Surly Instigator 2.0 – first ride review

Simple, fun fatbike

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0
GBP £2,299.99 RRP

Our review

If you’re looking for good, simple fun and nothing more, the Instigator is certainly worth considering. It’s not cheap though
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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 is no lightweight but it delivers traction in spades :
Steve Behr

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:
Steve Behr

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 26×2.75in 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 1×10 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 1×10 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:
Steve Behr

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. 

Product Specifications


Name Instigator 2.0 (14)
Brand Surly

Brakes Shimano SLX
Rear Tyre Surly Dirt Wizard 26x2.75in
Wheelset Shimano SLX hubs, Surly Rabbit Hole 26+ rims, Surly Dirt Wizard 26x2.75in tyres
Stem Truvativ AKA, 60mm
Shifters Shimano SLX Shadow+ 10-speed shifter
Seatpost Kalloy
Saddle Velo VL2155
Rims Surly Rabbit Hole 26+ rims
Rear Hub Shimano SLX hubs
Cranks Surly OD 30t crankset, MRP 1x upper guide
Rear Derailleur Shimano SLX Shadow+ rear mech
Handlebar Salsa Pro Moto, 750mm
Front Tyre Surly Dirt Wizard 26x2.75in
Front Hub Shimano SLX hubs
Frame Material 4130 chromoly steel
Fork White Brothers Loop, 140mm (5.5in) travel
Year 2014