Got to thinking the other day, most of you probably don’t know Midge. Midge has been with me on every ride for the last three and a half years. Without her, I wouldn’t enjoy riding nearly as much as I do. She has never let me down, not once. She has put up with me giving up on rides when it wasn’t her fault. She’s put up with me not always giving her the attention she deserves. The least I can do is introduce her to you.
Midge came to me from WebCyclery in Bend, Oregon. I talked to Mean Todd for weeks so Midge and I would be a perfect match. Most people would recognize her Long Haul Trucker frame and a lot of the usual stuff that comes with it, but Midge is definitely one of a kind. First of all, she is the tallest of all the Surly’s at 62cm. There isn’t a lot of those out there. Her wheels are built strong, built for heavy riding, heavy loads and a heavy rider. Over 4000 miles and no broken spokes. Her wheels have stayed true without any help. Her Brooks B12 is perfectly formed to fit my rear like a…well…a glove, I guess. Her flared Randonneur style handlebars help her drops match my wide shoulders. She’s proven she can carry over 300 lbs without a complaint. But don’t let that make you think she can’t ride fast. When she isn’t loaded down, she can be quick, as long as I’m in good enough shape to help her out. Most of the time when she’s out of the house, she’s at work with me. It’s just a 16 mile ride there and back, but I look forward to every ride. Day in/day out she doesn’t care about the rain, heat, cold or even snow. She’s a hard worker and doesn’t gripe about it. She is the perfect bike.
The Surly Long Haul Trucker
When the Utility Blue Long Haul Trucker came out in the summer of 2007, they were about impossible to find. Old school cro-moly steel frame, a long wheelbase, low bottom bracket and all the fittings for fenders, racks, water bottles and just about anything else you could dream up bolting to your bike. It was built to go long distances with heavy loads. It was built to be maintainable even in the most remote places.
The Long Haul Trucker is just what I wanted for the epic bike rides I had planned. The bicycle touring web sites were buzzing about how great they were. I looked all around at my local bike shops and nobody had them and couldn’t even get on the waiting lists. Nobody was interested in building me one from the ground up, until I found a bicycle shop 2000 miles away called Webcyclery. They would do it. I knew exactly what I wanted. I knew I could improve on the standard configuration to make this the perfect bike for me. I was right, I did build the perfect bike. The overzealous mobs singing the praises of the Trucker were all right.
When I go for a training ride with just a seat bag, she is zippy and responsive. Most people complain about touring bikes being sluggish unless they have a load on them. This is not true of Midge. She might be 2 or 3 mph slower than the faster road bikes, but I’m also running on wide 700x35c tires and I’m comfortable. I don’t feel the bumps on the road and I’m certainly not afraid to ride on gravel or dirt roads.
When she is loaded down, everything feels right. It’s like she’s settling in and knows we aren’t going to go fast, we just need to get there today. With bags on the front and back racks, a handlebar bag and a seat bag, not to mention the water on top of the racks there is a lot of weight, but it doesn’t make Midge any less responsive or any less pleasant to ride. For two weeks straight I rode her with over 60 lbs of gear (not to mention my 230lbs of Dave) and she responded beautifully.
I put on the back rack and one saddle bag for my work commutes, and even with the lopsided load, I can’t even tell there is extra weight. Sometimes I bring my HEAVY laptop with me and throw it into a second rear bag and I still can’t tell anything is different from a normal training ride.
Seat: Less Padding is Better, Why Don’t You Believe Me?
Mention Brooks Saddles in a group of bikers and you will find a lot, and I mean a lot of controversy going way back. There are people that talk about “break in” periods and how to treat the seat for the first 1000 or so miles. I find it is easy to over think the issue. For me, by biggest concern is heat and how to get that heat off my body. When you have a chamois between you and your seat AND your seat has a bunch of padding AND maybe even a gel type substance, it’s like wearing a diaper. Who wants all that heat and all that rubbing? Not this guy. After a little bit of riding, my hard leather seat got a couple dimples on it. Those dimples are an impression of my behind. Ever since then, as soon as I sit down on Midge, the seat fits me like a glove. If anyone else got on Midge, they would probably hate it because she fits only me. Midge knows my butt and I’m fine with that.
Handlebars: Randonneur’s Make a Difference
Nitto Randonneur handlebars are different than the usual drop handlebar. The bar slopes upward from the center to the corners making the drops splay outward a bit. This may seem a little bit old school, but, hey, sometimes the old school got it right and the only reason something new came along is because bike shops wanted to sell new merchandise. These bars help me a lot because of my wider shoulders. My arms feel like they can spread out a bit. Other bars aren’t wide enough and I feel cramped leaning in the drops. More curves on the bars also help me find more places to put my hands and on a 200 km ride, where you need as many places to put your hands as you can get.
Gearing: How Low Can You Go?
On the front I have 46/36/26t gears and on the back I have a 9 speed cassette: 11-13-15-17-20-23-26-30-34t. With gears like these, Midge was definitely not made to go fast. When I’m pedaling at 80 rpm in the lowest gear, Midge is only going 5 mph. It isn’t uncommon for me to go 3 mph up a large hill. The best part of the low gearing is I never have to walk up hills, not even when they are steep, long and I have 60 lbs of gear. I sacrifice a bit on the high end of the gears and rarely see any speeds above 25 mph when on the flats, but I will trade speed for easier uphills any day.
Wheels: Built to Haul, Built to Last
Shimano XT hubs laved to a 36h Velocity Dyad rim, 14g silver spokes, silver brass nipples, and Velox tape. Built personally by Mean Todd. Not a single problem in the last 4000 miles. Not even a flat tire. They remain true as the day they were born. They have hauled over 300 lbs (including me) on numerous long trips and countless commuter trips over ridiculous road conditions. Lots of gravel, potholes, snow, ice, mud and whatever else you can think of. Some might say they’re too heavy, but if I don’t have to change flats or get out my spoke wrench to true a wheel, I’m good with that.
Tires: Size Matters, But Not the Usual Way Bikers Think
It seems like wherever we go, Midge has the widest wheels amongst all the bikes. My 35x700c tires are the biggest I’ve seen on a regular road bike. Most road bikers won’t have anything bigger than 28x700c. I keep hearing they are slowing me down and I can’t go as fast as I could without them, but these are the same people walking around road construction or sliding out of control on gravel. These Schwalbe XR’s are the toughest tires I have ever seen. They actually came off of Sally (RIP), Midge’s predecessor. After approximately 5000 miles, they still have a good tread and probably will for another year or so. Again, if weight is a concern, then don’t get them, but if you don’t like changing flats, I would recommend this tire.
Pedals: Let’s Keep it Old School
As you can tell, I like to keep things simple. Some may see this as a bit outdated. Quite a few people will look at my pedals and see they have toe straps and the first thing they think is “this guy doesn’t know a thing about serious riding”. Well, maybe I don’t, but I bet I ride quite a bit more than the average “clip-in” pedal rider. The way I see it, the usual arguments for getting clipless pedals just don’t fit me. “You can pull up on each stroke”; I can do that with my toe clips. “You won’t slip off the pedals”; I won’t fall over from not being able to clip-out fast enough either. I also don’t have to worry about having different shoes off and on the bike or worry about how to get shoes that fit my size 13 foot. I don’t begrudge anyone who uses clipless pedals, but I prefer to save my money and get old school MKS Sylvan Touring Pedals.
A Tribute in Pictures
So there’s some of the highlights of what I consider to be the perfect bike. To wrap it up, I’d like to show a few pictures of Midge that I’ve taken over the last few years: