A 1,000+km Review of the Krampus – Plus my Top 10 Bikepacking Bikes

Preliminary Caveat: I don’t speak in kilometers unless I’m watching the Tour de France.  However, the mileage on my Krampus is just under 700 miles and it is only now that I feel I can really speak to the strengths and weaknesses of the Krampus build, so I decided to go into the seldom used and often poorly converted realm of kilometers simply because 1,000+ sounds nicer than 700-.

The Krampus has been a gateway drug to a world of bicycling I never knew existed, and has proven its reliability and versatility numerous times through the varying terrain I’ve ridden. Now that I have experienced the capabilities of this outstanding bike, I feel qualified to catalog the modifications I felt were necessary investments, the bike’s ride quality, some complaints, and a general summary of the bike. I hope this helps those of you looking to get into the world of mountain biking and more specifically, off-road touring (bikepacking).

2014 Surly Krampus Ops

Purpose: Mountain Biking, Off-Road Touring (bikepacking)

Modifications:

Handlebar: Replaced the stock Salsa Salt Flat handlebar for a Jones Loop H Bar. The H Bar allows for a lot more hand holds if off-road touring and in my opinion, provides more control when riding technical terrain than a narrower flat bar.

***UPDATE: Although I may switch back and forth depending on the ride, I have switched out the H bar in favor of the Thomson All-Mountain Carbon handlebar.  It’s lighter and provides a bit more aggressive stance on the bike.

Front Fork: Not exactly happy about this change. A Surly Krampus comes stock with a front fork that has zero eyelets for mounting a front rack or water bottle cages. They make a Krampus fork that has all these eyelets, but don’t allow an exchange to occur before purchase. The ‘touring’ fork is an after-market purchase. SOOO… I have a front fork with no eyelets and absolutely no purpose whatsoever sitting in my garage while an identical fork with the necessary eyelets is on the Krampus, after an $80 down payment of course. All I can say is Surly better not change their policy in the future so everyone gets as pissed about this as I was.

Kona Wah Wah Platform Pedals: The Kona Wah Wah pedals have proven to be an excellent investment for my bike. Since the Krampus doesn’t actually come with pedals, the choices are initially limitless. I chose platform pedals versus clipless because I knew I’d be using the Krampus for multi-day excursions and didn’t want to bring multiple pairs of shoes along for the ride. My pedals have been through a lot of rain, scrapes, and falls, and through it all, continue to be dependable and grippy; plus they are significantly cheaper than many of the platform pedal competitors. The M3 pins that help the Wah Wah grip the shoe are a bit rusty at this point, but those are easily replaced. Overall, I’ve been really happy with these pedals and plan on using them indefinitely.

Ergon GP1 Handlebar Grips: These grips are golden.  If I could do it all over again, I may have actually gone with the GP2 or GP3 because bar end handle grips would be nice when really railing up a hill.  Still, I can’t complain.  The material is nice and grippy and the grip wings provide nice palm support when needing to stretch the fingers out after a white-knuckle descent.

Cane Creek Thudbuster LT Suspension Seatpost: I like almost everything about this seatpost.  On long flat sections of trail, it provides the perfect amount of suspension to keep my rear comfortably planted on the seat, a statement I couldn’t make after a day of riding on a conventional aluminum post.

What I haven’t been as fond of are uphills, where I wish the travel would be nonexistent and allow me to surge up a hill seated without losing power due to seat bounce.  I have the hardest elastomers provided in the kit set up on my bike, which doesn’t make sense for a 140 pound feather weight, but even so, the bounce is undeniable on aggressive seated uphills.

Another problem is that for bikepackers with a relatively large seat bag, major bumps cause the bag to actually drop down far enough to rub against the tire, since the seat’s travel drops so far.  I have to cinch my seatbag up about as snug as it can get to my seat in order to minimize the bag to tire rub.

Still, all complaints aside, the benefits are worth considering, especially if your bike’s not signed up for Weight Watchers.

***UPDATE: My bike has officially joined Weight Watchers.  I sent my thudbuster back to REI in favor of the Surly’s stock steel seatpost.  My Brooks saddle has worn in enough that I don’t think the thudbuster is as necessary for me anymore.

Brooks Swallow Classic Saddle: A Brooks saddle is an investment meant to be enjoyed in the future, as I eventually found with my B17 I put on my touring bike a few years ago. It took about 300 miles before it began to soften and mold itself to my sit-bones, but once it did, it became the most comfortable saddle I own. Having now ridden just under 700 miles on the Swallow, I can say with full confidence that this is a seat that does not disappoint.  It has gotten considerably softer and combined with the Cane Creek Thudbuster, cushions the sit-bones nicely.  A great option if you like Brooks saddles but want to drop some weight for your mountain bike.

Wolf Tooth 42 Tooth GC Cog (Granny Gear): The Wolf Tooth 42 Tooth cog provides the Krampus’s 1X10 drivetrain with what could conservatively be called a legitimate granny gear. This is a VERY necessary investment if you’re running the 1X10 drivetrain on the Krampus and have even the slightest inkling of doing weighted bikepacking. Its stock drivetrain simply is insufficient for those times when a 4,000 foot pass catches you by surprise and attempts to turn your legs into gelatinous pistons.

Ride:

I believe that my initial prognosis of this bike a number of months ago still holds true as far as the ride quality of the Krampus is concerned. The Krampus can handle pretty much any kind of terrain mountain biking has to offer, and more. Whether it’s off-road dirt, fire roads, forest roads, packed snow, sand, or the various types of singletrack, the Krampus reigns supreme in its ability to ride everything, and ride it rather well. I think this has something to do with its aggressive geometry. The Krampus has about as short a chainstay as possible without rubbing the back tire up against the seat stay and seat tube (446mm to be exact), and this combined with the monster truck style tires, which are spread out extra fat with the 50mm rabbit-hole rims, makes for a confidence-inspiring ride on any kind of terrain. The somewhat slack 69.5 degree headtube angle also helps give the bike its surprisingly nimble feel, without being so slack you can’t stay comfortable on the bike.  Think of it as that three-sport jock from high school whose unspoken mantra, “Anything you can do I can do better,” is made even more aggravating by its brazen veracity.

The Krampus’s 3” Knards are even comfortable and competent road tires when inflated above 15 psi, which is surprising given their general heftiness. Warning: the bike will sound like a 747 cruising across an airstrip, so don’t be alarmed once you get up to speed. Who knew a 3” tire could feel good on pavement?

Speaking of 747s, the bike’s general weakness is its overall girth, which is most noticeable on steep uphills. If riding the 1X10 stock drivetrain, interminable mountain passes will feel like you’re actually trying to drag a 747 up the hill with you. However, if you’re in shape you’ll just enjoy the extra workout. For those not looking for the extra workout, simply get to a level river-bottom trail, downhill, or some flowy ups and downs, and the bike’s momentum kicks in, as well as an unconscious feeling that everything is right with the world.

Complaints:

Judging by the number of modifications I’ve made to the bike, you may have guessed I have a few complaints to bring up concerning the stock Krampus build as well as some other general grumblings. Well, your guess is about to be validated!

To start, a few simple trifles. For one, the seat is no good for long rides. This is usually expected as a cost-cutting tactic for such bikes, but for the sake of transparency, there it is. Additionally, as has been previously stated in two other entries on my blog, the fact that the Krampus build does not provide the eyelet-version of their front fork as an option is just plain dumb. It seems reasonable to have an eyelet and non-eyelet build option, but I’m not Surly’s product development consultant, so I guess I’ll just hand over my soapbox and give it up. Along the same line, there is a general eyelet shortage on the bike. Not only does the stock fork lack reasonable bottle cage eyelets, but there are no downtube eyelets either. I know that Surly’s ECR is the true ‘bikepacking’ bike and has eyelets galore, and of course, hose-clamps adequately work in this region for the Krampus, but still, why not provide eyelets just in case people need that third bottle cage option? I don’t get it.

Hoseclamps work, but they’re not quite as sleek as built-in eyelets… obviously.

Also, the Knards are a great all-purpose tire, and I love almost everything about them… almost. However, tubeless compatibility would be a nice touch. The tire can utilize the ‘ghetto’ tubeless option, which is how mine is set up, but using the split tube or ghetto tubeless option is rather challenging. If the bike claims to share similar geometry to Surly’s Karate Monkey, the purist’s version of the perfect rigid mountain bike, then why not make it a bike that utilizes modern mountain bike technology, like tubeless compatible tires?

Now onto what I consider to be the two most problematic issues with the Krampus’s stock build. First, the 1X10 drivetrain. It could be that Surly envisioned the 1X10 system being solely used by people looking to ride the Krampus as a naked mountain bike; no gear, no additions, just a simple, lightweight option for those looking for something fun and different. Unfortunately, the 1X10 system appeals, at least on paper, to the bikepacking crowd for similar reasons: it’s lightweight and the lack of a front derailleur makes for one less mechanical device to worry about. However, the 33 tooth front cog and 36 tooth ‘granny gear’ rear cog simply does not provide adequate cadence speed for those never ending uphills often encountered in mountain biking; and this comment is coming from a fairly fit guy, so if I think the granny gear isn’t sufficient, I’m guessing the general masses would agree. Add 25 pounds of gear-weight and suddenly the bike’s granny gear is grossly insufficient. This seems like a somewhat substantial complaint if the Krampus is meant to be taken seriously as an off-road touring option.

1X10 = 1 cog in the front and 10 cogs in the back.

My second major complaint is the weight. My size medium Krampus weighs in at around 36 pounds. Granted, the modified handlebar, bottle cages, and seatpost add a bit extra, but still, that’s a hefty mountain bike, even without gear. Surprisingly, you don’t feel the weight a whole lot unless climbing, but still, mountain bikes should be somewhat weight conscious, right? Well, the Krampus is definitely the Clydesdale of the mountain biking world, so if weight is something you’re hyper-conscious of, you may want to test ride one of these bikes before making any final decisions.

Yikes.

Summary:

While my list of grumblings is a bit long, it doesn’t mean that the bike itself isn’t a keeper. Having ridden other mountain bikes, I still believe that the Krampus would be my *first choice if I had to do it all over again. The Surly Krampus is a versatile off-road touring bike that can be used for all sorts of off-road experiences. Although a bit slower than other mountain bikes due to its weight, it still can hold its own on challenging and technical terrain, and can be outfitted with all sorts of modifications, they just may cost a pretty penny.

Alternatives:

I say the Krampus would be my *first choice if I had to do it all over again, and I think it would be… but just barely.  There are some really great alternatives out there now, especially with Salsa’s new and ever-increasing bikepacking lineup for 2016.  Thus, if I were researching which bike to get all over again, keeping in mind that my two priorities are bikepacking (#1) and all-purpose mountain biking (#2), I think that my list of choices would include the following, and would be more or less in the order listed:

  1. Surly Krampus & Krampus Ops
  2. Jamis Dragonslayer – a 27.5+ hardtail option; pretty awesome
  3. Salsa Pony Rustler – another 27.5+ option, but with full suspension
  4. Rocky Mountain Sherpa – another full suspension 27.5+ option; are you noticing a pattern?
  5. Salsa El Mariachi 2 – classic steel hardtail 29er
  6. Jones Plus – but only if I won the lottery
  7. Marin Pine Mountain 2 – another 27.5+ with some cool modern upgrades.
  8. Surly Instigator 2.0 – a rather unique 26+ hardtail
  9. Salsa Mukluk 2 – a hardtail fatbike
  10. Salsa Deadwood 29+ – basically a drop bar version of the Krampus

 

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