Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bicycle Test Ride: The Surly Pacer

The more I continue to ride my Rivendell Sam Hillborne, the easier it is to see how truly functional this bike can be for multiple purposes. If set up for the appropriate task, this bike can make a great grocery-getter, exercise bike, long-haul rider, pleasure trip companion, and the like. I grow more amazed (even after over a year of riding it) each day with its comfort and flexibility. Yesterday, I took him out on a several mile dirt/gravel path ride and was surprised at how easily I felt comfortable and stable (which is not always the case for me on unpaved roads). After changing out the handlebars, I'm happy that I don't seem to be experiencing the hand/wrist problems that I was, and it's made the ride so much more enjoyable. While it hasn't been very long since the change, I've been riding the Hillborne daily, to allow me the opportunity to get a good feel for the new set up.
All of this riding over the past few weeks has caused me to realize a couple of things about my bicycles and riding style. During this time I have found that I am more comfortable on the Hillborne than my upright bike. I don't know if it's just sheer amount of time spent on the Hillborne, or if my ride style is changing, or if it's just a temporary feeling, but I was quite disturbed to come to this conclusion.  I never thought anything would be more comfortable than sitting completely upright on a bike. How could a bike go from being so incredibly comfortable and always the number one choice, to the bike that only gets ridden a couple of miles from home?

I've also come to the realization that I actually like riding a bit faster at times. I don't have to be the slow rider all the time (though I do still enjoy this wanderer, slow sort of style), and there are instances when I wish I had the speed that isn't available when riding the Hillborne due to his set up with racks, bags, fenders, higher handlebars, and so on. This epiphany sort of moment took me on a hunt for a more road-ish style bicycle - not because I can afford another bike, nor that I will be buying another bike any time soon, but because I really wanted to see what it felt like to have a bit more of a road set up.
The closest thing I've been on in adulthood that was some form of a road bicycle (except for my test rides of bikes just before purchasing the Hillborne frame) was the old Raleigh Super Course MK2, which was actually too large for me. When we had obtained this bicycle, I was a little afraid of it and its ability for speed. After some time on the Hillborne, I thought perhaps I would feel differently. My criteria was fairly loose, but I had some requests. 1) That the bicycle be relatively simple (meaning not a lot of extras on it); 2) a steel frame and probably fork too; and 3) something that could be attainable if "extra" (as if there's ever extra) money was available.
**Image from Pedal Revolution
After some research on geometry/specs, and looking up reviews, I decided to try out a Surly Pacer. As a wonderful treat, I was able to take it on a pretty decent ride, thanks to the folks at Salvagetti in Denver (who, by the way for anyone in the area, I've had great experiences with - the people are nice, they'll explain things that need explanation, and they don't make you feel like a moron for asking "stupid" questions). I was a bit tentative at first because I'm used to riding on some fairly wide tires (42cm) versus the thinner tires (28cm) on the Pacer. But within a few pedal strokes I was off and moving like nothing would stop me. I was surprised at how quickly I was comfortable on this bike, considering a year ago I would've freaked out if the handlebars were any less than 6 inches above the saddle. The ride was smooth and it shifted with ease. I hadn't actually tried STI shifters prior to this ride, but they are surprisingly intuitive, and I can see how they would become a "must have" for road riders.
**Image from Shimano
One of the other aspects that I like about the Pacer's possibilities is that a buyer can purchase the frame and fork alone, or the entire bike as a whole. In the past, Surly has only sold the Pacer as a fork/frame combo, but recently decided to also sell it as a whole bike. I think this provides people with options such as buying the frame and fork, while saving up for the parts, or being able to put higher end parts on the frame if one desires.  Also, if you're not someone who wants to have to think about what would work on the bike, you can buy it ready to ride (sans pedals - and you'll likely want to change the saddle as well as Surly isn't known for putting the best saddles on their bikes).
**Image from Surly
Aesthetically, this bike is not one that really speaks to me (I have to face facts that I'm an artist and I can't help but notice the looks of any bike I see). The British Racing Green color that is currently produced isn't my personal favorite, but I've seen far worse colors on a bike, so it's certainly doable. At least it's fairly neutral and doesn't stand out like a neon color would, and I think with the right bar tape and perhaps saddle color change, it could be decent. There are no beautiful lugs to drool over, and there's nothing that screams "this bike is special" to me as far as looks go... but sometimes, I will admit, functionality has to win out over looks.

Still, even as I sit here typing, I find myself thinking about the Pacer quite fondly, so there's obviously something about it that can draw a rider to it. For anyone in the market for a steel road bike, I think the Pacer is definitely an option to check out. You just might find yourself falling in love.


  1. I loved the Surly Pacer as well. It was a very difficult call for me to make between the Surly CrossCheck and Pacer. I know that they are different bikes, but I was considering them both. The folks at Salvagetti are amazing!

  2. I love Surly Pacer. Mine is a 2014 edition and came to me as a stock bike: complete with wheels and groupset.
    Pacer is beautiful to ride and is owner's pride !!


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