyres, gearing that could get him up almost any ascent and have front and rear racks to carry all his belongings. He completed 1000 miles of the route  that runs from from Canada to Mexico but due to unforeseen circumstances had to cut short his trip. Upon his return his Surly LHT was converted back to a light tourer with different gearing and wheels. I was in awe of that bike...almost intimidated by it if anything and left it there as a grail bicycle.

A few years later after lots of Brompton adventures I bought a Condor Fratello road bike. This is an all-rounder and could be used for light touring (rear racks / mudguards can be easily fitted) and I instantly fell in love with it. Miles just seemed to fly by

so easily on it. I know that it is a bike a will almost certainly never sell.

Wanting something that was a little more rugged and could do road as well as off-road I went on a few night rides with some devotees to the Specialized AWOL. These are steel bikes a little in the lines of the Surly LHT. I really liked them but didn't get any further than that.

There are times in life when you make a mistake as far as bicycles go. For me that was a Whyte 629 mountain bike. I had some wonderful adventures on it and even used it to rack up most of the miles needed to complete the Rapha 500 in the run up to Christmas 2016. However, despite its quite wonderful off road prowess, on the open road it felt sluggish and I didn't enjoy it. I found that although I liked it for anything off-road or trail-like, as far as the open road was concerned (which was often how I got to the off-road stuff) it was a bit of a chore.

I had to make the decision to sell the Whyte 629 and with that sold and one of my loved Brompton bicycles also being sold - very reluctantly I have to say - I decided to look into buying something like the AWOL or the LHT.

To my shame I was totally unaware that Surly had a version of the LHT with disc brakes - which was something that had stopped me actually buying one before. On a recent night ride to the coast I saw one of the participants on a gorgeous Surly (heavily customised) that looked very much like a Long Haul Trucker but this one had disc brakes? A quick search and I discovered that a disc version had been around for several years in the form of the 'Surly Disc Trucker.'

At home I searched for an old Moleskine notebook in which I had written down a few notes about the LHT and sizing and headed off to the quite wonderful 'Compton Cycles' in Catford to test ride a Disc Trucker.

Sadly, Compton's didn't have the 26" wheel version but with the geometry of the 700c wheeled version being much the same I tested that instead. I was pretty sure that the bike would fit well as I had tested out my friends version several times. (He still has it and uses it by the way and now lives in Canada).

The much more upright riding position, despite having drop handlebars, I found very agreeable and comfortable, more so than on my Condor road bike for which I had a bike fit! The bike had quite wide tyres (wider so on the 26" wheel version I wanted) and I again found them rather good.

The gearing was a bit of a revelation. The Surly's come with bar end shifters. The right one is indexed and the left that controls the shifter from one chainring to another is friction fit. I really enjoyed using these and didn't find them much slower than the much more modern Shimano 105's on my Condor.

The 11-36t cassette, coupled with the 26/36/48t tripple chainring meant that I effectively had the best of both worlds. I had something to get me up the steepest of hills and yet be able to cruise along on the road at a decent pace. When I got back to the shop I placed and order.

On Friday I got an email from Jim at Compton's that the bike was in. Saturday morning I travelled over to Catford with mudguards and rear rack I had ordered in the meantime and handed them over to Jim for fitting once the bike was ready.

Retiring to an establishment that sold tea for a while I returned to find Compton's incredibly busy. Offered a seat while I waited for the bike to be made ready I saw Jim and his team at work. I have to report that if you live anywhere near London, go to Compton Cycles. They are brilliant. There were all manner of customers and enquiries and Jim and his team were absolute troopers!

With the bike ready I wheeled it out and decided to head for Greenwich. I don't know why I just set my Wahoo Bolt to navigate me to there and I was off.

The bike felt really comfortable and it was as if I were riding a bike I had owned for several years as apposed several minutes! Again I really enjoyed using the bar end shifters - something I thought I would have to change straight away.

Arriving at Vicars Hill a fairly steep road it proved to be little trouble for the Surly gearing and I had many more cogs and a whole chainring left in the bag.

Once home I mounted the three bottle mounts the Surly posses, a Brooks B17 saddle and some leather bar tape.

On the open road I found that the 1.75" tyres didn't really slow things down too much. On the straights I could easily cruise along at over 20 mph. It is not an 8kg carbon road bike but nor it is meant to be. It is possibly 14.5 kilos but hey,  I can live with that if I like it as much as I already do.

Taking the bike out early this morning I enjoyed almost 10 miles on the open road and 10 miles along a trail - which had the added bonus of being a disused railway track.

Look up Surly Long Haul Trucker / Disc Trucker on the internet and you'll find people all across the world singing its praises and using it on the most incredible adventures in far flung locations. I am not sure that my one will be taken to places as exotic or remote but its nice to know I could.

My Surly Disc Trucker could very well be the most comfortable bike I have ever owned. I am pretty sure that it will take me on lots of adventures as I have already developed quite a soft spot for it!

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