“I think they [Knards] will be too slow.” “You won’t find 29er tires or tubes in Africa.” “That thing is going to be heavy.” I pretty much ignored the aforementioned comments, among a couple other worries that were floating around in my skull, and rolled into Africa with the ECR, complete with Knards. Here are my thoughts after 1,000 KMs.

by Logan on Jan 2      44 COMMENTS

The first thing I must mention in this quasi review is the amount of oglers and inquisitors that the ECR has left in its in its wake so far in South Africa. Granted, it is a sight to behold. I think it probably draws comparison to the timeless expedition-built overland vehicles that frequently roam the bush and tackle big trans-African adventures, strapped with gas-cans, spare lugged tires, gear trailers and canvas tarps that provide temporary shelter to the intrepid travelers that spend days behind the wheel in order to reach remote and rugged places.

Surly ECR - Off Road Bike Touring - Knards, Racks

I think I have found something close to a niche for this bike, although it may in fact fall into several niches. It’s not exactly the fully loadable cousin of the Krampus, or the Knardable option for the Ogre, or the fat big brother of the Troll. It’s kind of it’s own thing. It’s a playful, long-distance workhorse, and after rolling across some very diverse non-tar surfaces in the Western Cape of South Africa, and venturing to places where there aren’t many automobiles, it is my very happy home.

Surly ECR - Off Road Bike Touring - Knards, Racks

The Surly ECR Sacred Geometry

For the style of riding and the terrain I prefer, I really like the geometry of the ECR. It’s a somewhat of a slack bike. Not as playfully designed as the fun-loving Krampus, but also not as upright as the Ogre or Troll. It has enough head angle to feel comfortable, and even nimble on descents, but the lower bottom bracket gives it a nice stable ride when climbing or working through technical terrain. Even though I’ve built this one a little on the heavy side (especially when loaded), the ECR begs for a flowing and a playful style of riding.

Surly ECR - Off Road Bike Touring - Knards

The ECR does have a large BB drop, and respectively low bottom bracket height, on paper. But the fatter Knards make up the distance and give it a comparable BB height to the Ogre, or my Ibis Mojo, for that matter. Over rocky climbs and toying around with obstacles, it feels like there is a generous amount of room, even with larger platform pedals. I have had some pedal strike on single-track, but I blame those on the fact that I am somewhat new to flats. The ECR could work with smaller tires, but something below a 2.5 may be pushing it if you are into riding chunky or technical surfaces. All in all, I don’t see this as an issue.

Surly ECR - Off Road Bike Touring - South Africa

The 29+ Platform for Touring

There has been lots of discussion on the web and amongst off-road enthusiasts about the 29+ platform. Such debate is justified, as this is indeed a special formula. I rode the Krampus on a slice of single track a couple of months ago and was sold on the idea that a bicycle could perform off road, and be extremely fun, without suspension. Suspension is not necessarily a bad thing, but over a long tour in a remote country, there is something to be said for the reliability, loading capabilities, and non-maintenance of a rigid setup. But, when off of the tarmac is where the adventure beckons, a rigid bike can serve up a beating. The magic of 29+ is in the marriage of a large rolling diameter, a rigid frame/fork, and the performance and suspension qualities of the hefty 3” Knards. 29+ pretty much defangs the dirt serpent.

2014-01-ECR-06

Bike Touring (in Africa) with Knards

It is, at the very least, a once a day occurrence to be stopped by someone who is outwardly astonished by the three inch tires. They obviously don’t have fat bikes here. Knards have actually proven to be quite a useful conversation starter. I can partially accredit at least one kind offer of accommodation to the tires. On our first night out of Cape Town, a commuter, Liesbet, stopped us and seemed slightly infatuated with the Knards. Shortly in to the conversation, she invited us to stay the night in her beautiful home in the Cape WInelands. Lucky for us, these knobby spectacles of round rubber caught the eye of a kind fellow cyclist.

2014-01-ECR-07

I was hesitant to roll with Knards, but I think it was one of the best gear decisions I made.

We have attacked the Western Cape by way of dirt tracks and gravel roads…routes based upon the recommendations of countless locals, Tracks4Africa, and an off-road motorcycle book called Dirt Busters. The surfaces generally range from chunky limestone gravel to shale to dirt to sand, and they come in varying levels of roughness. But we have also spent plenty of miles on very rocky off-road tracks, sandy washouts, mud, stream crossings and plenty of eroded ungelations. These conditions, in my opinion, are home for Knards, and the ECR for that matter. The tires eat up vibrations that this terrain dishes out, for kilometers on end, especially at speed. Last year, on my Troll, I would get numb-hands after long stretches of bumpiness, but that hasn’t occurred with the current setup. It may be partially due to the 29er platform, but I think I owe the Knards a salute on this. Another big plus is the ability for the tires to completely eat up egg-sized rocks that seem to be strewn all over these tracks. They simply barrel over almost anything without consequence.

Surly ECR - Off Road Bike Touring - Knards

Looking almost new after 1,000 KMs

The tires are a little sluggish on pavement, but not nearly as much as I was expecting. Considering their size and tooth, they actually move pretty well on all surfaces. The other day we rode out of Van Wyksdorp up and down some pretty big hills with two mountain bikers we met. After pausing for a photo, I shot down the hill, and Nicholas waiting at the bottom exclaimed, “I thought you were a Land Rover coming around the corner!” Fine by me. The off road performance and bump-eating characteristics make up for the slight speed penalty.

Also, you can feel the rotational weight of the tires coupled with the heavy Toobs. I plan on setting them up tubeless in the future which should remedy some of the weight penalty.

Surly ECR - Off Road Bike Touring - South Africa

My two biggest concerns about running the Knards over a long tour on foreign soil, were toughness and treadware. So far I’ve had one flat. A slow leak that was repaired by a few squirts of Stans (sold at pretty much every bike shop in South Africa) via the removable core of the Surly Toob. The puncture, which I think came from a porcupine spine on a dirt road through the Klein Karoo, quickly patched itself and I’ve been rolling over rock and dirt for two weeks since.

After 1,000 KMs, the 27TPI Knards are showing very little sign of wear; impressive considering we have also pedaled on a fair share of pavement. Only time will tell how they will hold up over the long haul, but I am confident that they will last the majority of a 4-month trip. In case of a blow out, I am carrying a spare 2.2”. Really only necessary once we go North; the 29er has definitely caught on in South Africa.

Surly ECR - Off Road Bike Touring

Pretty happy I put the 34t ring on in combo with the Rohloff, my knees are thanking me after a couple of recent passes. But, now my Salsa bash is looking a little goofy; need to find a smaller one to match.

Surly ECR (Extremely Comfy Ride)

The last thing I’ll add, on a personal note, is that this is the best fitting bicycle I have ever put together. There is something special about a bike that feels as if you fit within the cockpit, instead of sitting upon it. It’s not as simple as choosing the right stem, or having your seat adjusted correctly. It’s kind of a divine match. I have purchased all the bikes I have ever owned sight unseen; some have worked and some have become my bike. This is definitely one of those.

Surly ECR - Off Road Bike Touring - Knards, Racks

The Build

  • Frame: 20″ Surly ECR (large)
  • Rear Hub: Rohloff Speedhub 500/14 36 spoke
  • Front Hub: Velocity Disc 36 spoke
  • Wheels: Velocity Blunt 35 29er laced by The Wheel Department
  • Cranks: Shimano Deore LX (oldschool and bulletproof)
  • Ring: NEW: Shimano road 34t – sadly swapped out my Surly Stainless 38t
  • Chain: Wippermann 808
  • Tires: Surly Knard 27TPI
  • Bottom Bracket: SKF
  • Brakes: Avid BB7 / Avid Ultimate levers
  • Headset: Chris King Nothreadset
  • Handlebar: Crank Brothers Cobalt riser (cut to about 680mm)
  • Stem: Easton EA70 100mm
  • Saddle: Selle Anatomica Titanico X
  • Seatpost: Easton Havoc
  • Pedals: Blackspire Big Slim MKII
  • Front Rack: Salsa Minimalist
  • Rear Rack: Tubus Vega

P.S.

2014-01-ECR-13

A proper braai. I think I ate about 2 feet of this batch of boerewors (South African sausage) after a 4,000 ft climb today.

Tags

  • Jake Kruse

    thanks a bunch, i have been eagerly awaiting this review. comments on the bottom bracket height issue and fit of the bike are especially appreciated. how have you been liking the selle anatomica saddle? i was thinking it would be a good fit for my future ECR, and am curious if you have any comments about its durability under day-in day-out touring conditions.

  • Lars Henning

    Gorgeous looking bike, Logan. I’ve been waiting for a write up on something like this. I am both ECR and Rohloff curious. Maybe on my next trip!

  • chris

    36 spoke?

  • Jeff Bartlett

    You talk a bit about speed, but I am curious about how fast it handles dirt roads? I am looking for a Tour Divide bike and feel the ECR might be the best answer. My other idea is to run 2.0 inch rubber on my Long Haul Trucker.

    Just curious if the ECR can be fast enough to push towards a 200 km day?

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Yes sir.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    I think it could be, as long as you have the legs. I would probably use a tubless setup for that purpose, and possibly the lighter Knards, although I can’t speak to their durability. Lighter components could also make it work well.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks, do it!!

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    I love the Titanico. This is actually my second one, used it on my last tour as well. I wouldn’t ride anything else. Get the X though, it’s much tougher than the original leather… also, check out my review of the old one here: http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/gear/selle-anatomica-titanico-the-best-bike-touring-saddle/

  • Joe

    Thanks so much for the review. I’m even more sold on this bike than before. I am impatiently waiting to buy an ECR for myself. The bike shop says not yet…

  • Fraser

    How tall are you what’s ur inseem?

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    About 6′ even. 33″ inseam…

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Sure thing… should be soon I would imagine…

  • http://www.uninspiredramblings.com/ Chris

    Great review. Did you get the copper rivets on your second Anatomica? How careful are you with it in the rain? It sounds like the TruLeather is longer lasting than the Watershed leather but needs protection from water. I had a Brooks B17 but didn’t like riding it with the rain cover on – I think it lost the ‘slippyness’ of the leather on its own. I like the idea of this saddle but wonder how much more care of it you have to take compared to a ‘normal’ saddle?

  • BikeHermit

    I love the 700×41 Knards on the Surly Straggler. You neglected to identify the bags you are using, I think.

  • Einweltenbummler

    Hi, you’ll find tires for 29inch in Africa. I just got some in Tanzania, but they didn’t last long, though. For a tube, you can strech a 26inch to fit.
    Cheers

  • ciclogenesis

    Hi, what is the clearance between the chain and the rear tyre?
    Thank you!!

  • Jeff Bartlett

    Awesome. Thanks. I am very partial to my long haul, but these knew Knard tires are giving me ideas!

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks! Yep, copper for this one. Funny you ask… I just got done riding in some nasty rain and rolled into Jeffreys Bay about an hour ago. No, I never take any special care in the rain, but I have the Watershed versoin. I did recoat my other one with their ‘Saddle Sauce’ after our Central American tour last year though. I think their Truleather comes with a coat of Saddle Sauce as well, which acts as a rain protector. Oh, and sorry for the delay, I have been pretty far out in the bush with no wifi or 3g…

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Good to know! I have seen all types of 29er tires in shops in SOuth Africa. A lot of great Schwalbes as well…

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Sorry for the delayed response… I have been pretty far out in the bush with no wifi or 3g. Not having measuring tape on tour, I would visually estimate about 3/4″ (19mm)…

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Ah yes, sorry I had planned on doing a packlist soon. I am using a DIY saddlebag I made, a DIY framebag and a Crumpler Kashgar that I converted to a bar bag. There are posts about those projects in the Gear section of the site. Also, using a few various drybags and things. I will post the full list soon, if you are interested. And sorry for the delayed resopnse, I have been pretty far out in the bush with no wifi or 3g…

  • http://www.uninspiredramblings.com/ Chris

    No worries, figured you were out having fun! I was tempted by the watershed version for that reason but then saw they say that although its more comfortable from the off, it probably will stretch more quickly and won’t last as long. Arggh…

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Tough call. I guess it depends how long you plan to travel with it. I have tightened my adjustment screw about 3/8″, so far (after about 1,100 KM on a mix of gravel, really rough dirt and rock roads, and a little pavement). It was a brand new Watershed X, and I weigh about 170 lbs. I think it will last a while…

  • http://www.uninspiredramblings.com/ Chris

    I’m thinking of an indefinite mountain bike ride… a long trip. Wondered whether I should really be going for the NSX version though that removes the slot which is kind of the main feature of the Titanico. And in my hesitation, the prices have gone back up… Darn…!

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Bummer, you missed the holiday sale. I highly recommend the slotted version. I ride with no chamois… it’s that comfortable.

  • ciclogenesis

    Thank you for the information!!
    I’m planning to mount a bike like yours and this is important data for mud places.
    Cheers!!

  • Connor D’Amato

    Hey any chance you could tell me if the knards will fit the ogre?

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Connor, I have seen photos of folks putting a Knard on the front of an Ogre, but it won’t fit on the rear…

  • Connor D’Amato

    Thanks very much thats what ive been reading. I’m a little upset i got an ogre a few months before the ecr was available. But I’m gonna set it up with 2.5 i think.

  • Bike Tourings

    Your Selle Anatomica Titanico X is it the NSX model without the cutout? Knards appear to be holding up very well, Kenda Small Block Eight memories, nice build.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks, no it’s the X with the cut-out…

  • Chad L

    I wasn’t aware that SKF made a sealed taper BB for a 73mm wide shell? Did you shoe horn their 68mm model into your bike? Regards.

  • Studsted

    Are you suing a double chain rail on the Deore XT? I want to build one of these and use the Deore 2×10 drivetrain.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Yeah, using the second ring on that old deore crank for a Rohloff… worked well for the chainline…

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Fits both… here is what Sheldon has on it: http://sheldonbrown.com/harris/bottombrackets.html#skf

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  • Harry Major

    Thanks for the fantastic review! 2 questions.

    1) how do the tires mount/feel on the 35mm blunts as opposed to the 50mm Rabbit Holes.
    2) ECR vs Pugsely for long distance off road touring. My Girlfriend and I are trying to decide for a pan america trip. Its killing us, as there is no where to test an ECR in Australia. Does the ECR still have that smile enduring roll over fun that the 4″ tyres of the Pug provide?

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks Harry! I haven’t ridden the Rabbit Holes, but I have no problem with the Blunts… love them actually. I have toured on Velocitys for several thousand miles and have not had any issues. The provide enough tire spread for me and no issues with the tires rolling off in heavy cornering. The ECR and Pugs are definitely going to be different beasts. The ECR is very fun and ‘smile inducing’! That’s a tough choice… I am all about the ECR though! Let me know how you choose to proceed…

  • http://www.uninspiredramblings.com/ Chris

    Hey Logan, I wondered how the Titanico X was doing and whether you feel that it is lasting? I’m about to pull the trigger I think, after unsuccessfully trying some others the past few months. Selle Anatomica’s firm advice to me is to go for the NSX for off-road riding as it will resist the stretch, but it also seems that it would not provide the same comfort! Hows yours holding up after a good period of sustained riding?

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    It’s doing very well, actually. The rivets have a coat of rust on them, but I am in Southern Africa during the rainy season, so most of the time it gets rained on daily…

  • Ben

    Regarding ECR Vega/Logo fit:

    I also have an ECR and am running Tubus Logo EVO and Vega EVO racks – Currently Logo up front because it keeps my panniers from rubbing on the fork but I have tried the reverse (Vega up front and Logo in the rear). At the rear, there is a bit more tire clearance with the Logo – the tire whiskers will rub the Vega but not the Logo running 127TPI Knards tubeless on Velocity Duallys. I’m unsure if this is a design variation in the racks or a manufacturing variation but it is a fact for the two racks I have.

    Tire clearance is a non-issue for these racks up front because the braze-ons are mounted pretty high up the fork.

    Sorry I can’t give exact measurements as I am now experimenting with Schwalbe tires, being not entirely thrilled with the fit of the Knards running tubeless on the Duallys (loose bead). I anxiously await the Notubes 29+ rims and hope that we will also see fat and 29+ tires from Schwalbe!

    PS. Great blog. I really enjoyed following your recent trip.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Hi Ben. Interesting to hear about the Logo… I was curious about that one. Also, bummer about the loose bead on the Duallys (although I have heard of similar issues). I love Velocity rims, so I’d love to see an workable solution for tubeless with 27TPI Knards. My 27TPIs have about 6,000 kilometers on them and still rolling… Cheers, and thanks for the feedback!

  • Armand

    Hey there, Loving the hek out of your blog, photography, and your trips!

    I’m wondering if you can touch on how you went about mounting the bottle cages on your rear rack? I’d like to go about something similar with my rig.

    Thanks in advance!
    -Armand

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Hi Armand, thanks! There is actually a very detailed description of how they were fabricated here: http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/gear/tubus-vega-surly-ecr-rack-mods-extra-h20/

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