The Surly Steamroller is one of ‘those’ bikes that everyone seems to own at some point and it has remained largely unchanged since pretty much forever.
A Steamroller hasn’t been featured on BikeRadar since way back in 2008 — not long after the site actually launched — so I thought it was about time I called one in to see how this steel, do-it-all singlespeed stacks up today.
Surly Steamroller specs
- Frame: 4130 double butted tig welded frame, horizontal dropouts
- Fork: 4130 lugged fork
- Crankset: Samox AF19-D45S, 45t
- Bottom bracket: Shimano UN-26
- Freewheel: 18t Lida
- Chain: KMC Z610H
- Headset: Cane Creek Custom 5
- Brakes: Tektro R539
- Brake levers: Tektro CL-520-RS
- Stem: Surly HL
- Handlebar: Dimension Arc
- Saddle: WTB Volt Sport
- Seatpost: ProMax SP-2010
- Wheelset: Surly Ultra New 32 hubs on Alex Adventurer 2 rims
- Tyres: Continental Contact Sport 32mm
A closer look at the Steamroller
The Steamroller frameset is constructed from double butted 4130 tubing, giving a ride quality that Surly claims is “smoother than a swig of whiskey in winter”. Despite its looks, the geometry of the bike definitely leans more towards the road than the track.
The bike is really nicely finished, with a handsome lugged fork crown, neat welds and Surly’s signature hooded horizontal dropouts out back. The bike only has provisions to mount one bottle — on the seat tube in this case.
Curiously, only the rear of the bike has an eyelet for mudguards. Why Surly hasn’t included one on the fork isn’t totally clear, but, as BikeRadar’s resident mudguard evangelist, you can be certain that I’ll go to every length to find out the answer to this pressing question.
I couldn’t describe the colour of the Steamroller any better than Surly itself has — the “Drink More Water Yellow” hue sits somewhere between mucous green and sunshine yellow, which may sound awful, but actually looks great in the flesh.
Weird colours are clearly a Surly speciality because the last time we tested a Steamroller it came in a shade that was lovingly referred to by many as ‘poo brown’.
The chunky Alex Adventurer 2 rims are built around Surly’s own Ultra New hubs. These spin on cartridge bearings and represent a real improvement in quality compared to those fitted to the other fixies I’ve been testing recently.
Unlike many fixed gear hubs, these are held in place with two 5mm hex-headed bolts, meaning I sadly have no reason to bring along my recently procured 15mm Runwell spanner.
The rear hub is of the flip-flop variety, though the bike ships with a 18t Lida freewheel only. I fitted a 20t Surly fixed cog that I happened to have lying about and have been enjoying pulling rad fixie skids ever since.
The bike comes with a set of Continental Contact Sport 32mm tyres as stock and the frameset has clearances for tyres up to 38mm wide.
I don’t shy away from my appreciation for weird handlebars, but the sentiment isn’t universally shared at BikeRadar towers and the bike’s wildly swept back Dimension Arc bars have provoked no end of ire among my colleagues.
Surly Steamroller first ride impressions
Inspired by the crazy fixed-off-road exploits of friends of BikeRadar, Stu Allan and Graham Cottingham, this particular Steamroller is going to spend its life primarily used as a fixed-gear gravel wagon — a niche within a niche if there ever was one.
After a brief shakedown ride around to see how the bike would handle Bristol’s raddest gravel trails, and a brief detour to (pose at) the local dirt jump lines, I took the Steamroller along to the Badlands ‘Gravelcross’ sportive near Reading.
This very chilled-out event had the choice of a 68, 50 or 35km route that traversed a tightly knit network of forested gravel paths, singletrack and broken roads in the surprisingly savage Chiltern Hills.
The organisers of the event recommended a ’cross bike as the most appropriate choice for the day, so naturally Reuben and I completely disregarded this advice and decided to ride a fixie and a hack singlespeed MTB.
In an attempt to make the bike a little more capable, I swapped out the stock slick Continental tyres in favour of a set of Specialized Terra Pro tyres.
Although I managed to squeeze the 33mm tyres into the stock Tektro R539 brakes, you’d probably want to swap them out for something more roomy to fit truly voluminous rubber to the bike.
I’d especially recommend doing so if you plan on riding in muddy conditions, otherwise you’ll spend a good portion of your day poking leaf litter and clay from beneath the crown of your fork… Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.
I also fitted my Carradice Bagman support, a Super C saddle bag and a naff purple bottle cage onto the bike for the day. Why I felt compelled to fit such a large bag for a short ride isn’t clear even to me, but again I enjoyed how much it wound up my colleagues.
I’ve ridden a lot of fancy-schmancy steel bikes in my time, but the Steamroller might just be among the most comfortable I’ve ever ridden.
The smooth ride is obviously aided by the chunky tyres and wide, relatively flexible bars, but it definitely possesses that pleasingly ‘sproingy’ quality that only skinny steel has.
The fork in particular has a very visible amount of fore and aft flex and I was able to glide — as well as you can glide with a fixed gear — over chundery gravel in relative comfort.
The Steamroller also handled twisty and tight singletrack with remarkable ease. It’s obviously not as spritely as a mountain bike or fat tyred adventure wagon, but it was surprisingly competent, and perhaps most importantly, a lot of fun.
The eagle eyed will have noticed that the Steamroller uses clip-on cable stops for the rear brake. I’m a little on the fence about this — I really wouldn’t mind having two vestigial cable stops running along the underside of my top tube if I did want to run just one brake (normal behaviour for some fixie-istas), but I can understand why those that appreciate a clean bike would be offended by it.
Either way, the full-run cable doesn’t actually feel particularly spongy and I think the clips hardly detract from the overall look of the bike.
Overall, my initial impressions of the Steamroller are very good.
It’s hard to pin the bike down to one particular role, and it’s perhaps better to think of it as more of a singlespeed platform that you can turn to pretty much any task.
You only need to look briefly through the Surly ‘image dump’ gallery for the Steamroller to see examples of the huge number of variations that the Steamroller has been built into over the years, and I’m looking forward to seeing what my bike becomes.