Monday, December 21, 2015

Enter the Monkey

As I was doing my usual daily internet bike check a few weeks back, I came across a great deal on a Surly Karate Monkey frameset. I jumped on it, even though I need yet another steel/rigid/single speed/29er not at all. I had an idea that I might be able to cram a 29+ in the rear of the Monkey, potentially obsoleting both my Mukluk and my Ritchey.

Turns out, even with "Fatties Fit Fine" clearance, it's just a bit tight back there for a 29+ tire. My Knard would spin, but it was very close. Since the Dirt Wizard is measured to run a bit smaller bead to bead, I traded my Titec H bar for a new DW, only to find that while the casing may be smaller, the big cornering knobs rub on the chainstays.

This setback really took the wind out of my sails. I had grand visions that I could possibly dimple the chainstays a bit more to get the clearance I needed, but I don't think there's enough material back there to make this feasible (I also had an idea to cut off the stupid looking set tube brace, but I doubt I'll get brave enough). I started pushing the Monkey on my buddy Sean, who is my height and has not a single steel/rigid/single speed/29er in his garage. While Sean was hemming and hawing, I got bored and went ahead and finished the build last weekend:

I finally got around to installing the Shimano hydro brakes that I got back when I ordered my Ritchey. Not only were the cables too long, but they were swapped R/L (British style, since I ordered from a UK site). Conceptually, this didn't seem like a big deal, but when I took it for a quick test spin... man, that was constantly confusing. I hadn't installed these brakes in five months because I hate bleeding brakes, but the excellent tips I found here allowed me to do the shorten and swap operation without bleeding. It took less than 30 minutes, working slowly, and they worked great afterwards. No bleeding.

I have to say, I really love hydraulic brakes now. They make the cable discs on my Ritchey feel like a loose collection of wires and pulleys.

The surprising thing to me was how great the KM rode. The chainstays run about 10mm shorter than the Ritchey, and combined with the steeper head angle, gives the bike a snappy handling that I didn't know I've been missing.

Yesterday, Henry and I did a bit of trail work on the Avery Park woodlot trail, where we found someone had made this sorta shelter:

With the trail in better shape, I rolled out my little mountain bike fleet for some comparo riding. First up was the Monkey:

Yes, I still hate track ends:

They're theoretically light and simple, until you add some stupid widget to keep your wheel from slipping forward. With a single speed, it's not too terrible, but adding gears to this setup is adding headaches.

I love me them brakes:

Enough clearance at the seatstays for a 29+, though I'm showing a 2.35 Ikon here:

Alas, it's tighter at the chainstays:

With my wheel slammed forward as much as a 32x20 gear setup allows (about 437mm chainstays), I would get a bit of tire rub on hard corners or hard accelerations.

I've been riding my relatively slack Mukluk and Ritchey lately, so it was refreshing to get on the sharper handling Monkey. It had a lighter feel pushing into corners, and I could corner more confidently wherever I went. What surprised me more was how nicely the KM rode and accelerated: it's not quite as springy as the skinnier tubed Ritchey, but it's still very, very nice. Maybe I'm just feeling the new bike glow, or maybe Surly has been able to lighten up the tube set knowing that they have the Ogre for heavier duty riders.

The Ritchey was up next:

At first, it felt really odd. The bars are only about 10mm lower than the saddle (they're about even on the Monkey), but it felt quite hunched over. I swapped a spacer to under the stem (above) which brought them closer. Otherwise, same gearing as the KM, same fork, same wheels and tires... and the KM was better pretty much everywhere (well, it's hard to beat that red, white and blue paint scheme). Easier to lift the front wheel, better cornering, and they felt about the same under hard pedaling.

I rolled out the Mukluk as well:

Mostly this was to compare a full 29+ bike to a 29+ on the front only. When I rode the KM at Alum on Saturday, the smaller rear tire really felt like it was holding me back, bouncing off obstacles the front easily swallowed.  I think this was due to the tire pressure being too low, because it wasn't nearly as pronounced today after I'd aired up the tire.

Anyway, I keep waiting for the extra wide bottom bracket of the fatbike to feel too weird to me, but it hasn't happened yet. My annual Christmas present to myself this year may be an adjustable headset for the Muk, so I could *steepen* the head angle and get it to act more like the KM. Possibly I would have the only quick handling fatbike around.

I was also trying my new grip setup on the Jones Loop bar:

Rather than pay $28 for a set of extra long grips from Jones, I cut a cheap pair in half so I could cover the whole grip area. Works great, and makes the Loop bar just that much better.

So the Mukluk is a keeper for now, but I think the Monkey may drive the Ritchey out of the garage. It feels a bit like dumping Jennifer Lawrence to go out with the surly girl next door, but sometimes things don't work out the way you expect.


  1. Surly Ultra New bolt on hub may change your opinion of track ends. I like mine a lot. No slipping, and no need for the bottle openers. $100 or less, well spent. IMO, gears on a '12 frame is frustrating. That bike wants to be kept SS.

    1. I don't really want to build up a new wheel, so I'll deal with the tugnut and just complain about it :)
      But I agree, it's not too onerous if I keep it single speed.

  2. Panaracer 29x3 fat b nimble with your dropouts farther back

  3. Panaracer fat b nimble with dropouts farther back would probably work


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