The Many Faces of the Long Haul Trucker

Surly's Long Haul Trucker (LHT) is our reference point for touring bikes and they make excellent commuters as well. As a general rule the requirements of commuters and tourists are similar -  the bike should be comfortable, should be able to carry a reasonable load, should be robust and reliable, should fit moderately wide tyres and mudguards and should be fast and efficient enough to cover large distances at a decent clip.  The LHT does all of these things and is versatile enough to be set up to match the needs of a lot of cyclists.  We build, and sell, more of them than any other bike.  We've mentioned them a number of times in this blog, but we thought it was time to write more comprehensively about our thoughts on them, and where they sit in our line-up.

Frame Only

You can buy the LHT as a frame only, and build it up by swapping your old parts onto it.  The LHT frame is very well-designed.  It offers good geometry for a very stable ride.  The tubes are 4130 cromoly and are strong enough and wide enough to remain stiff and stable while carrying a load, and will last years doing it.  There is plenty of room in the frame for wide tyres and fenders.  All of the braze-ons are in the right places and allow you to easily, neatly and securely attach your mudguards, racks and so on.  It has vertical dropouts, which means the wheel is easily removable with mudguards and racks and it’s easy to get the mud guard a fixed distance from the tyre all the way around.  There are even threaded bosses for mudguards that face towards the tyre, making mounting very rigid and clean.  There is even a little braze-on to carry spare spokes.

Wide gearing and plenty of room

Smaller LHTs come with 26″ wheels, whereas larger ones come with 26″ or 700c wheels.  For the smaller frames the 26″ wheels make a lot of sense.  They make it possible to avoid toe overlap without compromising other features of the frame.  They also look right on smaller bikes.  The option of 26″ wheels on the larger bikes is driven by two thing: a) all things being equal the smaller wheels will be a little stronger and b) 26″ tyres are available anywhere in the world, whereas touring 700c tyres can be tricky to find in some countries.  The sacrifice is that 26″ wheels don’t roll quite as smoothly, and there aren’t quite as many options for 26″ touring tyres.

The new LHT colour is the blue seen below.  It replaced Truckerchino – the beige-y colour in the first line-up.  In some sizes both colours are still available, but for the most part blue is the colour you can get these days.

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Stock LHT

You can buy the LHT as a complete bike, out of the box.  The stock LHT is already a great bike.  At a bit under $2000 there’s nothing on it that cries out for replacement and it’s incredible value for money.  One of its strengths is the very good wheel set it comes with.  The wheels have DT  spokes, XT hubs and Alex Adventurer rims.  The XT hubs are very well sealed, roll nicely and with occasional servicing will last for years and years.  The rims are wide enough to take comfortable tyres but not so wide that you can’t run a narrower tyre.  The spokes are a sign of the quality of what you get out-of-the-box.  This is where bikes built to a price-point often save money, since spokes aren’t glamorous.  But spokes are very important for the reliability of a bike, and good quality spokes like DT will last much longer than cheaper unbranded spokes.  Likewise, the bottom bracket, which you can barely see, is a good quality Shimano square taper cartridge unit.  This is another standard place for companies to take a short-cut, but it becomes one of the most annoying parts when it fails.  The Shimano bottom bracket is good quality, and will last for years.

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The LHT has a triple crankset with 48-36-26 chainrings and a wide range 9 speed cassette.  This gearing is sufficient for most non-racing riders.  The high gear is high enough to go fast, and unless you’re doing extreme self-sufficient touring the low gear will get up any hill.  The gears are shifted using bar end shifters (aka barcons).  They are very robust and allow you to shift without removing your hands from the bars.  They also have a non-indexed mode that is useful if you damage your derailleur somewhere remote.  The derailleur itself is an XT shadow derailleur which is high-quality, robust, and well-positioned to avoid getting knocked. The Tektro brake levers are very nice with a wide flat area on the hoods which most people find comfortable.  They have a built-in quick release to make wheel removal easier.  The Tektro cantilever brakes work well and offer a lot of clearance for mudguards and racks.

Stock LHT

It doesn’t come with pedals, which makes sense.  There are too many different incompatible pedals out there and most people considering an LHT will already have a preference.  We often fit single-sided SPD pedals so that on a long ride you can clip in, but if you’re just going to the local shops you needn’t change shoes.

A Few Mods

We often make a few mods to the out-of-the-box LHT.  First there’s all the matters of personal preference.  A lot of people have strong preferences for certain saddles and bars.  Swapping bars and saddles makes a big difference to how a bike feels and is a good way to make a new bike feel like it’s yours.  Some people swap a Brooks saddle and a Nitto Noodle onto a LHT.  Others swap on ergo bars and a San Marco Rolls.  You might want butterfly bars and a gel saddle.  This comes down to what you find comfortable, and what will help you enjoy spending more time on your bike.

Brooks saddle on an LHT

One of the next most common mods is a new pair of tyres.  Vittoria Randonneurs are one of our go-to tyres, and give a good balance of longevity, puncture resistance, efficiency and comfort.  We’ve also used Marathon Duremes on LHTs for a similar but slightly different balance of the same factors.  There are a huge number of other options, and changes here will make a big difference to how the bike feels on the road.  Changes in tyre size also allow you to find a balance between comfort and speed that suits you, and the frame has lots of room for large tyres which help you to play with this variable.

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Fitting mudguards is a good way to make the LHT more versatile.  As mentioned above, the braze-ons on the LHT are all well-suited to this, and the frame offers excellent clearances.  There are also a few different choices of fenders that will personalise the bike.  Velo Orange hammered aluminium fenders give the bike a very different look to the Cascadia polycarbonate fenders.  Likewise, racks improve the versatility of the bike, and there are a whole slew of options.  You can have low rider pannier racks on the front, or a huge Surly Nice Rack, or a tiny Nitto M12 rack for a small bag.  We often put Topeak Super Tourists on the back, but there plenty of other options, including Tubus.  How you set up your racks will determine how the bike handles when loaded and should be based on the loads you typically carry.

Rack on LHT

We also fit a lot of kickstands to LHTs.  If you have panniers and need to get something out of one of them during a ride they make the job much easier.  The nicest kickstand we do (and probably the nicest there is) is the Pletscher bipod stand.  The issue of kickstands displays one of the only shortcomings of the LHT frames – they don’t have a kickstand mount.  Although this is slightly inconvenient, we can work around it and make sure that it’s our problem, not yours.

Another popular upgrade, but a more involved one, is to install dynamo lights.  This means rebuilding the front wheel with a Shimano or Schmidt hub and choosing lights.  Our favourite hubs are the Shimano 3n80 (or LX if you’ve got 36 holes), the Schmidt SON28 or the SON20R depending on the budget and application.  For lights, the Busch and Mueller IQ Cyo Plus and Flatlight Plus are the pick of the bunch value wise. A Schmidt Edelux or Supernova E3 Pro are both spectacular lights if the budget permits, or you’re after maximum light output.

It’s a hefty initial outlay, but it means no more batteries, seriously bright lights, and not having to remember to bring lights since they attach permanently.  We like to spend a bit of time finding a good way to attach the lights to give you a good beam pattern, keep the light protected, and allow a nice clean way to run the cable from the hub.  Sometimes it’s best to put the cable under the fenders, sometimes rack stays are useful, often brake lines are useful, but if you get us to do it, then we’ll nut out the best way.

Full custom

Fully custom LHTs are some of the most satisfying builds all round.  Starting from the frame only, or heavily modifying the stock bike we can build it up to suit  particular rider.  We really enjoy working out unique specs with the customer, and at the end of the process they walk away with a bike that’s exactly how they want it to be.  We’ve done quite a few already.  Because the LHT frame is so sensibly spec’d there is a lot of scope for different builds.  It’s part of the Surly design philosophy to make the bikes as versatile as possible.  One example of this versatility is the choice of shifter bosses.  Most people will use bar end shifters or brifters on their LHTs, which require cable stops on the frame.  Surly have spec’d shifter bosses with removable cable stops so that the 1% of customers who like down tube shifters will be able to use them.  This thinking on Surly’s part makes it possible for us to work out how to accommodate most people’s preferences in a custom build.

Jack's LHT

Powder coating is a nice option for a custom build.  We work with a local powdercoater and we can get the frame bead blasted and powder coated any colour you like.  We can even get mud guards and racks coated to match the colour of the frame.  We’ve also had a fork chromed to go with a white frame.

If you are doing a custom LHT build we’ll almost invariably recommend dynamo lights.  Modern hub dynamos are so efficient and the LED lights are so reliable and bright that there is almost no downside to going this way, and if the wheels have to be custom built anyway, this takes a lot of the sting out of the associated costs.

We’ve set up a lot of bikes, and seen a few of the pitfalls of custom builds, so with our help you won’t wind up with brakes that interfere with fender or rack mounting, or tyres that barely fit under the fenders, or a too short/wide bottom bracket.  You won’t buy a stem that doesn’t fit your bars, or bars that don’t fit your levers.

Jack’s bike is a good example of a custom build.  We had the frame powder coated, with matching powder coated rims built onto nice hubs (including a Schmidt SON28 Dynamo hub on the front), his own choice of racks, 9 speed Dura Ace STI levers, LX cranks to lower the gearing so he can tow a Bob trailer, etc.  We have even had the rim on Bob trailer powder coated to match the frame.  It has a Supernova E3 Pro headlight and an E3 taillight, which are among the brightest lights out there.  The Dynamo is also hooked up to a USB charger mounted on a second stem that can recharge phones, cameras and so on.  He’ll be using that when he and his wife Lauren ride across America in late 2010.

The many faces...


LHT vs Crosscheck

A number of our customers have had to choose between the LHT and the Crosscheck.  The two bikes are broadly similar.  Both take wide tyres, use cantilever brakes, are robust and comfortable.  The pros and cons that separate the two are all just a matter of degree.  The Crosscheck is little zippier and handles a little quicker due to steeper angles, shorter stays and a more aggressive riding position.  The LHT has a few more braze-ons and takes racks and fenders a little better and gives you more heel clearance for panniers.  Basically, on the continuum from loaded touring bike to road bike the Crosscheck is one step closer to the road bike end.  It can also be used for it’s theoretical intended purpose – cyclocross.  Both can be made into very capable touring bikes or commuters.