Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Tale of Three Trolls

So, I've had the Troll now for some months and I thought it was time to give my 2cents about how I've experienced it so far. I bought the frame in May after selling my LHT which was showing some rust and age. family-bike-words took it off my hands and seems to be enjoying it immensely. As for the Troll, I moved much of the gear from the LHT directly onto the new mount, including wheels, seat/post, drivetrain, fenders, tires, shifty bits and rear rack. Up front I changed out the Nitto Rando bars for the Jones Loop bars which I had experimented with before.

In out time together, I've experienced three very , if not completely different Trolls, a tri-polar personality if you will. If I focus on any of the given personalities, it very much colors how I assess the long-term viability of the Troll as it pertains to my uses and needs. For this short-term review I'm going to go from most to least enthusiastic. That way I seem a bit less negative, and I do want to start with my Trollthusiam, because in everyday terms, the Troll is a blast!

Troll #1- The Commuter:  I couldn't find a stripped-down pic, but the one below is to show the bike with one pannier chillin' on the side of the road, ready for action. After 7 years of slogging- *very* successful slogging mind you- on the LHT, the Troll is a breath of fresh air. As an everyday ride, I feel that there is nothing the Troll can't handle. And handling is the key theme here. I love the responsiveness of this machine after the labored ponderousness of the LHT. It's quick in the corners, goes where pointed and feels like a BIKE, not a metal 2x4. For city riding it's just plain fun! The Jones bars didn't agree with me for a long time until I did the trick (probably as read from Vik) of adding some Ergon grips to the wide Jones bar. Those grips transformed this bar into a real winner, with comfy hand positions in about 4 different spots and with a wide, secure, stable grip position. Now that the school year in anew and I've had several commutes under my belt, I'm very enthusiastic about the Troll with it's first personality, and I can recommend that bike without reservation.

Troll #2- The Road Tourer: This brings me to the second of my Troll faces, that of the one I experienced on the June 4-day tour we did at the start of the summer. I only experienced this personality for four, tough, hot, flat days through southern Indiana. I already expressed some Troll thoughts there, so I won't be as long-winded here. With some perspective, I remember the Troll being solid while rear-loaded. The Jones set-up gave me hand numbness after a certain number of miles, especially flat road miles. This tour provided a reasonable comparison of the LHT vs. Troll as a road tourer, and I'm afraid the LHT won out. I finished the June tour enthusiastic but not utterly convinced with the Troll at load, and I stand by my qualified trepidation in hindsight.

Troll #3- Mixed-Terrain Super Noodle- Patrick and I planned a mixed-terrain tour primarily to GET OUT OF TOWN. FREEDOM!!!! You know, sometimes you need it. And with my new Troll and his newish Fargo, we had expressly designed machines for off-road touring, a perfect opportunity to heavily test and heavily compare rigs. I made some modifications to the Troll for the trip, although I felt nothing terribly different save the Ergon grips to the Jones bar. Instant 100% improvement. Please get out and do so immediately! The rear remained roughly the same with the Ortliebs, Tubus and oddsnends.

 After experiencing an occasional noodle in the front end, I added some gear to better distribute the weight: fork water bottle cages like the all-the-rage Salsa designs and I lashed a drybag onto the front bars like all the cool bikepacker kids are doing. And I traded out the well-worn TravelContacts for 2" Schwalbes. The Long/-Short of it is that the first day of the tour, a long one of 65 miles with rollers and one absurd climb, I hated the bike, the same bike I rode to satisfaction in June. The entire frame front to back flexed side to side like a noodle. I could stand and get the rear end moving like a wave. And if I experienced a bit of interesting wobble in June, on the first day it became the dreaded 'shimmy'. When you're deep in the KY hills with gravel, terrible pavement and limited bail-outs, the dreaded shimmy is just about the worst thing you can face. Obviously, instead of weighting the front end to stabilize the bike, I unleashed a recalcitrant demon. No fun.

The next day I futzed around with the front end, basically moving the bottled and bag to the back whether in the panniers or on top, much like the first tour. The remainder of our time I was pretty unhappy with the disquiet of the bike. Super-Noodle! Yes, the shimmy faded some, but the generally floppiness of the frame did not. I became pretty frustrated riding a bike that was marketed as a "do anything" tourer/mtbike/biketruck/commuter etc. but one that didn't feel nearly as solid as my LHTank.

Once home I had my shop email Surly with my concerns. They wrote back in about a week and stated that it seemed like I had way too much weight in the rear end, and in effect, too greatly unweighted the front, something I had tried to remedy with the bottles and bag. The next step will be to try (hopefully not purchase for in excess of $100) a low-rider rack as both Surly and the shop suggested. Ok, ok. I guess. But Patrick on his Fargo had NO complaints of any sort like this. NONE. To me, the Fargo and Troll are pretty direct competitors, and the 3 tough days had me wishing for the other guy's green grass.


So, my review suggests that the Troll with moderate weight is a quick-steering fun bike with capabilities for big rubber. The Troll as loaded tourer leaves significant questions. And if the premise is to have a loaded, all-terrain tourer capable of mostly anything, I'm not sure the Troll is the right machine. To be determined, with reservations.

5 comments:

Pondero said...

Quite interesting. My impression is like yours, that the Troll would compare well with the Fargo. Now I'm thinking (for fun) I might compare frame geometry and tubing specs between the two.

Did you happen to try the Fargo yourself?

Tex69 said...

Well, Patrick is 6'4" or more, and you've met me and know that I am not anywhere close to 6.4. It would be interested in comparing the 2 side by side, but the only other Fargo I know of in town would probably be on the big side too.

DerrickP said...

This is really interesting to hear. I've done two completely off-road tours on the Troll and loved it. But I was navigating rough single track. So my speeds were pretty low. I'll be interested to see how everything works out with those adjustments.

Barturtle said...

You're welcome to borrow my Jandd lowrider and give it a go.

On my Jamis, I found I had to mount the panniers as far back as I could on the rack, otherwise the weight was too far forward and would accentuate any steering I was doing. Bacisally, I was trying to get the load to be behind a line connecting the headtube angle with the ground.

Tex69 said...

@Barturtle, thanks for the offer. Might do it. Everything I've read says I have to get some weight on the front.

@DerrickP- Right. I didn't notice it as much while moseying on the gravel portions. It was the road portions, especially at either high speed descents or wiggly ascents with the bike wandering everywhere.

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