Wednesday, November 9, 2011

{Part 3} The Surly Pacer: Adjustments to Gearing

It's been a couple of months since my last check in regarding the Surly Pacer, and there have been some ongoing adjustments to this bicycle. This round has been more focused on the actual gearing of the bicycle than comfort, as I seem to have found a happy place for the time being in regard to comfort.
The Surly Pacer comes with a 34/50t crankset up front, and a 12-28t cog in the rear, making it (in my opinion) not much of a climber for steep, long hills. Originally this was intended to be my road-road bike (as opposed to the touring-road bike), so I wanted to find a way to make this a better climber. It will get up hills, but not very fast or easily (Read: Once again, G.E. is at the back of the pack going uphill, not that I necessarily mind being at the rear), particularly taking into consideration its (by my standards at least) light weight. I'm by no means an expert when it comes to proper gearing, but we quickly realized that perhaps a change was in order.

Initially, my thought was to simply get a triple crankset for the front, which would allow for more of a spinning gear, which in turn should make it easier to pedal up hills. If we changed out to the triple, however, this would mean I'd also need new shifters. We also weren't sure that the derailleur would work properly with a triple up front and we were having difficulty finding the correct bolt pattern for the crank, so instead it was decided to look for a larger tooth cog for the rear. I'm always a bit perplexed with the actual mechanics of gearing (I earn very, very low scores on those mechanical aptitude/pully tests). Why a larger tooth rear cog makes the bike easier to pedal always takes me a minute to comprehend (well, in all honesty, often more than a minute). Regardless, I just wanted to make this work, so whatever it would take was just fine by me.
Sam found an 11-34t cog for the rear, which we thought would provide enough of a difference to make the hill climbing a bit easier. Along with the new rear cog, we had to get a different rear derailleur. The only one available that would work was a different (lower level, XT) mountain bike derailleur. Sam spent many hours adjusting to get everything just right, and we went out for an initial ride to see how it would roll.
While I didn't notice much of a change initially, shifting was definitely the biggest issue with a severe lag in actual shift time. I found that I almost couldn't shift at all when on a hill because it would just click in place and not want to shift until I was at the top and on relatively flat terrain again, or it would clunk heavily into a gear when it wasn't expected, so I would end up in gears nowhere near what I needed to be in for hill climbing. It worked somewhat, but it was frustrating not to be able to change gears readily. In the end, what we believe to be the biggest issue is the mixture of parts. The front Tiagra road components want to be associated with the original rear Tiagra road components, and throwing in the XT parts just seemed to wreak utter chaos on the system.

While we could spend more time (and money) in an attempt to find a proper set up, the Pacer has really turned into more of a faster-fun-slightly-longer-ride bicycle for me. I enjoy just buzzing off quickly to a location (if I don't need to carry much - I sense a messenger bag in my future) within 15-20 miles or so, and I can always just make my legs stronger, right? In the end, I think it's a better option to keep the original set up and not mess with the design of the experts, at least not for my current needs (though part of me would like to experiment with turning it into a single speed as well). Ultimately, the Pacer is being returned to its starting point in regard to gearing because it worked its best for me in that original form. I'd rather be slow up hill, than have to get off and walk because I can't shift out of a more difficult gear, or have the system lock up entirely.

I'm certainly finding my groove with this bike and am happy that it's being used more than I initially thought it would. It's definitely fun to ride, spirited, and while I'm sure it doesn't compare to a 10 pound carbon or titanium road bike, it suits my needs quite well.


  1. Reconstructive surgery is scheduled for Thursday, no overnight stay. Like any good mad scientist, left over parts will be utilized!

  2. I'm going through this now with my Surly Pacer. A fine bike for someone with a long reach and excellent climbing legs. I'm upgrading to a triple Tiagra crank with compatible Tiagra front derailleur. [I had to switch the handlebars out for albatross and bar end shifters because of a reach problem.] The Pacer won't be my road bike but a light tourer/commuter. In the meantime I have a 2011 Specialized Allez steel road bike that I'll be upgrading.

  3. The reach for me on the Pacer isn't bad, but honestly, I think it's because I have the Rivendell to compare it to, and the Riv is definitely an extended reach for me. I hope that the triple for your Pacer is a good fit. I'm wondering if you'll end up changing out the rear cog and probably the shifters as well to get it to work properly. I've been very happy going back to the original set up (I feel like I got my bike back!), but climbing isn't its specialty, certainly.

  4. I had to have an adapter for the bottom bracket but the Surly works fine. I had bar end shifters so I didn't have to change those. The Surly is still not a great hill climber with this triple, however, just better than before. I took it out 20 miles and everything worked fine. I did change the tire size to 700x25c. For speed, I'm finding you can't beat the Reynolds steel bikes. They are a bit stiffer and lighter for speed, but still steel - a good ride.


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