Super Bike: Surly Pugsley

The Ray Mears of the bike world

Mountain biking offers an amazing way to explore a world that isn’t accessible to the everyday tourist. A world where cars can’t cut it – or simply aren’t allowed – and walking will take too long. The problem is, sometimes even our beloved, trustworthy bikes can come unstuck.

There are occasions when the terrain is too extreme, which leaves regular riders to push, pull or drag their bikes until the surface finally relents and they can once more build up enough traction to get the wheels spinning. If you’re into extreme adventures and like to camp out under the stars far away from the beaten track, you’ll need a bike that isn’t afraid of the most brutal conditions.

Enter the Surly Pugsley. Why the name? Well, it’s named after Pugsley Addams of The Addams Family fame. Much like the bike, he wasn’t what many would call a looker. But hey, this ride is all about function, so who cares about the aesthetics?

Action hero

The Pugsley is designed to be a real go-anywhere bike. Thanks to the unique frame, massive tyres, adaptable build and innovative design, it’s more than happy in any scenario, whether that’s trekking across the sand dunes of the bleakest deserts, trudging up a snowy mountain pass or being loaded up like a pack horse for an epic camping trip.

“Riding a Pugsley in the lowest gear over soft and loose terrain is a lot more fun than pushing a bike that isn’t rideable in the same conditions,” says Dave Gray from Surly Bikes. The company have built this bike around survival, just in case things do go wrong and weather conditions deteriorate. The frame is constructed from 4130 chromoly steel with a double-butted front triangle.

Most importantly, the Pugsley can accept 3.8in tyres and still offer enough clearance to prevent any clogging issues if you do venture into heavy mud or deep snow. The reasoning behind the rather bulbous tyres is quite simple – they’re able to float over ground that others would sink into. In really snowy conditions, some Pugsley owners have been known to run as little as 5psi to enable them to keep riding.

But this is more than a snow bike, as Dave Gray says: “It’s a mountain bike, a sand bike, an off-road tourer, a camping bike… It’s whatever you want it to be.” Another feature that even Bear Grylls would be proud of is the interchangeability of the front and back wheels. The rear dropouts are horizontal and have a mech hanger, meaning you can run anything from a singlespeed setup to a regular mech and cassette.

And here comes the clever bit – the fork will take a rear 135mm hub, so not only can it accept the huge tyres, you can also run a full cassette or singlespeed gear. If you tear your mech off, destroy your freehub or trash your cassette, simply remove the rear wheel, replace it with the front one, put the rear wheel where the front was and get ready to roll again. Not many bikes can boast a built-in spare rear wheel. It’s the sort of ingenuity that could end up saving lives.

Down to the last detail

Surly have ensured that all outer cables used on the Pugsley can be run without any breaks in the housing. You’ll also notice that, where possible, they’ve kept the cables higher up and as out of the way of rock strikes and trail grime as possible. If you’re planning on heading out for an extended period of time, there are plenty of eyelets for attaching pannier racks. This means there’s heaps of room for packing the bike out with your camping equipment and survival kit.

The guys at Surly readily admit that the Pugsley doesn’t offer catwalk good looks, unlike some high-end full-suspension stablemates. We agree, but looks aren’t what this Super Bike is about. It’s the difference between heading out into the wilderness with Naomi Campbell or Ray Mears, and we know who we’d prefer. Price: Approx £1,500 (complete bike). Contact: Surly Bikes / Ison Distribution (UK).

Key features

1 Front wheel: Few manufacturers can say they’ve designed a spare rear wheel in the shape of a front wheel. Usually, a destroyed rear mech can only mean trouble – the end of the ride and a long push back home is the best outcome. But with the Pugsley, drivetrain issues are easily dealt with – it’s easy to switch wheels and cobble together a survival set-up to get home.

2 Add-ons: Giving riders the option to bolt on all the extra pannier racks, mudguards and water bottles they could ever dream of, the Pugsley really is the ultimate ride for out-of-the-way adventures. “If I could have one Surly bike, it would be a Pug,” says the company’s Dave Gray. “No other bike can go where it can when conditions worsen.” 

3 Fork: The Pugsley’s fork may look like another bog-standard rigid one but it’s far from it. Measuring 447mm from axle to crown, it offers the equivalent height of a 100mm-travel (3.9in) suspension fork. The straight-bladed, tapered 4130 chromoly steel fork also has 135mm spaced dropouts, enabling it to accept a rear wheel as well as a 51mm IS rear disc mount.

4 Rims: The Large Marge rims are what enable you to use those whopping 3.8in tyres. At 65mm wide, these double-walled bad boys feature machined sidewalls so you can put in rim brakes if you want to. Surly claim the cross-sectional profile ensures strength while also helping to shed snow, sand and mud. The rims are available in 26in or 24in diameters and 36- or 32-hole builds. There’s also the option of going for the downhill or cross-country versions. The latter have additional machining on their outer walls.

5 Tyres: Surly’s own Larry 3.8in and Endormorph 3.7in tyres are the highest-volume mountain bike rubbers on the market. Both allow riders to float straight over otherwise unrideable terrains. “The Minnesota River bottoms flooded badly last spring, erasing much of the trail we ride regularly and leaving the usually hardpacked singletrack buried in deep sand,” explains Dave Gray. “The only bike that was capable of navigating the full length of the trail system was the Pugsley, thanks to it having tyres like the Endomorphs or Larrys.”

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