Have you ever fancied a fat bike but been concerned about its lack of agility, flickability and general playfulness? Surly’s '26+' wheeled bike, the Instigator, could well be the answer - it combines wide 26in hoops with huge 2.75in tyres.
The Instigator 2.0 has what Surly calls 26+ wheels: 26in hoops fitted with 2.75in tyres
Frame and equipment: chromoly steel with simple gearing and enormous tyres
The Instigator's frame has been lovingly crafted entirely from 4130 chromoly steel, with a double-butted main triangle and modular dropouts that can be switched to accommodate 9mm or 12x142mm, geared or singlespeed hubs. Other frame highlights include a 44mm head tube, a dropper post friendly 30.9mm seatpost diameter and provision for two water bottles.
Mud clearance is generous even with the huge 2.75in rear tyre.
The bike comes with a chainguide mounted to its ISCG-05 tabs but you can run a regular double- or triple-ring set-up if you prefer – though you’ll need to be mindful of chainring clearance should you switch to even bigger 3in tyres.
The neat swappable dropouts will accept a variety of different hub types
There’s no missing the massive 50mm wide Surly Rabbit Hole rims and 26x2.75in Surly Dirt Wizard tyres, which add to the Instigator’s distinctive feel and, inevitably, to its weight.
Our test bike came with a White Brothers Loop fork but the standard build will ship with a 140mm (5.5in) travel Fox Float 32. The 1x10 gearing helps to keep things simple, but coupled with the 32lb weight, means you’ll need to be fit if you’re planning on heading out on all-day rides.
Ride and handling: what it lacks in speed it makes up for in traction
Just as intended, the Instigator 2.0 is no ordinary machine, managing to distance itself from a standard trail hardtail without sacrificing too much of that sought-after manoeuvrability. On the trail, it certainly feels like Surly has achieved what it set out to, creating a bike that’s still chuckable but with some of the cushioning and traction benefits of monster fat bike tyres.
The Instigator is a fun bike to ride and in certain areas it really shines. We found ourselves cleaning awkward, nadgery technical climbs that we’d previously struggled with, with relative ease thanks to the traction-rich tyres.
It’ll claw its way over rocks and roots without any fuss, but you’ll need some power in your legs to keep pushing that 1x10 gearing on longer drags. Luckily Surly has created a roomy enough cockpit to allow for comfortable seated climbing when you start to tire.
The giant tyres dispatch roots and rocks with ease but squirm under hard cornering
It’s picking your line through root and rock strewn descent sections where you’ll have the most fun on the Instigator. It’ll still happily belt down hardpack downhills and jump reasonably well, but push hard into turns and the squirm from those giant tyres can be really quite unsettling at speed.
For those looking for something simple and fun to ride technical terrain on, the Instigator 2.0 is definitely worth a look. It’s not cheap and is no speed demon though.