Thursday, September 15, 2011

Building my Surly Pacer

I thought I'd take a quick moment and post up a report about my most recent bike build; the fabulous Surly Pacer in "British Racing Green" with a top-notch Sram Force drivetrain. I can't say enough how nice this bike rides, but more on that later...

After my recent experiment/failure with the Neuvation frame, I decided to go with a more traditional frameset with a great pricetag, the Surly Pacer. (Note: Neuvation's wheels are most excellent, but I cannot say I would buy another one of their frames). If you do some searching, you'll find that most people love their Pacers and you'll also find they are wickedly comfortable and capable descenders. You'll also notice that most people build it up as a low budget commuter bike, or as a back-up rain bike for their fancy carbon racing rigs. It fits that role nicely due to its relatively low price (~$460 for the frame vs. $1000+ for carbon or nice riding aluminum frames). It is also capable of handling wider road tires than most road bikes nowadays and can easily be fitted with fenders and down-tube shifters for the ultimate wet-weather beater bike.

I decided though, to take a different approach. My greatest joy as a rider is going out as fast and as far as possible. I wanted a bike that could handle everything I would throw at it and be comfy and stable enough to ride all day if the opportunity arises. Because I don't often go out and noodle along, although I enjoy that also, I wanted a good parts package that would be quick shifting and reliable, while also adding to the aesthetic of the classic road bike I was imagining. I thought about down-tube shifters and fenders, racks, pannier bags, or maybe just going with a cyclocross bike, but ultimately, I knew deep down I wanted a road bike that was good at being a road bike (corners fast and feels nimble). Enter the Surly Pacer!

There are a lot of inexpensive great riding bikes, but the one thing that drew me to the Pacer is Surly's reputation of being a quality bike company that makes bikes where the priority is on the ride. I was also able to buy this from my local shop which I love to support, Cafferty's Cyclery. There is no fluff on this bike. Its not made of fancy materials, features no proprietary components, and by intention is designed to be around for a long time. So long that they don't clear coat over the decals so the frame can easily be repainted 10 years and 3 drivetrains from now when I'm still riding it to work.

Another nice thing I mentioned earlier is the ability to run wider road tires if the need arises. Since I'm of the go fast mentality, I am sticking with durable 23mm Specialized Armadillo Elite tires, but the "FFF - Fatties Fit Fine" sticker is a reminder that the room is there if I want to run 32 mm rubber. I may have to end up changing the brakeset if I do that, and for now I want to run my Sram Force set, so I'll stick with 23-28 mm's. You'll notice below that there is still plenty of room to fit more tire under those brakes. I'll have to experiment to see how fat I can go with my bike the way it is.

So the ride? AMAZING! Today I was riding on a freshly chipped and sealed road and I could not believe how smooth it was. There is no road I wouldn't take this bike down. I'm really tempted to take it out on a long gravel grind this fall if I can find the time. I really don't know why anyone other than a super serious racer would want to ride anything else. I can't believe it took me so long to go with steel. There is no hesitating when it comes time to go down a hill now, although I still may be a little nervous after my Neuvation incidents.

There is some heft to the bike, if you call a 21 pound bike hefty. And that's ready to ride with my pedals, bottle cages, and computer. My old Specialized Tarmac (may she rest in peace with someone out there in ebay land) was built with lighter wheels and a few more carbon bits and was 17 pounds. My Neuvation was 18+ pounds and was much poorer in ride quality. So I guess if I eat a couple less bowls of ice cream each week and ride a little more I probably won't notice a few exta lbs in the frame. So I guess what I have to say to the 'race' bike riding folks like my former self is I'll be passing you on the chip-sealed roads as your fillings rattle out and your bike's cables vibrate so loud you can't hear me coming. And I guess if you catch me on a climb once in awhile I'll at least have an excuse. 3 extra pounds can be a lot. (If you caught that bit of sarcasm there it was intended :)


  1. Call for comments on this post. It is by far my most popular entry on this blog, so what is it about this post that people keep coming around to? Let me know your thoughts and maybe I'll post another build in the near future.

  2. Hi Anthony,
    Great Post... I guess its the review of the Pacer and the fact that the frame is comfortable (if not slightly heavier) that people want to know about. Its the idea that a cheap steel frame stands heads and shoulders above the carbon frames - and that the Pacer is actually made for riding and epic day adventures and not entirely for racing. Don't get me wrong I own a carbon ultra light race bike and a surly crosscheck and they both have there place in cycling - but 90% of the time I'll select the crosscheck over the giant. I also think its the allure of all day adventures and the possibility of exploring any kind of road with ease and comfort that is attracting with the pacer.

    Keep up the blogging!

  3. It's the review that's appealing. I almost purchased a Straggler in the fall but am now faced with frame failure of my lightweight aluminum race bike. Surly offers quality, longevity and a bit of style. More important the best endorsement of a bike is from another rider. My one fear is not being able to keep up on a club run though.

  4. Toying with the idea of one of these as a commuter with rack and guards. My commutes are about 40 miles round trip and usually pretty fast paced so I want something that will still corner well and is not too heavy. Can't decide if this is too heavy or not really. I know a lot of people love them but most people don't really buy a surly to go fast. Tricky one. Your review has helped though!