Throwback Thursday: Bike Test-Surly Krampus 29+

Surly Krampus 29+

The designers over at Surly couldn’t care less what kind of suspension design your full-carbon bomber utilizes. They’re not caught up in flashy graphics and instead believe steel is more romantic than any candlelit dinner. If they build a bike, it’s because they know it’ll serve as the perfect ride for somebody who simply wants to enjoy the all-encompassing experience of riding—and the Krampus does just that. We take it out trail riding whenever we want our day to end with a painfully wide smile.


The Krampus isn’t for the rider who wants to cover all types of riding with a single bike. Rather, it’s for the rider who wishes to cover all pleasures of riding with a single bike. The Krampus is for the rider who searches out simplicity but is interested in the small (or in this case big) details that can completely alter his riding experience. Its large 29 x 3-inch tires and 50-millimeter rims (a combination coined “29+”), complemented by trail geometry, give it all-terrain capabilities greatly beneficial to riders who face snow in winter months and bikepackers who find themselves pedaling gravel roads for hundreds of miles at a time.


All Surly bikes are made entirely out of steel. Whether you’re riding one of Surly’s dependable urban commuters or trail bikes, you’ll find skinny CroMoly steel tubing holding it all together. The Krampus runs disc brakes, has 135-millimeter rear axle spacing, allows for two water bottle cage attachments, utilizes a standard 73-millimeter threaded bottom bracket and accepts a seatpost diameter of 27.2 millimeters. The rear derailleur hanger is integrated into the frame, although Surly also offers a Krampus Ops model that utilizes a replaceable derailleur hanger and modular drop-out system (MDS) for 142-millimeter axle spacing.


“Moonlit Swamp?” Is it even possible to produce a more beautiful color for a trail bike? It’s further accented through attention to detail in the frame’s unique chainstay yoke and bent seat tube that allows for larger tires with a short chainstay length. The massive tires, atop 50-millimeter Rabbit Hole rims, lead the Krampus to resemble a steamroller just as much as it does a bike. Grabbing the wide 780-millimeter Salsa Wammy handlebars, atop a 69.5-degree head tube angle, proves the Krampus is designed for fairly aggressive trail riding rather than a spin down the bike path.


Moving Out: The simplicity of mechanical Avid BB7 brakes, a one-by drivetrain, and a fully rigid design make the Krampus pretty much ready to ride right out of the box. We did find both wheels to be slightly out of true upon arrival, but that was easily remedied with a couple of minutes on the truing stand, which any decent bike shop would do before selling it anyway.
Climbing: Surprisingly, the Krampus tackled climbs much better than we thought it would. As long as we stayed in the saddle and kept the momentum up, it was along for the journey on most of our favorite climbs. As soon as we let a quick, punchy climb sap our speed, it would feel like a monster, but we quickly learned to use the rotational momentum of the big wheels to our advantage. Additionally, standing up through climbs often caused the back tire to spin out. The bottom line is that it’s a hefty steel bike that won’t cut you any slack on the climbs, but it is fully capable of tackling climbs if you have a little extra gusto in your legs to stay seated and power onward.

Cornering: We rode the Krampus against a host of high-end full-suspension trail bikes and quickly noticed its unique cornering advantages. First of all, it’s pretty hard to loosen up a 3-inch-wide tire that’s running 12 psi. The hefty 27 tpi (threads per inch) Surly Knards seemed to always have some portion of their contact patch holding on for dear life. Second, the momentum the tires carried through corners was like hitting a throttle after letting the brakes go following the apex of a turn. Trail bikes would lose us on the technical straightaways, only to be caught as we launched out of each corner after them.
Descending: The rigid nature of the Krampus, paired with tires that rolled over anything in their path, created a descending ride that got away from us at times. Line choice is key to creating an enjoyable ride that allows your dental fillings to stay in, but cushion in the tires gave us confidence that we had a little forgiving travel for when things got out of hand. We often found ourselves moving at a steady clip that seemed out of place on a rigid bike, yet it felt comfortable. The bike enabled us to ride hard and occasionally bounce around a bit when our line required it. The short chainstays (relative to the wheel size) and slack head tube made it really easy to bring up the front wheel and pop off obstacles, resulting in a solid trail bike feel.

Braking: Being mechanical, the Avid BB7 brakes certainly had an on/off feel. We found ourselves occasionally sliding our front tire in loose sections of trail when we anticipated the hefty tires requiring a stronger pull than necessary. We expect that of mechanical brakes, though, and see it as worthwhile tradeoff for their reliability in certain circumstances. With the Krampus being our go-to bikepacking steed, we wouldn’t trade the modulation of the best hydraulic brake for the reliability of BB7s.


After a single ride, we removed the MRP chain guide and replaced the stock chainring with a narrow/wide 32-tooth setup. The narrow/wide alternative to the chain guide has since kept everything quiet without dropping the chain. We found the 32-tooth chainring to be much more forgiving during any sort of trail riding outside the realm of cross-country terrain. We swapped out the 80-millimeter stem for something shorter, paired with a riser bar, to keep the bike even more stable at high speeds at the cost of being in a tougher climbing position. It’s about personal preference, and we all get to pick our own poison.


Regardless of its usage, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bike under $2000 that provides a comparable amount of enjoyment. Unfortunately, Surly’s are often only special ordered and therefore many bike shops don’t stock a fleet of them for demo purposes. That being said, a drive to the nearest bike shop that does have one you can take out for a spin will leave you certain of its place in your garage. We strongly suggest the Krampus to anybody looking to add a unique bike to their quiver.


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