Our_Surly_bicycles attract a lot of attention, which can be attributed to both their “Agent Orange” paintjobs, the brightly colored Ortlieb bags that hang from them, and the gringos riding them. A while ago we struck up a conversation with an employee of a grocery store who was moving carts in the parking lot. He noticed our bicycles and asked about them. At one point I was describing how protective we were of our steeds. “These bicycles are our lives for a year.” And it is true.
Our wheels get a lot of attention as well, mainly because at first glance they appear like single-speed bicycle wheels. Once you look closer, however, you notice the cable housings for the shifting mechanism and the oversized rear hub. Enter the magic of the Rohloff: 14 speeds in an internally geared hub. These German Schätzchen of ours get the job done, transporting us and our gear reliably, smoothly, durably, and as fast as our legs can handle. Neil at Cycle Monkey took care of our Rohloff wheel build in California, assembling purpose-built wheels for our rugged expedition touring. The Rohloff disc-compatible rear hub was paired with a Phil Wood disc-compatible hub on the front wheel, all laced with 32 strong spokes to Velocity’s Cliffhanger rims.
Let me indulge my inner bicycle nerd and explain to you what I love about these wheels.
- Discs. Disc brakes aren’t as sexy as rim brakes, but they work perfectly in all conditions. They are strong. The Avid BB7 brake pads last an eternity. The rim experiences no wear from braking, and the bike stays cleaner. Better yet, with the Troll, you can use disc brakes and fenders and racks simultaneously.
- Maintenance. Or rather, the lack thereof. This stuff just works. Our Rohloff runs a perfectly straight chainline from front chainring to rear cog. Our Trolls have a strong, long-lasting chain that never has to be shifted. We set the chain tension and oil/clean the chain every few days. We change the oil of the Rohloff hub every 5,000 miles. The chain and cog, like all good singlespeed combinations, last longer and stay cleaner and are cheaper to replace than conventional chains and cassettes. After riding your bicycle all day, it is hard to describe what a luxury it is to not have to do any significant work on your bicycle. It just works.
- Performance. Riding these wheels rocks. The Rohloff has 14 evenly spaced gear ratios that enable us to crawl uphill with our heavy bags and fly down the other side of mountains without serious compromises. The shifting always works, and with all of the indexing in the sealed rear hub, never has to be adjusted and only gets better with time. A Rohloff is hub is a portly replacement for conventional derailleurs and other parts; but it’s worth its extra weight in gold.
- Durability. These wheels marry functionality to insane durability. They pay a price in weight, to be sure; but on a Pan-American bicycle expedition there isn’t anyone counting the grams. These wheels are very strong, such that we feel confident even on rocks, single-track, cobblestones, and dirt roads at speed. The Rohloff has huge hub flanges laced symmetrically to the rear rim; the result is a wheel twice as strong as a traditional, off-set rear wheel even with extra spokes to compensate. There are no derailleurs or guides to bend or fail. Even if our cables were cut, the hub can be shifted manually with an allen wrench. Velocity rims have a proven and well-deserved reputation for quality.
- Simplicity. The Germans put a bunch of complex engineering into a very simple final product. A simple twist of the wrist is all it takes to shift up or down with perfect reliability. There is one chain, one cog, and one chainring to worry about. You can shift gears without pedaling, or while standing still.
- The best bicycle is the one you forget about as soon as you hop on. Ideally there is nothing to distract from or diminish the ride. That is how I feel about our wheels. They aren’t cheap, but they just work. I plan on enjoying the functionality, durability, simplicity, and craftsmanship of these wheels for the rest of my life.
Thanks for sharing about your bicycle gearing. I used to have a 10 speed that I rode on several 100 mile marathons from sea level to 6000 feet. But that was 30 years ago. I used my bike when I was in Chicago and rode to work. When we moved back to CA I gave it to a neighbor who helped us move. God is with you.
Very interesting. I love mechanical stuff. Would love to try one sometime.
Karen and Mark
Glad to hear from you guys again…hope you are feeling better after the ear infection and now the flu. We enjoyed seeing and hearing about the mechanics of the bicycles that are carrying you on this 9 month expedition…we feel your purchases from your years of calf checks and farm labor is well worth it.
Quoting from your cousin in Georgia who is working as a brain surgeon…”you need to have the right equipment and to have it work.” The same applies for this expedition and for our work here on the farm.
Get healthy…get pedaling…get home safe.
Mom, Dad, Marta and Grandpa O.
p.s. The Bison just won the National Championship in Football!!
Very cool post! I love how you zeroed in on a component of your journey most writers would never consider. Well done.