Original words by: Aaron Domeier
Didya know that the Bridge Club has all the mounts for whatever gear cages you may ever need, AND compatibility to run multiple wheel sizes? No? Well, let me paint you a picture.
You may have heard me say something similar to this before. In this “Make It Your Own” blog series, we focus on versatility and customization of our bikes. Think of it, for 21 years now we have been crafting tools of expression and freedom in the form of versatile, durable, utilitarian vehicles of spiritual ascension. Let us call them “bikes.” (Also, you heard that correctly, Surly just turned legal drinking age in the good old US of MFing-A! Who wants a body shot!!)
It seems along the way somehow, Surly misinterpreted the age-old saying of “One bike for every occasion” as “One bike for many occasions.” As a result, we now have an army of loyal riders, enthusiasts, and splinter-cell like League of Shadow operatives across the Earth looking to turn one bike into fifty. Yes, fellow reader, much like Fatties Fit Fine, the ability to make a bike one’s own has proven to be another great brain spew to come from Intergalactic Surly HQ.
In this post, I want to break down what the Bridge Club does well and show you what I’ve done to mine. Hopefully, getting some of you out there to throw a leg over your next dream bike. So, go grab your favorite beverage, and let me break it down for you.
I was turned on to the Bridge Club for the same reasons as my early love for the Cross-Check. The Cross-Check tempted me like Frodo’s ring by being that amazing riding and versatile bike for my all-weather commuting. This versatility started me down my dark path of OCD tinkering and love for all things Surly. For those uninitiated, the Cross-Check is our do-all, 700c wheel, all-day rider/sober cab/super commuter/tourer from Dimension S. This bike has hammered more nails than Chicago’s Local 11.
Wait, what’s that you just said!?
“Hammer Nails with my beloved Cross-Check!!? Nu-uh! NO WAY! NOT TODAY SATAN!”
Calm down Kevin, it’s just a metaphor.
The deal is, the Bridge Club and Cross-Check share little in design but much in execution. It’s a bike meant to be whatever you need it to be. It takes what the Cross-Check did so well and takes it off-road about 20% more by adding a plentitude of wheel and tire compatibility. The result is a bike that wants to be your everything and everyone — like the two of you just exchanged friendship bracelets in a fifth-grade playground blood pact. The difference here is this friend won’t suddenly show up at your window at 3AM to watch you sleep. It’d be in the garage, basement, or entryway where you last left it, you weirdo.
I’m not a super-fast rider. I love commuting by bike and to be honest, I’m not always in that big of a hurry to get off my bike. I’ve always wanted a bike that could handle the biggest sneakers out there to make my time in the saddle more comfortable and to deal with the questionable paths I pedal down.
This is where the Bridge Club really shines. The traction demands that come from loaded commuting and multi-terrain touring call for versatility we don’t often see in the bike world. This is where Surly owns the game. This bike is not only compatible with 700c/26+/27.5 tires but also rides well with them.
Yes, all three (27.5x2.8/26x3/700x47) have aaaalmost the same outer diameter, BUT they all ride slightly different. The geometry of the Bridge Club has been optimized to ride like a touring bike no matter the load, tire size, or terrain. Swapping between these tire sizes won’t change the handling of this bike all that much, it just changes how the miles peel off underneath you.
I ran mine with three different wheel setups across three seasons. (Two wheel sets and three tire combos: 700x40, 27.5x2.4 knobby, 27.5x2.5 touring.) For summer bikepacking/touring and daily commuting, I utilized the Surly Extra Terrestrial 27.5x2.5 touring tire. This gave me ample kush for the push on my slow-roll-style bikepacking and commuting escapades. For fall and winter shoulder season, I ran a set of Michelin 700x40 Star Grip tires. This tire was a great choice for the icy/wet falls that we experience here in Minneapolis. Once the ice was buried by several feet of snow, I decided to run a 27.5x2.4 WTB Bee Line for a nice balance between air volume and moderate teeth to cut through the snow.
The important thing here is knowing which size/diameter works for you. I like the way a 700c tire rolls on dry pavement/crushed rock when loaded. In the summer, I ran a 700x40 ExtraTerrestrial in the rear and a 700x41 Knard in the front (the Ultimate Dragon of tire combos, BTW). If you’re coming from a Touring or Road background, this set up will probably resonate with you.
My favorite setup was the 27.5x2.5” Surly Extra Terrestrial I utilized on my summer rail-to-trail bikepacking trips. I tend to be a bit of a maximlist packer, so the extra floatation was right for me
I built to a size medium as I always do with Surly trail sizing. I’m 5’11” with a ~31” inseam. I can ride a large frame, but generally, prefer a little bit of stand over compared to the large. I don’t mind having a little extra room to play around on the bike, I just value stand over considering so much of my riding is inclement weather. For some of you out there this won’t be a problem, so if you’re curious, take a look at our sizing chart and Spew for more info.
I decided to run my Bridge Club as a 1x11 because of the mix of salt and chemicals dumped on the roads as the superheroes at MNDOT work to keep them clear. I’ve had terrible luck with front derailleurs freezing from road spray and grease joining forces to wax the parallelograms into uselessness, so a couple years ago I converted the fleet into almost all 1x drive trains and never looked back. In the front, I’ve deployed a Wolf Tooth Components 34t Drop-Stop chainring, and in the rear, a Sunrace 11-42 cassette. Shifters and rear derailleur are SRAM NX.
Braking was handled more than aptly by the impeccable Paul Components Love Levers and Klampers.
For Fenders, I ran the SKS Chomoplastic Longboard fenders. I’ve had good luck with those in the past, so I tend to stick with what works.
Like I said before, I used two different wheelsets on this super commuter. The first, my 27.5 wheelset, has a Velocity Blunt SS rim, Chris King R45 rear hub, and Shutter Precision front dynamo. I chose Shutter Precision based on recommendations, price and the ability to run a 15mm thru-axle AND QR on the same hub. (The hub comes with a dummy blank that converts the 15mm to QR. Pretty neat, huh? You may have seen this wheelset on my Midnight Special as well.) The second wheelset, my 700c winter wheels, are DT Swiss/Hugi rear hub and Shimano DH-3N72 front dynamo. The choice to go 700c for most of winter was based on my tire preference for winter tires. I am a big fan of the Michelin Star Grip tires since my commute usually takes me on damp/wet/icy roads for most of the miles I ride. When things get snowy and loose, I swap wheels to my 27.5 with the WTB Ranger set up for a great balance between traction and floatation.
My handlebar choice has been a run between the Surly Open Bar, Sunrise bar, and Terminal Bar. I just love the hand position on specifically the Open (53deg) and Terminal bars (34 deg). For a touring/townie/bikepacking bar, you’d be hard-pressed to find one more comfortable. The choice to run the Sunrise bar was brought on by my front cargo setup. For front-loaded riding, I always go with wider bars than usual, which the Sunrise bar has in spades, or millimeters, really. I like having the weight centered between my hands for better control. Having a super-wide, tall bar also gives you all the clearance in the world to stack cargo UP. As for the Terminal and Open bars, the added swoop at the top of the bar also gives you all the hand positions and options for lashing gear.
One thing to note: If you do run a “swept-back” handlebar shape, don’t forget to add length to your stem length as swept-back bars will push your hand position back toward the saddle. All three of these bars worked great for whatever cargo needs I threw at them, as long as I adjusted my stem length accordingly.
Speaking of cargo, I’d like to touch on my cargo setup. My feedbags are my beloved Wunder Sac, made by the talented Mario Rocchiato. A custom run of feedbags made for Yellow Haus Bicycles, these bags will fit a full 1L Nalgene perfectly. I’ve also used them for food, beer, and as a stuff sack for quick-access stuff like a rain jacket or bottle of wine when you run out of room. Not all feedbags will fit a full 1L Nalgene, but now that I’ve put some use into it, it’s a feature I will definitely look for in future feedbags.
I love front-loaded touring/commuting and I’m an avid mountain biker. I love the way a dialed trail bike rides on singletrack. I always tell people that I ride all my bikes like a trail bike, meaning: I keep the “trail” between my thumbs and steer with my hips. This comes in handy when your route takes you down paths that may have potholes, construction objects, or doors swinging wide into your bike lane. My bikepacking/touring bikes are no different. The two setups I have deployed on this bike worked great for their given tasks.
First, I utilized a 24-Pack Rack with a Wald basket affixed to the top.
This worked great for grab-and-go grocery shopping, maximalist camping, and anytime I just need a dump box to hold my stuff while pedaling. The second setup includes a Surly Front Rack and TV Tray, festooned with two Loop Straps and an Axiom cargo net. I like this more modular setup as I can mount panniers under the wings of the TV Tray, utilizing otherwise dead space on the fork blades. This will negate the Three-Pack mounts on the fork, but whatever, I have panniers now.
Since mounting my TV Tray, I have really broadened my perspective on what a bike can haul. For instance, another bike frame.
Front rack not your thing? Turns out the Bridge Club is compatible with rear racks as well. Does it make you happy to add more gear outback? Go, be happy as you want. You do you. Personally, it’s my preference to utilize front racks rather than rear. I will, however, make the exception to deploy a saddle bag for my bikepacking needs. But you do what you want, go be a tastemaker. Nothing against rear racks, I just think that front racks are the neatest thing since the '96 Madison Scouts marched eight quads.
The last installment of this almost year-long blog is a full-blown, top-to-bottom custom rebuild. I enjoy custom building things from the ground up, and after stuffing the new 27.5x2.5 ExtraTerrestrials into these color-matched frame and fenders, I couldn’t help but think of that famous opening scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the one where Junior rescues Sean Connery from Castle Brunwald in this famous motorcycle chase scene. I rebuilt my Bridge Club with the image of those burly German WWII motorcycles in mind.
I had my friend at AP Paints powder coat the frame and fenders to a matte, army green, and then added the appropriate Surly Front Rack, TV Tray and Terminal Bar in black as well as Velo Orange Stem and seatpost. I fulfilled my dreams of adding some front panniers for this build and did so with help from some Sturdy Bag Designs, color-matched custom front panniers, made to fit the Surly Front Rack and utilize that space under the TV Tray Wings.
So, there you have it. Make it Your Own: Pack it in, Pack it Out with the Surly Bridge Club. This bike quickly became my favorite bike in our lineup because of its ability to adapt to whatever configuration you can throw at it. Multiple wheels? Check. All the mounting options? Yup. Handlebar and cargo configurations? Absolutely. For the down-for-anything, anytime best friend of a bike, you really can’t go wrong with the Bridge Club. Take a test spin. Throw a leg over this golden chariot. Meet your new partner in crime.
Thanks for reading this far. Hopefully, you got some wild ideas of your own to take your Surly and make it your own.
Ride safe out there and never give up on Coleslaw. It deserves a second chance.