First Impression: Surly Karate Monkey 27plus

Originally posted on December 19, 2017 at 1:28 am

The Surly Karate Monkey is an iconic hardtail that helped popularize 29er wheels back in the early 2000s. It remained unchanged for 14 years, until 2016, when Surly launched an update to the frame that brought it into modern times. With longer, lower, slacker geometry, 27plus compatibility, internal dropper post routing and a frame that’s designed to run up to a 140 mm suspension fork, the Karate Monkey just got more fun while retaining its identity as a simple, rugged, steel hardtail.

The 4130 ‘Natch chromoly frame got a few geometry tweaks – a 69-degree headtube angle versus 72 on the old one, slightly shorter chainstays, slightly longer top tube and a hair of a longer wheelbase overall. The other update is Gnot-Boost spacing, Surly’s solution to be able to run the bike singlespeed or geared with 135 quick release, or 142 or 148 mm thru-axle hubs. Just add or remove spacers and you can use your old quick release wheels with a new frame. 

Keeping up with trends, the frame will easily fit up to 29×2.5 or 27.5×3.0 tires. Complete bikes from Surly come as either a singlespeed 29er or geared 27plus setups. You can also purchase the bike as just a frame and fork, and build your own adventure machine. Add a suspension fork and dropper post to fill out the trail hardtail package, or throw racks and fenders on and use it as a dirt touring rig.

We tested out the complete 27plus geared setup, with everything stock except the Fox 34 140 mm suspension fork. None of Surly’s bikes come stock with suspension, but the frame and new geometry is certainly welcoming of it. The same goes for a dropper post. Though our test sled did not come with one, the addition of a dropper would have done wonders to increase the fun factor of this bike as a trail hardtail.

The Karate Monkey 27.5+ comes stock with SRAM NX 11-speed shifty bits, which was enough gearing to carry me through most everything I encountered except perhaps the steepest of climbs. The wheelset consists of Surly Dirt Wizard 3.0 tires that have knobs for days, mounted on Alex MD40 rims, laced to Salsa hubs.

The Karate Monkey’s strength is as a jack-of-all-trades hardtail. It doesn’t stand out as a remarkable climber, descender or trick machine, but it does handle just about anything you want to throw at it.

Find out more about the K-Monk at the Surly website and stay tuned for our full review in Dirt Rag issue 203.

Note: The full bike review will appear in print in Dirt Rag #203. If you don’t already, subscribe now so that you don’t miss the juicy stuff we’ve got planned for the upcoming issues! While you’re at it, sign up for our email newsletter to get great content like this delivered directly to your inbox every Tuesday.

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