by David Gould
December 20, 2016
The time has come for Sanny to say goodbye to his long termer. Has it been an affair to remember or an encounter to forget?
In a world of carbon this and electronic that, it’s easy to forget that steel frames still have a few tricks up their sleeve and know how to show the new school pretenders a thing or two about ride quality and plain old fashioned fun. When it came to choosing my long termer, I think a few eye brows were raised at Singletrack Towers when I asked for Surly’s uber-fat bike, the Ice Cream Truck. It’s not a bike for the shy and retiring type. Everything about it is BIG! From the 100mm rims and the 4.8 inch tyres to the oversized steel tubing and the straight blade bolt thru forks, the bike practically screams “Get the hell out of my way, trail cos’ I’m The Truck and I ain’t stopping!”
In the beginning
At the start of the test just over a year ago, I set out to use it as my only mountain bike. As such, it has seen action on all fronts whether rolling along the beach, hauling ass through my local singletrack trails, being carried up and ridden down some chunky mountain territory through to multi day bikepacking trips and potters with my family. Over the test period, I have come to really appreciate that mountain biking is about so much more than riding the lightest, most expensive, most technologically advanced bit of kit – with the Truck, it’s not about the destination but the shit-eating grin it gives you on the journey. So what have been the highlights and what have been the lowlights?
Let’s start with limitations. With all that girth on offer, each wheel weighs around four kilogrammes. You could have a road bike and change at that weight. All that heft translates into feeling it on the trail. If you are looking for a whippet fast ability to get up to speed, forget it. The Truck is definitely more Land Rover 101 than Golf GTI. It takes a bit of effort to get up to speed although less than you would imagine. However, once there, it rolls along with a reassuring ease that means no matter what the trail throws at you, you will almost certainly be able to tame it. I’ve been on rides of twelve hours or more on it and while there is no denying that it took a bit more effort to keep the tyres rolling at the end of a big day, just dropping the speed a little kept things sweet.
Fat bike with trail hooligan aspirations
As for the frame and fork, the Truck is a rigid bike which thinks it is a trail hooligan. In standard spec, the only suspension you have comes from running low tyre pressures and then it is down to your arms and legs. On several occasions, I found myself going into descents a bit too hot but the sheer girth and kinetic energy of the wheels kept me from having a face-ground interface. On steeper, rockier terrain, the rigid fork gives precise slow speed control which makes picking a line through tough terrain a genuine pleasure.
Adding extra plushness
Part way through the test, I fitted a Rock Shox Bluto fork. In comparison with the rest of the bike, the 32mm stanchioned forks look positively anorexic but their performance is anything but. To be blunt, I didn’t have particularly high expectations of the difference they would make – not because they look so, well, weedy but that the handling of the Truck in rigid form is just so darn reassuring and forgiving that I thought it would be hard to improve upon. Wrong, wrong, wrong! With the Bluto’s fitted, I found myself even more able to really attack descents safe in the knowledge that the bike would perform. A trip to the steep trails of Innerleithen riding the likes of “Waterworld” confirmed that the Truck was my weapon of choice for steep trails through the trees. On a hill closer to home, a favourite descent tops out at some 49 degrees for quite a distance. It’s a descent you have to commit to. On the Truck, the combination of the Bluto forks and massive traction made mincemeat of it. Forget the strange looks from walkers and other riders, the Truck has the answers for the downhill naysayers.
Climbing weapon of choice
So what about going up? Spec’d with a 22-36 front and 11 – 36 10 speed rear, the bike is a climbers delight. I’ve lost count of the trails I’ve been able to ride up courtesy of this bike when others have long since been off and carrying. Sit and spin for the win is the key. There is simply too much weight in the wheels to try and muscle your way up a climb but once you are in a rhythm, you quickly forget the weight and come to appreciate the sublime levels of traction on offer. Lines that I thought would prove impossible have proven not to be. Confirmation came on Jacob’s Ladder when I was forced to put my money where my mouth is and rode the Peak’s toughest climb in the company of mountain biking legend, Nick Craig. You can read about that little adventure in Issue 109.
As with all test bikes, bits wear out. At the very end of the test, one of the teeth in my freehub lost a tiny bit of metal which meant the end of my ride. Fortunately, it was relatively cheap and easy to fit a replacement freehub when I returned home. The front lower headset bearings have gone a bit gritty but are still rideable. Finally, to my great surprise, the press fit bearings on the bottom bracket have only now started to develop a little play. I had significant reservations about these at the start of the test but they have lasted extremely well with no creaking or groaning to speak of.
Mentioned in despatches
Special mention should go to the Surly Mr Whirly chainset and Sunrace 10 speed cassette. These have proven to be exceptionally hard wearing. Towards the end of the test period, I decided to fit a 20 tooth inner ring. With several thousand kilometres of riding in the drivetrain, I should have been on a hiding to nothing but to my delight, the new ring worked perfectly with the original chain and cassette. Try doing that with a one by set up! The Shimano shifters and mechs have performed flawlessly while the Avid Guide RS brakes continue to work without recourse to a re-bleed. I have had spectacularly poor experiences with Avid Elixir brakes of old so kudos to them for finally making a product that works reliably.
Upgrades along the way
In terms of upgrades, I made a few changes. The rigid seatpost was the first to go – the Truck is the kind of bike that makes you want to attack the trail thus I fitted a dropper post nabbed from another bike early doors. I replaced the stock Velo saddle with a WTB SST at the same time, not for comfort reasons but simply because I couldn’t be bothered swapping over saddles as the WTB was attached to my dropper post! Finally, I had the chance to test a set of Jones Loop bars and liked them so much that I never went back to the Salsa flat bars that came supplied with the bike. They just really suit the bikes character offering both all day comfort and a reassuring control, both up and down.
Just as fun when skinny
Not so much an upgrade as a dipping of ones toe into uncharted plus size waters, I experimented with a 29 plus set up on the Truck mixing 50 mm rims with Surly Dirt Wizard tyres. Having previously ridden a Surly Krampus on several occasions, I immediately felt at home with the Truck in this guise. It was noticeably quicker and spritelier than when in full fat form and very much reminded me of a Krampus, so much so that my notion to buy a Krampus was quickly abandoned as I only needed to swap the wheels on my Truck for the same ride experience. Having the option of one frame that can offer two different ride experiences is one I found very appealing.
Parting is such sweet sorrow
So the time has finally come to move on and say goodbye to the Truck. Has it proven its worth as my only mountain bike? Absolutely! Despite the extreme nature of its design, it has proven to be a bike that I have come back to again and again and been impressed by just how capable a performer it is. Despite having the option of several much lighter and notionally faster bikes to ride, the Truck has found a place in my riding heart. At this point, I was going to write how sad I would be to see it go but that just ain’t going to happen. Having reached my short arms into my deep Scottish pockets, I’ve bought the bike as it’s just too much fun to see it go back. In terms of recommendations, I can’t think of a more fitting one.
Once you get your head around the weight and looks, the Ice Cream Truck offers incredible levels of performance in a variety of terrain from big mountain rides to family pootles. It’s not a bike for everybody but if you are open to it, don’t be surprised if you succumb to its charms and your other bikes end up gathering dust. It is without doubt the best bike I have ever had the pleasure of riding. I love it!