What Exactly is the Surly Pack Rat? Dec 1, 2017

What is the Surly Pack Rat? Well that’s a question a lot of people have been asking since a photo was leaked courtesy of Mr. Pubes a few weeks ago. Yes, it’s got rim brakes, and according to Surly, the geometry’s been optimized for riding with a front load and to reduce toe overlap.

That means it’ll ship with 650×42 tires on the larger sizes, and 26×1.5″ on the smaller sizes. With a 44mm fork offset it’s not a low trail bike, but it does have a relatively steep head angle compared to other bikes in those sizes – 74º on the 650b bikes and 72.5º on the 26″ bikes.

This whole conversation is a minefield, so… jump on in! Surly’s got a huge blog post up about it, so head on over there and dig in if you’re into it.

  • Daniel M

    Surly’s blog post confirmed something I’ve long suspected – companies feel legally compelled to beef up frame designs to counteract the torque from disc brakes. I’m on the hunt for the lightest practical steel all-road frame to build up with a Rohloff and dynohub, and I keep coming back to V-brakes for a lighter, livelier frame.

    As for the Pack Rat, if I’m only carrying one thing, I always put it up front, so this bike appeals to me. I only wish they would push even further into a niche market and offer it with 26″ wheel geometry in all sizes (I would ride a 56 or 58cm). That frame with flared drops and a Rohloff hub running 55mm Rat Trap Passes would be a hoot.

    • mudfap

      their bikes have always ridden weird to me, like lowest common denominator design, so I don’t trust their logic of a steep head tube and the same fork they use on a bunch of different models. what other bikes are you considering for that kind of build? I’m looking too. there’s nfe, rivendells, and plenty of custom options but all hella pricey. Lightest frame for disc and 26 or 650 I have found is the ravn but still pretty pricey. maybe vintage options would work well but might all be mtb geometries.

    • To your first point, that’s more or less, the outcome of the bike industry as a whole, focusing all their talent around racing, and then letting it trickle down and trying to adapt technology instead of putting genuine focus on developing good frames and good technology around the types of bikes most of us who ride everyday, actually ride and how we use them. Of course it’s all about the money, so…

      This is why, if you take an honest look at the history of bicycle design and innovation, the (warning! Opinion ahead) 1890s to roughly the 1920s were the true golden era for bicycles. From the 30’s forward it’s been almost nothing but a focus on racing. Mix that with global capitalist ideals, you get a broad industry cobbling together racing technology with often poor frame design to give us ‘innovative’ new bikes. In all fairness though I don’t have an opinion about this bike one way or the other.

      • AngryBikeWrench

        Yup, I’ve never met a more hard-core group of racers than the Surly engineers. Those guys will never design a bike that wasn’t purpose built for racing.

        • Either that was really bad sarcasm, or you fail at reading comprehension. Either way, I still chuckled at the foolishness, so thanks mate.

          • AngryBikeWrench

            Honestly, it was kind of a BS sarcastic response, but to be fair, what about this bike or Daniel M’s comment are about racing or its influence on the market? You’re correct that racing has had an outsized influence on “innovation” but Surly almost literally cannot care less about racing or making bikes for racing. And when you’re talking about bikes with straight steel tubes in a double-triangle frame, what’s to innovate other than geometry? Tubing butt profiles? New alloys? Not on a Surly. So they’re being as innovative as possible in the context of this kind of bike. How isn’t that commendable?

          • If you read the last part of my comment, you’ll see that I wasn’t actually talking about surly or this bike in particular, but I guess I can see how that could be misunderstood. My point was meant to be much broader. That however doesn’t change the fact that most frame designs and major technology used, even by companies like surly has been developed for racing and adapted, regardless of wether surly specifically cares about racing. It’s the bigger picture I was framing. It’s not about the bicycle frame specifically, it’s about looking at the bicycle from points of view other than racing for design and innovation. Very few companies do that from the ground up. Nothing I said was meant as a knock on surly. My opinion of them and their bikes has always been a resounding, meh. Take that as you like. But there is always innovation to be had if the broader industry tried to focus on bikes other than racing bikes. And in that golden era I alluded to, most bike companies innovated for the everyday rider. A really great source on this would be http://www.oldbike.eu it’s a badly designed website (especially on mobile) but I highly encourage everyone to venture through it, and be amazed at the amount of innovation and so many things we might think are newer innovations that are in fact just reintroducing of long forgotten ideas.

    • benreed

      “[C]ompanies feel legally compelled to beef up frame designs to counteract the torque from disc brakes.”

      I’m no expert on frame engineering, but I can remember having a mechanic from my LBS hand me a Reynolds 853 all-road, disc brake, 44mm head tube production frame that another customer had just ordered from a major bike company to show my how heavy it was. My rim brake Space Horse frame was noticeably lighter. (RIP rim brake Space Horse).

      • Most Dece

        RIP rim brake Space Horse :(

        • Coffeesyrup

          The Pony Express is the canti space horse frameset, so it’s still available.

    • I’m on the hunt for the lightest practical all-road frame to build up with a MTB 1×11. I expect that rim brakes have a symmetrical load and disc brakes load up the left side. I expect the spokes take an awful big load when braking hard.

      How about a mighty disc brake on the front and any brake on the rear?

      • Coffeesyrup

        You lose the benefit of a springy fork like that I feel. I have an old Ritchey off road tourer and it was amazing how much the steel dampened bumps. The bad thing about a disc riser is it puts the extra material right where forks are the springiest, so it makes them ride stiffer. I think disc on the rear is better if one must have one.

        • The entire fork and its carefully specified rake give you the springiness. You have very good intuition that the “disc riser” boogers up that careful design. To avoid wheel flop, there must be enough head tube angle to move the axle and contact patch forward of the center of rotation of the head tube. Whew! That’s trail.

          A sports car driver would blanch at adding the rotational mass and unsprung weight of the disc. They buy lighter wheels for a better ride. Just musing, here.

    • Tokumeino

      You perhaps could have a look at Thorn Cycles…

  • adanpinto

    Alternative cycling for the masses. I love it as much as I love the simplicity of its rim brakes.

  • AdamBike99

    Why is the rack mounted so damn high?? I like the look of their pink prototype better (maybe it’s the pink; and the Horizons looking so bold) and the rack was positioned lower/better.

    • Brian Richard Walbergh

      Yeah…. They can’t actually have a good reason for this. The pink prototype looks like it has a shorter fork and they claim they made the final fork longer “for tire clearance”. A lower crown makes it easier to mount a rack (when having to use the brake hole in the crown) lower and easier to get fenders close enough to the wheel.

      I haven’t used one of their racks but it looks like since they don’t use the crown hole they could be mounted lower by flipping the bent stays and sliding the whole thing down.

      • Could it be a straddle cable clearance issue? Might just be related to how the Surly 8/24 Pack racks mount? I’m sure any of the canti post mount racks out there would work just fine on this bike.

        • AdamBike99

          They “had a bunch of meetings” to figure out they didn’t want low trail, but rather a steep 74º head angle, and then they throw it all away by raising the center of gravity a bunch. Because they couldn’t design around a straddle cable? Yikes!
          And, I am still scratching my head about their reasoning for cantilevers. Surly’s have never been known for a supple ride, rim brakes or disc brakes notwithstanding.

          • I was annoyed because my handlebar bag causes the front wheel to flip left or right whenever I parked the bike. When I was touring, the wheel would flip, roll, and then the rig would fall over because of all the weight on the rear rack.

      • AdamBike99

        Yeah, I would flip those stays. Why didn’t they also build a proper rack- without all the clumsy adaptors- for a bike they designed solely around a front rack?? The Pack Rack!

    • JimthePE

      The only reason I could come up with is to ensure it doesn’t interfere with the brake straddle cable. I’m not sure it has to be that high, though.

      • AdamBike99

        If so, that is a weak reason! Surly is usually more on-point with their no-nonsense designs…

    • Smithhammer

      1) Cuz there’s no better place to wedge a kitten than in between the front tire and the rack?

      2) It’s adjustable, man. Lower it if you need to. Sheesh….

      • Bil Thorne

        Bike rumor has some close ups of the rack install. It looks like it can’t be lowered with the stock brakes and also it’s not even centered in their pics.

        • Smithhammer

          If it can’t be lowered any more due to the brake arm clearance (which I’m not totally convinced of), then that hardly seems like a problem unique to this bike. Still not a difficult issue to solve, if you really want the rack lower.

          And shame on you, Bike Rumor, for taking pics of an un-centered rack.

    • Jake Kruse

      “the rack is too damn high!”

  • Sebastian Burnell

    My Trek 750 MetroTrack with Cross Check fork works just fine, thank you.

    • Davey

      Similarly, my mid-90s Trek 930 with LHT forks does very well.

      • Sebastian Burnell

        Mine ist from 1990. 1″steerer, so no LHT Fork for me. Cross Check Fork was the only option…works just fine with the 8 Pack Rack and a Wald basket…

        • Davey

          Nice. I’m rolling with an big old jandd and wald. You on drop bars? Been thinking of moving that way from those gigantic nitto mustache bars.

          • Sebastian Burnell

            Yes: Cowbell with Sram Rival Setup. I just changed the wheelset to Archtype rims, DT 350 hubs and Panaracer Graveking SK, after smashing the good old matrix rims on a red car coming from the left…
            BIke ist good for town and light touring….and a bit of monstercross…
            I got the albatros on my Kuwahara, love it….

  • cyclocult

    “Once we took half an hour to apply our bike genius to this trendy niche, we discovered that everything that had ever come before was of course totally wrong. There, we fixed it for you!” SURLY: chucking a century and a kookzillion miles worth of bike-geometry expertise and lifetimes of real-world design and testing experience after some köre krüe throw legs over a coupla prototypes for some city beboppin’. All they had to do was take that CX fork that was lying around, throw it in a 74-degree head tube, et voilà. Congratulations on the gift of a fresh QBP revelation, o ye randonerds and porteurds!

    • Most Dece

      Yeah that whole blog post rubs me the wrong way. It really looks like a parts-bin bike to try and jump on the 650B/rando bandwagon with as little capex as physically possible. The only saving grace I’ll note is that the steeper head tube reduces the wheel flop, which is *also* something that increasing fork rake does. It’s not exceptionally low – the flop is roughly midway between my monstercross bike and a real low-trail rando bike – but it will reduce steering forces somewhat as you’re not lifting the load up as much everytime to you straighten the bars after a turn.

      Of course, keeping the same fork offset and making the headtube steeper places the load ever further *ahead* of the front axle, which makes the weight distribution with a front load even worse and will cause the handling to rapidly deteriorate as the load increases…

      It’s also interesting to note that the smaller ones with the 26″ wheels have a shallower head tube, with moderately high trail *and* flop. Wouldn’t want to ride those with a large front load… I’ll bet they ran into toe-overlap issues with the steeper head tubes even with the small wheels, and had to make the choice between too-long top tubes or giving up the steep head tube.

      Instead of a bike “designed around front loads”, this strikes me as a bike that “won’t suck with a front load but won’t feel too twitchy when you end up riding it unloaded 95% of the time”

      • Smithhammer

        Gotta love it when people write authoritative op-eds about bikes they haven’t even ridden…

      • Are we not *lowering* the load *down* every time you straighten the bars after a turn? That is the “natural” stable position when rolling. Thanks for writing!

    • Ian Connelly

      Grant Petersen (and French constructeurs) were right! #GPWR

  • benreed

    The conversation the bike industry should be having is: “How can we make the best possible bike for less than $1000ish”. Making GOOD cheap bikes will get more people on bikes they actually like riding and grow the industry. And while I personally don’t want a Pack Rat, the exercise that went behind developing this bike and bringing it to market is a lot better for the industry than the typical $10,000 bike project.

    • Ultra_Orange

      Don’t say that! A sub $1k bike would blow up and would ruin the world. Actually the sub $1k bike exists its called used.

  • Derek Simmons

    I have a legitimate question since I’m shopping for a bike and do not have much experience in regards to components and so forth. Why does a bike that cost $1350.00 come with a Tiagra drive train? I feel like I would need to spend more money right off the bat to upgrade that. Seriously my $150.00 piece of junk from Dick’s sporting goods came with Tiagra.

    • benreed

      No way a $150 bike came with Tiagra (Tourney maybe?) Tiagra is perfectly functional groupset. Perfect for a commuter.

      • Derek Simmons

        Like I said my knowledge of cycling components is limited but I read very well. It says Tiagra on both the front and rear derailleur. It’s a Nishiki and cost $155.99.

        • benreed

          The Pack Rat runs 10 speed Tiagra 4700 shifters. The MSRP on one shifter is more than $150. I don’t know what your $150 bike has on it, but it ain’t that.

        • Ben Reed

          And it’s not that I don’t believe you. It’s just that something is either mislabeled or a much older model.

      • Rider_X

        Except Tiagra chains are complete junk. If you precisely measure the stretch of a new Tiagra chains they seem come in at about 0.35-0.45% out of the frickin box! Once you put wear rates into the equation, the economy (per km or per hour of use) is worse than buying higher end chain such as an Ultegra or XT. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3168b37fc8bb4b92fc97092233f8a60cce096b54b44808726d0b1775fecbb5e3.png

        Note, The second XT chain showing worse initial stretch was an experiment where I washed it in a solvent first, before re-oiling. I did that about 20 hours in, if you look carefully you can see the first few observation start at a similar place to the Ultegra. The first XT chain was purchased in 2015, I think Shimano chains have been coming with more initial stretch (i.e. wider tolerances on the rollers) over the last few years although I don’t have the data to show this. All measurements were done on chains used in the field, not the lab. Shadeing indicates the 95% confidence region for the trend line.

    • Jake Kruse

      I have tiagra components on my daily commuter that have been running smooth for almost seven years and easily have over 10k miles. It might not get you a lot of instagram likes though, so I can understand your concerns.

  • zory

    Dig it. Would ride. Fer sher!

  • Bluejaystr

    A minefield indeed! My favorite thing about this thing is how worked up people are about it lol!

  • ugh i fuckin’ leaked it so good.

    • Chris W

      A pubes leak was on my x-mas list. All us losers and haters are appreciative.

  • Frank

    I like the idea of a lightly built frame with rim brakes, but that kludge of a front rack looks clumsy …

  • kasual

    It’s the porteur rack commuter build up that so many of us have done up out of 80s touring frames in a new package. Anyone who has spent time with a porteur rack on a bike with the right geo will know that it can work really well. On my old frame a good front load actually improves the handling, IMO. Price seems fine if you don’t want to go out and source your own frame and, if you think it’s needed, do the 650 conversion. And yeah, discs are the way things are going, but rim brakes can work just fine for ya all year round with only some issues in the worst of the worst.

  • E Smith

    Has anyone actually ridden one of these yet? I’m curious how it’d do as a light touring rig with smallish rear panniers. It looks like it might have some issues with heel clipping?