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The Rohloff Monkey

Well, it’s been a long time in the planning, but I finally have a new bike for touring! This time with off-road touring in mind, as well as winter biking, and all year commuting (as it will be replacing my beloved Surly Long Haul Trucker). Behold, the Surly Karate Monkey! (Please forgive the dodgy phone pictures for now, I hope to get out with a proper camera on a sunny day some time soon. When the sun returns. One day. Right now it’s just snowing and snowing and snowing.)

The Rohloff Hub

The stock build of the Karate Monkey is a single speed. After a lot of umm-ing and ahh-ing, I deciding that trying to pick one gear to ride in the valley would just be too annoying – especially as I would need to be towing heavy toddlers around with it. So it would need gears. Then there was a lot more umm-ing and ahh-ing, and I finally decided to use an internally geared hub rather than the standard derailleur setup.

After reading a lot of prolonged internet arguments, and getting a few in-person opinions about the Rohloff hub (they’re awful! they’re fantastic!), I thought one might suit me, and I may as well give it a go myself. After hunting around on the internet, I sent off an email to Cycle Monkey in California. They are fantastically helpful, and it was an easy decision to have them build up a wheel for me. This took no time at all, and so last weekend with wheel in hand a morning was spent assembling the bike, and ta-dah, the Rohloff Monkey was let loose on the world!

The Karate Monkey – Rohloff Hub build isn’t one I’ve seen very often, definitely less frequently than some of the other Surly bikes. I can’t really give a thorough review until I’ve got a few more thousand kilometres under the saddle, but so far it seems to be awesome. There were no difficulties in getting everything assembled, although there are a few make-do solutions that I might change in the near future. I haven’t been bothered by the low range noise that people mention, although it was nice to be aware of it beforehand(that’s the noise you get in gears 1 – 7, which apparently quietens down after the hub has worn in a little). And it does feel a little like it’s marginally less efficient when climbing, but not so much so that I think it will make a difference to me for my uses.

The hub installed is the:
Speedhub 500/14 TS (threaded spindle, so not quick release) DB (disc brake, for the Karate Monkey’s mechanical disc brakes) OEM black anodized, 32h. The rest of the set up used
Axle plate TS OEM2 long
Monkey bone instead of Speed bone
Magura Rotor 160mm 4-bolt

Currently the cables are held in place with a slightly dodgy cable tie setup. I’ll do something to make this look a little nicer some time soon.

There’s no chain guide used, and no tensioner required. Everything was built up on a No Tubes Flow Rim, as I’m planning to go tubeless in the summer. I do have chain tensioners on at the moment, just because when we were assembling everything, I didn’t want to shorten the chain until I had checked out how the gear range suited me. The smallest chainring that Rohloff says is legal to run with the stock 16T hub sprocket is 34T, but the stock Karate Monkey cog is 33T – Neil from Cycle Monkey said this was close enough that I was unlikely to have any issues. I am fairly light and small compared to a lot of Rohloff riders, that’s for sure. So far the range of gears seems to suit me perfectly though. I’m a bit of a spinner rather than a cranker, and I spend a lot of time riding up long climbs, or towing a toddler around, so having a good low range is perfect. So I might be shortening the chain soon, and removing the tensioners.

My beloved Ergon grips come in Rohloff style! And there is no thumb shift option (that I’m aware of) – the default gear shifting mode with the Rohloff is this little twist shifter.

Rohloff and Chariot towing

The good news is that it’s easy to insert and setup the Chariot hauling spindle to tow the Chariot. I was a little worried that it wouldn’t be possible, but it’s turned out to be fine. I’m not sure if it will sit quite so neatly once I remove the chain tensioners – so that might require some playing around with to optimise. Hopefully I won’t be towing the Chariot for too much longer anyway though..

Next up…

Now it’s just waiting for some awesome Porcelain Rocket bags, so when we go out bike-packing together I’ll actually be able to carry some gear. And maybe I’ll get a front fork at some point, as I’m not so much of a masochist as to want to ride the single track around here on a fully rigid bike. Maybe eventually I’ll get a new wheel on the front, with another No Flow rim – maybe a dynamo hub? That might just be crazy talk though. And of course, lots of riding.

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Epic bike date

The kind offer of a Moosling-sitter led to a cunning plan to check out some now-snow-free trails. We left the list of where we planned to go, and headed out the door.

A casual start up Quaite, and the awful steep rocky section didn’t seem so awful as I remember it being. Maybe not hammering up the start helps a little there. The trail was quiet, and we were starting in the morning cool. The descent down from Jewell Pass was a bit mucky in spots, but still fun, and no bears.

Riding across the boring fire trail sections to get to Mount Baldy, we started to hit the weekend crowds, out to hike the trails in this lovely weather. Unfortunately then the boring fire trail continued, as we climbed up to Baldy Pass. And it’s not even all climbing! The slightly tedious trail winds up and down before settling into a proper climb and some single track towards the pass.

After a brief pause for photos at the pass (for Alex to catch up, and for some photos), we headed down. Cautiously, as there were quite a few hikers out, plus one pile of avalanche debris to hike-a-bike over. Before long the trail had spat us out onto the road and we were heading back to Barrier Lake for a quick lunch stop.

Thankfully the hiking crowds had thinned a little by the time we were biking up Prairie View trail, which although wide and easy to pass on, is always a little painful. Apparently everyone was up having lunch at the summit, all the lookout points were absolutely swarming with people – who were fascinated by the fat tyres on Alex’s Moonlander, you can’t take him anywhere these days. We opted to continue on, and through a crowd of asian tourists (“Well done! Well done!” as I biked downhill past them), we finally made it to the Razor’s Edge turn off.

From there things started to go a little downhill (literally and figuratively), as Alex’s occasional leg cramps became pretty persistent, and he couldn’t really pedal much at all. I was completely unhelpful, with nothing to offer except suggestions that apparently pickle juice fixes cramps instantly. Not that we had any. The lack of flow didn’t do the trail any favours. Being quite technical, I find it hard to ride in a start-stop fashion, and ended up walking far too many sections that I possibly could have ridden. Nonetheless we did eventually make it back to the car in decent time, and have decided it’s a good little 50km loop close to home. We were both expecting the total elevation gain to be a little higher though, I could have sworn it felt like twice that amount!

Distance: 46km
Elevation gain: 1640m
Time: Around 5 hours

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Into the Alps: The Großglockner (26 – 27 Sept 2009)

“From 768m to 2504m and back down again. Sometimes all you can do is slip into your lowest granny gear, set some Queen playing on your iPod, and grind your way to the top.”


Setting off we plan to get as close as we can to the start of the Großglockner Pass road. However we get distracted after finding a market, and then an enormous bike store, and then in Bad Reichenhall there are cakes, and internet. By the time we’re finished in Bad Reichenhall it’s after midday and the clouds have finally lifted, revealing the mountains surrounding us. Mountains! Rocky limestone alpine peaks, it feels just like home (well Canadian home). The rivers are aqua with glacier-chalk as well.


Afternoon views outside of Bad Reichenhall, all of a sudden we’re in the mountains


We’re a bit worried on reaching the end of Saalach-Stausee. The main road on to Unken and Lofer looks very bike unfriendly, but thankfully there’s a bike path to follow – we’re following Jakobsweg, and the Mozart Radweg, and a bunch of other signposted trails. After a steep gravelly start the path turns out ok, and happily keeps us away from the traffic. The day has turned out clear and sunny, and we’re cycling past rocky mountains, cliffs and rivers. We watch rock climbers and kayakers and yearn to be doing things besides cycling – but at least we get to be here cycling, rather than being stuck at work dreaming of being outside. Lofer is nice, and has a man playing a piano accordion outside a pub. It seems the quintessential Austrian Alps town.


Alex as we head into the Alps (note the beard getting alarmingly large)


As we get to Saalfelden, alpenglow is highlighting the mountains around us, and we arrive to set up camp in Maishofen a few minutes after sunset. Fall asleep to cow bells again.


Misty morning on the Zeller See, Austria



Riding through the foggy morning


After leaving Maishofen at 7.30am we rode into the fog south of Zeller See and saw a fogbow (like a rainbow, but with fog), and then heard a choir of children (who sounded disconcertingly like angels) singing in the church at Bruck. There wasn’t much climbing until we fit Fusch, and it was when we hit the tollgates that the ascent began in earnest (and we were quite grateful that we didn’t have to pay the outrageous amounts that cars or motorbikes were tolled).


The Großglockner High Road – 33km of road where anything could happen and probably will


Gradually more and more bikes appeared on the road. We didn’t overtake many, but on the plus side, not many were going much faster than us; although if we could have done, we would have happily changed down to a lower gear at some points.


Gaining altitude



Alpine views


Each switchback gained around 30 metres of altitude, so we were gaining height quickly. And each corner was sign-posted with name and altitude, which made measuring progress gratifyingly easy. There were also plenty of picnic benches and roadside stops, and different views to admire, so it was a very gradual progress uphill.


Achtung! Marmots!



Up and up



Hairpins bring us higher and higher


We tossed up cycling to the Edelweiß-spitze, but for another 200 metres of altitude over 2km, we decided to save our legs for the next few days – it wasn’t like this was the only pass we’d be cycling over. So instead we just cycled the main road along, descending, heading up through the tunnels, and reaching the high point of the main road of 2504 metres.


Alex on the final leg to the high point, cruising along at 2400m



The Surly LHT photo: 2504m above sea level



Alps through the looking glass


For the descent I decided to invest in some glacier goggles. You never know when they might come in handy. Then we kitted up in our warm clothes and began the descent… until we hit a roundabout and were flabbergasted by the fact we’d have to cycle uphill again! Oh well, that out of the way, we continued the descent to Heiligenblut, then a further 10km or so to a nice little campground with a chatty old Austrian man to talk to.


Glacier goggles



Down again into the Heiligenblut valley


Distance cycled: 172km
Sleeping arrangements: Campgrounds
Days of rain: 0/2 (wooo! the sunny spell continues)
Public toilets: Available
Bike friendliness: Good, lots of signed bike trails, or roads that are fine to cycle on
Free wifi availability: There was some in Bad Reichenhall

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the bike ride

The Surly LHT went out for a test ride today, from town back to the farm – a distance of just 45km which seems much further psychologically, but realistically is fairly similar in length to most other segments of 45 kilometres, and so didn’t take much more than two hours, even with my loaded panniers on and an unpleasant headwind.



In the end I got distracted with the riding and did not take many photos. Well, not only distracted with the riding, I also developed a gripping fear of getting catheads (or caltrops, or whatever you want to call them) stuck in my tyres, so I couldn’t leave the road to prop my bike up anywhere, as anywhere that wasn’t road probably had catheads. Not that the road was free of suspicion either. But the reason I was so anxious not to get a puncture is all due to the war of the wills I’m currently engaged in with my cantilever breaks, which I’m learning to hate with a vengeance. Yes I KNOW they’re simple. So simple that the relatively obvious act of un-doing them so you can get the wheel off, or re-connecting them so you have brakes again, seems almost impossibly for me and invariably ends with me wanting to kick them in frustration, but instead I just glare and beg a passer-by to help me.



So all photos were taken while standing over the bike, or while holding the bike with my spare hand. Combined with a fixed 50mm lens to shoot with, photo opportunities were rather limited.



I rode with both front and rear panniers on for the first time, plus the handlebar bag which is really really handy, and I’m not sure why I as so keen on avoiding getting one previously. Probably the fact they tend to look quite dorky, and my bikes have always been far too fashionable to stand bearing such a thing.

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testing the lht

Despite the miserable looking forecast for this weekend, the weather actually turned out ok (apart from the snow on Saturday night/Sunday morning, which cannot possibly count as ok). So when we decided to go for a ride out to Grotto Canyon followed by a hike up it as far as we could be bothered going, my backpack ended up being full of a nice ballast of warm and waterproof layers while we stripped down to t-shirts.


Biking out along the 1A to Grotto Canyon


And we ended up getting to the waterfall tucked in the back of Grotto Mountain, many kilometres up the Grotto Canyon drainage – up where it opens up wide. Hiking along a canyon can be difficult. There were no people, no wind, no noise – just silence and stillness. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and I had to keep fighting the primal urge to go and gain the high ground..