Building a Rivendell-inspired Surly Long Haul Trucker

LHT

October 2012

Surly 62cm Long Haul Trucker F&F
Chris King 1 1/8 NoThreadset headset
SKF BAS-600 JIS 110mm Bottom Bracket
Shimano XT M772 Shadow 9sp Rear Mech
Shimano XT M771 Conventional 9sp Front Mech
Shimano HG61 9 Speed Cassette 12-36
Sugino XD-2 175mm Crank, Triple 46x36x24
9 Spd Shimano Dura Ace SL-BS77 Bar End Gear Levers
MKS Sylvan Touring Pedals
SRAM PC 971 Chain 9 Speed
Tektro CR720 Cantilever Brakes + Kool Stop Salmon pads
Shimano BL-R400 brake levers
Tektro Adjustable Front Cantilever Hanger
SRAM Slickwire Brake Cable Kit
Velo Orange 26.0/100mm Threadless Stem, +/-6 Rise
Newbaum Handlebar tape
Nitto Noodle Mod 177 44cm handlebars
Nitto SP72 'Jaguar' seat post
Brooks B-17 Champion Special Honey
Shimano 36H Deore XT (FH/HB T780) hubs on Exal LX17 rims. Wheels built by David C. R. Hunt.
700 x 35C Schwalbe Marathon Supreme folding tyres
SKS P45 Mudguards

Nitto M12 front rack
Wald 137 basket
Carradice Nelson Longflap saddle bag
Velo Orange brass bell

I built this bicycle in my shed. If you are thinking of building a Surly Long Haul Trucker or a Bobish bike, this out-pouring of bike-geekery may be of interest to you.

The Robin Mather

Over the summer, I decided to sell my previous bike because I no longer rode it. It was a custom-built, fixed gear road bike. It was custom in every sense. I built the bike myself in 2004 from carefully selected parts and had the frame and fork made for me by Robin Mather. It was a lovely bike but it was not versatile, nor was it meant to be. However, I no longer commute through London traffic; I no longer want to do circuits around a track, and now living in Lincolnshire, the long, flat roads are as boring as hell on a single speed, fixed gear bike. So I sold it and started accumulating parts for a Surly Long Haul Trucker (LHT). I should say that Robin mostly builds very versatile and beautiful bikes, offering a discount to anyone ordering a frame designed to fit racks and mudguards. I think my track-oriented frame was a bit of an exception for him.

Anyway, I chose the LHT because I wanted something much more versatile. I wanted to be able to fit mudguards and racks; I wanted a bike with a larger frame so I wasn't constantly hunched over, to ditch the clipless pedals and ride in any shoes. I wanted to carry luggage and feel relatively self sufficient; I wanted the bike to be ready to ride whatever the weather and whatever clothes and footwear I happened to be wearing. It had to be tough, so I could ride on gravel and dirt, take tyres that were twice the width of what I'd previously been riding and therefore lower pressure and more comfortable. In short, I wanted to be an Unracer.

I've been visiting the Rivendell Bicycle Works website and reading the writing of its owner, Grant Peterson, for a decade, and this time around I have designed a bike based almost entirely on his advice and it's great! By selling my Robin Mather and pulling some cash together, I had a fairly strict budget of £1500 to build my next bike.

Now, were money no question, the frame and fork I really would have liked is the Rivendell Atlantis, but it's three times the price of the LHT and that's before the import fees and VAT (in total, I reckon it would cost about £1700 to have the Atlantis F+F imported to the UK - for that, you could ask Mercian to built a copy). There are no UK resellers of Rivendell bikes as far as I know. Using the Atlantis as my guide, I decided on a Surly LHT. It's a very well regarded frame and fork that is often compared to the Atlantis. It's not a lugged frame, which is a shame, but that's one reason why it's more affordable.

Frame + Fork and sizing

Choosing the frame size took some time as there are no Surly retailers near to me - all components were bought by mail order. I am 186cm tall and my Pubic Bone Height is 92.5cm, so the Rivendell sizing puts me on a 64cm 700c frame. However, comparing the LHT and Atlantis geometry, the comparable 64cm frames differed in their top-tube length with the effective top tube length of the 64cm LHT being 1.5cm longer than the Atlantis (the LHT is renown for its relatively long top-tube). Comparing the 64cm Atlantis with both the 62 and 64cm LHT, the closest overall match seems to be the 62cm LHT, so I eventually settled on that. Having now built the bike up, it was definitely the right choice. The stand over height of the 62cm frame is just right for me and the top tube length is fine too. At the moment I am using a 100mm stem I bought on impulse on eBay, but at some point I'm going to try 90mm. The 100mm feels great on hills, but on the level I find myself moving to the flat tops of the bars to sit more upright. I'm also experimenting with saddle position, too; currently, it's set right back. The bottom of the saddle is a traditional six inches from the top of the top tube and the handlebar height is perfect at just above the saddle height. I don't think you can expect to get the stem length and saddle position right without riding any bike for some time.

While discussing this frame and fork, I will add that black was not my first colour of choice, but it's the only colour the 62cm was available in across the UK. I called a couple of Surly dealers and they both said that they could only get the black model and checking the distributor's website confirmed this, too. I was hoping for the dark green - actually, I'd much prefer 'Bridgestone orange' or 'Jobst Brandt yellow'. At one point I thought about trying to find an extra £400 to buy the nice looking, Grant Peterson-designed Soma San Marcos, which is available in the UK, but I couldn't justify the expense and it's further away from the versatility of the Rivendell Atlantis that was my inspiration/aspiration. I like the idea that the LHT can be quite easily turned into an old-skool mountain bike some day (this is nice, too).

A few more comments on the LHT frame and fork before I move on: My first impression of the fork was that the blades are pretty substantial and finished off with larger dropouts than I have been used to. It's got a brazed crown, rather than being TIG welded like the rest of the frame, which I appreciate. It has various braze-ons for three water bottles, brakes, cables, mudguards, spare spokes and front and rear racks.

The frame and fork are finished in black powdercoat, which is basically a paint, but more specifically a coating of tough plastic. It's harder wearing than enamel paint. When I found out I could only get the LHT in black I considered having it resprayed by Dave Yates, who lives nearby, but in addition to the cost of respray, it costs more to remove the powdercoat because of its toughness. A testament to this was when I removed all but one of the Surly decals (ugly things) with a credit card. It's not easy and requires quite vigorous scraping, but the powdercoat was left unmarked.

The TIG welds on the frame are quite neat and quite well concealed by the powdercoat. Having just sold a silver brazed custom frame with hand carved lugs and a polished stainless fork crown, the TIG welds don't do much for me, but I don't mind them either. They are tidy, strong and the frame and fork cost five times less than my Robin Mather frame and fork would today.

Wheels

Finally moving on from the frame and fork... I had the wheels built by David Hunt who I stumbled across on the Internet. His prices were right and after a couple of email exchanges it was clear that he had a very thoughtful approach to building wheels, advising me against my initial preference, second guessing why I might have preferred a particular Shimano hub over another, but ultimately reassuring me that the Deore XT hubs, Exal rims and a mix of spokes on the back wheel would be very strong and durable. I thought they were a good price, too, and two weeks later, they arrived well packaged in a massive box and I am very pleased with them.

For tyres, I chose the Schwalbe Marathon Supremes. I've not used this tyre before, having ridden 120psi 700x23 road tyres until now. They are a nice, folding, semi-slick touring tyre; not especially heavy and apparently very puncture proof, which is important to me (update: a thorn punctured my front tyre in the first month of use). Previously I ran Specialised Armadillos for their puncture resistance (not one puncture ever, all the time I commuted 100 miles a week across London). The Schwalbes also have a nice reflective strip all the way around the sidewall and they recommend 50-80psi of air, so they can be run quite soft. I have them at 70psi right now as I carry luggage most of the time and I weigh around 91KG/200lbs.

Having mudguards on the bike (actually having a frame and fork that would take mudguards) was a top priority for me and the SKS P45 are great value. They are plastic but look more like metal, except that they won't rust and have a decent amount of flex in them, too. They're a pain to fit and I had to hacksaw the supports on the front to get a decent fit, but now they're firmly in place and work really well in the rain.

Brakes

The cantilever brakes are Tektro CR720, as recommended, like most of my components, by Rivendell Bicycle Works. They are good quality, well finished and highly adjustable. They are the first cantilever brakes I've ever owned, and it took me a while to figure out how to adjust them correctly, but now they work well. At first, I experienced a shuddering in the front brake and have since swapped the pads out for Koolstop salmon pads, as I had on my Mather. They are an improvement on the Tektro pads and I have also spent more time adjusting them, slightly toe in, which has reduced the shuddering. It was a toss up between the Tektro and the Shimano CX70 cantilever brakes, the Shimano being twice the price, and despite looking very, very nicely finished, I'm pleased with the Tektro and I like the high profile design more than the low profile design of the Shimano. Despite being high-profile, they haven't got in the way of anything yet and I can't see how they ever will.

Together with the Tektro brakes, I'm using an SRAM Slickwire cable kit and Shimano BL-R400 aero levers from my previous bike. It all feels good. I don't know why the LHT doesn't come with a rear barrel adjuster for the added convenience though.

Headset

The fork is attached to the frame with a Chris King 'NoThreadset' threadless headset. I've had one of these before when I briefly owned a Surly Steamroller and it's a very distinctive component with a good warranty. Fitting it wasn't too difficult, although being the first time I'd actually installed one, it took me a while to figure out how to fit the headset without £200 of professional tools. I used a piece of plastic tubing and a rubber mallet to seat the baseplate on the fork crown and a home-made clamp for seating the upper and lower bearing ring assays in the head tube. Total cost: £7. I took my time and it all went well. I'd asked the dealer I bought the frame and fork from whether he thought the head tube and bottom bracket shell would need reaming and he said that in his experience the Surly frames came adequately finished from the factory. To be sure, I checked carefully and ran some fine sandpaper around the areas of contact with the headset prior to installing it. I also treated the inside of the frame and fork to a very liberal spraying of waxy rust inhibitor a couple of days before building the bike.

Stem and bars

Having bought the frame and fork, I expected to have to cut the fork tube down to size, but in fact I'm using the full length of the steerer. On the 62cm frame the uncut steerer extends just under 8cm above the head tube. You can see in the pictures that I have 2 x 10mm spacers, plus the bell spacer (10mm) and brake adjustment spacer (10mm) plus the 40mm of the stem height. I was really pleased that I didn't have the hassle of cutting the steerer. My stem is a +/- 6 degree Velo Orange. I could raise the bars further with a +17 degree stem, but I've no need to. For a while I considered getting a Nitto CT-80 stem, but the removable face plate on the Velo Orange wins for the convenience of not having to strip the bars every time I want to remove them. By the way, the choice of silver 26.0mm ahead stems is pretty poor. Bars and stems are mostly black these days, which is a shame.

The bars are 44cm wide Nitto Noodles, which I retained from my Robin Mather. I have tried many variations of drop bar, straight bar and moustache bar, and these are my favourite, offering comfortable hand positions on the back, sides and drops of the bars. In the future, I want to switch to 48cm wide bars as I reckon they'll be even more comfortable. They are wrapped in Newbaum's 'eggplant' cotton tape (2 and a bit rolls), which is finished with some green garden twine I had lying around in the shed. The twine is wrapped according to the RBW video and sealed with Shellac ('French Polish'). The smell of the Shellac brings back wonderful memories of my dad restoring antique furniture. In addition to the bars, I also used the Newbaum tape to protect my right chainstay and twined and shellac'd that too.

Seat and post

The seat post is a Nitto SP72 (NJS) that I kept from my Robin Mather, held tight with the Surly stainless steel clamp that came with the frame. The clamp requires more torque that I expected, perhaps due to my weight but also the weight of the saddle bag (which carries a heavy Kryptonite lock, among other things). The saddle is a honey Brooks B17 Champion Special with copper rails. It's stunning. The 62cm frame means I have a 'fistful of post' showing, which I prefer compared to what now looks like a ridiculous amount of post extended on my previous bike. The saddle height is 80cm and just slightly lower than the level of my bars. So far I've had no shoulder or neck pain from riding 40 miles, so it seems about right. The saddle took a couple of weeks to become comfortable. In the past, I've soaked Brooks saddles in Neatsfoot oil to supple up the thick leather, but it means that everything you wear thereafter gets marked by remnants of the oil, so I'm inclined to just break this saddle in the slow way and condition it as required.

Crank, bottom bracket, pedals

The crank is the Sugino XD-2, imported from Rivendell in California because I couldn't find a source in stock in the UK. It's a beautifully finished crank and altogether cost much less than I've paid for track cranks in the past. I ordered it with three chain rings (46,36,24). Unlike my previous Sugino 75 track crank, it didn't need dust caps due to having a rubber seal around the 8mm Allen bolts. The crank spins on a SKF BAS-600 bottom bracket with a 110mm JIS tapered spindle. I was going to get a Phil Wood BB as I have done before, but when you add up the price of the bottom bracket and the mounting cups, it was about £120. Phil Wood are beautiful components, but I'd read great things about the SKF bottom bracket, which comes with a ten year warranty. SKF basically set the international standard for ball bearing quality, so I ordered one from the only importer in the UK I could find (odd that a German component is first exported to the USA and then imported to the UK). It cost £90 and took almost a month to arrive, but it should last for years and it's nice to have a few special parts on your bike, even if no one else can see them! It was very easy to fit and doesn't require an expensive tool like the Phil Wood does.

I'm using MKS Sylvan touring pedals, which I've had before. They're fine, but I'm leaning more towards a larger pedal with extra grip, too.

Dérailleurs and shifters

This is the first bike I've owned with dérailleur gears and like much of the bike, I based my decisions on which front and rear dérailleur to buy from reading the Rivendell website. The gear system is 9-speed and comprised of Shimano Dura Ace SL-BS77 bar-end shifters, Shimano XT M771 front mech, Shimano XT M772 SGS rear dérailleur and a Shimano HG61(bh) cassette. It has resulted in a massive range of gears, unusually so on a road bike, I believe.

As this is my first real experience with a geared bike, it took me a while to understand how to set it up. It's actually not that difficult, but I'm left wondering whether I have the right front mech for the chain rings. The issue I've had with it is that the inside plate of the mech rubs on the middle ring if positioned as per the Shimano instructions. Basically, all advice I could find is to position the outer plate of the front mech so that it sits about 1-2mm above the outer chainring, but if I do this, the inside plate hits the teeth of the middle chainring. If I position the outer plate of the front mech about 4-5mm above the large chain ring it clears the middle chain ring. It shifts fine this way (friction mode), but being new to dérailleur gears it confused me for a while. If the large ring was 48T instead of 46T, it wouldn't happen but then I'm not sure if the profile of the mech plate would match the chainring as well. It's times like this that I'd love to chat with an experienced bike mechanic who's happy to advise on friction shifters and a mix-and-match drive chain. I'm getting used to riding a geared bike but it's going to take time to really understand how best to use them.

Racks and luggage

Finally, finally, I fitted a Nitto M12 front rack, Wald 137 basket and Carradice Nelson Longflap saddle bag. Each of these are excellent quality (the Carradice bag is especially impressive) and altogether should be sufficient for overnight camping trips when the weather improves. The M12 rack is quite small and unless you have an appropriate bag, I recommend getting a basket. For longer trips, I intend to eventually buy the Tubus Cosmos and Nova racks with Ortlieb Roller Plus pannier bags, but that's £400 I don't have right now… The basket and saddlebag are used day-to-day, carrying a heavy lock and cable, waterproofs, tools, my lunch, etc. I used to carry all of that on my back with my Robin Mather :-)

If you want to discuss any of this or offer any suggestions, feel free to leave a comment below or join the Surly LHT mailing list. Thanks.

comments powered by Disqus