I’ve always had a soft spot for Surly bikes ever since the 1990s when I lusted over a Surly 1×1 singlespeed frame that at the time I just couldn’t afford and had to make to with bodged mtb frames with various singlespeed adaptors. Surly have always been about steel frames. No nonsense, well designed and versatile they seem to be the bike that people buy and just do what ever the heck they want with them, drop bar bikes with Alt bars, mtb’s with moustache bars, mixed wheel sizes and lots of racks and rider mods added. They do produce full bikes though and when the UK’s Surly distributor asked if I’d like to try one of their newest full build bikes, well I was hardly going to say no was I?
Made from a chromoly steel that Surly call “Natch” the frame and fork have that skinny look that you only get with a steel bike. the welds look good and Surly treat the steel to an anti rust coating, something you need to think of if riding steel bikes in the UK. The frame set has 110/148mm boost spacing which means it’ll fit frankly humungous sized tyres (27.5 x 2.8mm or 29 x 2.1mm). the frame also supports “gnot boost” too so you can adapt it to run 142 as well. The headset is an old fashioned 11/8 which means you are pretty much locked into the fork that it comes with, but then why would you want to change it? The Bottom bracket is threaded and external (yay!) All the cables are external except for the dropper post but even that is only internal through the bottom of the seat tube so easy to fit and maintain. There are so many bolts on the bike you could fit enough baggage to probably carry clothing and provisions for a 2.4 person family! frame and fork racks are fully catered for as are mud guard mounts. The frame dropouts are slotted so a single speed or hub geared version of the bike is simple to do if that’s your thing. The frame comes in a Sage green colour which has split opinion between my riding buddies, some just do not like it at all, whereas I actually love it.
The parts that Surly bolt to the frame are not your usual fare of Shimano/Sram gearing. The shift/brake levers are Advent X from Microshift as is the rear derailleur and 11-48T 10 speed cassette. The Samox chainset is 1 x and has a 32T chainring. A very MTB style gear ratio. The wheels are made up of Novatec hubs laced to 40mm 27.5 WTB rims with 2.5mm Teravail Ehline tyres. The test bike came with a TransX dropper post activated by the redundant left hand shift lever. Stopping duties are offered by tektro rotors and cable operated tektro calipers. A salsa cowchipper handle bar and WTB volt top off the build.
Steel is definitely not the lightest material to make a bike out of and the Ghost Grappler can in no way be described as light. However, weight is not always the be and end all. How the bike feels when you ride it and how it handles is much more important. Especially on a bike that has the potential to be able to carry enough kit and supplies to take you around the world a few times. light and twangy is not the way to go in that instance. reassuringly solid and flex in the right places is the way to go here. Off road manners are good, the bike is stable, but at the same time it doesn’t corner like an oil tanker, which is just what you want if it’s loaded up. You can trust the bike to get you through rough sections and still make those “crap, I’ve only just noticed that” turns. Perfect for an engaging ride or a tired rider at the end of a long day.
The tall head tube means a riding a predominantly on the drops position is attainable without being in a racing tuck. The drops offer the most control over rough ground so this is a good option to have. You can of course slam the stem if you feel the need and use the hoods. As you can see from the pictures I ran the stem at various levels and because it’s a review bike that goes back to the distributor I couldn’t trim the steerer length, even if someone on instagram did tell me to “sort out the chimney on that bike” 🙂
The sloping top tube gives crotch room safety but again the tall headtube means a good size frame bag can still be fitted. the top tube follows modern convention and is quite long so even with a short stem it doesn’t feel cramped. It’s probably not a bike for hucking drops to flat but neither is this rider. What it will do though is cover off road ground efficiently belying its weight. the 2.5″ tyres offer great grip and traction and with the low gearing most inclines off road are dispatched easily (if you have the legs obviously) The draw back of these great performing off road tyres is quite a bit of rolling resistance when it comes to tarmac. The low gearing that was your friend on the dirt now holds you back on the black top, especially if you are riding with friends with a more traditional gravel gear ratio.
I was looking forward to trying out the Microshift gears and they are actually a revelation. A nice clunky shift, Lever action a sort of cross between Shimano and Sram but smooth and never missed a shift. The rear mech too worked flawlessly and the built in switchable lockout on it kept the chain seated on the chainring throughout the test. The 10 sprockets on the cassette gave a good spread of gears. 10 speed also giving the bonus of cheaper prices when it comes to replacing worn parts. I have to mention the brakes though. The cable operated tektro brakes are just not up to the task, no matter how I tried to set them up, they lack power and the front brake pulsed alarmingly, this pulsing maybe from previous testers misuse though and wouldn’t occur on a brand new bike. The power issue though is down to the brakes and would be something I’d change straight away. I’m not against cable brakes at all but there are much better versions out there.
It’s a fun ride, no doubt about it. The bike gets looks similar to the reaction a fat bike does. People will come up to you and ask about it! In this configuration I’d say it definitely errs on the side of the MTB camp. However, surly offer the bike as a frameset and if a more gravel/road build was your choice then a frame up build would be the way to go. A 700/29er wheelset and maybe a 36T chainring (and decent brakes) and this bike would perform just as well on tarmac as it would on the grav.
Back in my Surly 1×1 lusting days one of the reasons I wanted one was the scene and vibe Surly created around the brand and that was the thing I aspired too. They were a little different from the norm without being flash, they were individual without being elitist and unlike some all looks and no substance brands at the time, you could actually ride one, anywhere and for as long as you liked. Surly haven’t really changed that outlook to this day and the Ghost Grappler carries on that tradition with aplomb
Unless you have super powers you won’t win a XCO race on this bike but you’ll finish the tour divide, no matter how long it takes. This bike though isn’t really about speed, it’s definitely about the journey.