Friday, November 30, 2012

The Trend for Hybrid Cycling Clothes: a Look at Vulpine and Velobici

Vulpine and Velobici are two fairly new apparel manufacturers out of the UK whose refined, hybrid approach to cycling clothing has been getting attention over the past year. The concept is appealing: technical cycling attire that can also pass as street clothes. But does it work? Some months ago, each company sent me samples of their lines to review, but I found myself inappropriately shaped for modeling these menswear garments. So I searched far and wide for a suitably sized male model and finally found the handsome and willing Vorpal Chortle - who is not only a lycra-shunning cyclist, but a self-described "xenoarchaeologist, gastronome, luminographer, zymurgist, anachronist, and eldritch pursuivant." In other words, perfect for the job. Read on for his take on the clothing and mine.

Vulpine Merino Button Jersey
Vulpine is a Surrey-based company that launched in March 2012, with the goal of designing garments that "perform a technical task for cycling and life." These garments utilise mostly natural fabrics and are available in subdued, classic colour schemes. The Merino Button Jersey shown here is one of their staple items. 

Vulpine Merino Button Jersey
Cut long and slim, this jersey is made from 180 gram Tasmanian merino wool, manufactured in China. Shown here in black, it is also available in blue. The overall look is subtle, with minimal branding. 

Vulpine Merino Button Jersey
The neckline of the jersey is V-shaped, similar to the neckline of an American baseball jersey. Four small buttons (engraved and featuring V-stitching) take the place of a zipper.

Vulpine Merino Button Jersey
A silicone waist gripper holds the hem in place. There are two side pockets and one middle zippered pocket in the rear. Above the middle picket is a reflective strip and a tail light tab. 

Vulpine Merino Button Jersey
The sleeves are edged with gray trim. An encircled V is subtly embroidered in gray here and elsewhere on the jersey. 

Vulpine Merino Button Jersey
Model's feedback: VC has been wearing the Vulpine merino jersey for a couple of months for commuting now. He also wore it on the Vermont Fall Classic brevet earlier this season. The men's jersey fits his slender masculine build very nicely. The fabric feels comfortable and light to him. He finds the temperature regulation and moisture wicking properties excellent. The weight of the fabric makes it best suitable as a warm weather jersey, or a layering piece. The design of the jersey suits VC's riding style as well as his personal style. He is happy to continue wearing it for commuting and recreational rides.

My feedback: I wore this jersey once. I liked the soft, feather-light fabric, and felt that the amount of stretch was just right. While the cut of the men's jersey was a bit too long and narrow in the hips for me, there is now a women's version that should work fine. However, the style in general is not really for me: It is too sporty to blend in with my everyday attire, but not sporty enough to work as a roadcycling jersey for my needs. As far as commuting and casual riding, Vulpine's new long sleeve polo might be more up my alley. And as far as roadcycling, I hope they consider manufacturing a more traditional cycling jersey using the same great fabric. 

Vulpine Cotton Rain Jacket
The Vulpine Cotton Rain Jacket is one of the more unique pieces of outerwear I have seen. The aesthetic is at once minimal and eye-catching. The structured look is extremely flattering on a man's body: subtly broadening the shoulders while elongating and slimming the torso. Vulpine's description as "influenced by British and military tailoring" is spot on. The unexpected colourschemes (available in charcoal and indigo, with bits of neon green and red peeking out) add a modern, urban twist.

Vulpine Cotton Rain Jacket
The Vulpine Rain Jacket is handmade (in South Korea) from "microscopically treated Epic Cotton™- a fabric created by applying a microscopic silicon coating to cotton before weaving." The fabric is advertised as wind, water and stain resistant. 

Vulpine Cotton Rain Jacket
The jacket's features include exterior side pockets and sleeve pocket with zip and magnetic closures, magnetic closures at the collar, rear vents, waterproof reflective zippers and sleeve cuffs, roomy interior pocketsdrawcords at the hem, waist and neck.

Vulpine Cotton Rain Jacket
The purpose of the sleeve pocket is to hold a set of keys, and a built in attachment is provided for this.

Vulpine Cotton Rain Jacket
The rear features a magnetic pull-down splash guard with reflective features, and a tail light loop.

Vulpine Cotton Rain Jacket
Model's feedback: VC has been wearing the Vulpine Cotton Rain Jacket for a couple of months now for commuting. He also wore it on the Vermont Fall Classic brevet - which included many miles of heavy rain. So far, he has found the jacket to be entirely waterproof and wind resistant. It fits him well and allows for easy movement on the bike. The sleeves are sufficiently long and do not pull. He finds the multitude of pockets and features useful. One critical piece of feedback, is that the pull-down flap in the rear does not always stay up when he wants it stowed away. Perhaps there is a way to address this in the garment's next iteration.

My feedback: As of now, there is no women's version of this jacket, and the men's does not fit my body well (too big in the shoulders and too long in the torso). I was therefore unable to form a personal impression of this garment. It looks great on VC.

Overall impressions of Vulpine apparel: If you prefer natural fabrics, classic design and are looking for a style that combines cycling clothes and casual wear, they are worth looking into. Mostly menswear for now, but a women's line is forthcoming.

Velobici San-Remo Turtle Neck
The Leicester-based Velobici was launched in 2011, manufacturing UK-made apparel "for riding, socialising or working." Their signature Seamless Knitwear line features classically cut merino wool tops and accessories. The San Remo Classic Turtleneck is a lightweight long-sleeve pullover cut slender and long. The garment pictured on the model is actually one that I've been wearing myself, but I asked VC to model it for the camera because the fit works so much better on his body than on mine. More on this topic later.

Velobici San-Remo Turtle Neck
The distinguishing feature of the San Remo is that it's literally knitted as one piece. There is not a single seam on the entire garment, yet cleverly placed darts shape the garment and add interesting textures. 

Velobici San-Remo Turtle Neck
Velobici does not provide information about the weight of the wool, but it is versatile enough to be worn on its own or over a base layer.

Velobici San-Remo Turtle Neck
The sleeves are quite long, with generously sized thumb loops.

Velobici San-Remo Turtle Neck
The knit is reinforced at the long hem, for increased durability. 

Velobici San-Remo Turtle Neck
Model's feedback: VC wore the pullover in the course of the photo-shoot. He liked the texture and feel of the San Remo and found that it fit him well, including the thumb loops. 

My feedback: I have worn the San Remo through all of last Spring and this Fall. I have found it most useful for long distance rides on an upright bike. I have never owned another "normal looking" wool sweater that works quite this well at regulating my body temperature. On my unseasonably cold trip to Ireland last May, I ended up wearing the San Remo nearly every day for 3 weeks straight, while cycling for 20-50 miles a day, simply because nothing else worked as well. When the pullover gets wet in the rain, it dries surprisingly quickly. It does not require much washing. And it has suffered hardly any pilling despite heavy use. The seamless construction eliminates chafing. The extra long hem at the rear provides full coverage even with low-rise trousers, whereas my other sweaters tend to ride up. The sleeves are long enough to use the thumb-loops. This sweater is in fact perfect, with my only complaint being that it is designed for men and looks awkward on me. Namely, my upper arms are not big enough to fill out the sleeves up top, and when I wear this sweater it looks like I have bat wings. It is also a bit too long in the torso. I strongly encourage Velobici to design a women's version of the San Remo. Functuonality-wise, this is the best sweater I have ever owned, and so I bought it from them for personal use despite the ill fit.

Velobici Bob Maitland Jersey, Seamless Arm Warmers
The Velobici Bob Maitland jersey, named after a 1948 Olimpic road cyclist, is a short sleeve two-tone jersey made from organic South African merino wool. It is seamless in construction. Sshown here with a pair of arm warmers.

Velobici Bob Maitland Jersey
The jersey features a 3/4 zip with a fairly high collar.

Velobici Bob Maitland Jersey
The tone-on-tone branding across the chest is subtle and textural. The zipper-pull is engraved with the Velobici logo.

Velobici Bob Maitland Jersey
The sleeves are quite long, extending neatly to the elbows. 

Velobici Bob Maitland Jersey
The single rear button pocket is knitted with a textural, tone-on-tone Union Jack pattern. The hem is subtly elongated in the rear.

Velobici Bob Maitland Jersey
Bob Maitland's name is embroiderd in cream in the front. 

Velobici Bob Maitland Jersey
Model's feedback: VC found the Bob Maitland jersey soft, comfortable, warm and itch-free. Aesthetically, he finds it quite attractive. The size XS fit him snugly, but works both as a base layer and as a mid layer. In the summer, this jersey might be too warm to wear, he feels, but it works perfectly in the early Fall New England temperatures on its own, or layered later in the season. About the rear pocket, he reports: "It is basically unreachable and appears to be mostly decorative. My hand just can't practically reach that pocket, it's too high." However, for his style of riding, jersey pockets are not an especially important feature. This jersey suits his personal style and he is happy to continue wearing it for commuting and recreational rides.

My feedback: I wore the Bob Maitland jersey once. As with my pullover, I was impressed with the comfort of the seamless construction. It is attractive and the feel is luxurious. However, I felt that the fabric was too warm for a short sleeve jersey (I was not able to wear it in temperatures above 70°F). Long sleeves might have made more sense here.

Overall impressions of Velobici: The seamless construction of the merino knitwear line is impressive and might spoil you from traditionally constructed garments. The softness of the merino wool is almost cashmere-quality, and seems best suited for colder temperatures. While these garments are designed for casual more than performance cycling, there is now also a roadie line. The women's line is sparse and focuses on urban fashions.

Both Velobici and Vulpine seem focused on high quality, on classic looks, and on hybrid designs to accommodate both roadcycling and commuting. I am on board with all of this in theory, but remain skeptical that the last bit can be accomplished. I think that these brands have a future. But I predict their offerings will polarise into more performance-specific and commuter-specific lines over time - both of which could be interesting and useful. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cold Weather Victories

ANT Bathroom ART
When I saw this poster it made me laugh, reminding me of a street scene from the previous day: A woman bundled up in a shearling coat and hat waited for a taxi, while a cyclist in a long sleeve jersey and tights waited at a red light. The woman looked cold and uncomfortable. The cyclist looked ruddy and relaxed, checking his phone for messages with one unclipped toe on the ground.

In the short time window before the cyclist's light turned green and the woman's taxi arrived, somehow the two ended up in a conversation. As I walked past, I caught bits of their exchange. "But how can you... in the cold?," and so forth. By the time the cyclist replied, I was out of earshot. But whatever it was he said to her, they both laughed that special laugh that rings with anticipation. And when I looked back over my shoulder discreetly (I hope), sure enough the woman had her phone out and it looked like they were exchanging numbers. His light had turned green. Her taxi was waiting. They were on the side of the road smiling. "Stay warm!" I thought I heard him yell when he finally took off on his bike. More laughter.

Briskly walking down the street as I fiddled with my scarf, I experienced a moment of longing for my roadbike, and for my technical layers of cycling clothes! It's just so much nicer to be on the bike in cold weather, I caught myself thinking...

Monday, November 26, 2012

SPD Pedals and Platform Support

When it comes to SPD-style clipless pedals, there is some discussion about the benefits of models with integrated platforms versus without. For example, here is an email I received from a reader last week:
...I see in your photos that you use both the Crank Brothers Eggbeaters and Candy pedals. Which do you recommend for a beginner? My boyfriend likes Shimano A-520 pedals because of the extra platform support. His thought is that the Candys provide the same level of support, but not the Eggbeaters. Do you agree?
To answer this question, let me backtrack a bit. The Eggbeater and Candy pedals from Crank Brothers are identical, except that the Candys (right) have a flat platform built around the bindings and the Eggbeaters (left) do not. When choosing pedals, I heard several arguments in favour of the Candys, including that the platform offers extra foot support, that as a beginner I would have an easier time clipping into a larger pedal, and that the platforms would allow me to ride in regular shoes.

I have now ridden with Candys on my own roadbike for the past 9 months. Over that time I have also borrowed friends' bikes with Eggbeaters (including a 100K ride). In the very beginning, the Candys were indeed easier for me to clip into. However, this advantage was short-lived and just weeks later I already had no problem using Eggbeaters and could not distinguish between them. I can also confirm that the Candys are much easier to ride in street shoes, on the rare occasions I find myself doing this on a roadbike. But as far as foot support, I feel absolutely no difference between the two models. I thought that I would, but I don't.

The Eggbeaters have their own advantages. The lack of platforms makes them considerably lighter. They offer more points of entry. And they are easier to clean. Overall, I think that I prefer them, although really I am fine with either.

While not the same as the Crankbrothers system, you could draw parallels to this comparison with Shimano SPDs. There are pedals that consist of bindings alone, and those that incorporate a platform. Some claim the platform provides additional foot support and allows for more power to be transferred, making it similar to a road pedal. Others argue that this is not the case, as the platform sits too far below the binding to provide significant support. I have no comment on the mechanics of this at large, but can only say that with my style of riding, and my specific pedal and shoe combination, I cannot feel the difference. As a beginner, I would suggest trying lots of pedals and figuring out what feels better to you.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

EZ Tools? Finding What Works

I knew that I was pushing my luck, riding a bike that had just been assembled the previous day. And sure enough: 5 miles into the Vermont Fall Classic my dynamo headlight rattled loose. I was just about to rummage around for my folding multitool, when a riding companion, Vorpal Chortle, whipped out a little wrench-looking thingie with multiple heads that I'd never seen or used before. "Here, maybe one of these is the right size?" It was. Without getting off the bike, I tightened my headlight and a moment later we were on our way again.

No one thought that anything out of the ordinary had transpired, but I was stunned. This was not what tightening bolts on a bike was normally like for me. This was done without effort, and more importantly, without the usual flood of shame and anger at my helplessness.

I've explained before the situation with working (or rather not working) on my own bikes. It's not that I don't know how or don't want to learn. I can give others tutorials on bike repair. But I have problems with my hands that limit my hand strength, dexterity and fine motor skills. Even just holding some tools is difficult: They fall out out of my hands, because my fingers can't grip them tightly enough or wrap around them in the right way. In the very best case scenario, I might be able to do an easy repair (like tightening a headlight bracket) but it will take ages. I have tried individual wrenches, Y-wrenches and folding multi tools, and it's always the same story. How or why the flimsy looking Park Tool MT-1 was any different was beyond me.

Shortly after the Vermont Classic I bought an MT-1 of my own (available locally at Harris Cyclery), and can now easily handle anything on a bike that requires a 3/4/5/6/8mm allen wrench, an 8/9/10mm socket wrench, or a straight blade screwdriver. That does not cover everything, but it's a start. There is something about the size and shape of this thing that both stays put in my fingers and provides enough leverage to compensate for my lack of hand strength. The joy this has brought me is almost embarrassing (thanks Vorpal Chortle!).

Granted, this particular tool may not work for everyone. But my point is, if you are finding bike repairs physically difficult there might be something out there that does work. I am going to experiment more aggressively from now on, and maybe I will find tools for all the other tasks I still have trouble with. For instance, I might be imagining this, but I recall watching a woman use a collapsible type of lever that connects to the hub axle(?) to remove a tire in one fell swoop. Maybe I ought to look into that and try to get my flat fixing time to under 30 minutes. In the end, I would love to put together a list of "EZ Tools" suggestions, but I'm not sure how universally applicable these things are. Ultimately, we must keep experimenting to find what works for us, and for some this will be tougher than for others.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

State of Grace

Mo Bruno-Roy
I saw her picture in a magazine and it was instant girl crush. I had never seen a creature so beautiful: She was like a graceful, violent, dirty Snow White. "That's Maureen Bruno-Roy," I was told, "she's a professional cyclocross racer." Half a year later, I was sitting in her kitchen. "Mo" was making tea while talking about her massage therapy business and riding Dutch bikes for transportation in Belgium. "Racing..." she shook her head with a smile when I brought it up, as if the concept both amused and confused her. "I am grateful that I happen to be good at it, but it's not everything." She showed me her pink Shogun mixte, which she rides to work in her regular clothes. She spoke about how much she loves bicycle infrastructure. Later we looked over her fleet of sponsored, impeccably tuned racing bikes in the basement. "You are welcome to borrow one," she said, as if talking about lending me a sweater... 

Richard Fries, Providence CX Festival
In between sips of coffee, I glanced up at the television screen with boredom, watching the race with unseeing eyes. A man in a zip-up sweater and a baseball cap glanced at me from the bar, then stood up and walked over to my table. He began to narrate the race in my ear as it unfolded, telling back stories about the riders and their behind-the-scenes dramas, then interrupting himself to describe what it was like to corner in the rain on a particular descent that was coming up, then interrupting himself again to speculate about the psychological state of the riders as they prepared to execute some maneuver I only vaguely understood. This was the 1989 World Cycling Championships race and he made it happen live, right in front of us. That was how I met the race announcer Richard Fries. Later I snapped some shots of him at the Providence Cyclocross Festival. I wonder whether he realised that in some way he was responsible for my being there... 

Pamela and Cocoa
When I started riding with the legendary randonneuse Pamela Blalock, the thing that stunned me was that I never felt slow or inadequate. How could it be that I struggled to keep up with ordinary cyclists who were just slightly more experienced than me, and yet the Climbing Goddess and I seemed so effortlessly in sync? This was my first taste of a strange paradox: Riding with people who are way, way better than me is easier than riding with people who are just a little better...

Fear Rothar, Photographer (Captured in Action)
For a brief portion of a group ride, my path once crossed with the awe-inspiring endurance racer John Bayley. He rode next to me in the tail end of the double line we formed as if it were the most normal thing in the world for the likes of him to be riding with the likes of me. He truly made me feel that it was. We entered a stretch of dirt road that was rutted out and iced over in spots. As we chatted, I saw that, side by side and at considerable speed, we were approaching a narrow ridge between two deep ruts that only one of our wheels could possibly fit through. Before I knew what was happening, he wiggled ever so subtly and I instinctively followed suit, and without breaking stride, we both ended up riding along that narrow ridge without crossing wheels or slipping off of it. I doubt John even remembers this, considering he just kept cycling and chatting blithely while it was happening. But the incident was etched into my mind. "So this is how you do it..."

As a rider, Emily surprised me with her psychic abilities. When we cycle on narrow roads with traffic, we will ride single file and she will go in the front. And when she does this, Emily somehow knows exactly what speed to maintain so that I am right behind her at all times. I want to go faster and suddenly she is pedaling more vigorously. I slow down a tad and so does she, as if anticipating my fluctuating energy levels. "But Emily, how do you do that?" She says that she can see me in the corner of her eye, but I don't buy it. I try this when I ride with others, and find it impossible. I never, ever know how fast to go when I'm in the front. I'll think that I am going at a consistent pace, but then I'll look over my shoulder and see that I lost people; I feel like a jerk. Some day I want to be psychic, like Emily...

Patria Lanfranchi, Ride Studio Cafe
I could not get over the way Patria rode her racing bike. It was with the attitude of riding a beach cruiser. Easy-peasy, fun-fun-fun. We rode so close that our handlebars were almost touching and I hardly noticed. We talked, we laughed, we gossiped, and before I knew it we crested the hill that I thought I was too out of shape to tackle without disgracing myself. It was 35 degrees Fahrenheit. A group of men from another local club passed us going in the opposite direction. Feeling feisty, we waved at them exhuberantly and they yelled something in a cheerful tone before disappearing. When I mentioned my struggles with clipless pedals Patria reacted as if we were discussing fashion accessories. "Why don't you try the shoes I wear? You might like them better. And they come in this cute color..." A week later I was riding clipless. No practicing in the parking lot, no problems. Everything is easy with Patria...

Ride Studio Cafe
When I first visited the Ride Studio Cafe over two years ago, there was a tall, boyish man working there, making coffee and sweeping floors. He made my Americano, and told me his name was Rob. I assumed he was the barista, and he did nothing to contradict this impression. We'd chat when I visited the shop. I thought he was nice. Some months later I asked the guy at the cash register whom to see about test-riding a Seven. He pointed to the barista. "Talk to him, that's the owner." "The owner of what?" I asked. "The owner of Seven Cycles. And the Ride Studio Cafe."

It's been almost a year now since I formally joined my cycling club. It is not my intent to promote them here, but only to thank them. It is through this club that I've met all the people described here, who have opened up my mind, challenged my pre-conceived notions and expanded my point of view. Some people help you and you feel grateful, indebted. Others help you and you don't even know it. A person who can do that has achieved a state of grace.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

From Strange to Familiar

Brompton, Holliston MA
For the first time in a long time, I've been riding for transportation along routes that started out as uncharted territories. As it often goes, at first these routes seemed hostile, strange. Unfamiliar towns. Different patterns of motorist behaviour than what I'd gotten used to. But over time, the trips grew familiar, peaceful, and therefore unremarkable. This reminded me why I write so much less frequently now about transportation cycling than I used to: because nothing "happens." Whether my commute is 2 miles or 22 miles, nothing about the process is really novel anymore. With roadcycling, there is still the rush of going a longer distance, discovering a new route, learning a new skill, riding with a new group or partner. But with commuting, things have become automated. 

Most of all, I tend to forget the spectacle I make of myself when I - a woman in a long belted overcoat, knee high boots and a beret - ride a weird bike through areas where such sights aren't as normal as they are in Boston Metro. Drivers roll down their windows in freezing temperatures just to get a better look at me. No one has honked or gotten angry with me yet for being on the road; I think they are too stunned to.

The other day I was just riding along, heading homeward, when I sensed a car hovering behind me. I looked over my shoulder and saw it was a white minivan. The sun was in my eyes and I could not make out the driver. I got a little nervous and moved over to the right encouraging them to pass me, but they kept hovering. Finally, the van did pass, only to pull over to the side of the road in front of me. A woman jumped out and started waving her arms wildly, beckoning me to stop. Out of the windows I could now see several children's heads peeking out. So I braked and put a foot down tentatively, hoping this was not some trap to kidnap me and harvest my organs. And the woman shouted "Oh my God, I just wanted to tell you I love your bike and your outfit!" She asked some questions about the bike and where I was going, and was stunned by my answers. What about a bike that could fit her kids? (Just two kids, the others in the van were the neighbours'.) Yes, there are those kinds of bikes as well, I told her, and described the different options. She was so excited, it was really quite marvelous. A little extreme to pull the minivan over to talk to me, sure, but I'll take it over driver hostility any day. What started out as being strange to her became familiar. These are good encounters.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Hardest Part of Framebuilding?

"So what's the hardest part of framebuilding?" I am asked. I can see by the facial expression what the anticipated answer is. "Ah, you must attain mastery of the torch." Or "you must learn impeccable precision." Or "you must develop an eye for detail." These would all make beautiful answers. But my actual answer is devastatingly boring.

The hardest part is the work. As in, the manual labor.

"If you TIG weld, you will get to sit. I have to stand all day." This was my reply when someone asked which method I recommend learning. She thought I was teasing, but it was an honest reply. Seriously: If you TIG weld, you will get to sit!

The other night I dreamt about dropouts. For my first bicycle frame (actually, it is really frame Zero, since it is done under heavy supervision) I unwittingly chose to use slotted dropouts. If you are a framebuilder, you are probably laughing right now. It is taking me as long to work on these dropouts as it did to work on the rest of the frameset. In my dream, I had chosen socketed dropouts and I was carefree - unburdened by having to fit, then thin and shape for hours the treacherous slotted ones. Once you experience the trauma of slotted dropouts, you cannot unexperience it. And while they are not recommended for beginners, I have to disagree. By all means, choose them for your first bicycle build. That will teach you to romaticise framebuilding.

What they might not tell you about a brazing torch, is that it is heavy. My first impression of brazing was dominated by this. It is heavy, and yet I had to learn to hold it up and wield it as if it was the lightest thing in the world, for what seemed like an eternity at a time. I was so happy when I finally got used to its heft. But then a week went by when I did not use the torch, and today it was heavy again. It felt like my upper arm, and not the lug, was being lapped at by the flame. (If you TIG weld, you will get to use a tiny little torch, light as a feather. In my dream the welding torch resembled a colibri bird...)

Building this frame is endless work. My hands are a mess. At the end of the day I am drained, unable to do or think about anything else. I just want to go to sleep, and do it again tomorrow. Why? Because hard work feels good if you submit to it. And because building a bicycle frame is fun. And because I'm almost done. For now!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Trolling Around in 650B

Surly Troll 650B
While Surly offers a range of practical, attractive, versatile bikes that riders everywhere love, none of them I find particularly appealing. Instead, I seem to be drawn to their weirdest and most extreme creations: their fat tired monsters. So naturally, when I saw Susan's new Surly Troll, I was delighted. Sure, it wasn't a Pugsley, but it was nonetheless glorious. 

Surly Troll 650B
The Troll is a 26" wheel steel mountain bike with clearances for 2.7" tires. Built with eyelets for fenders and racks, it can also be set up as a commuter or utility bike, as well as an off-road touring bike. 

Surly Troll 650B
Susan built it up for all of the above, converting it to 650B while she was at it.
Surly Troll 650B
The tires are of course the 42mm Grand Bois Hetres. I realise now that I forgot to ask why Susan chose this wheel size, so normal it has become around these parts.

Surly Troll 650B
The Troll frame can be set up with cantilever/v-brakes or disc brakes - though I think the 650B conversion leaves only the latter option. 

Surly Troll 650B
The Troll features interesting dropouts that I have not seen before. They are horizontal and resemble track ends, yet made with a derailleur hanger, making it possible to build the bike up with either hub or derailleur gearing. 

Surly Troll 650B
Susan has the bike outfitted with fenders, the Tubus Fly rear rack,

Surly Troll 650B
the slightly swept back Metropolis handlebars,

Surly Troll 650B
dynamo lighting,

Surly Troll 650B
and one of those crazy super-bright headlights that point down to illuminate trails at night, powered by a battery pack.

Surly Troll 650B
There is something about the way this bike is set up that seriously excites me. I look at it, and I want to do "that" kind of riding, whatever that is. An overnight tour along pitch black dirt trails maybe?

Susan encouraged me to try the bike, and I did. The brief test ride proved to be surprisingly informative. The bike rode smoother than I expected. Very nice in fact. The Troll is not a lightweight bike, and it is not fast on the road. But it felt maneuverable in tight spaces and was not as difficult uphill as I expected. The stepover of the frame felt lower in practice than the images suggest, making it easy to hop off the bike without having to swing my leg over the back (I should note that I rode the bike with the saddle about an inch higher than shown here). There was no hint of toe overlap even with the 650B wheels. The disc brakes worked well, though I tried them in a very limited capacity.

Surly Troll 650B
The one drawback of this bike for me was the high bottom bracket (40mm BB drop on the frame), which made it difficult to get the saddle height where I wanted it. I like to be able to put a toe down when stopping without getting off the saddle, but the frame geometry + 650B conversion made that challenging to accomplish with full leg extension. However, I think that with the 26" wheels the bike was originally designed for, it should be okay. I could also try converting the Surly Ogre (a 700C version of the Troll) to 650B. Its 68mm BB drop should be just right for getting the saddle where I like it. 

Surly Troll 650B
But of course I am just aimlessly fantasising here. I understand very little about mountain bikes and even less about their monster variations (still trying to figure out what exactly a suspension-corrected fork is). Still, I think that one excellent use for a machine like this could be as a winter bike. The Troll is not quite as extreme as a Pugsley, but neither is it as bulky. If fitted with 26" wheels and fat studded tires it could be just the thing for snowy Boston winters. With the frame priced at $500 MSRP, some strategic budget component choices could make for a fun and functional build.

Surly Troll 650B
Susan purchased her Troll frame from Harris Cyclery, where she works as a custom fit specialist and lead salesperson. Naturally, she built it up herself, with parts she "had lying around." I hope she enjoys her cool new bike, and I thank her for letting me try it!