Chris Abraham's 2010 Surly Steamroller Single Speed with Internal 3-speed hub and canvas tail bag

My 7-year love affair with a Surly Steamroller

Chris Abraham's 2010 Surly Steamroller with 3 speeds

My 2010 Surly Steamroller 3-Speed

I have been riding fixies and single-speed bikes since before some baby hipsters were born. Single speed bikes used as city bikes isn’t a new idea.

I have been living with my trusty Surly Steamroller since 2010.

Now, she’s a three-speed.

My Single Speeds: The Early Years

My first single-speed bike was a 2000 Bianchi Pista in black. I ran it with a freewheel and a front brake. 

Chris Abraham's Berlin SOMA Delancey custom single speed Gucci bike

My Gucci SOMA Delancey in Berlin

After it was stolen, I bought a 2007 SOMA Delancey frame and built it up with every single Gucci component I could think of: fat Salsa stem, a Brooks with hammered copper rivets that, fancy track cranks, chainring, and chain, flat Ritchey bars — she was a sweetheart. She also was a casualty of rampant Berlin bike theft.

Chris Abraham's specialized langster gangster aluminum single speed bike

My Specialized Langster Gangster in Berlin

So, then I bought an aluminum Specialized Langster Gangster single speed bike and brought her to Berlin with me as-is. She was a beauty.

She came with a super-smooth freewheel that also got its ratchet frozen open during punishing subzero Berlin winters.

To keep on riding through the cold, I would stop at little Turkish kiosks and order hot water or hot tea and then pour the boiling water over the freewheel.

red white industries eno freewheel for single speed bikes

My Sturmey Archer S3X 3-speed hub 

It works–until that water freezes and there goes all the forward momentum. No ratchets, no teeth, no pedaling, no biking.

Anyone else every do that? I loved how quiet ratchetless freewheels are but hated the freezing-open thing.

So clicky freewheels from now on–they’re sort of like the pedal bike version of loud pipes.

Frank Merfort with my SOMA Delancey bike on the Berlin U-Bahn subway

Frank Merfort on the Berlin U-Bahn

That’s why I ended up going with the buzzbomb-sounding clicks of the red White Industries Eno Freewheel I ultimately installed on my Surly. 

When I left Berlin (for good? I hope not) I left the Gangster behind (now owned by the son of my buddy Frank, in the picture from back in the day–you’ll see the SOMA Delancey in the photo to the left on the Berlin U-Bahn. 

My 2010 Surly Steamroller 3-Speed City Bike

Chris Abraham's 2010 Surly Steamroller Single Speed with Internal 3-speed hub and canvas tail bag

My 2010 Surly Steamroller 3-Speed City Bike with a Carradice bag from Nelson, England

This is how she is now. After all the mods, none of which is very recent. My next mod will be adding a dynamo front hub that will allow me to replace my battery lights with serious night-splitting lumens, including a battery and a USB port. But not yet. 

Salsa two-finger Cross Levers bike levers

My Salsa Cross Levers brake levers

The build is standard. I believe I ordered the complete Steamroller bike from Surly. I didn’t want to go down the Gucci gulch again like I did with the Delancey.

So, it came with simple cloth-wrapped drop bars. I replaced the included brakes and brake levers with Shimano 105s and really shorty two-finger Cross Levers from Salsa.

I replaced the stock saddle with a classic black B17 Brooks standard leather saddle.

700c x 28c Schwalbe Marathon Plus Bike Tire

My 700cx28 Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires

I replaced the pedals with chunky MTB cage pedals that accepted generic black plastic toe clips with straps.

I’ve had my original DA22 Alex rims for all seven years and I made sure I got a set of 700cx28 Schwalbe Marathon Plus bike tires–I’m on my second set–though I might go up to a 32 or more if it fits–just to try them out, see what it’s like.

Historically, I have really loved skinny tires. 

How I lock my bike in Portland, Oregon

How I locked my bike in Portland, Oregon

But I love the Marathon Plusses so much and would never try another. Why? Here’s the marketing: “The Marathon Plus is the only tire worldwide that can be called ‘flat-less’.

This is due to its unique and patented puncture protection belt: five millimetres thick and made from highly elastic special rubber.

Even thumbtacks can’t puncture it.” And, I have never had a flat. Ever.

I’m sold on them even though they’re pretty heavy tires. I also love the reflective sidewalls that keep me visible in low light conditions.

My Surly Steamroller Reflects Light!

My Surly Steamroller Reflects Light!

In terms of everything else, I got caught out without my lights on a very late NoVa trail ride home from DC and felt very vulnerable.

So, I bought loads of red 3M reflective tape and taped all the bare black tubes. So, even if I don’t have lights or my batteries die, my bike bike will light up under headlights.

I also added a handmade reversible green/purple Black Star top tube pad. You’ll see some early photos in the green but now it’s purple. I might switch it up for fun some time.

Reversible Black Star top bar pad for my Surly Steamroller in purple and green

My reversible Black Star top bar pad in purple and green

Converting My Single Speed “Fixie” into a 3-Speed “Dutch Bike”

Sturmey Archer S3X and White Industries Eno freewheel

Sturmey Archer S3X

When I moved back from Berlin, Germany, I moved to Ballston, Arlington, Virginia to take care of my mom.  Between DC and Ballston, I could handle the hills.

Once I moved to Columbia Heights, above Pentagon City, the short, steepish, hill between the Pentagon and Columbia Pike just kicked my butt enough that I looked into the state of the art of internal 3-speed hubs.

Sturmey Archer S3X and White Industries Eno freewheel

Sturmey Archer S3X

At least for fixies, track bikes, and single speeds, all roads led to the Sturmey Archer S3X. I bought the 3X Silver and had it installed over at local bike shop (LBS), Papillon Cycles here in Columbia Heights.

They did a great job but I quickly broke them–almost immediately. They rebuilt is gladly and gave me a hint: unlike derailleur gears that require pedaling to actuate them, internal hub gears require a pause between gear changes.

red white industries eno freewheel for single speed bikes

Sturmey Archer S3X

Since then it’s been blue skies. I love them. Early on, I also had troubles with my heal messing with the gear chain and loosening the cable. No more. Everything’s tight and reliable and very effective.

Mind you, the top gear is only as high as the chainwheel and rear sprocket combination. And the low gear is not as low as a granny gear.

This is no mountain goat setup.  But it does surely smooth out the road. It allows my to arrive at my destinations a little less sweaty and beat up.  For me, it’s a game-changer. 

My Surly Steamroller locked up at Miriam's Kitchen

Locked up at Miriam’s Kitchen

Right now, I am very heavy and quite out of shape so not even three speeds get me up the Air Force Memorial section of Columbia Pike or all the way up the Capitol Hill section of Independence Avenue–but I am sure the added lower-end grear-ratio will give you the extra compensation to get you up those sorts of hills if you’ve been frustrated by hills before. 

The S3X is 100% durable and bulletproof once you get the gears changed but, as I said, it’s very vulnerable during gear changes.

So, you need to relearn how to shift because shifting like you do on a 12-27-speed road bike with 12-27 gears with front and rear derailleurs.

2010 Surly Steamroller Locked at Miriam's Kitchen

I ride in to Miriam’s Kitchen

In order to properly shift the Sturmey Archer S3X, the bike needs to be in motion, the rear wheel needs to be spinning, and you need to lay off pedaling for the amount of time it takes to shift — then, you can shift one or two speeds.

So, you can safely go from highest to lowest or lowest to highest in one shift–just as long as you’re rolling and not standing still. 

So, if you want to shift down before you stop at a light in order to speed up your start, think about doing that before you stop.

Surly Steamroller locked to a pole

My bike locked to a pole

So, at the high gear, click right down to the low gear right before you stop for the light. Like downshifting, think of it.

I had the shifter for the Sturmey Archer S3X installed at the right bar end of the drop bars, so it’s right there.  I could say it’s pretty easy to install but I had the folks from Papillon Cycles do all this work. In fact, I’ll also have them do any and all of the work associated with installing a front hub dynamo lighting system. Being loyal to the Pike!

The Canvas Tail Bag

The awesome canvas bike tail bag from Andrew Blake Curry

My beautiful canvas tail bag

I don’t know anything about the canvas tail bag except it was given to me by my mate Andrew Blake Curry who makes me look like an absolute pedestrian in comparison with his obsession with bikes and bicycling. It’s got a wooden dowel on top and I used hose clamps to attach the top to my standard black leather Brooks B17 saddle. On the front of the bag, which is nearest the seat tube, there’s a buckled leather strap that I affixed to the seat tube. 

The inside of the cavernous canvas tail bag, including securing dowel

The inside of the bag

The bag is relatively cavernous. There’s a main compartment and a pocket at either side. Each compartment is closed with buckled leather straps and all the straps and points of stress are studded.

I have it set up that a red battery tail light lives on the bag and the way the leather straps are affixed and attached, there’s plenty enough room for me to store my U-lock on the bag at all times when I’m not locking it down. 

UPDATE: Christopher Osborn let me know that my bag is a Carradice bag from Nelson, England, and that “They make very simple yet bombproof bags. It will probably outlive your bike.” It’s already proved itself so. When I received it as a gift from my buddy Andrew Currey, it was already well-loved and well-used.

I take my Surly wherever I move

I take my Surly wherever I move

The Surly doesn’t have wheel quick release or locking hubs but they are locked down via nuts and that seems to be annoying enough. 80% of the time, I U-lock the bike via frame and front wheel. 20% of the time, only the frame.

The time it takes to break a chain to get a fixie wheel off of the bike seems to be enough trouble.

And since the Sturmey Archer hub attaches via an additional chain to get the wheel off, I am hoping, as a former bike courier who was always hungry for unbent, unprotected, 26″ wheels, wheel crimes are almost always crimes of opportunity.  

The schwalbe marathon plus 700c tire sidewalls are very reflective

Thise Marathon Plus sidewalls reflect a lot!

So, I definitely would consider locking hubs if that would aid to the perception that my bike is inconvenient to steal. People in greater DC are so terrible at even locking their $3,000+ Gucci bikes at all that I assume my gray man sleeper city bike, when it’s locked right next to someone who is only attached via their front wheel with the quick release hub and the other bike that’s not attached at all but leaning against the rack, the only security being that the rider is only a short distance away. 

Well, that’s it!  That’s my bike.

Pretty photo of my Surly Steamroller 3-Speed

My Surly Steamroller 3-Speed

The only thing left for me to do is add a front hub dynamo, a high-lumen headlight, a fixed taillight, maybe a USB connector, possibly handlebar control of the intensity of the front lamp.

What else?

Maybe a handlebar mount for my cell phone, maybe not. And, then, of course, maybe wider tires and maybe secure-looking locking hubs for security theater. 

So, that’s my love letter to my 2010 Surly Steamroller 3-speed city bike.

I would love any advice or questions you make have for me, especially when dynamo hub do you recommend, what front and rear lights do you recommend for the dynamo system, and what other must-haves should I add to the bike in order to make it the very best, coolest, city bike a boy can have for the next 7 years of proud ownership!



The Surly Steamroller is Bombproof
  • Weight
  • Durability
  • Strength
  • Reliability
  • Curb Appeal
  • Security
  • Comfort

Surly Steamroller Bombproof after 7 Years

I have owned four single-speed bikes. From steel to aluminum; from bare and light to heavy with bags and lights and a bag. Some with light titanium seats but the rest with heavy durable leather B17 saddles from Brooks. This Surly Steamroller is a 2010 and she now has a Sturmey Archer S3X internal hub 3-speed. I have heavy Marathon Plus tires and nothing was chosen for weight-savings.

Weight: This bike is made of 100% 4130 CroMoly steel. Tough but also heavy. The main triangle is double-butted. TIG-welded. ED Coated. Bombproof but this bike isn’t carbon fiber, aluminum, or titanium. It’ll end up being 22+ lbs.

Durability: the combination of 4130 CroMoly steel and DA22 Alex rims with 700cx28 Schwalbe Marathon Plus bike tires and a B17 Brooks saddle means this is one durable bike.

Strength: Very few moving parts. No derailleurs with lots of gears. No suspension, etc. Fewer points of failure.

Reliability: Every since I sorted out the quirks of the internal 3-speed hub, the bike’s been super reliable. All the marketing about the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires never going flat has been true over the last 7 years of ownership.

Curb Appeal: She came to me lacquered shiny black. So, if you like classic steel bikes, she’s a beauty. If you like full-suspended supermodern, then this is not the bike for you. Looks mildly old-timey, which is why I love it. I say that I took a flash track bike and made her into a 3-speed English School Bike/Dutch Bike over the course of 7-years — a conversion which will be complete when I add the dynamo and the on all the time lighting.

Security: There’s not much to steal as long as you secure the frame. Everything’s screwed down and bolted on. There’s no quick release anything. Use a U-lock or two every time and it’ll stay around at least 7 years (based on me).

Comfort: She’s a hard tail steel bike. She’ll beat you up if you let her. Stay light on the saddle or get a softer saddle or just learn to rider better. On a hard tail bike like this, your body is your suspension. I run my tires with a high PSI and I check the tires every time before I ride. So, I prefer the lower rolling-resistance to comfort. Maybe if I move from 28’s to 38 tires, then there will be a little more roll resistance but the bike will take the potholes a little better. I’ll let you know. I don’t need to stay below 28s any more because I have just given up on fenders with this bike.

User Review
5 (2 votes)

7 thoughts on “My 7-year love affair with a Surly Steamroller

  1. chris cook

    I put together my first single speed mountain bike back in 1990. I had a Murray Baja and it didn’t shift very well and I always had problems and I took it to budget bike asking if they could turn it into a single speed. They were able to do it and that’s thought to be one of the first ever

    1. Chris Abraham

      Well, there always have been track bikes, right? But I am sure yours was the first single speed MTB — that’s very cool. So, you replaced both derailleurs with a single front chainring and single sprocket in the rear? Very cool. Is there a photo anywhere? Thanks for dropping by, Chris.

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  4. Christopher

    Your saddle bag is made by Carradice bags of Nelson England. They make very simple yet bomb proof bags. It will probably out live your bike.

    1. Chris Abraham

      Thanks for letting me know. It is one of my prized possessions. One of my best mates gave it to me as a gift and I put it in there as permanently as I can. It is a perfect thing and, I daresay, it surely will outlive me.

  5. Jim Brunette

    10,000 miles on my Surly Ogre in just a few years, 6 mountain ranges, coast to coast and 4 provinces in Canada. She is a beast, absolutely tough, heavy, nut thats the price you pay for durability. I call her Fiona, not pretty, but tough as hell!


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