Surly ECR 2.0
So here it is, my second review of the Surly ECR. My original review was written many centuries ago (…September 2014 ), since then many a harsh winter hath past and the ECR still lives. That said, it is no longer the pristine bicycle that arrived all those months ago. Instead, it has become something much better, a rugged road worn warrior, brandishing the scars of numerous weekend excursions, a head on collision with a French toll barrier and a week cycling through a mountain range. I’m talking a battle hardened, Clint Eastwood squinting, “ Fistful of dollars ” touring tank. I know what you’re thinking: “ oh god, please don’t let this be another completely un-objective and literary bizarre review that leaves me questioning my sexuality and the nature of the universe…”. Well, here at Bicycle Touring Apocalypse, I would hate to disappoint, let's begin.
I would recommend reading my original review, if you haven’t already, in order to gain better understanding of my initial impressions of the ECR. Or don’t, It’s up to you and quite frankly not much has changed, I’m still completely and utterly in love with the ECR. The only difference is that ten months on I couldn’t imagine my life without it. If I had to choose just one word to describe the ECR it would have to be “ fun ”. Riding the ECR always puts a huge smile on my face and fills me with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, taking me back to riding a bicycle for the first time. The ECR is unlike any bike I have ever ridden, its huge geometry (I’ve got the XXL frame) combined with those huge 3” tyres and the Jone H-Bar make for a thrilling, planted and, crucially, unique ride. I completely agree with Logan (Pedalingnowhere.com) among others, who argue that you don’t simply sit on the ECR. Instead, you feel like you’re sitting in the bike’s cockpit. The ECR is not just a bicycle, it’s a time machine. It’ll let you re-live that initial feeling of riding a bike as a kid, the excitement, the possibility and most importantly the overwhelming sense of adventure!
Since owning the ECR I have made some small changes to the stock componentry, but very little. The saddle had to go. If you’re a Brooks advocate like me you’ll know that there’s no other saddle that offers the same comfort and the ECR’s stock saddle (the Velo VL2155) felt like a Fifty Shades of Grey prop. Hence, I immediately ordered a Brooks Flyer and fitted it to the ECR. The combination of a Brooks Flyer with the Surly’s huge 3” tyres provides a degree of comfort I’ve never experienced on any other bicycle, whether I’m riding on tarmac, sand, mud, snow or the surface of the moon. It is blissfully comfortable.
One issue that I did have to address on the ECR was the reach. I opted for the XXL 24” frame, which comes as standard with a 130mm stem. The XXL fits me perfectly, albeit the reach. I’m a tall guy with long arms and I could barely touch the handlebars sitting upright. If anything it feels as though Surly should have made the stem shorter as the frame size increased. The ECR XXL frame is not only big, it’s incredibly long, which, combined with the 130mm stem, forces the rider to lean forward at a rather undesirable angle. Moreover, the beauty of the Jones H-Bar is the endless hand positions, but even with my new 31.8mm stem I struggle to reach any position, other than the conventional grip, without stretching. Some people reading this will no doubt argue I should have opted for the XL ( 22” ) frame instead and perhaps they’re right. However, the frame itself fits me like a dream and I’m not sure I would have wanted anything smaller. Also, I have yet to incur any back pain so I can’t really complain!
The Jones H-Bar is an excellent handlebar for bicycle touring, largely due to the huge range of available hand positions. In order to comfortably utilise these positions, I applied touring bar tape to the Jones H-Bar. I’ve taped drop bars in the past and presumed the H-Bar would be a struggle. However, despite its unusual style, the Jones H-Bar was actually pretty straightforward. That said, I’d strongly advise practising beforehand to identify the most effective wrapping technique. Additionally, you’ll probably need two rolls of tape if you’re using standard stuff, so a join is almost inevitable. Therefore, part of the skill is locating the most discreet point for a seamless join. There is no right or wrong way. I watched several demos online and ended up using a strategy that incorporated a few of them, plus my own quirks. After several mistakes and endless tinkering I was very happy with the finished product. Further still, the tape provides an excellent grippy surface for the addition of lights, GPS, handlebar-bag, etc,.
Although I keep my pack-list as light as possible, my large Canon DSLR means a frame bag combined with a seat and handlebar harness is not quite enough space, so a pannier rack is often a necessity. Unfortunately there are not a huge number of racks available for the ECR. Many forums praise Old Man Mountain racks but I just don’t like the way they fit to the bike (….both the front and rear racks for the ECR look almost detached from the bike, which is annoying for both saddle/handlebar bags - see photo here). Logan from Pedaling Nowhere used a Tubus Vega, which seems to work well, see his review. I eventually opted for Surly’s Rear Rack, which despite being annoyingly weighty….and I mean 1260g weighty, does fit the ECR extremely well. Moreover, the rack allows for a huge amount of adjustment so you can personalise it to your desired set up ( they also have a front rack which fits the ECR ). The Surly racks are heavy and I would potentially opt for a small saddlebag mount from the likes of Carradice in future to support my Longflap Camper saddle bag. Although, I’d advise caution as I can imagine a smaller seat-post mount would struggle to support a heavy saddlebag and may work itself loose on the rough stuff. There’s definitely something to be said for the bulletproof durability of the Surly rack. Further still, the larger Surly option is ideal for attaching additional mounts/dry bags/food etc. At the end of the day although the rack is heavy, my setup is pretty light, so it doesn’t bother me. Another small addition was a StemCaptain clock, because, well, I liked it!
The last addition I made to the ECR was some pedals….because it didn’t come with any. I have to say it’s a little cheeky when expensive bikes like the ECR don’t come with stock pedals. Not only is it bad considering the price, but not being able to ride your new Surly ECR when it arrives is soooo frustrating! Anyway, I got hold of some relatively cheap MTB pedals and they’ve been great. Cool, so that covers my changes to the stock componentry and so far I have managed to stay largely on topic...frankly a miracle! Onwards and downwards….luggage set up!
There are hundreds of options when it comes to loading up the ECR and I still have a lot to learn! The huge number of braze-ons means you can mount your gear almost anywhere and this allows for a very personal setup. I’m already exploring some variations, but here’s my current line-up:
Wildcat Gear are a UK based company who produce innovative, durable and purpose built Bikepacking Gear. The Leopard is a bespoke frame bag made to fit your bike’s geometry and offers an excellent weather proofed storage solution. The company offer additional customisations including a map pocket, hose port and several other neat touches to ensure your frame bag meets all your Bikepacking requirements.
The Tom Cat is an ingenious storage solution that fits neatly inside the Jones H-Bar. I use this handy bag to store snacks or small items I need regular access to e.g. phone, compass, multi-tool, etc. N.B. the Tom Cat will slightly impede on the numerous hand positions achievable with the Jones Bar, this doesn’t bother me but is worth noting.
The Mountain Lion is a rugged harness system that allows you to safely strap items just below the handlebars. I use the harness to hold a large dry bag that contains my Hilleberg Nallo 2, clothes and a few other soft items. However, I’m going to store less in the dry bag on my next trip as it put too much stress on my brake and gearing cables.
The Lioness cleverly attaches to the front of your loaded Mountain Lion harness. I use this bag to carry my stove and cooking utensils.
The Gas Tank fits between the top-tube and handlebar stem, see my review. I love innovative bags that make the most of wasted space and this is a prime example. I use the Gas Tank primarily for snacks and essential items I need access to whilst on the move. However, I cannot fit the Gas Tank when using my Wildcat Gear Leopard frame bag as there’s no space to connect the bag to the top-tube, I may cut away a small section of the Leopard to allow fitment before my next trip. N.B. I'd recommend checking out brands such as Porcelain Rocket whose frame bags attach to the top tube using three seperate velcro straps, thus allowing space for additional bags like the Gas Tank.
The Jerrycan, like the Gas Tank, makes use of wasted space and fits conveniently between the seat stem and top-tube. The Jerrycan is very small and personally I think they could have made it a little larger. However, it still provides some handy additional space which I use for snacks……I know what you’re thinking….he uses every bag for snacks!
I love this bag. It’s pretty heavy, quite fiddly to access when fully loaded and probably not the immediate choice for most Bikepackers, but I just love it! The bag provides lots of storage, awesome weather proofing, extreme durability and has been a faithful companion on almost all of my trips. The bag has two sets of straps which allow it to be expanded in order to accommodate additional luggage. This feature has proved really useful when I’ve needed to carry extra supplies. If the bag is really stuffed the buckles are not easy to undo and in freezing temperatures can be quite painful to release. However, this is only usually the case when the bag is overloaded, which is not advisable anyway. I used the bag to carry some of my larger items including my Thermarest, sleeping bag, tent poles, camera lens, Tupperware and some of my electrical devices. I put too much in the Longflap on my last trip so I’m going to make some gear revisions to minimise the pack-list. I’m currently in the process of replacing numerous bulkier items with lighter, more compact alternatives, so this should help.
This bottle cage allows you to carry large 2 litre bottles/flasks/fuel containers with ease. Moreover, the mk3 has an awesome quick release feature that provides seamless attachment/detachment from the bike. I’m currently using the Bikebuddy to hold my Trangia fuel container but I may move this to the front fork and replace it with a large 1.2 litre Klean Kanteen bottle to address my limited water capacity at present.
Although I have a number of changes I want to make to my set-up I’m generally pretty pleased with my current rig and will prioritise minimising my pack-list before drastically altering my bike’s storage.
During my most recent trip through the Black Forest in Germany the Surly ECR performed flawlessly and was unquestionably the bike for the job. I’ve ridden a lot of bikes in my time but none have won my heart quite like the Surly. The ECR isn’t just a bicycle, it’s a travelling companion, driving you onward whatever the world throws at you. In my original review I applauded Surly for encouraging riders to escape traditional cycling routes and venture into the unknown. The Surly ECR is a testament to this ethos. If Frodo had ridden an ECR to Mordor, Tolkien would have finished his book in one chapter and Sam would be seeking a new vocation at the job centre. Further still, the bike is immeasurably cool and with the ECR fully loaded you won’t look out of place on the set of Mad Max or The Walking Dead…I plan to fit a cross-bow to the Jones-Bar….a Shotgun holster to the top tube…..and learn all of Clint Eastwards one liners for use on a daily basis……
- Riding companion: “ I think we should take this route…”
- Me: “Opinions are like assholes, everybody has one.” – The Dead Pool
- Riding companion: “ Sorry….what!??”
- Me: “When a naked man is chasing a woman through an alley with a butcher knife and a hard-on, I figure he isn't out collecting for the Red Cross.” – Dirty Harry
- Riding companion: “Is that…are you quoting Clint Eastwood again…”.
- Me: “ you've got to ask yourself one question--Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk!” – Dirty Harry
- Riding companion: “….We’ve spoke about this…you promised it would stop…”
- Me: “If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.” – The Rookie
The Surly ECR is the perfect all terrain touring rig. The only limit is your imagination.