Building a Surly Karate Monkey: A Bike With Many Personalities
I’ve had my eye on a trail bike for a while now with ambitions of facing more technical terrain than I’m accustomed to riding on. Dreams of doing parts of the Colorado Trail also influenced my decision to acquire a trail bike. A hardtail seemed to be the best balance between versatility and trail riding comfort so I got to work and built a Surly Karate Monkey from the ground up.
Deciding on a frame wasn’t easy. Although carbon bikes were out of the question, there are many great steel hardtails frames in the market. I mainly decided on the Karate Monkey because of its history. Just like the Salsa Fargo, the Surly Karate Monkey has some history in pushing biking into new territories. While the Fargo is a mythical bikepacking frame, the Karate Monkey helped push the 29er movement into what it is today.
From the Ground Up
I have built a few bikes now, so I decided to make things more interesting by also lacing the wheels. Wheel building was a mysterious art form to me until I read Roger Musson’s e-book. All of a sudden, building my own wheels seemed like an achievable task. I have to say that anyone can build their own wheels after reading Roger’s step-by-step guide. Lacing my own wheels did require purchasing some tools, but now I can use these tools to build other wheels in the future. I might have found myself a new hobby.
I like to think that I made sensible choices when choosing the components for the Karate Monkey wheels. Hope Pro 4 hubs are affordable, look cool, and will last a great deal of time; exactly what I needed for this trail bike. WTB Scraper rims are not flashy by any standards, but they are nice wide (i40) rims that fit my build budget. To round things up, I spent a little bit of extra cash on Sapim Race double butted spokes
I had fallen in love with the yellow/orange Karate Monkey, but unfortunately, that color wasn’t available anymore. By the time I called my LBS to put in an order for the frameset, the only two available colors were “hi-viz black” and “stand back purple”. At first, the idea of having a purple bike didn’t really resonate with me but now I can’t believe I had doubts about this frame color.
As with all my builds, I purchased parts from a few different retailers, including some international ones.
|FRAMESET||2017 Karate Monkey - XL||Motorless Motion (LBS)|
|FORK||Fox Float 34 Performance||bike-components.de|
|HEADSET||Chris King Inset 7||Wiggle|
|STEM||Truvativ Stylo T20 - 60mm; 5 degree rise||Parts Bin|
|HANDLEBAR||H-Bar Jones Loop - 710mm wide||Jones Bikes|
|SHIFTER||SRAM GX Eagle||Bike24.de|
|BRAKES||Shimano XT M8000||Jensonusa.com|
|REAR DERAILLEUR||SRAM GX Eagle||Hibike|
|CRANKSET||SRAM GX Eagle 32T||Hibike|
|BOTTOM BRACKET||SRAM GXP||Jensonusa.com|
|CASSETTE||SRAM GX Eagle 10-50||Bike24.de|
|CHAIN||SRAM GX Eagle||Hibike|
|SEATPOST||Truvativ Stylo T30||Ebay|
|SADDLE||Brooks C17||Chain Reaction|
|HUBS||Hope Pro 4||Bike24|
|RIMS||WTB Scraper i40||World Wide Cyclery|
|Spokes||Sapim Race||Yojimbo's Garage (Ebay)|
|FRONT/REAT TIRES||Maxxis Chronicle||Ebay|
|PEDALS||Race Face Chester||Jensonusa.com|
|GRIPS||Race Face Half Nelson||Amazon|
Nothing like spending some quality time in the shop drinking a beer and working on a new build. Having a Belgian style beer during my bike builds has become sort of a tradition.
I choose SRAM GX Eagle parts because I have had luck in the past with the GX line of components. The Fox 34 fork will smooth out the ride without breaking the bank.
Here’s a timelapse of yours truly fitting all the parts onto the bike.
I need all the help I can get when it comes to climbing steeps hills and the SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain should make it easier going uphill. Moreover, the 32T chainring coupled with the 10T cog can get me up to 35km/h (21.7 mph) at 80 RPM; plenty for the type of riding I’ll be doing with this bike.
The newest Karate Monkey frame is designed around 27.5″ Plus tires, so it’s no surprise there’s plenty of clearance to fit Maxxis Chronicle 27.5″ X 3.0 tires.
You can never go wrong with the good ol’ Shimano XT brakes – trustworthy and affordable.
Like I mentioned, I’ve been looking into taking on some more challenging bikepacking routes, like the Colorado Trail, where a bike with suspension is more suitable than my fully rigid Salsa Fargo. But I live in Wisconsin, where access to decent mountain bike trails is a bit limited. Not only that, but winter, snow, and unbearably low temperatures are the norm for a good part of the year. I really didn’t need another bike that can only be ridden for 5-6 months out of the year, like my road bike.
That’s where the idea of a 27.5″ plus bike came into play. The suspension and the extra volume tires would provide a comfortable platform to take on more technical trails during the summer. Meanwhile, the rigid fork along with the wider tires would provide a stable ride during the snow months.
How does this work anyway?
Switching forks back and forth is not as practical as I had hoped. Removing the stem/handlebar and realigning the brake calipers is not something I would like doing on a ride-by-ride basis. I’m only planning on switching forks twice a year – once in the spring and again in the fall. The original Surly fork is suspension corrected to match a 120mm travel fork. Since I fitted a 140mm travel fork, handling with the suspension fork is slightly different than when outfitted with the rigid fork. This difference in handling is not necessarily a bad thing, just something to be aware of.
On the bright side of things, there is no need to switch the bottom cup of the headset when switching between a 1-1/2 tapered fork and a straight 1-1/8 fork. I fitted the rigid 1-1/8 fork with a reducing crown race – Chris King calls these Devolution crown races.
The Fox Float 34 fork came fitted with a remote lockout damper but I haven’t added a fork remote on the Karate Monkey yet. Largely because I’m not willing to pay $70 for a Fox brand remote. I’m researching other options like modifying a friction shifter to make it work as a lockout remote. If anyone has made it this far in the post and has a good idea about a lockout remote, leave suggestions in the comment below.