First Ride: Surly Karate Monkey 29er Single Speed

The old Surly Karate Monkey got a few small changes over the years but, for the most part, it was the same bike that helped 29ers gain mainstream acceptance starting in 2002. It was launched that year at the very event we’re now detoxing from (Interbike). We covered the new Karate Monkey earlier this year and brought you a slightly more comprehensive first ride impression for the geared, 27plusser.

The Karate Monkey – An All-Mountain Hardtail Trail Bike

How did it ride?

To be honest, it was a bit of a fluke that I ended up on this bike. After finding long lines for most demo bikes, and being unwilling to interrupt my contacts to jump the lines, I retired to the Surly booth to steal beer and borrow a place to sit. Sitting next to a friend I’ve known for 10 years, he suggested we take a pair of lonely-looking single-speed Karate Monkeys for a ride rather than just sit around and drink. Even after a decade of seeing each other at bike events, we had never ridden together.

I owned an older KM for years and was immediately surprised at how differently this new model rode. I also was surprised at how easy it is to pinch flat standard tires with tubes inside. Swapping tubes made me notice the thru-axle fork, an awesome spec for those that might want to upgrade to a suspension fork down the road.

I’ve been riding mostly geared bikes lately, complete with squishy bits, so riding a rigid was a bit of a shock–but a good one. I did miss having a dropper but I just ran the post kinda low and stood up a lot. It was fine. I felt good.

Bars and Base

This is not a complicated bike. Nothing hydraulic, nothing to shift, little to do but work on maintaining momentum and picking good lines. The modernized geometry moves the KM out of the more XC realm it previously occupied, and the addition of more braze-ons means it can play double duty as bike-packing rig.

While I had a lot of fun on the stock 29×2.4 Maxxis Ardents, I am glad 27plus tires can fit in this bike. As much as I love 29ers, when it comes to riding a rigid trail bike I will take any help I can get, and plus tires help a lot.

Surly seems to have developed a way to make bikes that consumers self-selected without the need for a lot of marketing talk or explanation. Some of that is because Surly makes simple steel bikes that are versatile and sturdy. This is either something you find appealing, or you don’t. Not much middle ground. Meaning, I’m not going to tell you if this bike is for you. You are going to tell you.

This purple beauty is $1,175, although the parts shown aren’t all the stock items. For a more comprehensive ride review, including geo numbers, read our test ride from Lake Tahoe. Or, check out the eclectic custom build our publisher has on his old Karate Monkey, which has become his go-to whatever bike. For complete details, hit up the Surly site.

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First Ride: Surly Karate Monkey 29er Single Speed — Bike Hacks