I don’t get new bikes very often these days. I’m pretty much a one-bike kinda guy. So, when the one complete bike I had in my possession (a Tumbleweed Prospector) got stranded in Nepal for an indefinite amount of time in March of 2020, I hit up Sean over at The Cub House to see what kind of bike I could get my hands on at the very beginning of the pandemic bike boom.
I was looking for something versatile enough that would be fun for day rides on dirt roads, multi-use paths, and some singe-track. I was leaning toward a steel frame and wanted it to fit a healthy-sized 27.5” tire along with having all of the necessary accoutrements to mount up racks and bags just in case the need would arise. A SRAM 1x setup would be a nice bonus since I had some spare parts lying around. But most importantly, I wanted something that wouldn’t obliterate my bank account. After all, I didn’t know if I’d be back to my trusty T’weed in a matter of months.
When looking at all of the options, the Surly Bridge Club seemed to tick more of those boxes than any other, and it turned out that I could get my grubby mitts on a size XL, so I went for it. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I’d end up spending more than two years riding and touring on the BC in Michigan, Turkey, Peru, and Colombia. It was never meant to be my full-time touring rig, but it just happened that way.
The Bridge Club excels as a fun around-the-town commuter and grocery-getter that can also get a little rowdy on some trails along the way. It was surprisingly fun to ride straight out-of-the-box. The handling is quite playful and spry when compared to the dedicated expedition bikes I’m used to riding, which focus more on fully-loaded stability, and that made my daily spins around town all the more enjoyable. It never felt too sluggish to enjoy smooth roads or overwhelmed on the rough stuff. The double-butted 4130 chromoly frame is compliant where it needs to be without feeling like a boat anchor.
The stock 2.4” WTB Riddler tires felt good out of the box, if a bit hefty in weight, but once I converted it to tubeless and threw on some 27.5×2.6” Vittoria Mezcals, it really started to sing on the local dirt roads and trails. I found these tires to be the perfect match with this bike. Smooth-rolling on sections of pavement, but supple and grippy enough for any chunky road I threw at it, without being fragile. I’ve praised the Mezcals before on here, but it bears repeating that I’m a big fan of these tires. The latest model of Bridge Club comes sporting a more rugged 2.4” WTB Trail Boss tire, though I imagine that tire might feel a bit aggressive for the type of riding this bike excels at most.
The SRAM SX Eagle system that came stock (which has been swapped for a 1X Shimano Deore setup on the latest models) doesn’t have the same robust materials as its pricier siblings (more on that later), but it shifts confidently the vast majority of the time. Considering the price at the time I purchased the bike ($1200 USD… with the latest models “upgraded” to $1450), the build kit was totally adequate for just about any around-the-town excursion I could get into.
Sometimes bike manufacturers tend to over-gear stock bikes, in my opinion, but the stock chainring (32t on the latest models) and cassette (11-51t) offer a range that will work for the vast majority of people looking for this type of bike.
After a handful of months with the Bridge Club riding around town, I finally had a chance to head to Turkey and get out touring again. My Tumbleweed was still in limbo in Nepal, so I didn’t hesitate to load up the BC and go. At that point, the bike was completely stock other than swapping the tires, throwing on a Brooks Cambium, and changing the bars for some backswept Sycip JJJ bars. Stock wheels, drivetrain, brakes, etc.
Thankfully, the Bridge Club comes equipped with plenty of little mounting points to attach just about any gear that your little heart desires. One set of 3-bolt mounts on the top of the down tube (for sizes S-XL), another set underneath, and two more sets on the fork legs. It also has front and rear rack mounts as you might expect from a Surly. Notably, the second set of forward-facing 3-bolt mounts that are included on the Surly Ogre and Krampus forks are not present on the BC, likely meant to distinguish the blurry lines between some of the bikes in Surly’s range. This can be remedied with some hose clamps, a few pieces of an old inner tube, and some Widefoot CargoMounts, however.
With the bike all geared up, I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, given its more agile nature unloaded. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it handled confidently while weighed down with a full touring load. While it doesn’t have quite the sure-footed stability of the Tumbleweed Prospector, it toes the line between loaded and unloaded riding admirably.
For touring, I generally like to keep things simple with mechanical disc brakes, but in the interest of not wanting to spend more money than absolutely necessary in swapping parts, I stuck with the stock Tektro HD-M275 hydro’s and I have to admit that they did a nice job, with no significant issues to speak of, other than having to occasionally adjust the pad alignment. Replacement pads (Shimano B01’s) are easy to track down just about anywhere and come relatively cheap.
The Weakest Links in the Chain
The rigors of touring tend to quickly expose all of the little flaws and weaknesses that can go unnoticed in other circumstances. In the case of the Bridge Club, I found after a few weeks of touring that the rear Novatec hub began developing a significant amount of play (due to bad bearings), which was immediately noticeable when wiggling the cassette side to side. There was even enough play to cause the quality of the shifting to deteriorate and become inconsistent. I found myself constantly making adjustments while I was riding, as the alignment of the cassette was moving.
While Surly unfortunately still seems to equip the latest models of the Bridge Club with these Novatec hubs, they remedied the second biggest weakness I found when they swapped out the SX rear derailleur, which was made of glorified plastic and is prone to failure. I lucked out while in Turkey and didn’t have an issue (the rear rack and bags were strategically placed to absorb impact if the bike should fall), but I did have my derailleur crack while back home in Michigan. Needless to say, it’s a risk to take a plastic derailleur on tour, so it’s good that they swapped that out. Thankfully, SRAM also changed the material of the newer SX derailleurs to steel.
“Gnot” Boost Spacing
One of the “quirks” of the Bridge Club is the non-standard 138mm rear spacing, which Surly has dubbed “Gnot Boost”. It’s right in between the standard 135mm and 141mm (Boost QR). Surly’s idea was to split the difference so you can pinch the frame a bit to drop in a 135mm spaced wheel, or pull the frame apart a bit to drop in a boost wheel. So, theoretically, you should have more options.
In reality, when I went to find a replacement 141mm quick-release boost hub after the stock one became wonky, I found that the options were almost non-existent outside of very high-end options, and I ended up swapping to a more traditional 135mm rear wheel. That also forced me to swap to a non-boost front chainring, which obviously isn’t ideal while on tour in Turkey or Peru or wherever you might be. Perhaps cheaper QR boost hubs will become more common in the future, but since most bikes are going toward thru-axles these days, I imagine adoption will be slow.
The result of swapping to a 135mm spaced rear wheel meant that with a wider tire equipped, the chain got very close to the tire while riding in the largest cog on the cassette, but I still managed to squeeze a 2.8” Maxxis Ikon (which measures closer to 2.6” in reality), and the 2.6” Mezcal without issue. Unless you’re looking to run a wider tire/rim combo than those, I would lean toward a 135mm spaced wheel to make your life easier if you need to start looking at replacement parts.
Surly’s decision to use quick release here does not bother me, but the lack of available parts for boost hubs and wheels with QR is where the waters get muddy. Thankfully, with “Gnot Boost” you have the option to go 135mm. It just limits your tire choice slightly.
Separating Itself From the Herd and Conclusions
Within Surly’s line, several bikes seem to overlap with the Bridge Club’s target audience, with the closest being the Surly Ogre. If you’re looking for a dedicated dirt touring machine, I might point you in that direction over the BC due to the extra mounting options on the fork, the versatility of the slider dropout over the Bridge Club’s vertical one, slightly more tire clearance, and the stock mechanical brakes. However, if you’re content with the (relatively minor) limitations of the BC platform or you prioritize a more agile ride while unloaded, you can save yourself $300 and still end up with a heck of a versatile rig for a reasonable price.
A lot of folks have asked me about how the Bridge Club compares to the Tumbleweed Prospector I’ve ridden for years, but this is really an apples-to-oranges comparison. The Prospector is a dedicated expedition bike that is tailor-made for the Rohloff drivetrain and is built to carry heavy loads over extremely long distances on just about any surface you can find. The Bridge Club is not that. It’s more of a fun and not-too-pricey bike that’s a joy to rip around unloaded on mixed-surface roads and trails at home, while still having a tubeset that is robust enough to handle tours here and there. Lucky for Surly, I suspect there are a lot of folks looking for just that type of bike.
- Reasonable price off-the-shelf (today it’s $1449)
- Tire clearance for up to 27.5×2.8”
- Option for swapping in a cheap 700c wheelset
- Many mounting options
- Giving the option for standard or boost spacing
- Feels more lively and fun to ride unloaded than many dedicated touring bikes
- Non-suspension corrected fork makes for good frame bag space
- Stock build only needed some small tweaks
- Tubeless compatible rims make it easy to convert
- Novatec rear hub proved to be unreliable
- Difficult to find boost QR wheels/hubs that aren’t very expensive
- The Trail Boss tires on the newer models seem aggressive for the style of riding the bike excels at
- Hydraulic Brakes aren’t my favorite for touring in general, though I didn’t have many issues with these
For a full pack list from my first tour in Turkey on the Bridge Club, click here.
For more specs and details on the latest models of the Surly Bridge Club, visit their site.
If you have any questions, feel free to drop a comment below.