An Elegy for the Surly ECR… is 29+ Dead?
In case you haven’t gotten the inside scoop, Surly has discontinued another classic. The ECR is no more, and we’re sad to see it go. Read on for our thoughts about this decision and how the ECR bridged the gap between bikepacking and long-distance touring. Plus, watch our latest video, “Is 29+ Dead?”
Back in 2012, Surly released the weird and wonderful Krampus. And with it, the first 29 x 3.0″ tires—dubbed 29+ soon thereafter. This bike and tire platform garnered a lot of attention in the bikepacking scene—which was pretty much in its infancy at the time—and it seemed as if a lot of people simultaneously had the same thought: this would be perfect for bikepacking. The reality is, 29+ tires open up a new world of possibilities by offering some of the added traction, floatation, and cushion that fat bikes were known for, but with even more roll-over. Plus, they’re lighter and faster. All of this resonated with dabbling dirt tourists and backcountry bike nomads alike.
Building on the 29+ fever, Surly was secretly working on other plans behind the scenes. And as rumors started swirling, a lot of people were expecting the release a “Bikepacking Krampus,” with rack mounts and other provisions. However, when it was officially announced in July of 2013, it was simply called ECR. In typical Surly fashion, there was no official explanation of the acronym, so it left us guessing with terms like Exit Cities Rapidly, Epic Camp Rig, and Expedition Centric Rambler, all of which were fairly accurate depictions of what this bike was capable of.
Ultimately, the ECR was a completely different beast than the Krampus. Of course, it had all the mounts and options you could possibly want. But it also had a geometry made specifically for dirt road touring, which was quite unique at the time. With a lower bottom bracket, shorter top-tube, and shorter fork, it placed the rider in more of an inboard position, one that was meant for days of pedaling on dirt roads.
The ECR is one of over a half dozen Surly bikes that have been in my stable, and it’s by far the most special. And although it was a great bike, nostalgia gets the blame for that designation. I took delivery of one of (if not the) first ECR frames off the boat on December 4th, 2013, two and a half days before setting out on a massive six-month tour from Cape Town, South Africa, to Tanzania, and through Morocco and southern Spain. It’s funny to think back on my thoughts and planning leading up to that trip. For one, I was incredibly nervous about taking 29er wheels and tires to Africa. At that point, the relatively luddite internetosphere of bike tourers swore that 26″ tires were the only safe option for international tours (especially in Africa). Come to think of it, it wasn’t uncommon for disc brakes to be shunned by that scene, too. Replacement 29″ tubes and tire aside, rolling out on unconventional 29 x 3.0″ rubber was slightly nerve-racking at the time, although now I think my fears were a bit silly.
You kind of mull through a lot of things like that before a big tour, though. Now, I think it was one of the best bike-related decisions I’ve made. Not only were those massive three-inch tires a conversation starter—it was a once a day occurrence to be stopped by someone who was outwardly astonished by them—they made eastern Africa’s rugged dirt roads all the more smooth, and they’re extra capable on sand, loose dirt, and even gravel. There was never an issue with the tires, either. Hell, I even made a belt out of one of those Knards as a keepsake.
After that, this ECR saw several more expeditions, including another big trip to Africa through Uganda and Rwanda. All the while it was set up with Velocity Blunt rims and a Rohloff hub. On that trip the Knards were replaced with a pair of tubeless Maxxis Chronicles, the hacked rear rack was nixed in favor of another bottle mount trick, and my DIY long-flap saddlebag was moved to the front. I also upgraded to a Porcelain Rocket Orbiter roll-top frame bag after the zipper broke on the DIY frame bag.
Over the next couple of years, 29+ blossomed. There were dozens of tire options, many of which were and are fantastic for dirt touring, bikepacking, and trail riding. Additionally, the Krampus and ECR got the bike industry wheels turning. 29+ led to 27.5+, and ultimately to “wide trail” or 29 x 2.6″. There were also dozens of 29+ specific bikes that came out, many of which are still quite successful, such as the Why Cycles Wayward, Trek 1120, Jones Plus, and Tumbleweed Prospector.
However, all good things must come to an end. The ECR was a fantastic bike and definitely deserves a spot in the proverbial Bikepacking Bike Hall of Fame. Fortunately, Krampus lives on, and Surly has since given it plenty of mounts to fill in the gaps. However, with the demise of the ECR, coupled with the discontinuation of tires like the Maxxis Chronicle, we have to wonder whether the popularity of 29+ is on the decline. For what it’s worth, it’s still my preferred tire platform for bikepacking and dirt touring (or at least 29 x 2.6″) with rigid or hardtail bikes. To delve into this subject in our latest YouTube video, we took a look at the broader topic of 29+ tires and what’s going on in the industry. Watch below and learn about the history and future of this tire platform as Neil unpacks the question we’ve been asking ourselves for a while now: is 29+ dead?
If you’ve been eyeballing a Surly ECR, Surly will be receiving one final shipment toward the end of July. Talk to your local QBP dealer in order to grab one before they’re gone. Finally, what do you think? Is 29+ on the way out, or will it live on? Let us know your take on it in the conversation below. And ECR owners, be sure to drop a photo of your ECR in there too…
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