Touring on a Surly Pugsley

For the six weeks and some 2,000 miles I cycle toured Alaska, I pedaled a Surly Pugsley. Fat bikes are unmatched on snow and sand and marshland. That’s why I got mine. But they’re also an invitation to explore, to move a little more deliberately and confidently than one sometimes does, and to never view any part of the map as regretfully off limits because you’re on the wrong machine. I enjoyed touring this way.

Yes, it was slower, yes, it was heavy, yes, I covered less ground than I might otherwise have. Of course, I’ve never been on a bike tour where I didn’t at some point fantasize about a different bike. I try to pay those inevitable irrationalities no mind in retrospect. On asphalt the Pugsley was cushy, comfortable and unhurried. On gravel roads and double track, I didn’t change my speed or style at all, as it just floated over imperfections. It’s a fantastic and easy bike on singletrack, even fairly technical sections. I rode it as a kind of amusing experiment on all these surfaces, and also because I knew there would be beaches that I’d want to explore that I otherwise couldn’t. It did that, too. Like most any bike, it disappears during the hours of moving through the landscape.

I was reminded while riding the Pugsley that the imagination is readily gripped by the bicycle as freedom and adventure. Every day people — many of whom I bet haven’t thought about bikes since they were kids — would go out of their way to ask me about the tires. In Fairbanks a guy in a Ford F150 held up traffic at the light to quiz me on where he could get one. A twenty-two year old flag woman reading Elle while working on a road crew waxed eloquent about how it’s the best bike she’s ever seen and how she and her boyfriend should each get one. A crowd of rowdy geologists gathered around the bike in Coldfoot. Hunters, families at supermarkets, truck drivers, post office workers, kids, old guys in camo, folks on a smoke break outside convenience stores: somehow just looking at fat bikes gets people fired up in a positive way about bicycles. (A friend quipped that, if we want to popularize cycling as a lifestyle in America, we should abandon all that hipster urban organic grocery store commuter fixie or Dutch bike nonsense and just ride fat tire bikes.) The Pugsley opened up conversations and reflection on being outside. That alone would have been enough to validate the decision to be on it for this trip.

Honestly, it won’t be my default touring bike. I prefer fast and light and will return to that style. (2012 Update: This turns out not to be true. I was completely wrong!.) Nor would I hesitate, though, to tour on a fat bike again if it looked like their tremendous virtues might play a role in the terrain or challenge or aesthetic of my destination.

Notes:

- As mentioned elsewhere on this blog, my setup consisted in two Arkel rear panniers on an Old Man Mountain Cold Springs rack and a Revelate Designs front sling and pocket holding my tent and sleeping bag and pad (complete gear list here). The front sling was supported by a Rivendell Mark’s rack with extra-long (350mm) Nitto mounting struts. Weight varied considerably depending on how much food I was carrying. When stores were readily available I carried almost no food and the entire setup was in the neighborhood of 60 lbs. At the beginning of the Dalton Highway leg with food for eight days, I would guess the entire load went up to about 90 lbs. The Pugsley was completely stable throughout. I could pedal out of the saddle on steep climbs and could descend at speed. There was no shimmy or poor behavior.
- I was running two Endomorphs and had no flats at all during the tour. The rear one is quite worn now, but the front has plenty of life left in it.
- The big tires seemed to me to spit an unusual amount of spray in the wet. If I tour again on it, I will certainly make or acquire fenders.
- Off road tire pressure was about 9 psi; on road, around 16.
- I mailed the bike home through the US Postal service. $106. It arrived back to me in on the East coast of the US in three weeks.

20 thoughts on “Touring on a Surly Pugsley

  1. Good ‘report’—thanks for making the time to post it. As a fellow owner of a 2010 Pugs frame, it’s great to see another out in much more wildness than mine has seen. Just local trails and snowstorms for me.

    Thanks again for the post.

  2. I appreciate the kind comment. Truth be told, the Pugsley has likely had its day in the sun and will now, like yours, be primarily for winter fun on local trails. Unless one of those big winter races or an expedition in, say, the Algerian desert calls!

  3. Your friend is slightly wrong!

    There are only a thousand fixies in the Netherlands, on a total of more than 18 million bicycles.

    ….. and dont forget the 5 Surly Pugsley’s LOL

  4. “Fat bikes are unmatched on snow and sand and marshland. That’s why I got mine. But they’re also an invitation to explore, to move a little more deliberately and confidently than one sometimes does, and to never view any part of the map as regretfully off limits because you’re on the wrong machine. I enjoyed touring this way.”

    Thanks for reaffirming why I want a Fatbike. Got my eye on that Mulkluk. :) May have to wait a couple years… need to upgrade to the Ti Fargo next year first.

  5. Great post!!! Although I have a young family, I’d like to do a pedal ;) like this some day on my Pug !
    Until then I’ll keep pushing the “Fats” around the woods and anywhere else I feel like exploring.

    Peace, Joboo

  6. Nice post. I’m eyeing a Pugs this winter… I have plenty of places to ride out the door in BTV, and more across the lake in the ADKs. I’ve thought about using it as a GDR tour bike… seems like you’ve been there and done that (in a different way.

    Keep writing!

  7. Great Post, Thank you for taking the time to write this. This was one of the reasons I bought a Salsa Mukluk. It just makes me smile, and it is a great ambassador for biking. People just want to talk about bike when they see you. I live in Arizona, not much snow but it is a great bike on any terrain. Thank for the info on tire pressure. I would love to do a trip like that soon.

  8. What a pleasant surprise, Joe, to run across your blog while researching these touring fat bikes. I don’t know if you remember me, but I was the alumni relations asst. director that helped with the first Williams cycling event for alumni…5 years ago?…under Brooks. We also rode together in a few other events. Anyway, this post is inspiring! I am looking at a Surly Moonlander to ride here in Telluride, CO over winter and to head out to Canyonlands/Arches to tour the desert. I will keep up with your posts! Ride on, friend.

    Rex Lybrand

    • Rex, buddy, the pleasure is mine! (Not that a reminder was in any way necessary, but you’re right to worry that I’m getting to be a potentially forgetful old man!) Thanks for visiting the blog and thanks for the kind words. I’ve had a blast on my fat bike over the years, and, as you can see, it’s my go to wheel for bikepacking expeditions. You for sure can’t go wrong with the big tires in Telluride and in Utah, and the Moonlander is a great option. I think it would be perfect for Canyonlands; I’ve been there many, many times but always with wee old school tread.

      Keep me posted on your thinking and your plans. Would love to trade ideas on the desert.

      All the best,
      Joe

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