My Surly Pugsley was in desperate need of attention. Sometime in 2012, I procured this bike from a friend (who was looking to subsidize an upgrade). After one winter of crusty drivetrain issues, I elected to convert it to a single speed. Last winter it was ridden hard and put away wet - literally.

When I attempted to move it this summer I discovered that nearly everything was seized on it. Breaks, chain, headset were all bound. I kicked myself for neglecting this trusty bike and letting it fall into such a state of disrepair.

I mustered the necessary gumption to give it a thorough overhaul. While systematically dismantling everything on it I took a good long look at the condition of the frame. After the quick call to RFE powder coating to get a verbal estimate I decided this bike deserved a total overhaul.

Winter Bike Commuting: Winter Destroys Everything!

I started winter bike commuting while living in St. Paul, MN. Back then I rode an old aluminum frame Nishiki mountain bike. It served me well, even when a crank arm broke 5 miles from home - stranding me in a snow storm. A while later, the rear hub failed me. The pawls were failing to engage. So, pedaling resulted in no forward motion. These were component failures, though, the frame continued to serve me well, even if it was a bit small...

When I moved back to Iowa City, IA I happened across a Kona Dew Frame and P2 fork at the Bike Library. I wanted to ditch the derailleurs but keep gears so I did a frame up build. The rear wheel had a Shimano Alfine 8-speed Internally Geared Hub (IGH). I still had to use a chain tensioner, but I wouldn't have to worry about a derailleur and the cable getting corroded. I built up a Shimano DH-3N70 Dyno hub for a powered lighting set up. I ended up commuting on this bike year round. The IGH was great for in town - allowing me to shift while stationary. I could hammer down to try and beat a light, but if I had to stop suddenly I wouldn't be caught in a super tall gear.

"...up to that point I eschewed Fat Bikes...until I rode one."

Sadly, the IGH was from an era when Shimano was known for sending out hubs without proper lubrication. That, combined with a few years (and a few winters) of hard riding left the hub in sad shape - feeling sluggish. This was about the time that a friend was looking to part with his Surly Pugsley. I had reservations about reverting to a steel frame for winter commuting, and up to that point had eschewed the "Fat Bike" movement. I thought fat bikes were silly and unnecessary, but a test ride of his Pugsley quickly moved those concerns down my list and convinced me fat bikes were indeed quite fun, though probably not necessary for winter. His Pugsley (and what would become mine) was such a fun machine to ride - especially in snow. To think, I could ride through inches of snow with a beaming smile instead of uttering four letter words under my breath! Riding a fat bike is similar to when you first experience the joy and freedom your first bike as a child. Fat bikes open up the entire landscape for exploration. Essentially, your inner child is brought to life and you start imagining the places your bike will take you.

The Pugsley was an adventure machine. I looked forward to snow storms! Multiple times I was trucking down city streets passing by poor motorists still digging out their cars. I no longer had to worry about waiting for plows. Reality set in after a few years. John took care of the Pugsley when it was in his hands. I rode it hard and put it away wet. And there it sat all summer. In September, I thought it wise to pull the bike out and start going through it for winter. I came to find that everything except the crankset was seized. Brakes, chain, headset - everything! Beyond that, if you so much as looked at a spot wrong paint would simply fall off.

Stripping Down the Frame and Assessing the Components

This is a first generation Pugsley with an offset front fork - making the front and rear wheels swappable - a very cool feature. Basically, you get two drive trains. If your rear wheel craps out you can just swap it with the front (provided you have a single speed freewheel on it) and keep on truckin'.

I'm sure my buddy rode it just a much and just as hard before it came into my possession. Originally I had 9-speed drivetrain in the rear, with a double chain ring up front, and a Surly Ultra New 135 mm hub on the front wheel. However, the track dropouts on the rear make taking a wheel off a pain if you have a derailleur - which only provided further impetus for converting it to single speed (SS).

Why Fat?

A bit of digression here. I was reluctant and skeptical of fat bikes, and to an extent I still am. They are fun but are only capable of slightly more than most bikes. I've seen good riders tackle difficult terrain on regular 26" mountain bikes or even cyclocross bikes. Essentially, fat bikes make hard terrain easier (and maybe a bit more enjoyable). They're akin to riding a full suspension 10-speed plastic (carbon) bike on Iowa single track trails (totally unnecessary). In actuality riding a fully rigid single speed, MTB makes you a better rider, forcing you to chose lines and use the terrain to your advantage. I was converted to riding rigid SS at Sugar Bottom and started to enjoy riding single track much more. I've become a better rider since switching. So, in this way, I'm 100% against fat bikes. They are also getting to be expensive with all the specialized components.

"I'm still not convinced I need or even want a fat bike. As long as the Pugsley keeps trucking I'll keep riding it - it's the only fat bike I'll ever own."

However, after reading about how the Surly Pugsley was designed (read about it here) I decided that Pugsley's aren't so bad. Basically, Surly designed a fat bike around widely available parts. 135mm hubs were commonplace a the time (and still are) and 100mm bottom brackets were standard for downhill mountain bikes. That's what I still like about it. Hubs and parts (for the most part) are still fairly inexpensive (except for rims and tyres). Surly has strayed from these design principles (along with the rest of the bike industry). I'm still not convinced I need or even want a fat bike. As long as the Pugsley keeps trucking I'll keep riding it - it's the only fat bike I'll ever own.

Here are some photos of the bike before and while tearing it down. If viewing on mobile, click on any of the thumbnails for a larger version.

Sending the Frame to Powder Coat

I was at a crossroads when faced with this decision. I was at a point where I could try to cobble the bike back together or tear it down and take it in for a new paint job. I called a Chris are RFE to get a quote. $175(ish) for frame and fork sandblast, treatment, and powder coat! Done! Chris at RFE powder coating did one hell of a job blasting and treating this sorry old frame. He discovered "SNOW" was part of the number system on the Bottom Bracket, which is pretty damn cool.

A quick note on paint vs. powder coat. When you have the option, go with powder coat. It's durable as hell! I chatted with Chris (powder coater) a bit while looking at color/texture options. I wanted to go with a distinct color but also wanted to hide some of the massive pitting that had occurred from all rusting. We both landed on a textured color known as "Blue Steel". If it's Zoolander approved, it's good enough for me!

We both crossed our fingers that nothing would arise when Chris went to sandblast the frame. There was so much rust that we had both become concerned that he might blast a hole in of the bridges. Luckily, nothing of the sort happened. Chris did a superb job on the coating - breathing new life into a tired frame.

Chris has been great to work with. He's reasonable in price, has a quick turn around time, and sent me a library of photos he took from working on the frame

Building it Back Up

I built it back up a little different. I built a new rear wheel using a Marge Lite Rim, Wheelsmith double butted spokes, and a Surly Ultra New Fixed Disc Hub. That's right, a fixed fat bike! I wanted to strip this down to the simplest possible machine I could. Building a new wheel also freed up a Holy Rolling Darryl for my wife's Pugsley. I used Free Spoke to figure out spoke lengths and had a friend cut them. The Marge Lite front and Rolling Darryl rear wheel is somewhat like a "Necro" Junior set up. It's a bit lighter and more nimble than the full Necro (which involves a Moonlander Fork).

Why Fixie?

I built up my first fixed gear (fixie) a few years ago. I had a 1972-73 (one of those years) Raleigh Super Course that I had kept in it's original condition, but I wasn't riding it. After converting it to fixed, I discovered how great fixed is when riding in the city. The control that riding fixed gives the rider is great for winter riding - when having control is paramount. So, I figured I'd give the Pugsley the fixed treatment. If for some reason, I don't like it I can easily swap the wheels and ride it as a single speed.

"The tyre combination ended up giving me the same rolling resistance as a square-shaped wheel."

Riding fixed gear is also a great workout. In winter, when most people are starting to fall out of shape due to not riding, my legs will be pumping battery acid from having to push a fat bike around in the cold and windy conditions. The tyre setup and gear ratio will serve as a challenge. I settled on a 2:1 gear ratio - the same as my SS mountain bike. After a bit of riding I discovered that gear ratio might have been a bit ambitious since I'll be pushing a studded front tyre and Surly Nate (huge lugs!) on the rear - giving me about the same rolling resistance as a square-shaped wheel.

Parts List
Component Part
Front HubSurly Ultra New Single Speed Disc
Front RimSurly Holy Rolling Darryl
Front Tyre45 nrth Dillinger (120 tpi)
Rear HubSurly Ultra New Fixed Disc
Rear RimSurly Marge Lite
Rear TyreSurly Nate (120 tpi)
Track CogSurly Track Cog 17 tooth
Chain TensionerSurly Tug Nut
CrankSetHusselfelt with Salsa Bash Guard
Chain RingSurly Stainless Steel 34 tooth
ChainKMC Z410 Rust-Buster
Pedals and StrapsSpeedplay Frogs with titanium spindles
Brakes Avid bb7 with GS2 rotors
Brake LeversAvid FR-5
Handle BarsJones Full H-Bar
Seat PostSalsa
SaddleTitec Isthys

Final thoughts

After some deliberation and frustration from getting snagged on bikes in my garage I decided to part with this fine bicycle. It just wasn't necessary. I sold this and the Kona Unit to fund a build of a more versatile machine. I'm continually chasing the "quiver killer" - the bike that does it all. I want a "Jack of all Trades", and want it to be an expert in most of them. I think I've found the frame that will adequately replace the Unit and Pugsley...