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Bikes. Parts. Chaos.

Allow us to introduce to you Yann Lecanu, 43, a photographer and video director from Paris, France. Yann is taking over the Surly blog today to share his experience touring the world on two wheels. The sights. The sounds. The “degraded hygiene.” Real stories from the steel, if you’re into it. Yann’s bicycle of choice for his current Pan-American Trip is a Troll named Ernesto — a versatile dirt-touring steed near and dear to whatever functioning organs we have left. Settle in for the lowdown from Yann himself.

Thursday September 8, 2022, 8:29 p.m. I’m currently crossing the Canadian/U.S. border in British Columbia, after 8350 Km of riding. I started 120 days ago in Montréal, Québec, went to New Brunswick, and entered the U.S. in Maine. Then I went south to Washington D.C., west to Louisville, Kentucky, and north [through Minnesota] to Winnipeg. Banff lies ahead.

Small tent pitched in tall grass with loaded Troll bike parked

I hate being in a hurry when I wake up. Generally speaking I wake up at 6:00 a.m., take a small breakfast and pack everything to be ready at 7:00 a.m. Then I ride around 60 miles a day, stopping often to eat, grab coffee, admire the scenery, take pictures, and chat with people I meet on the way. Lunch is around noon and then I’m on the saddle until 5. Then I search for a place to stay, eat dinner at 7 and go to bed around 9:00 p.m.

Troll bike fully loaded with pannier bags, handlebar bag, and three large waterbottles

Among the weather conditions, wind is the one I hate most. Rain can be boring, especially when it rains many days in a row, but wind can be physically exhausting. It’s the thing that lowers most my motivation.

My brain doesn’t seem to work properly if I start to ride too late in the morning. And my motivation becomes low. To be OK I need to have ridden more than half the day’s distance before lunch.

Troll bike loaded with more bags on top of rear rack, side view parked in tall grass

Loaded Troll bike under outdoor shelter during rain shower in neighborhood

I’ve been travelling a lot for the last two decades, but as it’s my first time ever on the American continent, I wanted to do something huge.

For a long time Ushuaia in Argentina just appeared to me to be the most remote place on Earth. A perfect destination. I’m 43, in good shape, with available time, and everything was blinking green to realize this dream.

Editor’s Note: Before reaching his final destination of Ushuaia, Argentina, Yann will travel west through Canada before turning south toward California, Texas, Mexico, and Panama. All told, he plans to travel 20,000 miles.

Map of Yann's starting point to destination

After a lot of searching, I was focused on two models from Surly: Troll or Ogre. But ultimately I’m an old-fashioned mountain biker who is used to 26-inch wheels and I don’t need the stability offered by Ogre; the weight I carry takes care of this issue. I wanted something a bit more agile, so I bought a Troll frame and fork kit and built it from scratch. Editor’s Note: Scroll right on down to the bottom of this blog page for the complete build kit.

Troll bike built with no racks, bags, or bottle cages yet, parked outside again wood fence

I sleep most of the time under a tent (a Tarptent Moment DW), with an inflatable Therm-A-Rest sleeping pad and two different sleeping bags, depending on the weather conditions. I have a light synthetic one that I can also use as a blanket, and a Triple Zero feather option for colder conditions.

I can live with degraded hygiene, but a very hot shower not only cleans but also boosts my mind. So I try to take at least two showers a week. The other days I rinse myself as much as I can and clean myself with wipes.

Camp set-up on lake shore, bike parked next to tent

Concerning food I do groceries twice a week. I don’t care about carrying additional weight and I prefer buying more food when I have access to bigger stores or markets. The choice is better and it’s easier to find healthy things. Gas station and convenience store food is a pain when you travel that long.

When you get used to thinking about itineraries with an engine-powered vehicle, everything seems so close. On a bike, however, you live every second of this journey in forward motion.

Sometimes you feel so small, in the middle of nowhere. In some states you can ride tens of miles without seeing anyone or any store. What impresses me most [about visiting America] is the scale.

I was raised a single child and I’m used to solitude. Except for music I prefer being solo in my activities. Being able to focus 100% the way I feel it. I’m always happy to be back at home, but while on a journey, I’m not a homesick kind of guy. But I do miss riding my motorcycle (Yamaha Tracer 900) and playing music with my friends.

Yann standing in front of 'Guest home' sign with tent set-up and bike parked on grass lawn

Loaded Troll bike parked against cattle grate and barbed wire fence in high elevation prairie

The way a heavy loaded bike can connect people — it’s as if it was the perfect icebreaker. With everything you carry, people know that you came from far away or you are going somewhere far away. And you can bond with people instantly, even if it is just for a few minutes. I love this.

Maybe I’m lucky but almost all the time I find kind and welcoming people. Especially in stores. And that’s something very helpful on the long-term. As a cyclist I’d like to add that most drivers seem to care and I’ve rarely felt unsafe on the road.

Troll bike loaded and parked on gravel shoulder of paved road as semi truck passes

My motto since I started travelling in a self-sufficient way is AOP:

Adapt: Yourself to the road, the weather conditions, time zones, currencies, people behaviours.

Overcome: The pain, the boringness, the wind.

Progress: In many skills. Bike mechanics, physical conditioning, worldwide social interactions, discovering your inner self.

Yann standing with loaded Troll bike in from of Quality Bicycle Products front doors

Full Build Kit for Ernesto the Troll

Concerning transmission and brakes, the obvious choice for me was the Shimano XT groupset, especially because they also offer a trekking version.

The crankset is 26-36-46 and cassette is 11-36. The 3x10 setup means speeds overlap a lot, but I wanted and needed the widest range available.

Hydraulic disc brakes. During trekking I don’t brake that much, but I need full power and control when I do. Brake pads last thousands of miles in those conditions.

I added a Son 28 front dynamo hub, coupled with B+M front and rear LED lights.

Rims are Ryde Andra 30 laced with Sapim spokes and equipped with Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tires.

I’m also using an FSA Orbit headset; Ergotec Level 6 seatpost, stem and handlebar; Ergon GP4 bar-ends, and an aged Brooks B17 Saddle.

The only change made since the original assembly is swapping to the Surly Terminal Bar instead of the very sporty one I chose at first.

Front and rear rack are by Tubus, and the full luggage set comes from Ortlieb.

  • Back Roller Pro Plus rear (70L)
  • Sport Roller Plus front (25L)
  • Rack-Pack (31L)
  • Ultimate Six Pro (7L)

Troll frameset and all parts laid out before custom built

Assembled Troll build with racks, pannier bags, bags on top of rear rack, fenders, three bottles, and handlebar bag

Editor’s Note: Due to Yann’s travel itinerary, our interview was conducted via electronic mail over the course of a fortnight. It exists here with minor edits made for length and clarity. All of us at Surly would like to thank Yann for his stories, photos, and for keeping his Troll happy and fed.

Lastly, if you’d like to follow along for the rest of Yann’s trip, find him on Facebook at Pan-American Trip.