Tuesday, December 14, 2010

1 1/2 Years of Surly Pacer - A Review

I've had a love/hate relationship with my Surly Pacer... well, it's not with the actual bike, but it is more with road riding in general. Road riding is hard, and the main issue I have is the mixing it up with cars. I've been hit by a car TWICE. Once on my motorcycle and once on my bike - on this Surly Pacer, in fact. So, aside from all my internal struggles with road riding, let me give you my 1 1/2 years of experience with my Surly Pacer.

I have changed and molded this bike into it's current state - from a regular drop-bar road bike, to a retro looking thing, to even a single-speed at one point. But, I think I've found a stopping point. Currently it's geared for touring style riding, a self-inflicted double crank with a 38T and 30T chainring, mountain derailleur and a mountain cassette - truly, I should be able to scale walls with this. And, I'm even considering a "great granny" by replacing the 30T with a 28T - but I'm good in the current state it's in, right now. Cables are pulled and released with Paul Thumbie bar shifters.

The biggest thing I've done (and I mean "big) was the installation of the Race Face Atlas AM handlebar. Yeah, I'm not going out to attack singletrack with this bike, but boy, is it an awesome urban destroyer now. Crank Bros. pedals are in place so I can wear my mountain shoes and everything rolls on Alex Rims laced onto Shimano Sora hubs wrapped up in Fyxation Session 700 X 28 tires. The entire build weight is 23.58 lbs - sans the pump, seatbag and a filled water bottle.

Maybe the big handlebar is weird, but I love the comfort and "upright" seated position. It's all about comfort at this time.

Surly says:
"...It isn’t the fastest or lightest bike you’ll ever ride, but then again, it isn’t trying to be. This frame was designed as an all-day bike, which means comfort and reliability. The 4130 TIG-welded frame and brazed fork are designed to take the edge off the bumps and cracks in the road, but remain laterally stiff for those out-of-the-saddle sprints and climbs..."
"...The Pacer is not what most race-inspired roadies seem to drool over. It isn’t on the cutting edge of design, it isn't made of the latest ultra light super-expensive materials, and it isn't festooned with lots of bright colors and graphics. Rather, it is a road bike made of our favorite material, cro-moly steel, using frame geometry that makes it fast and efficient like a road bike should be, but it is not a racing bike. This is a frame meant for all day rides. There are a lot of other road frames out there that are flashier, more exotic, and full of promises most riders only dream of fulfilling. The Pacer doesn't make promises. It's simply a great riding steel frame..."
"...No, the Pacer will not impress people who live for the next replica team ‘kit.’ The Pacer reminds us, quietly, that there is a road bike out there for the rest of us..."
I agree with most of their claims. The Pacer is nowhere near the performance of a race bike - and even if you are a pretty strong rider (and I consider myself ay-okay), you will get dropped by others on race oriented bikes. But, in the end, the goal is not to race with this bike. The goal is all day rides in comfort. Cruising on flats between 15-25MPH (25mph when you're really cooking) and climbing/descending with a smile on your face is what this bike is all about. And, yes, you will get compliments on this bike from those who've seen the light.

One of the concerns for many who own this bike is the flexy bottom bracket that has a tendency to "ghost shift", or what Sheldon Brown called "auto shifting". This is apparent when you stand up to mash. A few things that help are:

1) Choose your shift before you climb. If you decide to mash through a gear change, you may ghost shift.

2) Index (or SIS) shifting works great with this bike. Friction, especially downtube friction shifting - not so much. I had a lot of problems with the downtube shifter set-up.

3) Liberally grease the cable guide under the bottom bracket. Sometimes, if there is friction down there, the bike will shift on its own on flex.

4) Make sure your cables and housing are well lubricated and always use high-end, reputable parts. This is shifting we're talking about, not valve stem caps.

The frame is definitely flexy, so be aware that this is a small compromise for comfort.

I've designed my bike around what the frame was intended for - comfort, exploration and all day rides. But, I have also been dropped by riders on race oriented bikes - but I don't fret. The Pacer reminds me that it's okay to sit-back, relax and enjoy the ride.


  1. I ride a cyclocross bike (Focus Mares) with a mtb riser bar (the widest I could find) and single speed cranks (Shimano Alfine 39t ring) and mtb rear cassette (11-34t) and derailleur. I like my comfy bike. It's good to see others ride somewhat same kind of bikes as I am. 37-700c tires are great.

  2. YES! Sorry it took so long to reply to your comment - I don't know why I wasn't notified of it!