Surly Moonlander Review

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David at Bothy pulled out all the stops to get hold of it for us and we have now had a month of playing around on the Surly Moonlander in true Scottish conditions, alongside a Pugsley – what do we think?
First impressions were mixed.  Taking it out of the box the first thing that was a surprise (apart from the size of the tyres!) was the weight – it’s lighter than the Pug.  Answers on a postcard how they have done that one please.  Shiny, glittery paintwork – cool.  Front caliper did not fit on the fork – not so cool.  The mount on the fork required some modification with a drill and a file to make the caliper mount on, and the rack mounts on the crown are also not central on the fork.  Nothing that couldn’t be sorted at Bothy Bikes but not a great start for a £2k hardtail then. 

The components are a good mix of reliable stuff.  The Mr Whirly chainset is good and will allow the fitment of a 20t chainring, which with a 36t rear should be a good gear for the bike.  The 22×34 as standard is nowhere near low enough for the stuff this bike excels in.  A pair of Microshift thumb shifters are worthy of note, a bit of a blast from the past but work well.  Apart from working the wrong way round for my brain, as it is fitted with a rapid rise rear XT mech.  I guess if you have never used thumbies before then this won’t be an issue. 

If you are reading this then you will already know about the clown shoe rims and BFL tyres, Surly describe them as ginormous – yep.  You just can’t keep your eyes from looking at the bike, the tyres, the offset rim, which looks like it shouldn’t work without a hamster running around inside it, the unfeasibly bendy rear stays, and so on.

So what’s it like to ride then?  The first thing is don’t think this will replace your normal everyday bike.  If you ride it on your normal trails it will be fun, as you are riding a clown bike, but it will be heavier and slower.  To get the most from it you need to change your idea of what is possible on a mountain bike, it really is a game changing machine.  As Dr. Emmett Brown said in Back To The Future, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” 

Snow, yeah, well it is a snow bike.  It definitely works better on certain kinds of snow but it is always way better than your standard ride – just don’t expect it to do wonders on ice, you’ll still need studs for that.  Basically if you can walk without post holing or kicking steps then you will be riding. 

It works really well on the beach, sand, stones, dunes, salt marshes, all is great fun.  It’s a whole new area to explore for me, Uist beaches here we come! 

Mountains?  Could this be the first true ‘all mountain’ bike?  The traction and stability from the rear tyre means it can climb steep and loose climbs which I struggle to get my head round sometimes.  You look at a climb and think, ‘ I’ll be walking in a minute’ but then just winch all the way up to the top!  Riding off path across mountain tops just rocks!  The low pressure of the tyres (5-7psi) not only means great grip and bump absorption but also means less pressure on the ground, it hardly leaves a mark!  I am only just starting to realise the amount of potential new routes that are now available to ride.

Problems?  Well there are certainly some trade offs to be made.  Tyres of this size at low pressures certainly have some handling characteristics all of their own.  In its true environment it all works, but let the speed get up on land rover tracks and they can do some strange things! 

This bike is all about the floatation and you have to accept that compromises are made on other things.  The floatation can also reduce grip in some areas, on slimy mud in your local woods there is surprisingly little grip as the tyres float about on top rather than cutting through and gripping underneath. 

I would say the rims are nowhere near as strong as the Large Marges on the Pug.  £110 for a new tyre is going to hurt if you take a side wall out, though pressures are so low bodges should work well.  The MWOD cranks are great but if you want to run more than just a small ring you are limited to the special Surly chainrings, get your orders in early! ( If it takes 3 months for the bike to arrive I guess the parts will be the same) 

Cable brakes – some love em others don’t.  They do seem to be the noisiest brakes in the world when wet but I’m getting on with them ok for now.  Presta valves on a fat bike? Come on Surly, they are a real pain in the ass when you are running 5psi (or less!) let’s have some fat valves too!

Hows it compare with the Pug?  The Pugsley is more of an adventure bike, a bit stronger, a bit less specialised and has the ability to swap the wheels around.  The Moonlander is all about the maximum floatation possible, it is best on snow, sand or off paths whereas the Pug is more of an all rounder, the ‘lander is about pushing what is possible on a mountain bike – I like that, there are even more cool routes to do now.

4 thoughts on “Surly Moonlander Review

  1. Great review!,
    I think mine is on the way to Mars instead of Earth!.
    You describe every reason i wanted one , which i had guessed before ordering, it should indeed open up even more soft riding where even the pugs starts to struggle.
    My ML will mostly be used for sand and dunes where it should be ace with more float -:)

  2. Nice review. Interesting comment about the gearing. My 907 has an Alfine and I'm beginning to think that it doesn't go near low enough!

    Next time I'm up your way I'll see if you fancy a shot. It would be could to get some comparisons.

  3. Colin – Have been thinking about an Alfine! I think that a chainring of around 22 would be about right for me, though not sure if top would be high enough and if the internals will take it.

    Coastkid – It is great on the Moray coast! Works quite a bit better than a Pug with large marges.

    cheers guys, if you are in the Aviemore area and want a ride give as a shout.

  4. Nice! Looks like you had fun at Culbin. I will have to get back up to Aviemore soon & you can compare to the 907 on 80mm flattops…& I can bag a ride on the ML!

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