Saturday, June 04, 2011

Karate Monkey first impressions

I went for the first ride on my new "frame" on thursday. I still hadn't recovered fully from the cold that I have had for the last week so it was a gentle up and down of the Danzig and Big Weta tracks in Belmont Regional Park, about 8 minutes of descending and 16 minutes of leisurely climbing.

The Surly Karate Monkey is a pretty bizarre looking machine and is well known for its utilitarian design. If Batman had a bike on his utility belt, it would be this one... if you could take only one bike onto a desert island, then you would take the Karate Monkey... or so the legend goes. It is adorned with all kinds of welded on attachments (except cable stops) which enable it to be used in many different roles.

Apologies for the crappy Tablet photos.
Its a 29er, with canti studs so can be used as a Cyclo Cross Bike, a Cross Country bike (can take a suspension fork and discs) a Single Speed (has horizontal drop-outs) and a touring bike (has mounts for racks and mudguards). So that's effectively four other bikes I don't need now... which is just as well, because I had to disable at least three of them just to get together enough parts to make this one go!!

I had to borrow the rear v-brakes off my single speed, the front v-brakes off my Franken-cross bike, the Woodchipper handlebar and old road-wheels off same, and the right-hand shifter off my Time trial bike !

Cleetus gave me his ex-Kiwi-Brevet 42mm conti-cross tire for the front and I picked up a cheap 38mm CX tire for the rear.

Aside from having no front suspension and very narrow tires my initial descent of Danzig and Big Weta went well. There was a fair bit of jarring but nothing I couldn't handle, a big fat tire on the front would give me a completely different ride. I cant wait. What impressed me most was the nimbleness of the bike, it just dropped into the many Danzig "zig-zags" beautifully. Maybe it was the short chain-stays tucked in close to the bent seat post, reminds me of he old Fisher Hoo Koo E Koo? Surprisingly it felt way more nimble than my Santa Cruz Superlight which is the bike I ride down there the most. Not what I would have expected from a 29er, although the thin tires may have had a big effect on its lively feel.

The frame layout is very strange to look at, and I did a lot of comparing of "effective top-tubes" before I ordered this size - the 16 inch. The actual measurement from BB to the bottom side of the top-tube is only 13.5 inches, but to the top side is 16. The actual "effective top-tube" length is longer than many other "medium" sized bikes at 576 mm, or 22.7 inches.

My plan was always to use this as a drop-bar bike which tends to put your arms more forward than a flat-bar anyway. I do have short legs and a long torso (5ft 10 - very monkey-like; ) and so far the fit feels really good. The amount of actual seat-post sticking out is surprisingly identical to my Superlight, even though it looks crazy. It looks like the top-tube almost slopes directly into the rear chain-stays on the 16inch frame !

The Woodchipper drop-bars are amazingly good. They feel really safe, because of the way your hands just fall into them, but I have to wonder what would happen in an off - would your legs get all tangled up behind the things ? The bars do offer quite a few different positions and what I found really interesting was how natural they felt when climbing. With the hands on the hoods position they had a very similar feel to what you get from riding on bar-ends on a flat-bar equipped XC bike. I have the top of the bar set up about parallel to the top of the seat, but ideally they are supposed to be quite a bit higher than that for proper control while riding on the drops off road.

It will be in the Cyclo cross/Commuter format for quite a while I think, because to run fatter tires I will need wider rims, and if I am going to do that I might as well get rims that have braking surfaces AND disc ready hubs while I am at it. No sense in having two sets of wheels when you are cheap.

The current brake/shifting set-up is very basic but comfortable, Diacompe road levers with special pull for v-brakes. I have done my time with normal canti's and ain't going back!

If I ever go to STI styled shifters I would probably go for an SLX 10 speed rear cluster, that way I could have a 34 rear, meaning potentially less chain-rings needed up front.

Surprisingly in this current build it only weighs in at 23.5 pounds. With a steel 4130 frame at about 5.5 pounds and a 2.6 pound fork it was never going to be a light-weight. Anyway, as you know, steel is real, real heavy and real cheap so I am really looking forward to getting over this lurgi so I can get out for a really decent ride !!!

Some relevant links
Baby monkey - riding on a pig going backwards.....

Phoo! Google is your friend, I found you can actually run 29er tires on road rims, it's just not recommended! I will try out this 1.9 Kenda Kharma. The Rim is an old 36 hole Mavic Open Pro with a Durace hub. I am pretty sure the wheel, or the hub was once my workmate Sam Raphel's.

A few more observations.
For some reason the front cantis only have holes for one position of the v-brake spring while the rear studs have three. It means I cant get the brakes snapping back into position how I'd like. The seat-tube is also so rediculously short that there is hardly any room to mount the front derailler cable-stop without it potentially fouling an incredibley fat wheel (if it was used) hence negating the pretty bent seat-tube design - hence the cable angle is pretty gnarly. Usually when I assemble a bike I can tap the head-set in with a piece of wood and rubber mallet. Not this one. I gave up and used a proper tool that required %*&^-loads of torque on it to force the head-set in. The BB went in easily with no extra preparation.

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