Touring on a Surly Pugsley (Progress Report)

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(A Tom Walwyn photo)

When I got home last year from touring on the Pugsley in Alaska I ventured some thoughts, all enthusiastic, about the bike choice. After all, it’s a bike, it goes when you pedal it, in fact it goes just about anywhere a bike can go, and if you’re not racing or trying to keep pace on asphalt with your skinny tire friends, what’s not to like? And in AK, why are you not riding a fat bike? Still, I envisioned myself going back to the Long Haul Trucker with 26″ x 2.0’s for overseas rough stuff touring, the ‘cross bike for smooth roads, and a two nine — the folding Rob English with an IGH, one of the best bikes I’ve had the pleasure of riding — for domestic expedition use.

Then my imagination was hijacked by all those days, not necessarily winter days, hooting and having a ball on the Fat Bike, pointing it into the woods and going, just going. Sure, the tires, rims and bottom bracket on the thing are a decent argument against taking it too far for too long away from North America. If those go FUBAR one would have to get creative. It’s a pig, an automatic minimum 10 lbs. penalty over your next heaviest bike. But I’ve spent most of my time over the last eight or nine years on a rigid singlespeed, so I’m no stranger to poor judgment in bicycle selection.

Here’s what I think after two months riding the Pugsley in South America.

It’s perfect, ideal, optimal, I wouldn’t for a second pack another bike if I was packing tonight. On maps of the countries I’m visiting if the line is thick, I avoid it. If locals say there’s a track or trekking trail to where I’m going, I favor that. If a route is described as muddy rocky broken sandy river crossing tough going, you’ve got my attention. The fat bike is effortless ease where other machines merely get by. My companions for a span Tom and Sarah were almost always able to ride the track that I rode on their standardly Schwalbe shod rigs, they are very capable cyclists, but we could see that the Fat Bike was having a don’t bother picking a line time of it. When Sarah test rode it on a rocky loose uphill outside of Cajamarca, she pedaled away from us, easy peasy.

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“Give it back, Sarah. No, seriously, give it back.”

Tiny marbles, big ones, cobbles, dry river bottoms, sketchy wet, ruts, deep muck, deep gravel, rodeo dirt road descents at speed; yeah, no, I don’t sweat any of that. One could achieve some of the same results riding a full suspension, but touring on such a thing is patently stupid.* Fat tires to the rescue. As a bonus, kids, soldiers, moms, construction workers, crowds at parties, hostal owners, dogs, everyone digs it. Someone said it reminded him of the moto in The Dark Knight. That right there would be nearly good enough for me.

Any regrets I may have entertained about bringing this bike have long since evaporated.**

*No, not seriously.

**True, long asphalt stretches into a headwind make me want to scream, fling the thing into a ditch, and caper about like a lunatic. But I doubt that that’s the bike’s fault.

32 thoughts on “Touring on a Surly Pugsley (Progress Report)

    • Hey Jill, thanks for dropping in. Wait, overseas trip? I thought a gang of us all were bringing our fat bikes to Mongolia, Beat could get his own darn Fat Back for the trip ;-) Okay, a plan at best in the theoretical stages, sure, but still.

      Have a great time in Nepal!

  1. And to think, all that deliberation! Glad you made the right call, and that the Pugs’s ambassadorial qualities continue to thrive on a new continent.

    • Hey Nick, thanks for dropping in. Congratulations, you’re going to love the Pugsley and I look forward to seeing how you go with it.

      My whimsical friends registered me for the WM100, so I’ll be in AK in March. Perhaps see you then.

      Oh, and your blog is terrific, love both the writing and photos.

      Cheers,
      Joe

  2. Hey Any update on the Mogolian idea? I’m currently in spain on my Pug, but will soon head east towards Mongolia and Siberia.

    Good site, Thank’s.
    Martin (Denmark)

    • Hello Martin,

      Thank you for visiting the blog. I’m interested to hear that you are riding a Fat Bike on tour, and am eager to hear more. As far as Mongolia, it is still on my mind with all seriousness but there is no timetable yet. Keep us posted on your progress!

      Joe

  3. Did 5000 km around europe with Larry’s on various terrain before they gave up. Converted my pug to a roadbike with some Big Apple tires and got from Barcelona to Copenhagen in 24 days. Speedy pug. Great versatility. Will now head east before long, towards, soon to be , chilly Siberia.6

    • Martin, fantastic, great to hear it. I don’t necessarily believe it when people say, “if there are no pictures, it didn’t happen,” but I’d love to see any photos you’ve collected from your adventure. All the best, and keep in touch (and let me know when you make it to the Americas).

      Joe

      • Hey Joe.
        I did take some pics on the trip, not a lot though. Furthermore, i’m struggling a bit with setting up a good system for blogging, posting pictures etc. Is currently testing various themes on the wordpress platform, but havent yet found anything that works for me. Any suggestions on that?
        Are leaving Denmark in 2-3 weks for the Russia tour and if everything works out i’ll be taking a swim in the pacific ocean next spring/summer.
        If anyone likes to join me for parts of the jorney, the are more than welcome to contact me at “skolma(at)hotmail.com”

        Your travels are inspiring, thank’s for the big work you did at documenting them. I hope to contribute to that a bit myself.

        Martin

  4. Hello Joe. I just discovered your site. Great job. I was a bit surprised to find out that people do long distance tours on fat bikes. I just got a Pugsley, and I am seeing things differently now.

    • Thanks, and thanks for visiting. I know what you mean about being surprised. I initially—some years ago now—got a Pugsley just for laughs outside in the New England winter. After the snow thawed and did some old favorites on it, I realized what should have been more obvious: Fat Bikes are the most capable exploration bikes around. I don’t tour on it as a gimmick or for attention. It’s just the best tool for my aesthetic, and I now feel stymied and limited when I’m on other rigs.

      Cool that you got a Pugs. You might just ride it everywhere.

      Cheers,
      Joe

  5. Joe,
    I am setting off on a Pugsley to tour from Argentina – Alaska…
    Is this foolish? Doesn’t really matter at this point because I have the bike and plane tickets so I will find out. I am worried about breaking a wheel…. What other worries should I have?

    • Hey Matt, your trip sounds tremendous, you’re going to have an absolutely amazing time. Foolish? I’d say not in the slightest. Yeah, you might break a wheel or tear a sidewall. The way I think about it, I want to have a series of short term, “get me to a big town” plans and then a series of long term contingencies. Before I left on my Pugs to South America, I did these experiments:

      http://joecruz.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/pugsley-wheel-experiments/

      My conclusion was that I could very easily use standard 26″ wheel based solutions to a fat bike mishap. Though I never had to make good on the plan, what I would have done if my wheel broke is buy a 26″ mountain bike wheel and tire and carry on. (What if nothing available had disc brakes? Oh well. Continue with one brake!) If I’d torn a sidewall beyond repair—and locals’ ability to repair things like tires is very high—I would have bought the biggest standard mountain bike tire available and carried on.

      As far as long term solutions, have a standing plan with someone who can send you fat bike parts. It’ll be expensive, but doable. And you have a tremendous advantage going south to north: just when your stuff is wearing out and your tire treads are toast, you’ll be arriving in the USA. Easy peasy.

      Hope that puts you at ease a little.

      Drop a note and post photos!

      Joe

      • Hey Joe,
        I appreciate your fast response. I actually had a peek at your pugsley back up wheel plan a few days ago and it definitely played a role in helping me feel more confident , and to “pull the trigger” on plane tickets, etc. So I thank you for that inspiration. I have never toured (hell, ive never owned my own bike before the pugs) so I have no real idea what I am doing.
        I fly to Buenos Aires on Jan 19, 2015…. I will definitely let you know how it goes. I’ve read your gear list a bunch of times so I hope its not annoying to ask… What would be your perfect compromise (oxymoron?), in terms of cargo equipment, for riding longer distance while still enjoying the bike? Can you ride pannier less for over a week at a time? I would think not? Here is the cargo list I have in my head: rear rack, rear panniers, frame bag, bar bag, small backpack, seat bag or gas tank…. and I would love to bring my packraft…. is this foolish? The thought of going on such an adventure and leaving the raft at home makes me want to cry :( I have about a $700 budget for cargo equipment. Any thoughts are greatly appreciated!

      • Wow, never toured and never had a bike! That’s perfect and I say it again: you are going to have a GREAT time. We can chat a bit more by email (write me at jcruz at williams dot edu), but I’ll venture a thought or two here in case it’s of general interest.

        I’m persuaded by the functionality of soft bags like the Revelate gear. With the gear list that you’ve looked at, I was able to go for four or five days without resupply, assuming access to water once in awhile. I’m told (mostly by my wife, but by others, too) that I’m on the far end of not caring whether I have “backup” food. That’s true: on the fourth day I might well have not very much to eat, and maybe nothing on the fifth day. I mostly just shrugged.

        Be all that as it may, the setup you’re describing sounds just fine, though very rear heavy with panniers and a seat bag. The Pugsley looks stout, but it’s actually a kind of wiggly frame with a load in back, so if you overload your panniers you might get objectionable shimmy or the bike might be a handful to handle.

        So, for a more balanced load, why not skip the seat bag (unless you mean a small one for tools and such) and carry a biggish stuff sack on the bars up front in something like the Revelate Sling? (If you ride a small Pugs like I do, there may not be a lot of clearance from bar to top of front tire. Be mindful of that, and a rack can help if you’re going to carry a lot up front.)

        The setup I’m describing above is the one I used in Alaska: https://joecruz.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/img_0576.jpg

        Now, as far as a packraft, why not bring it? That’s the thing that would go in the front sling.

        My advice, finally, is to try very hard to pare down your load enough so as to avoid a backpack. (You’re carrying water on the forks and under the downtube, right?)

        Joe

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