First Ride: Surly Krampus

Originally posted on September 28, 2016 at 13:45 pm


Folklore describes the Krampus as a half-goat, half-demon Christmas wrecker that punishes children who are bad and will not be getting a visit from Saint Nick. If misbehaving is wrong, I don’t want to be right. The new Surly Krampus is too much fun for that nonsense.

The Krampus roared to life five years ago as one of the first plus bikes in existence. Since Surly also makes rims, hubs and tires, it can largely do whatever it wants, which is what it did with this bike. The Krampus turned out to be a harbinger of the overwhelming diversification we’d soon be mired in, and was due for an update.


The most welcome and obvious adjustments to the new Surly Krampus are the use of tubeless-ready rims, thru-axle dropouts, adjustable Gnot-Boost spacing to allow for multiple hub widths, stealth cable routing for a dropper post (on a wider, 30.9 seat tube) and new tubing that cleaned up the head tube area and strengthened other areas without adding weight. For the bikepacking set, Krampus is now more welcoming to racks and cages, and will sell with the same braze-on-covered fork that other bikes get.

The original Krampus could take a 120 mm fork, but Surly was lukewarm on recommending it (not that Surly owners obey orders). It also meant you’d have to re-lace your front wheel to a different hub since the bike was stocked with quick release. Ugh, too much work. Anyway, Krampus now embraces the bounce, though the bikes will come stock with a rigid fork.

How else does this one differ from its predecessor? The head tube angle is half a degree slacker (now 69). Chainstays are half an inch shorter (down to 17.1). The new build kit includes a SRAM NX derailleur and shifter, SRAM Level brakes, a WTB Volt Saddle, updated Surly Dirt Wizard 29×3.0 tires and 11 speeds.


Yadda yadda yadda; how does it ride? At this point, there are not many unique ways left to describe the ride feel of a steel hardtail. In a way, that’s a good thing. If you like steel, if you like fun, if you aren’t a weight weenie, if you like play, then you will like this Krampus. The ride is tremendous. Those huge wheels, huge tires and slackened geometry meant I was less careful than I might otherwise have been on completely unfamiliar terrain.

Krampus ate up the rocks, steeps, sand, dust, berms and slower riders. It’s far from the fastest bike I’ve ever ridden, but it was also far easier to handle than I ever expected. Slowed way down on ledgy, twisty bits of trail, I deftly kept it upright without tiring out my waif-like arms. Get one. I can tell you it’s gonna be great, believe me. Huge. You know what I mean.


For a long time, I turned my nose up at the 29plus thing for one reason: I am 5’4″. I assumed there was no way a 15-inch frame wearing clown shoes could accommodate me comfortably. Despite the awkward look of my size small test bike–like a teenager whose feet grew to full size before their height caught up–the Krampus proved me wrong. I felt “in” the bike, immediately comfortable with how it rode and handled. If you have been pedaling hardtails for a while, this one won’t feel unfamiliar.


The Krampus really could be your one mountain bike. The stock rigid fork with bottle mounts means it comes ready to travel. Add suspension and a dropper and you have a capable trail bike for all but the biggest hits or fastest cross-country races. That’s the beauty of the 29plus trail hardtail–to ride one is to have it all make total sense. These bikes occupy a middle ground that, rather than making them dull, makes them incredibly versatile. Depending on how you build it, you can fiddle with the ride characteristics to suit your desires. Install a carbon fork and lower-profile tires and this thing could really rocket if you’re willing to give ‘er.

I greatly enjoy my full-suspension carbon wunderbike, but it seems to have just a single purpose in life: go fast over gnar. It gets all pissy when you need to slow down or want to go on a gravel road ride, instead. A friend like the Krampus says, “Whatever you’re up for, I’m cool with it.”


What does a Surly Krampus have over other brands? A good price, the ride quality of Surly’s CroMoly “Natch” steel, the bikepacking-friendly fork, the ability to find them in lots of bike shops and attitude. Lots and lots of attitude. Also, the Gnot-Boost rear is pretty cool since you can choose to use either a 10 x 135 mm QR, 12 x 142, or 12 x 148 Boost hub. Yes, it’s heavy. Yes, custom is all the rage right now. But if you’re ready to try steel, give this candy apple a bite.


My primary complaint–or confusion, rather–is that the new Krampus is now a lot like the new Karate Monkey (read my first ride review of the 27plus version of that bike). Both the Krampus and the Monkey got the “lay-back, get-rad” treatment for 2017, each with a longer top, shorter stays and slacker angles. Uh oh, is this Surly following a trend rather than creating one? How do you decide between the two?!?


Those changes pushed each machine into the trail bike category previously only occupied by the Krampus (and Instigator, but we’ll have to see what happens with that bike). Surly admitted the two bikes are now much more similar than they used to be, with wheel size the primary difference now that the Monkey no longer sports traditional cross-country geometry, which I am kinda bummed went away.


I really, really hope Surly decides to sell this bike with a suspension option. Apparently, the rigid forks weren’t ready for prime time when Interbike rolled around, so all of the test bikes sported Manitou Machetes. I had a blast riding this setup, particularly because suspension is a huge factor in not needing to choose your lines so wisely–good for adventures on unfamiliar singletrack and faster descents.

The Machete, a 120 mm fork that impressively retails for under $400, felt excellent. I don’t have much more to say about the fork since it wasn’t the focus of my ride, but if you’re looking for a Boost option that is reasonably priced (for what it is), I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in the Machete.



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