Someone famous once said that it’s not about the bike. After all, there are many different bicycles that could take us from Alaska to Argentina. It is not necessary to spend a fortune, whether it is on a custom touring steed or a Rohloff-equipped mountain bike or lightweight backpacking equipment or top-of-the-line panniers.
We were compelled to build bicycles that suited our purposes. We wanted bicycles that were bombproof, with minimal maintenance and rugged construction. We wanted to have the freedom to safely seek out nearly impassable roads and trails in all conditions, which mandates a bike that more closely resembles a mountain bike with the necessary tire clearances and disc brakes.
We have chosen to pack as lightly as possible, while preserving our electronic capabilities of a DSLR, an iPhone, and an Apple Laptop. Furthermore, due to the incredible climactic variations we will encounter along the way, we must be prepared for everything from deserts to tropics to snowy mountain passes. Space and weight and safety are at a premium on a bike expedition. This page will provide the full accounting of our gear.
We have chosen to build our touring bikes around a Surly Troll Frame and Rohloff speedhub. Our Trolls are painted in Surly’s “Agent Orange” and are really the tractors of the bicycle world. You name it, they can do it. We felt they would be perfect for our journey. Trolls are suited for front and rear disc brakes, easy compatibility with the Rohloff internally geared hub, front and rear racks with good heel clearance, fender mounts, and bombproof 26″ wheels whose tires we can easily replace in any country along the Pan-American highway. See links below for our detailed Gear reviews.
Frame & Fork: Surly Troll with stock, rigid steel Surly fork.
Brakes: Avid BB7
Handlebars: Salsa Moto Ace Woodchipper
Levers: Cane Creek Drop V Levers
Cranks: Campagnolo Chorus 39t Square Taper w/ BBG Bashguard
Bottom Bracket: Phil Wood steel square taper
Chain: Wipperman 808
Front Wheel: Velocity Cliffhanger 36h, Phil Wood 36h disc hub, Sapim Force Spokes
Rear Wheel: Velocity Cliffhanger 32h, Rohloff Speedhub, Sapim Force Spokes
Front Rack: Surly
Rear Rack: Surly
Front Panniers: Ortlieb Sport Packer Plus, Arkel Samurai
Rear Panniers: Ortlieb Bike Packer Plus, Ortlieb Bike Roller Plus
Handlebar Bag: Ortlieb Ultimate 5 with camera insert
Rack Bag: Ortlieb Rack Pack – Medium
I have a Troll with a Rohloff hub, heavy but like you say bomb proof. Good luck.
Wow. Very cool gears you have there. I want to have those in my bike soon.
Grip shift on the Woodchippers looks so weird! Great lookin’ setup though. I have been riding a Troll with an 8spd Alfine internal since December of last year and am in love with it!
what size & make of tires are your running with?
Currently we are running Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tours, 1.75″ width. We experimented with the Marathon Cross Tour in the same width. Results with both have been superb; the Marathon Plus got us all the way from Anchorage to Santa Barbara, CA with two flats total across the six tires. Tough tires that wear slow. The cross are a little faster/more knobby for mud, and a little less puncture resistant, also cheaper. Schwalbe is the way to go I think.
For difficult off road sections (e.g. Tour Divide), is the 1.75inch wide enough? does it have enough traction etc?
Or do you carry a thicker tyre perhaps for the off roads as well?
I only ask as I’m pondering over the decision of what tyres to take and your trip sounds fairly similar.
Our 1.75″ wide Schwalbe Marathon Touring Plus tires were adequate at best for off-road sections in North and Central America.
For our South American leg, we carry two sets of folding tires each: 2″ wide Schwalbe Supremes for highway use and 2.1″ wide Kenda Small Block Eights for off-road use. Thus far, the combo has worked extremely well for us. The flexibility is great.
Great blog! I’m considering a Troll purchase, for some (much shorter) touring, but also some singletrack. Have you ridden yours much unloaded? On any rough terrain?
How did you size your frames, compared to your other bikes?
Thank you! We’ve ridden ours unloaded on a variety of terrain; not much true “singletrack” (unless you count rough prairie roads and dirt roads) since we’re not mountain biking with suspension forks or anything like that. The Troll has the same geometry as the 1×1 from Surly, so it’s “suspension geometry correct” if you decided to swap out the rigid fork and run it as hardtail MTB.
We’ve also ridden unloaded on pavement a good deal (naturally) so we’ve gotten to see our fully-rigid Trolls perform in a variety of terrain, loaded and unloaded.
My personal conclusions on the Troll:
1) On smooth road pavement at speed, it’s “twitchy” unloaded. Perhaps this is because I’m so used to riding it with the dampened steering of heavy panniers; but I think this is owed to its sporty mountain biking geometry.
2) In rough conditions, this “twitchiness” manifests itself wonderfully in a bike you can really flick around corners, rocks, obstacles, etc. Even better if you had a suspension fork.
3) I would buy the Troll again in a heartbeat. I think it would make a great (albeit heavy) commuter that you can put a rear rack on during the workweek and do a MTB tour on the weekends. This is how I plan on using the Troll after Bound South is done; super-commuter for all conditions (monster tire clearances, Rohloff, disc brakes, and fenders are a sweet combo), and with a nice suspension fork a competent MTB bike.
For sizing, I found a Surly sizing chart somewhere on the interwebs (but I can’t find the link now). For reference, I’m 5’9″ and the 18 inch Troll is perfect for me. For my older brother, at 5″6″ he fits nice on the 16 inch Troll. Sorry I can’t be of more help on the sizing. I run a 53.5cm effective top tube on my roadie/CX racers at home.
Thanks Isaiah! I need to sit down with my old-style 1×1 and a tape measure and see exactly how the Troll compares to my current frame-bar-stem combo.
Well done following your trip
Question what size Ultimate 5 handlebar pannier are you using and is it doing the job for you?
It is a medium Ultimate 5 handlebar bag! We can fit two small lenses (Canon 85 1.8 and Sigma 18-50 2.8) and our camera (Canon 7D) inside of it, along with a wallet and a few other small items.
This bag is the bomb. Super sturdy even when going offroad, very “low-key” in appearance, waterproof, etc. I haven’t ever used anything else, but I’d be hard pressed to imagine an improvement if you want a good handlebar bag.
I’ve been following your trip, it’s a great Blog!
I am wondering that I would like to have a Surlybike for myself (HA!), I just curious why you guys choose Troll over LHT? not to mention dirt track you’ve been riding, because you also rode on pavement as well.
Thank you Willy!
The main reasons for the Troll over the LHT:
1) Disc+fender+rack compatibility (there is a disc-LHT now released that offers this, I believe)
2) Rohloff compatibility with strong, versatile, and perfect horizontal dropouts on the Troll
3) Better tire clearances and geometry for off-road touring and mountain biking
4) Agent Orange paintjob, which sounds cool and looks cool
Hope that helps!
Just discovered your web page and I’m enjoying it immensely. How do you like touring with panniers? A friend strongly encouraged me to look at a trailer instead for touring.
We have absolutely loved touring with panniers. If you can ride lightweight (i.e. fit everything on a rear rack), I think panniers are the way to go. It makes every time you get on and off your bike that much easier. It makes transporting your bike easier. It makes bags and bike that easier to manage at every campsite, hostel, sidewalk/urban crossing, etc.
However, if you’re going solo, long, and heavy…a trailer might indeed be better. For us, we’ve got three people to split gear, tent, and more…and for our frequent off-road riding our Trolls have been fantastic loaded with panniers.
After Bound South, my *dream* is to do a lot of superlight MTB touring with Arkel’s new XM-series off-road touring panniers.
Hi, very nice setup. I did the North American part of your trip on a TREK 8000 with front suspension (in ’99). I am now thinking to get same bike as you have + front suspension. Have a great trip and post some shots. Which shop built your bike?
Paramount Sports in Fargo helped in assembling our bikes. A suspension fork can be a great option, especially for off-road touring. Good luck!