unsprung heroes rigid bike test surly ecr

Review: Surly you can’t have fun without suspension? We test the fully rigid ECR

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Surly has always been individual and self-confident in its outlook. From pioneering the first production singlespeed (the 1×1, which pre-dated even Kona’s Unit and the On One Inbred) to popularising one of the first 29ers (2001’s Karate Monkey), Surly has always been focused on the fringes of the cycling world, even when those fringes encompass ‘just riding your bike and doing fun stuff’.

Surly has always prided itself in its no-nonsense 4130 cromoly steel frames, always made to accept the biggest tyres possible and to be as compatible as possible with as many of those components that you have lying around in the shed.

unsprung heroes rigid bike test surly ecr
Surly describes the ECR as an “extreme off-road bikepacking rig”.

A few years ago now, amazingly back in 2012, Surly introduced its Krampus model, and singlehandedly popularised a whole new tyre size: that of 29in x 3.0in, or 29+. This was, and still is, a tyre size that baffles most riders and which is ignored by most of the bike industry. Trek’s Stache is one of the only other believers, along with Salsa, Surly’s stablemate at Quality Bicycle Products. And, with the exception of a few small builders, that’s about it for 29+ believers, which is going to limit any tyre, rim or further bike development for simple economic reasons.

However, for those who have tried this tyre size, it really is measurably different and both grippy and stable. Fans of the wheel size tend to be rabid disciples, so this oddball size is probably going to stick around for a while yet. (And just in case it isn’t, Surly also offers the ECR in 27.5+ in Medium and below.)

unsprung heroes rigid bike test surly ecr
With huge 29+ tyres and those unique Moloko handlebars, the Surly ECR is a hard bike to miss.

The Bike

Once you look past the beige paint job and the cartoonishly large tyres, you’ll see bosses. Everywhere. This bike has more bosses than you have accessories, though you’ll probably find a way to buy more.

From the triple ‘Three Pack’ bosses on the frame and fork, to the rack mounts on the forks, the top tube cable bosses, the under downtube bosses and at the rear – there are fittings for trailers, Rohloff hubs, racks, discs and probably mudguards, if you could find any this big.

unsprung heroes rigid bike test surly ecr
There are bosses literally all over this bike.

The build kit is similarly eclectic. Starting with the statement-piece of the Surly steel Moloko handlebars, kind of like a pair of Jones bars had a fight (or love/hate affair) with a 1970s TV aerial, they are nonetheless big and bold enough to take every accessory you can throw at them, including bedrolls, GPS, feedbags, lights and one of those recipe book lecterns for good measure. You’ll have to drink some artisan Belgian beer though, so you have enough corks to plug the ends.

Then there are the thumbshifters, which help increase the bike’s deep-country versatility, and quirky appeal. The same can be said for the Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes and 180/160 rotors. While hydraulic brakes will fit and work perfectly on the bike, you’re as unlikely to see them on a Surly as you are Jones bars on a Bronson.

unsprung heroes rigid bike test surly ecr
Reminds you of Aliens doesn’t it?

The bike has a hugely untrendy, but perfectly functional double chainset, with a 26/39T spread and a SunRace 10-speed 11-40 cassette out back, which should give you enough gears for some proper loaded touring. Unlike the other two bikes here, there’s no provision for a dropper post, but I suspect many riders won’t miss it.

What you can’t miss, is the huge rubbery footprint that the bike delivers. With bolt-on Surly hubs and big, wide Alex rims, there’s no missing the Surly 29×3.0 Knard tyres. A true handful, they present a wide, but also very long contact patch, which makes the relatively shallow tread work a lot harder than it looks like it should.

unsprung heroes rigid bike test surly ecr
Wide Alex rims wrapped with 3.0in Surly rubber.

Frame spacing is non-Boost up front and Surly’s ‘Gnot Boost’ out back, a trick that framebuilders used to use when bike standards were always changing (nothing new there then). This puts the dropouts at 145mm or so, which means that if you have an older 142mm hub, or a newer 148mm Boost hub (as we have fitted) then you can simply bend the stays that 3mm either way in order to get it to fit. Steel is, after all, pretty forgiving about that kind of stuff.

unsprung heroes rigid bike test surly ecr
The sliding ‘Gnot Boost’ dropouts make rear wheel removal and installation a pain.

The rear hub features a bolt-thru axle that works with either ‘standard’ and snugs up fine in the long slotted dropouts. The rear entry dropouts combine with the bend-to-fit stays to make rear wheel removal a right pain in the arse, but hopefully it’s not something you’ll be doing all the time. Once in place, though, nothing shifted.

unsprung heroes rigid bike test surly ecr
The long wheelbase and big volume plus tyres make the ECR a sure-footed thing.

The Ride

Geometry-wise, the ECR is fairly upright, but when sitting on it, the Moloko bars fall right under your hands and it’s very easy to forget that you’re attached to something that looks like Ripley’s forklift in Aliens. If you’re a rider of a certain age then going back to thumbshifters isn’t going to faze you in the slightest and I found I instantly took to them, even remembering to shift the front derailleur, despite them being rare beasts these days.

unsprung heroes rigid bike test surly ecr
Get ready to cruise – the Surly ECR is the all-conquering tortoise.

Getting on and pedalling, though, was a very interesting experience (and I make no apologies for coming over a bit New Age). There is a palpable feeling of calm that descends over you as you ride out on the ECR. This is a bike that encourages a steady, measured view of the world and your riding on it. You are the all-conquering tortoise and that’s OK. It’s hard to describe, but the ECR makes you more interested in the horizon. Rides that were a couple of hours, with a couple of hills, became rides of several hours, with several hills and an ‘Oh, I’ll just go and ride over there as well’.

If you’re a rider in a hurry and you love to skip up some hills, zooming down the other side and getting home for tea, then you’re probably not going to appreciate the ECR. You’ll probably not like the fact that it’s near-on impossible to sprint anywhere on it, that it weighs more than your full suspension enduro bike and let’s not even start about the handlebars…

unsprung heroes rigid bike test surly ecr
Well, it’s pretty stable.

That’s not to say that the ECR can’t do technical terrain. On the contrary, the 3in tyre volume gives a huge amount of cushion for descending. It’s not ‘Let go the brakes and hang on’ worthy; going into a rock garden at speed will still see blurred vision and random lines (or rider ejections), but a more measured approach will see a confident rider pick their way smoothly down any kind of rocky problem.

Climbing, the bike can wag a little, probably due in part to the momentum of the heavy bars, but the long and fat footprint of the 29+ wheels gives such a huge traction area that smearing up tough climbs becomes more of a mental ‘I wonder if…’ challenge than one of rubber vs. rock.

unsprung heroes rigid bike test surly ecr
The more you cross maps, the more the Surly ECR will make sense.


Looking at the ECR from the side, it looks both too big, and yet a little too short. Perhaps my saddle’s not high enough? You wonder. Nope, it’s spot on, it just looks a little odd with the huge wheels and the ‘washing airer’ 735mm Surly Moloko handlebars.

The ECR is the kind of bike that is as likely to find you, as you are to seek it out. We found good riders who immediately hated it, and riders who wanted to hate it who ended up loving it. It really does convey a more globetrotting mindset in the rider, a ‘what’s over that hill’ feeling of wonder. While many don’t have the time or the patience for that kind of riding, for those in less of a hurry, who are in for the long haul – whether that’s a long ride to a distant tea shop, or loaded up and lost on some far moorland – your enthusiasm will be rewarded with a strong, stable, reliable bike that will bring out the adventurer in you.


Surly ECR Specifications

  • Frame // Surly 4130 double butted cromoly.
  • Fork // Surly custom butted 4130
  • Hubs // Surly Ultra front, Salsa 148mm thru rear.
  • Rims // Alex MD40
  • Tyres // Surly Knard 29 x 3.0in
  • Chainset // Surly OD double. 26/39T
  • Rear Mech // Shimano Deore M615
  • Shifters // Microshift SL-M10 thumbshifters
  • Cassette // SunRace 11-40T, 10 speed
  • Brakes // Avid BB7 mechanical
  • Stem // HL Satori 75mm
  • Bars // Surly Moloko
  • Grips // Single lock-ons
  • Seatpost // Kalloy SP-342
  • Saddle // WTB Volt Sport
  • Size Tested // Medium
  • Sizes Available // M, L, XL (in 29+. XS, S, M in 27.5+)
  • Weight As Tested // 15.2kg/33.6lbs

This review was published in Issue #117 of Singletrack Magazine as part of our ‘Unsprung Heroes’ group test. Keen to read more? You can check out all of the stories and features from Issue #117 of Singletrack Magazine right here.

Review Info

Brand: Surly
Product: ECR
From: Ison Distribution, ison-distribution.com
Price: £2,100
Tested: by Chipps for 2 months
Chipps Chippendale

Singletrackworld's Editor At Large

With 23 years as Editor of Singletrack World Magazine, Chipps is the longest-running mountain bike magazine editor in the world. He started in the bike trade in 1990 and became a full time mountain bike journalist at the start of 1994. Over the last 30 years as a bike writer and photographer, he has seen mountain bike culture flourish, strengthen and diversify and bike technology go from rigid steel frames to fully suspended carbon fibre (and sometimes back to rigid steel as well.)

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