Surly Karate Monkey super-review.


Thanks to SnowyMountain Photography for sharing photos!

This is the only bike to make it more than one and a half years in my stead without breaking or getting replaced. To me at least, and in turn, hopefully to you, that fact speaks to the rad level of this bike.

I wanted a Krampus, but at the time it was going to be a 3 month wait, so the smarty-pants owner of Johnny Sprockets put on the closest thing he knew: the Karate Monkey. And I opted to do a custom build instead of the single-speed stock offering from Surly.

I’m large and in charge, so I require at least 10 speeds. I threw on an X9 drivetrain with a 11-32 cassette and a Stylo crank sporting a 33t chainring. Avid BB7’s made a quick appearance, only to be replaced by X0 hydraulic units. Hussefelt cockpit and and a Specialized Phenom took care of the hands and butt, and as always, Shimano MD540’s held the feet.

But the original build only lasted so long. It started out with an e*Thirteen Turbocharger and a Deda dog fang, then it evolved to an e*Thirteen XCX retainer. I started out with Mavic Crossmax 29’s, and Stan’s ZTR Crest wheels laced to Hope Pro 2 Evo SP hubs also graced the K-Monkey for a moment, but these beasts replaced them quickly:

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(Velocity Blunt 35’s AKA P35’s to Hope Pro 2 evo hubs).

Karate Monkey cyclocross barrier

As you can see, my fat ass weeds out sub-par equipmnt rather quickly. Trying to be rad and over-fed at all times takes its toll on weak parts. The frame, though, has had zero problems. Not only have there been no problems, this thing begs for rough treatment. It and and the X9 Type-2 (clutch-style) drivetrain are a match made in heaven. You can pound this rig through anything without thinking twice about laying off the power.

This bike is a lifetime bike. It can do anything, you can put pretty much any part on it, and it performs like a beast. This is how it sits after a muddy-ish cross race yesterday. I could make it wind through twisty, slow, ‘cross courses faster than anybody else in the 1/2/3’s field. Not a problem.

I rode the beast on rooty, rocky, single track all last summer with the rigid fork. In locations that have more flow than blunt obstacles, the bike is ideal. On rougher stuff, it doesn’t mind being hammered through gauntlets of nasty crap. I ruined two wheelsets with this bike. One set of Mavic Crossmax 29’s, and a Stan’s Crest/Hope Pro2 Evo wheelset from Handspun.

I really can’t say enough about it. I’ll be adding photos and paragraphs here and there, as the bike evolves. Up next: 3″ Knard and a 2.5″ Race King.

Day after a ‘cross race in the 123’s yeasterday (11/3)
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The bike now resides with a team-mate with a different color paint covering the steel. I’m going to have him weigh in here with what he thinks. He’s lighter, quicker uphill, and is a newer mountain biker. Stay tuned.

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SRAM road shifters with mountain derailleurs.


Photo courtesy of Snowy Mountain Photography.

I’ve had a few people ask the question…does it work? With the new single-ring offerings from Wolf Tooth Components (review to come from two teammates), XX1, X01, and people wanting to rock larger cassettes on their ‘cross bikes or mountain bikes with the already proven X9 and X0 derailleurs, there are many setups where a person could want to mate SRAM brifters with SRAM mountain derailleurs.

You can’t see the full bike above (peep the busted left lever though), but I’m rocking a Rival shifter combo with an X9 Type-II long-cage rear derailleur, and a 1×10 drivetrain. It worked great with a 11-32 cassette (could be worse with larger cassettes). It moved my formerly fat butt around a cross course for 2 or 3 races when I doubled up classes. The setup was a blast on the Karate Monkey and made ‘cross racing more fun. Here is a crappy photo of it. Forgive the crappiness, the K-Monkey was setup like this for only a couple months almost a year ago.

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I don’t really any setup secrets, because it was easy-peasy. You just have to make sure you get an in-line barrel adjuster in the shift housing line, because there is no barrell adjuster on the type-II derailleurs, and the brifters lack the adjuster a Sram mountain shifter would have.

I was also rocking Avid BB-7 mountain mechanical discs with the road levers. Again, add an in-line barrell adjuster, and have them set up by an experienced mechanic. They can work well, they just need to be set up well. If you have 10-speed hydro shifters, all the better.

That’s it. Now, feel free to throw some drop bars on your mountain bike, or a big cassette on your ‘cross bike, and thrash a trail, a ‘cross course, or dirt road, or all three.

2013 Crux Pro Disc review and a mini “make the leap” disc setup guide.

I keep hearing the same reasons from racers as to why they are not switching to discs for cyclocross:

1. I have too many rim-brake wheelsets already.

2. Disc brakes are hard to set up.

3. Disc brakes have no modulation or are too strong.

I can understand the first excuse. I only owned 2 rim-brake wheelsets when I switched this spring, and my second bike was a mountain bike, so the switch according to my wheel collection was a no-brainer.

Excuse number 2 and 3 however, are false. For your rumor-dispelling pleasure, here begins a review and disc bike setup mash-up super post with a whole bunch of bike nerdery.

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For those looking for the quick read, I’ll review the bike/frame as a whole first.

1. Comfort

Like sailing seas of cheese. It’s super comfy even with road tires. I’ve almost slammed the stem since these photos because my wrists and hands have been feeling zero pain or discomfort. Butt and back only get out of whack after 60 miles, which happens to me on any bike. It scythes through grass and dirt chop on a cross course like a santoku knife, all the while putting every watt to the ground. Leg vibration feedback is also minimal while hammering through bumps.

2. Handling.

It’s a Tarmac for the dirt. Predictable, quick, and stable. Moves over corner roughness without sacrificing traction. It’s not super-knifey because of the low bottom bracket and non-aggressive head tube angle (geo chart). But, that geometry lowers your center of gravity, and that makes for more stable cornering for those who are a bit shaky in the corners.

3. Braking

I can clamp on the levers and the frame handles a lockup on a downhill without a single shudder. The fork is super strong, making trail braking (dragging the brake into corners) feasible. I also believe brake modulation is increased because of the stiffness of the fork and rear triangle.

4. Utility

It fits 42c tires without a problem, holds 2 water bottles, it provides tons of braking power, and all day comfort. It’s only limitation is the rider. I took it on some rooty single-track, completed a 62-mile gravel race with it, and I’ll race a whole cross season on it. Few carbon race frames will beg for such treatment.

5. Ease of build

The seatpost is light and comfy, but don’t try to swap seats too often. The retention system is great for saddle rail life and adjustability, but is a pain to set up. Otherwise, you can use any seatpost that is at the popular 27.2mm diameter.

The Specialized “proprietary” OSBB system sounds complicated, but it’s not. Any PF30/BB30 crankset will fit. Or, you can use bearing cups for your Shimano or SRAM GXP crank from Wheels Manufacturing.

The cable sheaths are taped outside of the internal routing hole, making cable running a breeze. All you have to do is cut them to length when you’ve run your housing. The most of the included cable hardware is nice as well.

Conclusion: if you have the scratch and need/want a carbon cyclocross race frame, pull the trigger. It’s the best ‘cross frame I’ve ever sat on.

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BB7’s with a Cleansweep G3

Disc setup guide.

Parts selection for the build were limited when I built the bike up in late February. You could go for Avid BB7 road mechanical discs, or Hayes road mechanical discs.

Since I built this bike, far too many disc brake options have become available. TRP crafted some mechanical calipers that move both pads, and an all-in-one hydraulic caliper that is pulled by cable. Sram introduced a Red full-hydro system and a 10-speed universal hydraulic lever that you can mate with an Avid hydraulic caliper.

This guide will help with mechanical disc setup.

I chose BB7 road calipers. They’re a bit heavy, but reliable and smooth operating. Even mated with old Sram Force levers with fairly short cable pull, they work great. Jagwire Ripcord compressionless housing is a must-have, along with an exceptional attention to detail when mating cables and ferrules. Making sure that your cables are cut and faced properly can make all the difference. I suggest using a grinder to face the cables, and crimping all ferrules.

Centering the calipers properly is also supremely important, to gain proper function and modulation, it needs to be done properly. To center or re-center, I loosen the caliper bolts and make sure that the stationary pad is properly adjusted so the rotor does not rub on the caliper body. Then, pull the brake lever. The caliper will automatically center itself. While squeezing the brake lever, tighten the caliper bolts to spec. After tightening, release the lever and adjust the moving pad. Fool-proof!

Pad bed-in procedure requires patience, and is worth the wait. After the pads are bedded and properly adjusted, they work very well. I used Avid HSX rotors, which helps with noise reduction and pad life in muddy conditions. The stock cleansweep rotors that come with all BB brakes are heavy, they cause squealing, and will eat pad material if there is any grit or mud in your caliper. I’m looking forward to a solid rotor to come back for improved mud performance!

Wheels and hubs are part of the equation as well. If you don’t want annoying disc rub during sprints or bike throws, make sure you have a strong hub mated to rim that is capable of high lateral stiffness. Hope hubs work very well, and I’ve tested them mated to Stan’s ZTR Crest rims, Stan’s Iron Cross rims, and H+Son Archetype rims. You get great results with any of them. Also, I’m sure any Velocity rim would work as well. I would be wary of putting any super-lightweight hubs, spokes, and rims near disc brakes.

After initial setup, carrying an avid torx tool with you is a great idea. Being able to adjust the brakes during a long ride can become necessary if you don’t keep on top of maintenance. The internal cable routing helps keep the cables fresh, so running new cables won’t be a regular practice.

Discs work great, don’t be scared. Once you get them set up, thrash them, abuse them, test them…you’ll love the results.

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Winter commuting rig: Surly KARATE MONKEY.

I wanted the Krampus so badly for about a week, but I wised up a realized I should ride one before I buy one. So, I shall wait for Johnny Sprockets to get some in stock in the spring to give one a whip. Sizing might be an issue also, so there is another reason to wait and ride. I still want a Neck Romancer Pug, so that still might be in the cards first.

Onto my short-term, immediate gratification solution to feed my Krampus desires:

A KARATE MONKEY!!!

So far, it’s too much fun, and it still hasn’t been on any real trails. I’ve just been bashing it around the city.

I did a custom build with the help of Manuel at Johnny Sprockets. Highlights are X9 shifting, BB7 brakes, Stylo crank, e*Thirteen XCX chain retainer, Mavic Crossmax 29 rims, Hussefelt cockpit, and Clement X’plor MSO tires, all of which I will try to review individually, or maybe in one later complete post about the bike after I pound the crap out of it over the winter.

For once, though, this bike is causing me to look forward to the winter, the brutal commutes and training, instead of dreading the hell out of biking through all the junk that midwest winters decide to crap out. I still want some fancier bits, but those will come over the winter. I pretty much want everything from e*Thirteen.

So now I have two bikes again, and the world is as it should be.

I swear that Giant TCX post is coming. I passed 60-some people with it last Sunday, and it took the beer spray and honey-bun stickyness like a champ. Good things.

ZE UMLENKER!!!

It works, folks. It does. Don’t be scared. Just order one. They cost around $15, and will change your cross bike forever.

After my mechanical at Barry-Roubaix, I went from having nothing but a Paul’s retainer on my seat tube to two rings, a front derailleur mit ze umlenker, and k-edge chain keeper. Nothing to everything. Clean to clutter.

But all of it works. I HATE mechanical DNF’s, so any part that prevents them works for me. That’s the reason I went to a 1×10 setup in the first place. But considering the problems I’ve had with it lately, and my increase in strength and speed, the double rings make sense now.

Some people worry about the line the cable takes…fear not…I flail like a freak during flying remounts (double entendres abound) and I haven’t snagged it yet.

Don’t get too excited about the black and white…it’s for technical use only.

Shifting of the future: planned obsolescence or suspiciously affordable?

A new bike will be on its way soon, and I think I’ll take one for the team for informational purposes, and use a new offering for shift groups.

I haven’t decided if it will be a road bike or a monster-cross bike, but either way, I can use a road group.

Because I have to save for a large future event and couple this summer, I will be left with few dollars to spend (looking at about $1500, tops). A full grouppo from my beloved Sram is out of the question if I go for my normal Thomson cockpit and a wheelset in the ~1500 gram area.

With the ever-climbing prices of premier bicycle parts, it would make sense that a few options should emerge to fill the gap between the cheap mass-market parts and the premier groups. So lately, two options have emerged for reliable, affordable 10-speed shifting:

Option 1:
Microshift

I heard about it first last spring when Team Movistar used it for the Giro. Which, I believe, is the reason for the first color option:

But it’s cheap. It’s even available from WalMart! Reviews exist, and people have put some miles on it…the results have been mostly positive. But I want to see for myself. I would probably flesh the drivetrain of the bike out with a 105 and Sugino.

Option 2,
Retroshift

Retroshift’s ‘About’ page says it all:

Retroshift™ is a new and somewhat unexpected approach to a combined braking and shifting system.

Totally unexpected and with an air of elitism, but obviously functional.

Check the site for the video. It works great. I just hope it feels as great looks like it works…if that makes sense. I don’t know how it will feel for road, but its function will probably be best for a monster-cross bike.

Soon, I will have to make a decision. I’m leaning toward Microshift because of its completeness, but only time will tell.