Expedition Bike

Surly ECR Custom Build

Surly ECR on St Thomas Island waterfront.

Surly ECR on St Thomas Island waterfront.

If you haven’t noticed, touring bicycles have made a quantum leap in recent years. What started out as a simple but sturdy road bike design with accommodations for racks & bags, was then morphed into wider tires and multiple gear choices, then began a slow metamorphosis through mountain bike geometry. The most recent additions to the touring bike genre is better known as the “expedition or adventure bike”. Most of these bikes are made of steel and have a strong reinforced mountain bike frame. Disc brakes are now the norm for long distance travel as is a variety of different approaches to gearing. The emphasis is on simplicity of use and durability so there are two schools of thought; Those with deep pockets who don’t mind the extra weight lean towards the Rohloff internally geared speed hub. These German engineered fully enclosed gear boxes have proven their reliability under extreme conditions. They allow the ability to run a single straight chain line and keep the drive train high out of the way of trail debris. The downside is the cost of parts and setup which usually runs in the neighborhood of $1500 – $2000 in addition to the cost of the bike. The other school of thought is to simplify the drive train by reducing it to a 1×10 or 1×11 gear system. By running a relatively small single chainring up front like a 30 or 32 tooth on the crank and using a wide spread in the cassette cluster (11.13,16,19,21,24,28,32,36,42T) you can achieve most of the gear combinations of a standard mountain triple system without needing a front derailleur or the weight of extra chainrings.

When world bicycle travelers are not on tour, most of us are thinking about the next latest and greatest bike build and I am no exception. I decided to pull out all of the stops with this build and use all top shelf components which have proven to be tough and reliable. The end result, in my opinion, is a sturdy yet simple expedition bike which is easy to repair in the field and disassembles quickly for transportation by plane or ship. It sports a dynamic hub generator to operate lights and to charge accessories and a back up battery to collect excess input from pedal strokes. S&S couplers are used in the frame as well as cable separators for ease of disassembly. I opted to use the 29+ platform with semi-fat tires for use in a variety of conditions from soft snow to marshlands and everything in between. Multiple attachment points were required for racks and water cages and a durable powder coat finish was added for frame protection. The handlebars needed multiple hand placement positions and to be wide enough for good control on rough surfaces.

I started this bicycle build with a new Surly ECR frameset which I commissioned Bilenky Cycle Works in Philadelphia, PA to retrofit S&S couplers to. Then it was sent out for a custom metallic black powder coat and then shipped to me ready for the build. Next I installed a Chris King headset and Shimano XTR BB90 Hollowtech II bottom bracket. Adding Thomson Elite X4 stem and Jeff Jones H-Bar Loop handlebar came next along with a Rohloff speed shifter and Avid Speed Dial 7 brake levers. I used a Thomson Setback seat post with a Brooks Cambium C15 vulcanized rubber saddle for weather proof riding. Avid BB7 S mechanical disc brakes were mounted with 160mm rotors and Jagwire compressionless cables. The drive train consists of a Rohloff 500/14 SpeedHub using a 16T cog mated to a Shimano SLX Crankset using a Surly stainless 34T chainring. The wheels were laced with black DB Wheelsmith spokes and nipples on black Velocity BLUNT & DUALLY rims. For a front hub I used a black Shutter Precision PD-8 6V3W dynamo with 36 holes. In the rear I used a black Rohloff 500/14 Hub also with 36 holes. I then wrapped these 29” wheels in a pair of Surly 29×3 Knard tires officially turning this bike into a 29+. The addition of a Surly Nice Rack in the back and a pair of Salsa Downunder Racks up front with a side of Salsa Anything Cage HD hanging off the left fork rounded out this expedition build. All that is left is to hook up the lights and attach some Ortlieb waterproof bags and this bike is ready for any adventure.

Here is the complete build list:


Manufacturer / Model


Frame and Size

• ECR – Size Medium

• S&S Couplers retrofit

• Custom Powder Coat (metallic black)

• Headset Chris King 1-1/8″

• Shimano XTR BB90 Hollowtech II Bottom Bracket


• Shimano SLX Crankset – FC-M552
Crank Arm Length: 175mm
HollowTech II Spindle
BCD: 104
990 grams

• Surly Stainless 34T Chainring

Kmc Bicycle Chain “X-1 For Rohloff”
109 link
Dyna-sys compatible
275 grams

• Jagwire Pro Mountain Brake Cable Kit


• Avid BB7 S Mechanical Disc Brake Front and Rear
• Avid G2 Cleansweep Rh Disc Rotor Rohloff 160mm

Handlebar & Stem

• Thompson Stem Aluminum. 4-bolt face.
(10 degree angle, 120 extension, Black)

• Jeff Jones 660 H-Bar

• Shifter: Rohloff Twist Shifter

• Grips: Ergon GC1


• Brooks Cambium C15 Slate
(waterproof cotton & vulcanized rubber)


• Thomson Elite Setback Seatpost


• Headlight – Herman’s 50 Lux Headlight

• Taillight – Herman’s H-Track Ultra-bright Taillight

• E-werk Dynohub Charger

• Anker External Battery

• Wiring harness for lights
(Schmidt part coaxial Fly type 1.9m w/con)

• Supernova gold plated wiring connectors



• Front Hub/Wheel: Precision dynohub (black),
laced to a 36-hole Velocity BLUNT rim (black)
with Wheelsmith DB 14-guage spokes (all black).

• Front Tire Surly Knard 29×3
• tube Surly 29×3


• Rear hub: Rohloff SPEEDHUB 500/14 TS DB OEM2 black
36h ISO (black) laced to a 36-hole Velocity Dually
rim (black) with Wheelsmith DB 14-guage spokes (all black).

• Rear Tire Surly Knard 29×3
• tube Surly 29×3
• Surly Tugg Nut

• Ritchey 29er Rim Tape


• Shimano A530 SPD Dual Platform Pedal

• Locking Axle Skewers


• Ortlieb Bike Packer Plus (Hazel)

• Ortlieb Ultimate 5 Plus Medium Handlebar Bag (Hazel)

• Thorn Accessory Bar MK1

• Ortlieb Map Case

• Ortlieb Front Roller Plus (Hazel)

• Ortlieb Classic Saddlebag (Black)

• Salsa Down Under Front Rack

• Surly Nice Rack rear

• Water Bottle Cages x 4

• Salsa Anything Cage

• Bike Buddy Fuel Bottle Rack

• Da Vinci cable splitters

• Extra cables for splitters

• steering tube spacers



• SURLY Bolt-On Seat post Clamp


  1. I got an email reply yesterday from Surly saying that the World Troller should available by the end of this month. I too have been waiting a year for this and in the interim plunged my money into an ECR, just didn’t elect to go S&S on it as I’d already experienced travelling with a Trucker Deluxe so expected that there’s be too much compromise in making the ECR coupled. Maybe I was wrong, you got around the bidon mount on the downtube but what about splitting the cables for packing the bike? The ECR has full cable housing guides whereas the Deluxe had cable stops so that you could use cable splitters, this meant that you could separate the two halves of the frame and even the handlebars from the frame to fit it all easier into the S&S backpack soft case. If you’re still using full cable housings how are you disassembling the bike?

    And the S&S backpack soft case, when the bike is assembled at the other end, the bag itself can be taken apart and flattened to fit on the rear rack. You take it with you and it came in very handy for hiding the bike at some of the places I stayed at. Not so easy on a rackless bikepacking rig though, I’ll have to figure something out.

    • I am using a Rohloff speedhub with the coupled ECR so I just unhook the shifter box, unbolt the rear disc brake caliper and snip two cable ties that hold both of these cables and the rear of the frame is then free for uncoupling. It is actually easier than using the cable splitters. I have to admit that the entire bike does not fit into just one small package with the larger wheels and 3″ Knard tires, but I always needed two boxes anyway to ship my panniers and racks so it works out fine. The bottom line is that in most cases I don’t pay any additional airline fees and I can load the bike onto Greyhound buses at no charge.

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