The Duke of Surl: First Impressions of the Surly Ogre

Back in October or so Surly Intergalactic HQ dropped some photos and a dribble of information concerning their soon-to-be-unleashed do-it-all 29er bike – the Ogre. Recycling many of the attributes of last year’s 26″ Surly Troll touring trouble-maker, the Ogre also bought the big boots and would roll off the production line as a 29er. Hooray! The Surly blog went quiet as they were all at Interbike but I soon learned they would release the frame sometime in late December.

It was time to place an order.

Full setup – the rear tire is in some sort of prison

Frame Hunting

The Ogre retains the identical geometry of their veteran Karate Monkey that I’ve owned in some form or another since 2003. Basically, it’s the bike that introduced me to the world of bigger wheels. Knowing the geometry would be the same as an 18″ Karate Monkey, I asked Maplewood Bicycle to acquire me a medium frame and fork as soon as they became available. Through a stroke of luck they got me one in mid-January,  though, the demand is very high and are consistently on back-order. The shop found one on the East Coast after a new warehouse recently opened and showed the Ogre in stock. Since they were unable to ‘reserve’ a frame, they had to be diligent checking availability.

Due to my busy schedule I opted for Maplewood’s fine mechanics to assemble my Ogre. After a bit of research and determining what existing parts I could use on the build I had Maplewood order me the remaining components. At first I had planned on using the Salsa Woodchipper bars on the bike but after some discussion at the shop it was determined that I wasn’t going to be happy with my final build. I wanted hydraulic disc brakes and a 2×10 STI shifter setup, two features that proved to be difficult utilizing the Woodchipper.

Let’s back up to the frame for a brief moment. Why does this frame exist? Isn’t it just a glorified Karate Monkey? Yes it is. But that’s exactly what I want (and so do many other people).

Let’s back up to the frame for a brief moment. Why does this frame exist? Isn’t it just a glorified Karate Monkey? Yes it is. But that’s exactly what I want (and so do many other people).

Making lunch out of tall grass, trails need not apply. The Ogre just needs terra firma to keep rolling along nicely

Let Surly IHQ do the talking.

“Ogre is designed to be a platform for exploration, commuting, trailer-pulling, on-road and off-road touring, and just riding along.”

That’s it, really. The bike is an all-day-all-rounder-get-it-done utility machine with off-road handling traits. Perfect! If you rode it stock out of the gate with no accessories added it would weigh nearly the same as a stock Karate Monkey. But, with the Ogre, you get options. Tons of options. Like, you don’t need to buy another bike, kind of options.

Gravel ride with fenders. Singletrack without. Haul stuff with a bob trailer. With a rack. Want 3 water bottles for summer? Anything cage. Mount whatever to the fork legs. Run a Rohloff hub. Singlespeed Berryman jaunt? Fixie skid nasty on Morganford, um, yes. Rocky Mountain hut-to-hut. Mark Twain National Forest gravel wanderlust. I can’t even make up scenarios because they are all valid. This bike will do it all – except be featured on Weight Weenies.

The only glitch came straight from the factory in Asia. Surly has not invested in laser-etched graphics so they use tried-and-true sticker technology to let you know what you’re riding. However, the stickers are applied on top of the paint and sometimes scrape off or simply don’t make it on at the factory floor. My bike came with a fork that smartly stated “Surly” on left leg and “Surl” on the right. The FFF Fatties Fit Fine sticker on the right chainstay is all but completely obliterated but my shoe cannot even make contact with it so I don’t know what happened. Other than the stickers, the frameset was flawless.

The Jones Loop Bar

I always thought the Jeff Jones H-Bar looked comfortable and very controlling (this is a good thing in bike land). Unfortunately, the titanium price tag kept me away and it was too much money to ‘try’ a product without knowing if it was a solid performer. Running out of ideas for a comfortable bar set up that would both be ideal for long gravel touring-type rides yet make a great off-road singletrack slayer, I went back to the Jones web site to see if anything had changed.

New product offering!

The Jones Loop bar sans Brooks leather grips. The leather tape adds a nice touch and complements the color palette.

New to me was the Jeff Jones Loop Bar, a variation of the H-Bar. This newer bar is available in titanium or aluminum (!) and features similar hand placement to the H-Bar.  It also now offers a secondary bar to add strength, stability, and a dedicated section to attach bar accessories like lights or other goodies while leaving the inner bar open for your hands. Weighing a little over a pound the bar came with some shims to be used in conjunction with a 31.8 stem. Learning my lesson from other past bike building experiences, I heeded his suggestion to use a Thomson x4 stem as I believe this is the stem he used when designing the Loop bar. Best to use the maker’s stem of choice!

The Build

The Surly Ogre is available as a complete bike for around $1,500.00 but I wanted to build the bike with all the components I wanted instead of buying into a bike that would be later upgraded. This allowed me to get everything set up just right and be delivered ready for action. I opted for the stellar performing Shimano 2×10 XT group featuring the lowest gear ratio with a 26/38 up front and a 12-36 in the rear. The new XT brakes are simply sick. That’s all there is to say. Granted, the XTR group is lighter but I am hard-pressed to see why you would spend the money unless it was going on your gram-counting race bike. I am very, very impressed with the XT kit overall.

Checkin’ in at the Chickin Ranch


Chicken Cameo… This is Rhianna and Beyonce

Thomson and Jones round out my cockpit and Brooks leather bar tape and grips add a touch of class to my very British-military-yes-sir-circa-1916-looking rig. I may opt for a Brooks saddle down the road if the money is there. The Salsa Dos Niner, laying dormant after the Superfly100 came home, was cannibalized to fund this project. The post and saddle, headset and wheelset was added to the Ogre to save cash money. The wheelset was actually from the Superfly100 and is handling rolling duties just fine. The white spokes add snap to the army bike and are light to boot so even though the bike is hefty, I don’t have much of a problem getting the bike up to a nice diesel-like steady RPM.

Fenders are from Planet Bike and have kept me dry thus far. No skunk stripe! The fenders are wide and high on the frame to accommodate mountain tires should I need to go large on a rocky trail. The 40c Ritchey SpeedMax tires have offered good traction even in sandy conditions. BOB Nutz were installed with sections of a threaded 10×1 axle into dedicated mounting points on the frame just above the skewer. Completing the bike build, I opted to purchase a Surly Nice Rack for the backside to offer another avenue of hauling materials deep into the woods. The rack, though heavy, can hold a lot of weight and even sitting on the thing doesn’t make it flinch!

The Ride

The first shakedown ride involved a 42 mile gravel-pavement mix in St. Charles county. The Ogre weighed right at 30.5 pounds including Crank Brothers Candy pedals. Knowing the bike would win any time-trials, I was very happy with its agile handling, no doubt due to the Jones Loop bars and Bontrager XXXXXXXX Race wheels. The bike handled perfectly, just as anticipated, and yearned for more of a challenge. On this longish jaunt the group referred to my bike as the Duke of Surl as the colors and lines reminded them of a British army officer’s transportation device, circa 1916, high in the Swiss Alps, bringing supplies of liquor and grenades to the gruff gents at the military outpost.

And the Duke of Surl was born!  Or some backstory like that.

Testing its mettle more in line with its intended use, I rode from my house down to an ‘area’ that is quasi-maintained by some other (unknown) locals which makes for a nice private hiking and biking experience. I popped the BOB Ibex Trailer onto the dedicated mounts, tied down a McLeod and Pulaski, pulled on the Dakine Builder’s pack with a pair of large clippers hanging off the back and was on my way. The bars offered enormous low-speed steering control as this wasn’t a race heading down to the chicken shack. Saying hi for the day I was off once again and headed to the section of downed fence to take a shortcut to the maintenance zone. A gravel road let me get the Duke up to speed and shortly I was cruising along. The skinny less-than-mountain tires kept the ride lively and efficient, yet hooked up when needed.

The 2×10 setup felt intuitive and really just perfect. The right gear was available at all times. There were no missed shifts or sudden changes in cadence. Awesome. The brakes stopped the whole bus without any fuss but the levers are the star of the bunch. If ‘feel’ can be quantified then the levers are pure hoppy goodness. Orders of magnitude better than the Sram levers. After the days’ chores were complete – and a successful local test of rolling trailside maintenance – I headed home finishing out the 5 mile loop. Once on the pavement back to the house, it is a general undulating climb all the way. The Duke (DoS) deftly handled all climbing seated in the big/big gear ratio. Tractor power bliss.

The chainstay is a engineering marvel – disk brake, fenders,  BOB trailer, all at once. Changing a flat may not be so fun.

Build Specs

  • 18″ medium ogre in Army Green
  • Full XT kit, 2×10, 26/38 rings – the brake levers are sweet and feel terrific.
  • Thomson Post and Stem
  • Chris King 1-1/8″ headset
  • Selle Italia SLR
  • Crankbrothers Eggbeaters Candy SL
  • Bontrager XXXXXXXXX Race Wheels
  • Surly Nice Rack
  • BOB Nutz
  • Ritchey SpeedMax Cross Tires
  • Brooks Leather Bar Tape
  • Planet Bike fenders

Final weight = 30.5lb

Final Thoughts

The Surly Ogre is highly recommended if you want to (_____it will!______).

For me it will be used for gravel, touring someday, rolling maintenance, bikepacking, general bike, wrecking ball. Highly recommended.

A trip up to a glade overlooking a large lake seems to be in order or some maintenance on the Berryman comes to mind.