Nancy and Sage’s Surly ECR-Streamliner Family Baja Rig
In this edition of Rider and Rig, we check out Nancy’s Surly ECR and her five-year-old son Sage’s Tout Terrain Streamliner, used on a two-week tour around the Baja Divide’s Cape Loop. Find out the differences between the previous 29+ model and the new 27.5+ version, and check out Sage’s awesome suspended trailer bike, complete with its own seatpack.
A little bike travel and tire size backstory: Prior to this bike, Nancy Crowell, a New Mexico-based Doctor of Oriental Medicine, owned the 29+ version of Surly’s popular overlander, the ECR. And prior to that, she rode the company’s first generation Swiss army knife of bikes, the 26″ Troll, on trips that included the Colorado segment of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and family tours in Chile and the Ecuadorian Andes. It was built with parts salvaged from an old Trek hardtail and eventually shod with 2.5″ tires, serving her well for several years. But, after test riding a Krampus on her local trails, she was keen to give plus tires a go, predominantly available in a 29″ diameter at the time. Despite their extra weight, she felt her riding improved noticeably, and they really helped in the rocky and sandy terrain she often rides in.
Truth be told, she was completely happy with her 29+ ECR. Simple, versatile, and trustworthy, it’s been her go-to bike for a number of multi-day bikepacking trips, including a family epic to Bolivia and more local adventures to Sedona, AZ. In fact, she had little interest in swapping over to the second generation ECR, which downsizes to 27.5+ hoops in her framesize – a small. It’s even possible that she actually said, “Don’t do anything to my bike, I like it just as it is.” But, given my propensity to fettle with bikes (and perhaps, because I can be hard of hearing), I figured I’d take it upon myself to migrate over the parts from her existing ECR when an opportunity arose to get a 27.5+ frameset, running it with a set of wheels I already owned, so we could see if it made a difference.
I defended my unrequested bike tampering with a number of reasons: a) 27.5+ wheelsets were lighter in rotational weight, b) their smaller size would make the bike easier to pack for transportation in her bike bag, c) they offered extra clearance between bikepacking bags and tires, and d) looking forwards, they promised more worldwide availability and tire choices. I figured the frame would provide her a more useable ground clearance if she needed to fit standard 29er wheels, compared to the drop in bottom bracket height that occurs from the larger diameter of 29+ rubber to 29×2.2s. To complete my case, I pressed home a few others advantages. Although less capable than 29+ wheels for straight line descents (in my experience), 27.5+ feels markedly more nimble and easier to thread through rocky trails. And, they’re a tire that’s more in tune with her proportions; 29+ looks comically large on a small frame and it’s often argued they amount to a big wheel for a small person to move around. But, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a 6’1” me talking, which means I could only really theorise on how the differences for a 5’5″ body would actually play out.
For our family-tweaked version of Baja California’s Cape Loop (part of the Baja Divide), we aimed to keep her bike relatively light, running just a framebag, a small but practical Roadrunner Jammer handlebar bag, some water bottles, and an Oveja Negra Bootlegger on one of the fork blades – a perfect fit for her both her toiletry bag, stuffed as it was with both vials of healing ointments, and Monkey, Sage’s nap time cuddly toy. This was mainly because we’d take turns pulling him (Sage, not Monkey) on a 20lb (9kg) Tout Terrain Streamliner. And whoever wasn’t pulling Sage would tow our Tout Terrain Mule, an extremely capable suspended, single-wheel trailer that I’d owned for seven years. Yes, trailers are heavier than bikepacking setups – the Mule weighs in at around 17.5lbs (8kg) with the kickstand and duffel bag. But, for this trip and its expected conditions – corrugation, sand, and rocky dirt roads rather than singletrack and hike-a-bikes – it made sense. Given that we’d set our sights on riding 20 miles a day for our five-year old’s sake, we could also carry more food and water than I might otherwise have needed when covering larger distances. A trailer gave us scope to throw in a mask, frisbee, floaties, and other beach toys. After all, family trips are about having fun, not crunching miles. Both the trailer bike and the trailer use the same hitch system, making exchanges between the two relatively quick and easy. As I’d ridden more than Nancy over the winter, I ran both front and rear mini panniers, which I loaded with food and other heavy items.
What we hadn’t appreciated when swapping over framesets was the extent of the difference in the internal triangle between a rigid specific, 27.5+ frameset and her similarly sized, suspension corrected 29+ version. It was significant – around the volume of a jump in framesize – which meant we had to scramble to borrow a larger framebag from a friend on the eve of our trip. Still, it’s really nice to have that extra capacity, especially when space is at such a premium on small frames. We replaced her Jones H-Loop bars with a gorgeous set of AM Pierce titanium bars in our parts bin, in a wrist-friendly, 22-degree sweep, fitted with Ergon GP-1 grips. As it transpired, Nancy is more of a fan of her Jones bar, so that will likely make a return. Minor tweaks over the standard model include an inline Thomson seatpost and her preferred saddle, a Terry Butterfly, a mainstay on the three bikes she’s owned over the last six years. Unfortunately the fabric is now starting to crack, so we’ll be on the lookout for a replacement.
We kept to her Surly OD crankset, as its 36/22 tooth chainrings, mated to a 36T cassette, provide a broad spread of gears. Being 9 speed, it’s cheap to source replacement parts and the barrel adjusters on older derailleurs are easy to use too. Nancy moved over to flat pedals some time ago and hasn’t looked back; her VPs are still going strong.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the corrugated roads, one of the cheap aluminium water bottle cages we bolted onto the fork broke. Luckily, the latest incarnation of the ECR has provision for two on each blade. Given that a 64oz Klean Canteen won’t fit on the downtube, a Velo Orange Mojave water bottle cage took charge of carrying a 48oz version. Makeshifter’s extremely elegant Snackhole scooped up additional snacks or extra liquids if needed, with a much-used Carsick Designs Barrel Bag on the other side.
BIKE BUILD HIGHLIGHTS
- Frame and Fork: Surly ECR (small)
- Headset: Cane Creek
- Crank Arm Set: Surly OD 170mm
- Cassette: Shimano 11-36T
- Chainrings: 36/22
- Handlebar: AM Peirce, 22 degree sweep
- Stem: 70mm
- Seatpost: Inline Thomson
- Saddle: Terry Butterfly
- Grips: Ergon GP-1
- Pedals: VP-001
- Chain: 9 speed Shimano
- Shifters: Microshift 9 speed
- Brakes: Avid BB7 160/180mm rotors
- Front hub: Shimano Deore
- Rear hub: Shimano Deore
- Rims/tires: WTB Scraper i45, Maxxis High Roller 27.5×3 (f) and Chronicle 27.5×3 (r)
As for Sage, a trailer bike made sense for the trip. Although he’s a confident rider, the Isla Bike Beinn on which he commutes to school wouldn’t have made life easy in Baja, and there’s no way his unassisted legs would have covered the distances we’d planned between resupplies. As much as I liked the Burley Picollo I reviewed previously, I was happy to put him on a bike with suspension, which we borrowed for the trip. Given that he can’t see the trail ahead and anticipate the terrain with shifts in body weight, I’m sure it helped protect his spine, while also making descents a lot more fun. Previously, we’d noticed his feet had a tendency to fly off the pedals, which was rarely an issue with the Streamliner. There was even room to squeeze in an 8L Revelate Terrapin seatpack. Clearances were a little tight, so we were glad of its scuff plate when we hit larger potholes or rocks (expect a more detailed review of the Streamliner soon). We added in a couple of handlebar bags for Sage, too – one for his water bottle and another for any interesting road finds and shells he chanced upon.
The Patagonia duffel we use for traveling fit perfectly in the Tout Terrain Mule. When it was Nancy’s turn to pull it, Sage often helped on the steeper, looser climbs that mine the route; they’re quite the team. And when he was riding the Streamliner behind either of us, he could easily hop off and make our lives a little easier (45lbs/20kg easier, to be precise). The Mule includes a useful kickstand, which we used to lean up both bikes, helping with the routine of daily packing and unpacking, which can be an especially long-winded affair on family tours.
If you’re expecting an epiphany in downsizing from 29+ to 27.5+, I’m sorry to disappoint. As someone who enjoys bikepacking but doesn’t obsess over its associated gear in quite the same way that I do, Nancy reports that she didn’t notice an especially significant difference between the two frames. Still, I’d consider that a good thing, given that the bike was certainly easier to transport in our Ground Effect Tardis bike bag, the smaller wheels offered more clearance with the trailer arms, and the new frame allowed her to run a bigger framebag. And, we can both share the same tire size, which is convenient; 27.5+ feels like a good middle ground, whatever your height. Speaking of which, we knew the trail could be sandy and rocky in places. Route designer Nicholas Carman recommended we fit a front tire with more bite than the WTB Rangers I typically run, so I shod the WTB Scrapers with a Maxxis High Roller 3.0 on the front, and a faster-rolling Chronicle at the back. They proved to be an effective combination for the ride and both set up tubeless without issues. At the same time, I fitted the widest tire I could find for the Mule and Streamliner, a Maxxis Maxxdaddy 20×2.0, just to offer a little extra float/comfort, and ran sealant in their inner tubes.
All in all, this setup proved absolutely perfect for the trip. In an ideal world, we’d lose the cargo trailer, but given our limited range – one that we capped in Sage’s interests, primarily – it made sense with the relatively remote riding we were expecting, helping us handle the needs of three hungry, thirsty humans, whilst making packing easier than the Tetris-like requirements of bikepacking softbags.