A little bit of background… last year I bought my first 29er, a Trek / Gary Fisher Paragon. It has been a solid bike for me and I certainly intend to continue riding it. About the same time I bought my Paragon my riding buddy ripped the rear derailleur off his 29er. He decided to convert to singlespeed and ended up riding this way about half the year before going back to gears. I was kind of curious about the singlespeed idea based on his experience and some other local guys, but I never gave too much thought to a ss rig for myself.
Sometime in September the mailman delivered the latest issue of Mountain Bike Action. About two-thirds of the way through the issue I stumbled on an article titled “The Advantages of Being Single”. I read the article at my desk during lunch one day and it got me thinking for several reasons.
The article presented the idea of riding a singlespeed to build strength, to build skill, and to add interest to your local trails. These ideas made sense to me and I’d heard similar ideas from my buddy and others. However, based on cost, I sort of dismissed the idea… until I turned the page. MBA reviewed a Kona Unit and I was surprised to see the ~$1k price point on the bike, less than what I expected . Hmmm, maybe this is a possibility sooner rather than later.
With the intention to purchase from my local bike shop I stopped in to find my options for a 29” singlespeed. The Trek Rig and Redline Monocog were choices. The Trek did not interest me so much, so I began to investigate the Monocog. Somewhere in this investigation I found an additional option: Surly and their somewhat iconic Karate Monkey.
I made a comparison between the Monocog and complete Karate Monkey. It could have gone either way and based on user feedback here on MTBR I’m sure both are solid bikes that would serve me well. By this time I had embraced the idea of not only a singlespeed but a rigid singlespeed.
About this time I got it in my head to build a bike instead of buying complete. Why? Primarily for the fun of picking out a couple dozen items instead of just one, and I thought I could get higher quality/performance components for about the same price as buying complete. Of course a “custom” build would result in the exact components I want as compared to whatever comes on the complete bikes.
I waited for the 2012 model frameset to be available from Surly. This latest model is supposed to have a refined fork and a refined rear disc brake mount
The rear brake was a concern for me after reading some people’s experience with having to unbolt the rear caliper to remove the rear wheel. Others have said it’s a non-issue or not a big deal, but I waited for the 2012 model to be available after hearing Surly made modifications to address this issue. I cannot specify what changes have been made, but I can say my rear wheel with a 160mm rotor can be installed and removed without any interference from the rear caliper (read on for specific components used).
Once the 2012 model became available early in December, the next question was frame size. I read and re-read the MTBR “Karate Monkey Sizing” thread, messaged a couple MTBR members, and compared measurements from my Paragon to the Surly geometry chart for the Monkey. I decided on the 18” frame primarily based on a comparison of the effective top tube length and estimated reach to the bar. This was somewhat confused by the 17° sweep bars on my Paragon and the intention to use a bar with less sweep on the KM.
At the time of ordering the frameset from my local shop the only uncertainty was whether I would require a 400mm seat post to achieve my desired saddle height. The seat post I wanted to use was only available in 350mm length and I was concerned about having enough post remaining in the frame for strength. It turns out the 350 is fine.
Here is my sizing information, maybe it will help someone else (I will also post in the KM sizing thread):
height without shoes = 6’-1/2”
inseam with MTB shoes from floor to “undercarriage” = 34-1/2”
desired saddle height from center of BB to center of saddle rail, along seat tube = 708mm
“Stretchpants Black” or “Battleship Gray” was my color choice. Boring or boring. I really would have preferred a burnt orange or OD green. I picked the gray for no particularly good reason.
The Rolling Parts
While web shopping for a good deal on a respectable wheelset, I came across Handspun Wheels. Handspun is Quality Bike Products in house wheel building group. I first considered a pair of wheels with SRAM 406 or 506 hubs and WTB rims but decided to spend a little more money to, hopefully, get a more reliable wheelset. I should point out I wanted a rear wheel with a freewheel hub not a singlespeed hub for future flexibility, be it later adding gears to the KM or swapping the wheelset to another bike.
I decided to go with one of the SRAM X-9 hub wheelsets. The choice then became Stan’s Crest, Arch, or Flow rims. With durability in mind I chose the Flow rims. They weigh a little more, and it is rotating mass, but this build with the steel Karate Monkey frame is not obsessing on weight. I like the all black rims, hubs, and spokes, and I was happy to find the wheels nice and true out of the box.
For rubber I wanted a larger volume front tire, partially to add some cushion to the rigid KM front end but also just to see what difference it makes in feel and traction. I considered several tires and finally chose the Maxxis Ardent 2.4” tire for the front, paired with a Maxxis Ardent 2.2” tire for the rear. Finding these on sale at Cambria Bike Outfitter along with a 10% discount and free shipping on Cyber Monday sealed the deal on this tire setup. At least for now I’m going to run the tires with tubes. Tubeless may be something to play with later.
Not until I sat down in the living room to mount up the tires did I realize there were no rim strips on the rims or supplied with the rims. After some research on the Stan’s web site and MTBR I purchased a roll of Stan’s yellow tape. The 25mm width tape is needed for the width of the Flow rim bed. From what I’ve read it should be possible to run tubeless with the rim tape only on this rim and tire combination, but for now anyhow, the tubes went in.
Interfacing with the Bike
This will be an explanation in thriftiness that turned into a fan club. I began web shopping for handlebars and stems from the same company, just because I like them to match. The first criteria was to sort a web retailer’s handlebar offerings by cost and find options in my price range. From several sellers I found good discounts on Race Face components. I’ve never owned any RF hardware in the past but after visiting their web site I started to like the combination of appearance, performance, and value of their components. I decided to go for Race Face Evolve series components including a handlebar and stem.
The Race Face Evolve handlebar is a riser bar with 3/4” of rise and 9° of sweep. As mentioned earlier my Paragon has a Bontrager Big Sweep bar with 17° of sweep and I wanted to go with less sweep on the KM. I do like the wide width of the Big Sweep bar and the Race Face bar is 680mm wide.
My stem of choice is a Race Face Evolve XC stem. I chose the 105mm length in an attempt to match the reach to the bars between my Paragon and the KM.
Throwing the headset in here, I could have pursued a Race Face headset to match the other items but I have a fondness for Cane Creek headsets. Reason being I toured their small facility while on a cycling vacation in the Asheville area. Seeing a Cane Creek logo on my headset reminds of that trip, it was a good one. At the same time I ordered the tires from CBO, I ordered a Cane Creek S-2 headset for 67% off.
The saddle for this bike is a custom leather tooled saddle a friend made for me. I’ve been looking for the right bike to attach it to and the Karate Monkey is it.
One of the last items I settled on was the seatpost. As previously mentioned I was unsure if a 350mm seat post would be long enough to reach my desired saddle height and still have sufficient post in the frame. The Race Face Evolve seatpost has an interesting mechanism for saddle tilt adjustment, it is independent of the actual rail clamps, but this seatpost only comes in 350mm length. It turns out I have plenty of post below the seat tube clamp.
Perhaps the least thoughtful component choice of the build was the pedals. I have Performance Forte Carve pedals on my Paragon, on my cross bike, and now on my Karate Monkey. These pedals have served me well and the price is right. They came as a surprise gift for the Monkey! Very nice indeed.
Making it Go
With the Race Face choice already made, I went with a Race Face Evolve singlespeed crankset. A healthy 40% discount on the crankset and bottom bracket was a good motivator. The discounted set was only available in 175mm crankarm length, just what I needed. I didn’t really plan to run a bashguard, but it came on the crankset.
I choose a SRAM PC-1 chain. It was inexpensive and seemed sufficient for the singlespeed task. I’ve had good luck with SRAM chains in the past.
With the 32 tooth chain ring up front I chose a 20 tooth cog for the rear. Based on discussions with several buddies this gear combo will be a good start for our local trails. I think it’s going to hurt in the beginning but part of my singlespeed desire is to build strength. I used some plastic cassette spacers to set the cog’s position on the freewheel, at least for now.
Making it Stop
Primarily for cost I chose mechanical disc brakes. The Avid BB7brakes seem to be the go to hardware for mechanical disc systems. Discounted prices were easy to find for the outgoing model year brakesets. I chose a 185mm rotor for the front and a 160mm rotor for the rear, same as my Paragon.
The Avid Speedial 7 brake levers are a good match to the Avid BB7 brakes, and they were also available at reduced prices. The Speedial adjustment seemed useful.
Sticking with the Avid/SRAM labels, I found a SRAM brake cable set to connect the levers to brakes. The set has sufficient housing to run full length housing on the Karate Monkey.
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