Surly Karate Monkey: Reviewed

A few months ago, I decided to sell one of my hardtails. I have been considering a Surly dirt road touring bike for some time. I just did not have enough room in the garage. I really liked the Ogre and the ECR for their ability to carry a heavy load over a big distance on rough terrain. But, I decided to go with the Karate Monkey which allows you to instal a suspension fork if you really want to hit some technical singletrack.

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Surly frames are made of 4130 CroMoly Steel. This is especially dear to my heart. You can find lighter bikes for sure, but nothing rides like steel. The fork is also 4130 CroMoly steel and has enough bosses for all types of touring and bikepacking. The frame has ample bosses for 3 bottle cages or oversized gear cages. The Karate Monkey has rack and fender mounts, making it a more than worthy commuter. Modern touches, like thru axles and hydraulic disc brakes, really round out this solid offering. 

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After more than a handful of rides, I think I can supply opinion. First, as you know, I’m fond of steel bikes. Not in the way of vintage, but modern steel with a classic look. I’ve owned plenty of carbon and aluminum bikes. They are stiff, light and fast, but I prefer the plush ride of quality steel. I’ve pedaled through some rough, technical singletrack, gravel roads and Jeep trails. The ride quality is there. It’s pretty quick when it needs to be and smooth over rough terrain. The only drawback might be the weight. Loaded up for a weekend excursion, it probably wouldn’t be first up any hill. But that’s not why you buy this bike. You buy it because it’s versatile. It can be set up as a 29er, 27.5, single speed, geared or as Surly says in about 487 different configurations.
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I was between sizes, so I decided on an XL frame. I did not want to be cramped on longer excursions. Because of the larger frame, I needed to shorten the stem, so I opted for an 80mm Salsa Guide. SRAM NX 11 speed shifters, 30t crankset and rear derailleur, paired with Sunrace’s 11-42t cassette make for a more than capable drivetrain, however, the SRAM Level brakes could probably be upgraded. The 27.5 X 3” Surly Dirt Wizard tires are up to the task. After a few rides, I purchased and installed a Surly Moloko handlebar. It offers multiple hand positions and handles just about any bag you throw on it. To spice it up a little, I slapped on a set of Kona Wah Wah pedals and Van’s Grips, both in purple.
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If you want a rig that can handle singletrack, touring, bikepacking, gravel roads or Jeep trails, the Karate Monkey is your next bike!

What’s playing (what am I listening to while writing or what’s dancing around in my head while riding), today: The Animals – It’s all Over Now, Baby Blue

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