I’ve just wrapped up my 3rd season of bikepacking on Surly’s 29+ Krampus so I thought it was time to jot down my thoughts. I’ve used the Krampus mostly for lightweight mountain bike touring. The Krampus replaced a light hardtail 29er bikepacking bike with classic XC geometry. My riding has been split between Vancouver Island, Chilcotins and CDN GDR route. That encompasses a wide variety of conditions from technical gnar-fest to high-speed logging road cranking.
Like all Surly frames the Krampus is made from 4130 chromoly. It’s got a custom butted set of tubes. What that exactly means is impossible to know without cutting up a frame and measuring it. What I can say is that the tubing has some of that lively feel that a lighter duty bike has which I like a lot. It springs forward in a pleasant way and doesn’t feel dead like an overbuilt frame does. At least that’s true for my 180lbs on a medium frame.
I’ve crashed, dropped, dragged and thrown my Krampus around on my various trips. Although I describe the tubing as more flexible than a typical Surly touring tank don’t get the impression it’s some delicate boutique shit. It’s not. I have worn the powder coat away in a number of places and scratched the tubing, but I have not managed to dent or damage it in any significant way.
The Krampus uses standard bike parts. A 73mm BB and 100mm/135mm hubs. That’s great. You can swap parts from a 29er you have in your garage and ride the Krampus without having to rebuild wheels with Boost hubs. The fact the Krampus works just fine with 3″ tires on 100mm/135mm hubs makes the argument that Boost is needed for “plus” sized tires silly.
One feature of the Krampus frame I really dig is this cast yoke. If you look at a lot of other 29+ bikes you’ll see a bent section of flat plate on the drive side chainstay in order to make room for the chubby 3″ tire. Putting a flat plate in this area that has to resist all the pedaling forces is bad engineering. It’s done because the two other options are:
- Custom yoke is too expensive for most small companies
- fatbike wide BB has a ridiculous q-factor the builder would prefer to avoid
Although Surly is considered a low bling brand they do have the engineering and financial might of QBP behind them plus they sell in enough volume that they can amortize a kick ass feature like this yoke over enough frames to make it financially viable.
The headtube on the Krampus is 44mm which allows you to use a straight 1 1/8″ fork or a tapered fork. Over the test period I used the Krampus rigid with the stock fork for 2 seasons and then with a tapered 130mm suspension fork for this past season.
The Krampus I have is the Bass Boat Green version with horizontal dropouts. You can now buy a Stealth Black version with MDS swappable dropouts so you can have vertical dropouts if you are running a derailleur. I read a lot of angst online about Surly’s horizontal dropouts. I’ve been using them for 8yrs now and I don’t understand what the problem is. Fixing a flat takes an extra 30 seconds which I have never noticed. You do learn to get the wheel installed more efficiently once you’ve used these dropouts so it does take a moment to master them. With a QR IGH I use 1 or 2 Tugnuts to keep the wheel in place. With bolt on hubs they are not needed. For a derailleur hub they are not needed as the axle is slammed all the way forward in the dropouts. I have ridden with folks whose bikes use EBBs, sliding/swinging dropouts and they all have their problems – such as creaking, stripped hardware and unwanted flex. The Surly horizontal dropout is a low cost, elegant, versatile solution for a bike that could be setup many ways [IGH, SS and derailleur] and it’s pretty much bombproof.
As noted above if you can’t cope with the idea of horizontal dropouts you can simply buy the MDS version of the Krampus and then select the type of dropout you prefer. If you are exceptionally crafty you could even have a custom dropout machined for a MDS frame since it would just need to mate to the attachment points. I would not be surprised to see some aftermarket options show up in the next while.
So far I’ve been pretty positive about the Krampus’ frame. There are a couple things I do not love. It has a aggressively sloped top tube. These are fashionable, but having mountain biked with old school high TT’s a bunch I have never hurt “my boys” because of a high TT. The sloped TT cuts into the frame space if you want to fill it with a bikepacking framebag. The other thing I don’t love is the skinny 27.2mm seat tube. It’s fine for a rigid post, but it limits your dropper post options. Other Surly frames are coming with 30.9mm seat tubes so hopefully that’s on the way for the Krampus at the next revision.
The last thing I’ll touch on with regards to the frame is the sparkly green powder coat. It’s rad. Definitely my favourite of all the Surly finishes I’ve seen and pretty much my favourite of any production bike to date. Aside from looking sweet it’s fairly durable. I have managed to fuck it up, but I had to try fairly hard to do so.
Geometry and Handling
If you compared the Krampus’ geo to the older Surly bikes like the Karate Monkey. You’ll see it’s slacker and longer in the reach department. That’s not shocking because that’s what’s fashionable right now. The other fashionable thing at the moment is an uber low BB. The Krampus doesn’t have that and I like that a lot.
The longer reach allows you to run a short stem and wide bars if you want to or to size down one frame size while running a longer stem and narrow-ish bars. I’m doing the later and riding a medium instead of riding a large. The reasonably short 17.6″ chainstays and shorter front end make for a very manoeuvrable/playful bike. Since I live in BC with lots of trees that seemed like a better choice. For wide open trails or logging roads I’d probably pick the larger frame and run a short stem, but still stick with narrower bars. I’ve never warmed up to the uber wide bar thing.
Although slacker compared to tradition MTB geo the Krampus is not a chopper at a 69.5 degree head tube angle. It’s a good compromise for riding techy steep terrain while still being able to carve up singletrack. Some folks are mounting up longer suspension forks on this frame to get a slacker geo and some squish. I tried that and concluded I preferred the more balanced feel from the stock rigid fork. Loaded up with camping gear I am only going to get a little rowdy on the Krampus. I didn’t feel like I was getting enough benefit from the 130mm Fox Float 34 compared to the extra weight which made it harder to loft the front wheel and the slacker steering which was not as sporty when things got tight.
Getting back to that high BB it may not be fashionable, but it works great. You avoid a bunch of annoying pedal strikes and the higher bike handles slow speed tech better as it’s more stable than a lower bike. It gives you the ability to run “normal” 2.4″ 29er tires and still maintain a useful BB height. What about stability at speed with a higher center of gravity? Interestingly despite a short wheelbase on my Krampus once I get those big 3″ tires up to speed they generate a lot of stability due to the gyroscopic effect.
The shortish chainstays keep the bike manoeuvrable and with the light front end it’s easy to get it up when tackling some tech. This is especially true when climbing where it feels like I am on the back wheel for the most part helping it dig in for epic traction and letting me pop the front wheel up and over obstacles or simply place it down on a better line.
The big tall tires erase a lot of trail roughness for a smoother ride than you’d expect from a rigid bike and keep rolling like a monster truck once you get them up to speed. On rolling terrain this is not a slow bike. It loves to charge hard and seems to laugh at whatever the trail throw at you around the next corner.
This combination of slow speed tech crushing and high speed stability plus the big 29+ wheels ability to tame the trail is pretty magical. No really magical! I’ve looked at getting a bling custom 29+ frame a few times and what stops me is feeling like I’m going to spend a lot of $$ and might not get a bike that handles as well as the $575 Krampus.
I built my Krampus up from a frame/fork.
- Medium Surly Krampus & fork
- Cane Creek headset
- Race Face stem [100mm]
- Race Face 3/4″ riser bars [700mm]
- Ergon Grips + bar ends
- Surly Rabbit Hole rims
- Rohloff rear hub [32T x 16T]
- Hope Evo Pro 2 front hub
- Shimano SLX brakes [180/160mm rotors]
- Shimano Deore cranks & XT BB
- Spank Spike pedals
- Brooks saddle
Stuff I tried:
- Fox Float 34 x 130mm fork
- 65mm stem and high rise bars w/ Fox fork
- Surly Knard 120ipt tires
- Bontrager Chupacabra tires
There is nothing fancy about my build other than the Rohloff hub. Everything is solid and works well. For a touring bike that’s more important than bling. The Rohloff is a dependable drivetrain that offers a wide gear range that ignores weather and is very hard to damage. The trade off is a heavy rear wheel.
The only components I’ve been disappointed with are the SLX brakes [older 2008/09 version] when used in really challenging steep technical terrain they are not particularly powerful. I’m going to try some more aggressive pads and if necessary move up to a 203mm rotor up front. For less demanding touring they have worked fine. To be fair riding techy terrain with camping gear is not an easy job for a set of brakes. To their credit these brakes have been 100% reliable. I just want more stopping force out of them.
I’ve only tried two models of tires, but they have turned out to be excellent for the kinds of riding I do so I’m very happy.
The Surly Knards in 120tpi roll fast and grip well enough for general bikepacking duties that cover logging roads, pavement and easy trails. I’ve ridden on a fair bit of sharp rocks and only managed 3 flats over 3 seasons. All of which were easily fixed. They setup tubeless well and have been 100% reliable once setup. Their main weakness is the lack of aggressive knobs which means they wash out on steep loose sections and loose off camber sections.
The Chupacabras have only been used for one major trip so I won’t be able to report on their durability, but they do offer much better traction [especially on loose off camber terrain] at the cost of a bit more rolling resistance. I did not suffer any flats with Chupas, but it’s still early days. Surprisingly they were a bit harder to setup tubeless than the Knards, but once setup they were 100% reliable. The Chupas are a bit pricey so I wouldn’t want to wear them out on easier terrain where I didn’t need them.
For logging roads and easy trails I’ll grab the Knards. If things get more challenging I’ll use the Chupas.
For the most part I have used Porcelain Rocket softbags on the Krampus. They carry enough stuff to get me through 1 week trips. They are rugged and stable so I can thrash the Krampus as hard as a middle aged weekend warrior dares.
I have tried two versions of the PR seatbags. The first version is a typical frameless bag that attaches under the saddle and to the seatpost with a combination of straps with buckles and velcro. This style of bag is really easy to use on different bikes and is light and lower cost. The main downsides are that it can move a bit when really charging rough trails and it’s easier to leave on the bike at camp than pull off each night.
The other version of PR seatbag uses a metal frame and harness that is separate from the cargo bag. The frame stays with the bike and you can easily pull the bag off and take it to your tent. This option is much more stable for better techy riding. The downsides are high cost and it’s more effort to move between bikes. This is the bag I’m currently using on the Krampus.
Scott has an even newer version of this seatbag [I just can’t keep up!!] that is waterproof and uses an improved harness which makes taking the bag off the bike even easier.
I’ve used two different PR handlebar bags so far. The first used a burrito style bag with a pouch on the front that you filled with your gear and rolled the ends closed. I typically slid a dry bag inside the outer bag to keep my sleeping bag dry. Loading this bag took a bit of time, but once your stuff was inside it was well protected during the day’s ride.
The newer style of PR bar bag I’ve used is a simple harness that you use with a dry bag and then attach a pouch over top. It’s a bunch lighter, simpler and easier to use than the pervious version. The only issue with it is that your dry bag is not protected by a durable outer bag which makes it easier to damage.
For trips where durability and robustness are most important I’ll use the bar bag with an outer bag. For trips where the simplest and lightest setup is valued I’ll use the harness/dry bag version.
My framebag is a pretty standard unit. One main zipper access storage area with a map pocket on the other side. Typical PR ruggedness and quality. Scott makes a zipperless roll top framebag now, but I simply don’t bikepack enough to realistically wear out a zipper and the zipper is easier to use if I want to access the contents frequently.
I tried mounting a water bottle to my stem with a hose clamp and really loved it. I’ve used that setup on every bikepacking trip since. It’s next to free and 100% secure. With the right bottle I find that it stays put despite super rough downhill pounding, but I have rigged a simple bit of bungee I can throw around the bottle’s nipple that prevents ejection completely. This bottle is so handy that it’s the only one I use to drink from during a ride. I then just refill this bottle from a creek or from a bigger bottle carried elsewhere on the bike as needed.
I have used fork mounted bottles in the past, but I didn’t like that setup. It affects the bike’s steering, ease of lofting the front wheel and they snag on stuff during the inevitable riding/HAB through thick vegetation. For the same reason I have zero interest in fork mount Salsa Anything Cages. If you are keen on fork mounted cargo you can attach cages to a stock Krampus fork with either electrical tape or hose clamps. Both are secure and effective. If you must use bolt mounted cages Surly sells an aftermarket Krampus fork with braze-ons for water bottle and Anything cages. The cost is ~$100.
Where I prefer to carry my extra water is below the downtube. This keeps the bike narrow and the weight low where it affect the handling least. I’ve used two hose clamps and a strap to attach a Topeak XL Modulus Cage to the Krampus and carry 1.5L of water. It’s a 100% secure and effective solution.
I do my best to keep my gear load light and compact so racks are not needed. However, occasionally a trip calls for them. The Krampus is not the bike I would pick for dedicated fully overloaded touring, but if that’s something you do once in a while don’t worry the Krampus can take dual racks and panniers. I’ve only had to resort to a rear Old Man Mountain rear rack with panniers, but a front OMM rack would mount easily to this bike. You don’t need any special braze-ons to make it work.
Although I dig my Krampus a lot I do have some tweaks I want to make so it’s even better suited to my adventures.
- Dropper post – descending steep techy terrain I want to lower my saddle easily to get into a lower and more confident riding position. The first challenge is finding a 27.2mm compatible dropper which I have done [KS E-Ten Dropper]. The second challenge is what to do about the rear seatbag since it would end up hitting the tall 29+ tire. I have a solution in mind that I will share once I’ve got it worked out and field tested.
- Jones Loop H-Bars – cranking out the long days riding down Vancouver Island I was reminded that while riser bars are great for trail riding they lack enough hand positions for gravel grinding in the saddle all day. I have a few sets of Jones bars gathering dust that worked well for me on non-technical tours. So I want to use one of them on my next logging road ramble.
- Lighter Wheels – The Rohloff hub is robust and weatherproof, but it’s heavy. The Rabbit Holes on that wheelset are also a bit porky. So I’m in the process of building a set of Velocity Blunt 35 29er rims using Hope Hubs. I’ll be able to run them SS or 1x on the Krampus with either 29+ rubber or some “skinny” 2.4″ tires. I’ll also multi-purpose those wheels with any other 29er MTBs in the fleet.
- Carbon Fork – I bought a used Whisky #9 carbon fork. I’m not sure how I’ll use it yet. I might use it to replace the steel stock fork on the Krampus. I may use it on my On One Scandal 29er frame for a lightweight 29er bikepacking rig. I’ve also pondered getting a Krampus MDS frame and setting it up as light as possible with Jones bars so I have a techy trail Krampus and a gravel shredding Krampus without having to mess with setting up the bike fresh every trip. No decisions made yet.
Beyond these mods I’m just going to keep rocking the Krampus. 3yrs in and it feels as fresh and relevant as it did back in 2012. It looks like the Bass Boat Green version is history once it sells out so consider grabbing one while supplies last. Owning the first 29+ bike ever is kind of cool. 🙂