Gear Review – Surly Troll

Thanks for checking out this gear review on Explores Inc.

I tend to ramble, so if you want to skip to the actual review, click here.

Or, if you don’t want to read, you can check out the video review instead:

Trolling – Experience

So you understand where I am coming from:

I’ve barely broken in this Troll after 2 years. I originally purchased it to bike across the USA in 2019 (which ultimately didn’t work out). Since then it I have put over 2,500 miles on it riding primarily on roads and bike trails. Like I said, it’s barely broken in.

The Troll got me through the C&O Canal (185 miles) from Washington DC to Cumberland, MD in 2 days; a mildly impressive feat considering the bike was fully loaded. If you are familiar with the C&O Canal then you know that it can be quite a bumpy and muddy ride in spots (but they are slowly making improvements).

After finishing the C&O Canal I continued on the Great Allegheny Passage (much smoother) to Pittsburgh in about 1.5 days.

That’s just to show what this bike is capable of: 330+ miles of bumpy gravel trails in less than 4 days while hauling a lot of cargo.

Loaded troll along the C&O Canal – did I mention I had a lot of cargo?

Do you like your bike?

I have had people stop me on the road and ask me if:

1) “that’s a Surly Troll?!? Do you like it?”
2) “Is it fast?”

The answer(s) to question 1 is of course “yes I like my bike”, but believe it or not I’ve been asked the second question many times and each time I’m still surprised. This is a steel-frame bike with wide tires. It’s not a racing bike. Of course it isn’t fast! That being said, it is a smooth ride and it can keep a decent pace for what it is.

Speed isn’t everything

When people ask me if the Troll is fast, I make the analogy:

“if a road bike is a sports car, then the Troll is a tractor-trailer.  It can go fast, but it’s designed to carry heavy loads over long distances at a steady pace”

Let’s say the average road bicyclist can move at 20 mph on flat terrain. Now put that bicyclist on the Troll. He or she will probably be moving around 12-15 mph. Get the picture?

Sidebar: I find it interesting that so many people will reduce the measure of a bike’s utility down to one variable: speed. As if the bike is not fast, it is not worth owning. Blasphemous!

Troll Review

Below are my two cents based on my experience riding the bike. Every rider is different so take everything with a grain of salt (as they say).

Here are the specs from Surly.

Frame and Fork

In one word: excellent. I specifically got this bike because it has almost too many attachment/mounting points to hold cargo in just about every configuration possible. The frame is made from sturdy steel and Surly makes some of the best steel frames in the world. Everything that came “stock” with the Troll was what I was looking for. Stability, versatility (trail and road), room for wide tires (but not huge), and handlebars with several hand positions.

As much as I wanted to go with the Long Haul Trucker (LHT), I opted for the Troll because it seemed to offer a little more stability/versatility. The LHT is built more as a road bike (of course it can be converted to handle better on the trails), but the Troll has all that from the get-go, and that sold it for me.

Front of the frame and fork – pardon the bungee cords

Handlebars

My one complaint for the Troll is the handlebars. The stock bars on the Troll (at least when I purchased it) are the Surly Moloko handlebars. Surly touts the Molokos as “allowing a multitude of hand positions” and “has plenty of spots to mount your various accessories”. Both statements are 100% true, but…

Maybe it is just me, but I don’t find the Molokos comfortable. When I bought the Troll, the owner of the bike shop cut the bar-ends off by an inch so that I would not be reaching so wide.  This helped, but during my cross-country ride, I couldn’t find a comfortable hand position similar to a mountain or road bike that I was familiar with. This lead me to put too much pressure on my hands at some uncomfortable angles which caused me to damage my ulnar nerve and end my trip early. I was also riding a lot on bumpy terrain with a loaded bike so I share the blame for my injury.

At a minimum, I recommend wrapping the handlebars with shock absorbent grip tape. The grips that come with the handlebars don’t do much for comfort in my opinion. Don’t knock the Troll just because of the handlebars. You can always swap them out for something that suits you better (which I plan to do soon).

Moloko handlebars

Tires

I remember reading a lot of critical reviews on the tires. I have put over 2,500 miles on them and have not had any issues. No flats, no leaks, no repairs necessary so far.

The Surly “Extraterrestrial” (E.T.) 2.5 inch tires are built for all terrain. I think the width and tread strike a good balance for riding on all surfaces. Sure the wider tires will slow you down on the road, but when the Troll is loaded with cargo, the wider tires really help distribute the weight and add to your stability. Of course, the tires can handle bumpy trails even with a lot of weight on the bike.

Surly ET tires – tire width and tread strikes a good balance for all surfaces

Geometry and Comfort

Overall: good geometry. Surly puts a lot of thought into things like this. That’s part of the reason why you pay the premium for a Surly bike. The reach seems a little far for me (and I have long arms). I went to a professional and they sized the bike for me, so frame-sizing is not the issue here. Perhaps a shorter stem would help

There is no suspension on the Troll. Regardless, it’s pretty comfortable for not having any suspension. A good idea would be to add a seatpost with suspension; especially if you are on the trail a lot of the time.

Components

The components are great overall. Surly has a mix of brands constituting the components and I am not familiar with all of them. I’ve highlighted the major components below.

Drivetrain

Derailleurs are Shimano Deore; components that are very reliable. Gear “slipping” essentially does not happen. The entire drivetrain can get filthy dirty on the trail and still run relatively smooth. Routine maintenance should make these last a long time.

Crankset and front derailleur – it’s a little worn after a few thousand miles

Shifters

Shifters are reliable and responsive. The thumb shifters don’t get in the way as much as most mountain bikes since the moloko handlebars have a lot of width to them.

Brakes

I’m embarrassed to admit, but this was the first bike I have owned with disc brakes. The brakes are certainly more responsive than most rim brakes. The levers and discs (that came with my model) are made by Avid.

Avid disc brakes

Wait…they’re not making the Troll anymore?

According to Surly, the Troll will be discontinued in 2021 (at least temporarily). I’m glad I’m reviewing the bike now. A little late to the party I suppose. Maybe it will become a highly sought-after bike in the future.

My two cents

I suppose that is everything that I can think of worth talking about for the Troll. I bought this bike to have for a very long time and someday perhaps be able to ride around the world with it. I have read blogs about people cycling around the world and what they are able to put their bike through. I have no doubt that the Troll could handle a similar journey.

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