Surly Bridge Club off-road touring bike review

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The Surly Bridge Club off-road touring is basically a flat-bar gravel bike that can do a bit of everything. It is fun, affordable, versatile and capable and, though there are a few things that might limit its suitability for you, overall there’s little to fault about this steel distance bike. For me, it’s been great at re-igniting the thirst for off-road adventures because of its versatility, comfort and I think most importantly if you’re touring – serviceability. It’s a bike equipped with basic components, including external cabling and an entry-level groupset but this doesn’t make it any worse – rather better.

Surly Bridge Club off-road touring bike – Technical details

Though the Bridge Club has quite a burly look and can handle some mountain bike trails, Surly still classes it as a touring bike – but is definitely more an all-road bike. The bike has been in Surly’s lineup for a good few years now, and hence seen some minor component upgrades – but the latest and perhaps greatest of them took place in November 2023 and this Whipped Butter version I’ve got in to test represents the newest iteration of the Bridge Club. 

2024 Surly Bridge Club rear seatstays clearance-11.jpg

2024 Surly Bridge Club rear seatstays clearance-11.jpg, by Suvi loponen

Surly Bridge Club off-road touring bike – Componentry

With that update, the Bridge Club has had a fork mount redesign and adopted the newest Shimano CUES groupset, whereas the old Bridge Club was a mix of Deore and FSA components. 

The Bridge Club is built upon a 4130 chromoly steel frame, completed with a double-butted main triangle and E.D. Coated (it’s a type of anti-corrosion coating). The fork is also made of the same steel and is built with a common 1-1/8″ threadless steerer and uses a Cane Creek headset with external cups. 

The frame and fork are dotted with so many mounts I’m not going to list them all – you can mount pretty much anything on this bike. Racks, mudguards, bottle cages, cargo cages, heck, it even has a kickstand. One mount it doesn’t have is on top tube mounts but I think given the plentiful options elsewhere you’ll make do without. 

In the UK conditions, having 2.4in tyres and more than a dozen mounting points for your luggage doesn’t seem very logical. But then again if you’re planning to cycle say, across a continent, the generous three-inch max tyre clearance and carrying capability are undeniably a pro rather than a con. 

As mentioned earlier, the groupset has been updated to Shimano’s most recent entry-level setup, the Shimano Cues, in its 11-speed guise. The 1x setup consists of a 32T front chainring paired with an 11-50T cassette, giving you a spinny 454% gear ratio (and an 18-inch easiest gear). There is also an option to run a 2x setup. Completing the groupset are the Tektro Hydraulic brakes with 160mm rotors (front and rear) and a 73mm threaded bottom bracket. 

2024 Surly Bridge Club groupset drivetrain shimano cues -13.jpg

2024 Surly Bridge Club groupset drivetrain shimano cues -13.jpg, by Suvi loponen

There’s certainly been a trend to hide every cable away from sight on modern bikes, often to the detriment of easy serviceability. Surly has not given a damn about that, as everything from the headset cups to the cabling is external on the Bridge Club. While the aesthetics are divisive, I love the fact that you can service the bike super easily. 

2024 Surly Bridge Club kickstand mount -4.jpg

2024 Surly Bridge Club kickstand mount -4.jpg, by Suvi loponen

The wheels are WTB ST i29 TCS with generous 32 spokes front and rear, and the hubs are Novatec 9x100mm QR sort with six-bolt disc rotors. The tyres seated on these wheels are the WTB Trail Boss 27.5 x 2.4in – a very sturdy tyre with a wire bead and a rather aggressive tread pattern. I’ll touch on the wheels more in the performance bit but Surly has taken an unconventional route with the hub spacing, using a 138mm ‘Gnot Boost’ on the BC. You can also bung on a 135mm QR hub because the steel frame’s flex will adapt to that – but you will have to then re-adjust your brakes and gears. 

Finishing the package are the Velo Black grips on the Salsa Bend handlebar in 710mm width (735mm for M and bigger sizes) and a WTB saddle attached to a regular round seatpost – but you don’t have outings for a dropper post here so you’d have to use an externally routed option. 

2024 Surly Bridge Club front triangle-12.jpg

2024 Surly Bridge Club front triangle-12.jpg, by Suvi loponen

In terms of geometry, Surly makes the bike in five sizes: XS, SM, MD, LG and XL. Based on its size recommendations, I’d fall more on the XS frame with my 5″4 height but, after a chat with the brand manager Duncan Kennedy, we agreed I might be better off on the Small frame – and that’s turned out to be the case. The jump between the two sizes is not massive in reach and stack but the standover has a hefty gap (709mm vs 750.5mm) which tells of how small the front triangle is on the XS. This limits it to only carrying one water bottle there, too.

Water bottle spacing aside, the geometry of the Bridge Club doesn’t steer away from Surly’s other all-road tourers, the Ogre and Troll too much. The Bridge Club is quite a long bike with a Small frame having 397mm reach and 567mm reach. Quite interestingly, its overall geometry figures don’t deviate much from the Canyon Grail CFR I tested last year even though the two bikes could not look more different to the eye. In terms of numbers, the Bridge Club headtube has a slack 71-degree angle – this isn’t the slackest in the category of bikes the BC represents but is quite standard for a gravel bike. The seat tube similarly isn’t steep at 73 degrees and the overall wheelbase is 1,047mm, keeping the bike well planted. The chainstays are 435mm long in all sizes. 

All that results in a very neutral and calm steering, and a bike that is easy to pedal for hours. 

Yorkshire bikepacking-1.jpg

Yorkshire bikepacking-1.jpg, by Suvi loponen

Surly Bridge Club off-road touring bike – Performance

I’ve been rather spoiled in the last year or so with fast and fancy carbon gravel bikes and, I must admit, that though they’re fast, the excitement and uniqueness are quick to wear out. The Bridge Club with its flat bars and completely different premise than any of those carbon bikes I’ve been testing, and was great at bringing something new and refreshing to my riding repertoire.

Despite that compact look, especially in the size Small, the Bridge Club isn’t small in the number of things it offers. It has a very confidence-inspiring ride feel and the big-volume tyres and steel frame take off the bumps and buzz effectively. Overall I’d say it’s been a fun bike to ride. 

The true baptism of fire for my test Surly was a little bikepacking trip in Yorkshire – covering a little short of 200km over three days in varying conditions on and off-road. Because the trip didn’t include camping, I travelled light and only used a seat pack and top-tube bag. This felt like an insult to the bike, as the Bridge Club can take much more. The fork alone has five mounting points on each leg, there are bottle mounts in the front triangle and the seat stays, and under the downtube. 

2024 Surly Bridge Club downtube mounts-9.jpg

2024 Surly Bridge Club downtube mounts-9.jpg, by Suvi loponen

Whether you need all those mounting points is debatable, and certainly for me and perhaps for most modern bikepackers who use bikepacking bags rather than racks, they are excessive, but is there harm in having them? No, not really. Aesthetically they don’t make the BC look quite as good as it would without but you can’t deny their practicality for long excursions. 

Another thing Surly has done with the Bridge Club is the simple maintenance. The cabling is all external – an eyesore to those who prefer the sleek modern integration – which makes servicing and adjusting things a breeze. I also don’t think the black housing against the beautiful light beige ‘Whipped Butter’ paint job looks all that bad. 

2024 Surly Bridge Club handlebar-6.jpg

2024 Surly Bridge Club handlebar-6.jpg, by Suvi loponen

I also think that the simplicity extends to the components. Riding the BC has been my first time with the new Shimano CUES groupset and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s been reliable and very forgiving in its workings, and the Linkglide cassette has seen quite a few silly shifts but it handles them with ease – even under load. Does it differ from Deore in terms of feel? No, but it does come with the added benefit of great cross-compatibility with the rest of the CUES range. 

The one thing that didn’t impress me was the quick-release axles. Surly has argued that it’s easier to find a replacement QR wheel in remote locations and I am not going to argue against that but finding a replacement wheel won’t necessarily be that easy either. There are also no plans to bring thru-axles to the Bridge Club but if you want that little extra stiffness, the Surly Ogre does have burlier axles. 

2024 Surly Bridge Club rear mech shimano cues -7.jpg

2024 Surly Bridge Club rear mech shimano cues -7.jpg, by Suvi loponen

The wheels also contribute to the Bridge Club’s overall 14kg weight, with pedals and bottle cages included. The WTB rims are robust and partially to blame for the weight as the 32-spoke build is made for heavier loads. But depending on what you want to do with this bike, perhaps overly so. If you run them with tubes (as I have done) they’re not very forgiving until you go to the kind of tyre pressures that chance pinch flats on rougher surface rides (also what I’ve done). But that said, they can easily be converted tubeless. 

Another thing to note about the wheels is the use of Novatec hubs, which use cup and cone bearings. These are much easier for a home mechanic to maintain as they don’t require specialist tools, but with slightly more servicing attention needed, they’re not as user-friendly as sealed cartridge bearings would be. 

surly bridge club 700c wheels cathkin.png

For the sake of experimentation, I also swapped some lighter-weight 29-inch hoops (converted from TA to QR with adapters) on the Bridge Club, and this made the bike another ball game altogether. The bike became a good couple of kilos lighter but the narrower gravel tyres also made a tangible difference in how the bike rolled on the tarmac. Rather than an oil tanker, it felt more like a sailboat, especially in the right tailwind conditions and up the hills. 

All those technical aspects aside, I have plenty to say about the Bridge Club’s ride feel and could summarise it as easy and fun. It’s a bike that doesn’t need much adjustment before you jump on it, and though I played around with the shifter angles, stem length and height, there was little that didn’t feel ok from the get-go.

2024 Surly Bridge Club fork mounts-10.jpg

2024 Surly Bridge Club fork mounts-10.jpg, by Suvi loponen

The steel frame is beautiful and has characteristic-to-steel compliance built in, even if this bike isn’t made out of the highest-grade steel. That paired with the wide and very grippy tyres keeps things squishy and stable enough without suspension for exploration and multi-day riding. Even when loaded, the BC doesn’t feel like it’s hard to ride – despite the obvious weight addition. The wider handlebar contributes to that stableness when the bike is fully loaded, as it makes it easier to balance the weight and keep the steering stable. 

Because of the quite long and relaxed geometry, this isn’t a springy sprint bike or the most lightweight climber but as you’d want from a tourer, it rather gives you a confident and steady ride without any erratic twitches – yet it still doesn’t feel sluggish or boring to ride at all. Due to the confidence-inspiring ride feel, many a time I did think I was riding a mountain bike, but while the BC handled (not modern) cross-country trails with calmness, I think in its rigid build it excels on the more modest terrains mixed together. 

Compared to Surly’s wider bikepacking lineup, the BC has a slightly lower bottom bracket height (with the stock wheel setup), which contributes to a lower centre of gravity and, hence added stability. This also adds to its descending prowess if you were to take it on some steeper descents. At the same time, the lower height can also make you more subjective to a pedal strike here or there – which really shouldn’t be a problem if you’re not taking on some real rough and rocky stuff. 

2024 Surly Bridge Club front wheel tyre -14.jpg

2024 Surly Bridge Club front wheel tyre -14.jpg, by Suvi loponen

The riding position on the Surly is not aggressive, even when I drop it to the lowest stack of spacers, and with that, it stays comfortable for hours of riding. The slightly swept Salsa Bend handlebar allows the grips to come closer to you and offers a very natural hand position. For me, the 710mm bar width is a touch much, (early in the testing, I had embarrassing encounters with the path side trees, reminding me that the bars are way bigger than what I’d been riding for months) but again, could be easily changed. In terms of overall comfort, I only had two gripes: the grips were not the softest and especially when my hands got sweaty, failed to provide much grip. I didn’t really get along with the saddle either but that is very much down to personal preference. 

During the testing period, I also tried to understand what category the bike falls under. It’s got a gravel bike geometry, rigid mountain bike capability and a touring bike cargo ability and it doesn’t make a bad commuter or casual town bike, either. It’s a hybrid bike but not in the pootling-round-town sense we’ve come to know hybrid bikes. And I think that can be one of the Bridge Club’s selling points, too.

It’s adaptable; you could bung on drop bars if you wanted, change the gearing to suit more road riding or change the wheels lighter for faster gravel hoops… there are a lot of options, though you are limited too, with the frame not taking thru axle wheels, suspension fork or a dropper post. 

Surly Bridge Club off-road touring bike – Verdict

The Bridge Club falls into an off-road tourer category. It’s got a flat handlebar, and very chunky tyres yet it is as apt for road touring or commuting as it is for exploring the undiscovered wilderness. 

Though the burly off-road touring segment isn’t huge, Bridge Club is not alone in it – other bikes offer similar experiences, for example, the Marin Muirwoods and Kona Unit, both a little cheaper than the Surly which retails for £1,600. The Bridge Club is not a cheap bike – you can get the Muirwoods for about half the price at £865 but the Kona, on the other hand, is £1,299 though availability at the moment is a little uncertain due to the company having changed ownership. There’s also Genesis Longitude (£1,500), Shand Bahookie (£2,195 for frame only) and Windover Beacon are in this category of rigid mountain bike-like touring bikes. 

Against all these competitors, most of which offer a similar premise of hauling everything your heart desires into the wilderness, the Bridge Club is neither the cheapest nor the most expensive. Fair, its value isn’t great if you want to pair it with suspension as the frame is not suspension-corrected and the quick-release wheels might not be for everyone. But money aside, for me the Bridge Club’s value has been greatest in its ability to take me back to the roots of why I love cycling. Not because of bikes that cost my life savings, or fancy components, but the joy of being able to ride pretty much anything you see around you and trust in that your bike will get through it in one piece – or that you can fix it if it doesn’t!

Overall, I think the Bridge Club is an excellent, neatly made steel off-road tourer. It can take whatever you throw at it with calm composure and has that kind of underdog character – it’s even more bike (and fun!) than it looks and I think that’s one of its great strengths. 

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