Touring on a Surly Pugsley (Progress Report)

(A Tom Walwyn photo, above)

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.


“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.