Reading your comments on the benefits of 29′er as an off road touring bike with a rigid fork are interesting. I’ve been planning a Troll for that same purpose (with Rohloff and a coil sprung 100mm fork + Old Man Mt front rack). Given the choice between the two–a 29′er with rigid fork or 26″ Troll with a 100mm coil sprung fork for off road touring, having ridden both, which would you pick and why. Thanks in advance for your thoughts. Carl
Carl, as is probably evident, I’m a big fan of 29ers, largely thanks to how smoothly they roll and how assuredly they corner. I find big wheels more confidence inspiring too – I feel less likely to go over the handlebars when mountain biking. And, being 6’1″, they also seem more in proportion to my own tall, lanky frame.
To some degree, which of the two is better for you might well boil down to where you are planning to tour: there’s no doubt that outside of the US/Europe/Australasia, riding a 29er takes more forward planning. It means choosing suitably burly rims, keeping a close watch on your wheels and having replacement tyres sent out – or at least carrying a spare. During my travels in Latin America, I’ve noticed many larger cities are picking up on the 29er revolution – but you’ll still need to hunt them down, and I expect it’s a whole different ball game in Asia and Africa. 26″ wheels, on the other hand, are to be found in all but every hardware store the world over. And while it’s true that if push came to shove, you could throw in a 26in wheel and limp on, it’s hardly ideal.
In terms of big wheels, there’s also less touring-worthy tyres to choose from in the first place. Schwalbe are finally expanding their range, which now includes a 2in Mondial, and a 2.25in Smart Sam, and there’s some sturdy mountain bike tyres around, like Geax’ Saguaros. Still, the options are considerably more limited.
These factors are definitely worth considering, especially for longer journeys in far flung destinations, or those where you’re especially heavily laden and torturing your wheels.
When it comes to pure dirt road touring ‘performance’, I personally prefer the way a rigid fork and a big wheel/large volume tyre feel, compared to a suspension fork teamed with 26in rubber. I like its directness. And, a rigid fork is also happier carrying a load.
This said, there’s definitely a trade off in out and out plushness – ultimately, a rigid 29er is still passive in its form of suspension. This can be especially noticeable out on the trail, particularly after a few days of hard riding. Adjusting tyre pressure regularly is key, but even that can’t match a 100mm of suspension.
For the kind of riding I do, I feel the pros outweigh the cons. Most of the time I’m carrying a relatively light load, or pulling a trailer. Making do without front suspension means less to worry about, coupled with the fact that the options for coil sprung models suitable for touring are dwindling fast. As a footnote, my titanium handlebars probably take out a little of the sting, as do the Ergon GP1 grips I like to run.
In any case, I’d definitely suggest trying out a 29er if you can before making your choice, and seeing what you make of it. The Ogre and Troll are both very nicely thought out bikes, and there’s plenty of overlap between them. Sometimes too much choice leads to a paralysis of indecision. If I hadn’t had access to the Ogre, I’d have been more than happy continuing on the Troll. As it is, my personal preference hedges towards its big brother.
Hey Cass, I love the new layout.
A question, since you’re on the subject of Surlys – I’ve been mulling over a long term project of riding the coastline of Ireland over a few dozen weekends. It would involve a lot of riding on sand, estuary mud and rock bench. I want to go 29er, but I’m wondering if the Ogre is sufficient, or I should go for something even bigger wheeled, like the Grampus or Neck Romancer? I’m lucky that my LBS is now a Surly dealer, but they don’t have any in stock so I’d have to order unseen and unridden.
Sounds like a great project! If it’s proper sand riding, than the Neck Romancer, or similar, is the way to go. That way you can drop the tyre pressure down lowwwww. The Krampus is a cool trail bike, but you’ll need to gear it right (IGH or OD cranks) for touring.
Then again, I’m itching to get a fat bike, so I’m bound to recommend one so I can live vicariously… It sounds like it’s the right tool for the job though. And it looks pretty darn cool too.
Sounds good – I’m not sure yet I’ll take this little project on, but I’ll bear that in mind. Its really just an excuse to own one, they look really great.
I wish I had it right now, I’m about to visit my brothers place up the mountains south of Dublin, snow is predicted tonight….
I think both the Troll and Ogre are great choices. Just to point out a couple of ‘advantages’ of the Troll. Unlike Cass I’m a little guy so the smaller frame works better for me.
It’s just easier to throw around if mountain biking.
Often overlooked but the smaller wheels will be a bit stronger, and It’s easier to pack if you plan to bag the bike up for traveling with it. Similarly you get a lighter weight because everything including the rims and tires ( where a lot of your weight is ) are lighter for the 26″ size. It’s not huge but it adds up if you are touring..
Anything smaller than a 16″ Troll makes it difficult to use frame bags because there isn’t enough space in the frame. You really want to be able to use frame bags.
Thanks Steve. All good points. All things being equal a 29er is the heavier bike (thanks to the tyres/rims/spokes), and a 26in wheel is inherently a bit stronger.
If I was doing a heavily laden tour I’d be tempted to go 26in to make the most of those burly wheels and tyre availability, but these days I tend to pack lighter, so feel a well built 700c wheel is amply strong enough for my needs. If I was riding somewhere I wasn’t confident in having spares sent to, say parts of Africa, then I’d still go 26.
And, I was really happy with the way the Troll handles with 4 panniers and a rigid fork, the way I ran it for several months in Central American and Colombia. Super stable, yet fun to ride too. I wouldn’t hesitate to run that setup again.
What draws me to a 29er is the way it rides off road, unladen and rigid. There, I think the big wheels hold the edge. I was out on my local trails on the Ogre yesterday – some of which are pretty involved and technical – and was amazed at how good it rode, using exactly the same build as I’d take away touring (Rhyno Lite wheels). Versatility, without much of the associated compromise. I’ve done similar riding on a rigid 26in bike, and it’s not felt as good.
Like you I’m currently riding a stock Ogre, bought in the hope that I may eventually be able to afford a Rohloff. I was interested to see your report on the bike that Scott has had built for his Australian adventure, and that he is running derailleur gearing but using a rear wheel at he front so he has a spare if his freewheel fails. Given your experience of both Rohloff and derailleur gearing which would you chose for an unsupported expedition like Scotts?
p.s. your blog was always inspirational but this new site takes it to a whole new level, congratulations!
I’m not sure why Scott went for the derailleur option – he has a Rohloff on his bikepacking Hunter bike and loves it. I guess he didn’t want to rebuild his wheel or invest in a second hub. Personally, I’d go with a Rohloff, not that I’d expect any trouble with derailleurs over the month-long ride. If I was really worried about a Rohloff failing (mine is 7 years old, and has worked faultlessly), I’d put use a 135mm spaced front fork, and run a spare singlespeed cog to interchange the wheels.
His riding partner, Tom (http://bicyclenomad.com/) has a Rohloff and has done just that.
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I’ve been considering either an Ogre or Troll frameset. I ride all year in Minnesota so winter tires are a must. I’m planning on using The Continental Top Contact winter tires in the widest size they make, which is 55-559 / 26″ x 2.2″
The other available size is 42 x 622 / 28″ 1.6″.
I’m 5′ 11″ and the Ogre sounds like a great choice for me. But until I see some bigger winter tires for 29er’s I’m thinking that the Troll is a better option for me.
Schwalbe do a studded 29er tyre, the Marathon Winter – available in a 28×2.0
But I’m not too familiar with winter tyres, so I’m not sure if it’s suitable.
Those Schwalbes are really heavy tires. I also don’t want to use studded tires. Hopefully I can afford a set of the Continental 26″ x 2.2″ winter tires this year and I’ll find out if they work as well as people say they do.
Wow that was strange. I just wrote an really long comment
but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr…
well I’m not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say superb blog!
Sorry about that. Thanks for the comment though!
Planning on doing the Prudhoe Bay to Argentina ride starting summer 2014. Would like to use the ogre. How are the cities in SA for 29ers now? Planning on using Schwalbe big apples 2 x 2.35 and taking a spare set of knobbier tires for back up and for any crazy off roading.
So far… availble in Colombia and Ecuador, if you hunt around a bit. Eg Bogota, Quito and Cuenca, for sure.
Peru: available in Lima, and can be bused elsewhere.
Will let you know about Bolivia when I get there!
Definitely not nearly as widespread as 26in, but do-able with some planning. I always carry a spare too.
I rode the entire Pacific coast of Costa Rica on a Gary Fisher G2 29er Hardtail, rolling on Continental X-King 2.4s. I thought they were great tires for that kind of riding… single track, double track, jeep roads and plain dirt roads. My friend was on a Pugsley and did considerably better when we go into soft sand.
Fat bikes are great for that extra 5% where other bikes simply can’t take you. For me, a 29er is pretty much the sweet spot – though I’ve got to admit, I’d love to do a long tour on a Pugs and see what it’s all about…
Hey , we just finished our maiden tour, Singapore to Bangkok. I battled with my trek x caliber 29ner with a Krampus fork..works perfect..We toured ultralight , both me and wife, she was riding a trek 3 series, 3700D..Again with a rigid xc fork from Gusset Jurry..
Since we have no exp around loaded touring, would appreciate if you could share ur exp abt the Garry fisher G2 bike with racks=load..
We plan to keep these bikes for the next tour as well, with better (newer) wheels..that’s it..
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Cass, somewhere on WOR you’ve mentioned Rohloffs getting along with 29ers better than 26. Would you say this matters as much with a rim drilled for Rohloff? And while you’re at it, could you recommend a tough Rohloff-specific rim?
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“And, being 6’1″, they also seem more in proportion to my own tall, lanky frame.”
One of the most overlooked but important points in the whole ‘wheel wars’ debate. I’m 5’9″, fit the 16″ frame better than the 18″, and found that on the 16″ Ogre frame the 29″ wheels didn’t feel as good as the 26″ wheels on the Troll.
Enough people feel that the 29″ ‘rolls’ better for there to be something in it, however looking at the geometry (hey, I’m an engineer, it’s what I do!) tells us that the advantage amounts to a maximum of around 1cm (that is, a 9cm vertical step on a 29″ wheel has the same roll-over angle as a 8cm high step on a 26″ wheel), decreasing to 0 as the height of the obstacle decreases.
The weight difference between between the 29″ and the 26″ wheels is at least as important – for a typical wheel (for instance, a Mavic XM719 rim with a 2.1″ Schwalbe Smart Sam tyre in 26″ and 29″ rim sizes) , the difference in the wheel weight lets me go up a tyre size (26″ with 2.25″ Smart Sam, 29″ with 2.1″) which takes away a fair bit of the 29″ roll-over advantage, as the smaller wheel with the larger radius has a larger volume tyre, with a wider, rounder contact patch, which reduces the rolling resistance at low pressure.
Honestly, it’s a case of horses for courses, as any attempt at analysing the physics of the issue becomes very complex very quickly. All I would say is: don’t be swayed by the visual appearance of a 29″ and 26″ wheel standing next to each other,as it really is something of an optical illusion. The physics would say that there is not much in it, but there’s no clear case that a 29″ wheel has better roll-over ability than a 26″, all things being considered.
I’m no engineer (!) but I have ridden a lot of bikes, both 29 and 26, with relatively similar setups. All I know is that bigger wheels feel more confidence inspiring to me, and are worth the extra weight. But when it boils down to it, both work pretty well (-;
Several years ago, I had the opportunity in the UK to try 2 identically set up On One Inbreds – the only difference between them being wheel size. Both were fun in their own way, but the side to side comparison was enough to make me think that the larger of the two felt better for me, for the kind of riding I do.
I always felt a little ‘on top’ of a 26in bike – this felt less evident on a 29er. Maybe it’s the difference between the BB height and wheel axle height between the two wheel sizes that has an influence too, though I guess there are so many small variables that nailing down exact reasons isn’t always straightforward.
Hi Cass. I’m currently looking at either a troll or an ogre. I want the bike fo commuting and touring and currently have a 29er city bike. I will be doing about 90% on road and the rest on dirt and gravel trails. I’m only 5 ft 4 so hoping that the small ogre won’t be too big. I really like the big wheels and would swap the troll to 27.5 if I got that and it would make mini fat bike with the large 26 wheels! I’ve read about a lady called caroline crick who did a fairly long tour on a small ogre and loves the bike. She’s only 5 ft 4 and didn’t find it too heavy or big so that’s my preference but any advice would be great.
Honestly, I’m not too sure what advice to give, as I think they’re both great bikes. I’d have thought smaller wheels would suit a smaller rider better, but this is from the perspective of someone who’s 6’1″! And clearly Caroline Crick got on well with hers.
I love the idea as a midfat Troll. Nancy tried one and really liked it – but again, it was primarily for offroad travel.
I tend to seek bikes that perform best off road, so big tyre clearances really appeal. But if you’re intending to spend 90 per cent of our riding time on road, perhaps you’re better off with a bike that’s optimized for pavement?
Good luck in finding the right bike!
P.S. Forgot to say I also have a 27.5 mountain bike which is great but I like my full suspension so prob wouldn’t use either for mountain biking. I just want to happily plod along on mini adventures and know the bike’s not going to have a heart attack when I hit some rough ish trails!
I built up a Troll frameset in December of 2013. I’m using 25 mm wide (Inside from bead to bead) Weinmann Goliath rims. I’m using 1.5 mm double butted spokes in front. In the rear, 1.5 mm Double butted spokes on the non-drive side and 1.8 mm double butted spokes on the drive side. I have the spokes tensioned as much as the rim will allow before the truing goes squirrely.
I use Schawalbe Marathon Almotion 55-559 – 26” x 2.15” Tires and I like them a lot. For winter I’m using the Schwalbe Marathon Winter HS 396 50-559, 26″ x 2.00″ Studded tire.
The studded tire works well on ice and hard packed snow. However, they perform poorly in deeper new snow, especially after the automobiles have churned it into an ice cream consistency. For that you really need a more aggressive tread with studs.
I use the Jandd Extreme Front Rack rated for 40 lbs:
And the Expedition rear rack rated for 75 lbs:
Have 4 panniers and load them full as well as on top of the racks.
The problem is that when the bike is loaded the front wheel becomes unstable. Moreso as the speed increases. It vibrates the handlebars right and left. I forget the exact term for this, but it’s an unstable oscillation that builds exponentially with speed and can result in catastrophic failure.
I might try building another rim using 1.8 mm double butted spokes as that would stiffen it. That might reduce the instability problem. But it may also mean that I need a fork with different geometry.
The next issue is that the V-brake arms are NOT perpendicular to the rim. This is because Surly did NOT have the seat stays run straight to the axles. Instead then bent the seat stays. The usual method of attaching the brake arm pivots is to weld them perpendicular to the seat stays. This would normally allow the brake arm to be fairly close to perpendicular to the frame. Surly welded the brake arm pivots perpendicular to the seat stays as usual, resulting in the brake arms meeting the rim at an extreme angle. The reduces the effective length of the brake arm and causes clearance problem when trying to use fenders.
Secondly, when the brake arms are open, the brake pads are NOT parallel to each other. This makes it difficult to remove the wheels without deflating the tires.
The short chainstays also cause heel strike problems with the rear derailer. It also required me to buy the extra long rear rack to prevent heel strikes against the panniers.
If you want to use wider tires with V-Brakes you may also need to either deflate the tires before mounting, or saw off the V-brake mounts and use disk brakes.
The steer tube is also too short. I’m using the full length steer tube and handlebars with a 2.5″ rise and the tallest stem I can find and the handlebars are still too low for me. I’m 5′ 11″. I have a 33″ inseam. I also have size 13 feet. My extra foot extension requires me to have my seat a little higher and that also requires higher handlebars.
Because of the short chainstays there is cross chaining problems with my TA Specialties chain rings. I have an 8 speed rear and the chain makes noise on the two largest sprockets in the rear.
I would move the wheel further back in the horizontal dropouts to reduce the problem, except that Surly’s screw up with the brake arm pivots would make the brakes arm even less perpendicular to the wheels and prevent me from using fenders because I can’t find V-brake arms that are long enough.
I can’t say that I’m that happy with the Troll frame.
Surly screwed up the Troll design.
Thanks for your feedback. Sorry to hear the Troll didn’t prove to be the right bike for you.
I’ve not had the problems you describe, but I’ve only run my Troll with discs. Personally, I’m a great believer in mechanical discs – especially since fewer and fewer touring-worthy rim brake rims are available these days.
It’s probably worth saying that I don’t think Surly intended this bike for super heavy loads – that’s more the domain of the LHT. This is perhaps underlined by the fact that the Troll sports a more fun, snappy MTB geometry (like the 1×1), rather than a traditional touring steed (like the LHT). For mid-weight loads, of the kind I toured with in South America, I’ve found it super stable loaded up, and fun to ride.
If you’re intending more serious cargo hauling, it’s probably not the right bike – which makes sense to me, as I definitely see the Troll as a bike optimized for dirt road travel, where lighter loads work in harmony with tackling the vagaries of rough terrain.
I am having trouble figuring out what new bike to get. I have a road bike I don’t wanna sell but only have space for 2 bikes. I am looking for a bike I can use for gravel/fire road riding (not technical riding at all), bikepacking/off road touring in California, and touring on the road. I also have a young kid I want to plop in a trailer and bring along. Of the 2 models, do you think either of them would be a better fit? I have seen people put small tires on an Ogre and take it on the road, i can’t imagine that would be any more cumbersome than a LHT. Let me know if you have an opinion and thank so much for your blog + time.
Food for thought – and yes I have a tinkering issue – I run my Troll with any of 3 wheel sizes and switch them based on riding style. 26×2.8-3, 27.5×2.3 or 29×1.5(40mm) – Sometimes I even mix n match as their outer diameters are all nearly identical.
29s for mostly road, 27.5 for trail or Mtn biking , 26+ for longer offroad treks. Granted all these wheel sizes are slightly larger than the stock 26×2.25, but I built mine with the 27.5s and have never noticed the difference. It’s only a nominally higher BB, which is negated when you move the wheels back in the dropouts as necessary to fit larger wheelsets.
As the Ogre was designed around 29×2.25 inch, lowering the wheel size is less than ideal as you can’t compensate for the lower BB with the dropouts. I’ve also read you can’t get plus sized tires in the rear triangle as with the troll, so ultimately you’ve got less versatility in the Ogre. I have 3 bikes in the Troll and I love it.
Thanks for the comments. I expect you’ve seen the Troll update – rigid specific and real clearances for B+ tires. What a bike!
Hi Cass ,
I currently have my new Troll on order for the new year ready for our Alaska to Argentina trip, which also takes in the great divide through the US next year! I am just considering my handlebar options and i have noticed you run a titanium handle bar. Which make are yours? I have been looking at the Thompson but not sure if i should go for a 6 or 12 degree sweep? Which headset do you have? Any advice would be greatly received! Thanks
Hi Sarah, that particular handlebar was a second hand, semi-custom bar I bought in Anchorage. I prefer far more sweep than most ‘normal’ bars. I’d recommend Jones’ Loop and Bend bars. I fit them to all my bikes. The headsets I run are generally pretty bog standard. I like the Orbit XL, Cane Creeks seem good too.