Surly Steamroller Bike Review

Surly Steamroller Bike

Steel streetfighter with a unique cockpit!

About the Bike

Surly produce a weird and wonderful range of bikes, from the Big Dummy cargo hauler, to the Ice Cream Truck all-terrain fat bike. All made of steel, and all surprisingly practical.

The single speed Steamroller has been in the brand’s line-up in one form or another for approaching 20 years. This latest version arrives with a freewheel, yet has switched its traditional road drop bars for an upright and backswept alternative.

The Ride

First impressions: Initial feelings regarding the Surly are dominated by the broad and upright handlebar.

Putting the rider in a straight-backed position, it’s great for riding in traffic and plonks the brake levers instantly at your fingertips. It is, however, a bit odd having previously ridden a drop-handlebar version. Otherwise, it feels promising. It moves along purposefully, with surprisingly little “ex. Moderate weight and quality wheels certainly help here, as does the readily spinnable gearing.

On the road: Away and rolling, the comfortable upright position created by the backswept bar makes adapting to riding the Surly easy, even on a frame a size larger than we’d normally take. Once acclimatized you can start to appreciate the Steamroller’s other facets. As suggested by the bike’s name, having got up to speed, its onward progress is unstoppable. The wide tyres and comfy position keep everything steady.

As long as you’re not pointing uphill the weight of the frame isn’t entirely unwelcome either. In fact, it seems to play a part in keeping the bike glued to the ground rather than chattering along in the way some aluminium frames do.

Perfect as a city porteur or grass-track racer (with the addition of a fixed rear sprocket), the wide bars make chucking it about easy. However, uphill their lack of reach can make going a bit of a slog. Especially in situations where you’d normally get out of the saddle and onto the hoods. Swapping to traditional drops would remedy this without costing too much.

Handling: Surly’s bikes are all made of quality, if anonymous, 4130 chromoly steel. While this doesn’t have the cachet of brand-name tubing like Reynolds, Surly makes the point that brand-name tubing is really just off-the-shelf tubing with a sticker on it.

Erring on the side of strength, either way it’d be a stretch to describe the Steamroller as light. However, it’s creditably well put together, and not any heavier than its direct rivals. Tight in terms of geometry, it’s also quite stiff.

Certainly, pedaling inputs won’t do much to set it twanging, although the huge bars mean it’s possible to detect a degree of “ex in the front of the frame if you really try. At this comparatively low price, few ferrous frames provide much of that magic zingyness associated with lighter, high-end steel.

Instead, the Surly’s tubing is incredibly robust and imparts a modicum of shake-reducing “ex. This gets more and more noticeable the further you ride. Switch back to a typical aluminium frame and the ride instantly feels harsh in comparison. Although muffled by the wide handlebar, a steep head angle and short wheelbase mean the Steamroller is secretly quite whippy.

The Spec

The frame: With spindly tubes and no cable guides to besmirch its winsome looks, the Surly’s minimalist frame is reminiscent of classic ’60s-era track bikes. An effect heightened by the beautiful matching fork, which features a neatly cast “at crown and dropouts.

Less traditional is the space for bulbous 38c tyres. If you don’t mind rigging them up with P-clips you can even squeeze mudguards in, too. With mounting eyelets on the rear dropouts, the addition of a seat post clamp adapter allows the Steamroller to support a rack, while a single pair of bottle cage bosses mean you won’t die of thirst on longer trips.

The rear dropouts are a cast and enclosed design, providing plenty of scope to tinker with the bike’s g earing and wheelbase. Given the Surly’s practical billing it’s actually surprisingly low at the front. Its squat head tube puts it among the racers. This isn’t an issue when run with the stock bars, but if you intend to switch to drops it’s worth keeping in mind. Happily, the bike is supplied with plenty of steerer and spacers left towards the top of the fork.

Groupset: The 45t chainring and 18t cog combine to create a gear that’s easy to get spinning. If you’re smashing out some winter training miles, or live in a pan-flat area, you might want to make it a bit taller though. The crankset is an anonymous square-taper model that’s unlikely to cause any problems.

Its conventional 175mm crank length will be familiar to roadies, but is a touch long for fixed-gear use – there’s a risk of toe overlap with the front wheel, or grounding the pedal when leaning into a corner.

Drilled for standard mid-reach (47-57mm) brakes the Tektro R559 road callipers have a longish drop that allows for the fitting of wide tyres or mudguards. They’re paired with matching Tektro flat-bar levers. These do the job but will need swapping if you switch to a drop bar.

Finishing kit: The radically back-swept Dimension Arc handlebars utterly transform the Steamroller versus previous drop-bar versions, placing the rider in an upright position and providing plenty of leverage. We loved them, some won’t.

If you don’t, swapping them back would cost around £60-100. The WTB Volt Sport saddle is relatively plush and features a pressure relief channel. The inline seat post is tough and puts the saddle where you’d want it given the bike’s geometry.

Wheels: The high-flange track hubs at the heart of the Steamroller’s wheels are star items. They’d cost a good chunk of money to buy aftermarket and feature sealed cartridge bearings and stainless steel hardware for bite and durability.

With threading on both sides of the hub, you could fit an easier gear on the opposite side, or a fixed sprocket on one side with a freewheel on the other. Using 6mm hex bolts instead of traditional nuts, they make it easy to flip it around for a mid-ride gear change, or to remove the wheel for puncture repair, eliminating the need to lug around a heavy spanner in your saddlebag.

With 32 holes they’re laced to Alex Adventurer double-eyeleted rims which give every indication of being almost equally durable. Continental Contact tyres come in a versatile 32c size. They’re quick enough on the road and are also happy launching forays across mixed terrain. More puncture resistant that the average stock tyre, they suit he Surly’s adaptable nature well.

Surly Steamroller

  • FRAME: 4130 steel, flat crown lugged fork
  • LEVERS: Tektro CL-520-RS
  • BRAKES: Tektro R559
  • CHAINSET: Samos AF19-D45S, 45t
  • CASSETTE: Lida, 18t, 3/32”
  • BARS: Dimension Arc
  • STEM: HL 31.8
  • SADDLE: WTB Volt Sport
  • SEATPOST: Kalloy in-line, 27.2
  • WHEELS: Alex Adventurer 2, Surly Ultra hubs 32h
  • TYRES: Continental Contact, 32c

Geometry

ClaimedMeasured
Top tube (TT)587mm580 mm
Seat tube (ST)590mm587mm
Down tube (DT)N/A640mm
Fork length (FL)375mm377mm
Head tube (HT)163mm165mm
Head angle (HA)74°74°
Seat angle (SA)73°73°
Wheelbase (WB)988mm985mm
BB drop (BB)70mm72mm

Rating: 8.3/10

8.3

Frame

9.0/10

Components

7.0/10

Wheels

9.0/10

The Ride

8.0/10

Pros

  • Built for strength and comfort, but not too heavy.
  • We love the back-swept bars, some won't.
  • High-quality track hubs are the star of the show.
  • Has the lively handling of an old-school track bike.
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