Half the fun of building a bike — and I would argue of riding any sort of multi-purpose (i.e., Surly) bike generally — is fiddle-fucking with it. That is, changing the bits and pieces to suit the weather, your mood, whim or fancy… or basically any time you’re feeling good about what you’ve got, but maybe a little bored with it, and want to try something different.

So, enter the Straggler, “9-speed Winter Mode:”

Surly Straggler: Winter Mode

I may or may not have mentioned the dummy downtube shifter I “borrowed” off my fiancée’s bike when I put a pair of friend-donated brifters on there when I flipped it from a 6- to 8-speed in the original Surly build post, but anyway, I’ve found a use for them.

But why not single speed?

Yes, I had originally planned that. But then I was “gifted” a takeoff Sora derailleur, 9-speed cassettes are cheap, I was buying 10-speed chains anyway for the fat bike (you’re supposed to use a 10-speed chain on a 1x9 system for retention, according to Wolf Tooth, which is probably bullshit, but)… and there’s hills at the end of my commute and I thought it might be nice to shift around a little bit.

Thus, a 9-speed. 40x11-32. Flipped the stem to bring the bars up for winter control and also I’m a little flexible now that I’m riding ~50 miles a week as opposed to ~100 and generally exercising less (for the time being). Downtube friction shifting. Swapped the right Rival 11-speed shifter for a (frustratingly not quite matching my left Rival brake lever) Sram 500-series right brake lever (I may or may not get the left one eventually… just for completeness’ sake, or for if I ever want to build up a drop bar something else or something). New bar tape, because the Brook stuff, which I fucking loved, didn’t re-wrap so well. The blue is kind of wrong in a lot of ways but also in some ways so, so right.

Still doing the GravelKing SK 700x35c tires (one is not tubeless anymore because I got a flat on a ride and just wanted to get home, and then haven’t bothered to re-seal it since), but I may change that for something else if we end up getting a lot of snow this winter. (We haven’t gotten hardly anything yet.)

I may, in the end, do a single speed set up with this guy (I’m thinking a single-speed flat bar pseudo-MTB kind of thing for the early summer, maybe, depending on some other things), but I had all the parts to go 9-speed, and I was feeling kind of broke/cheap when I had the opportunity to get the necessary bits to make it a single speed. Such is life. Maybe if winter becomes super-super awful and the salt chews through everything in my life, it’ll make financial sense to make it a single. We’ll see.

Obviously, the point is fiddle-fucking.

So, how is it?

Pretty fun, actually. I kind of missed the downtube shifters I originally had on the Schwinn. Friction shifting is new to me, but reasonably easy to pick up, even if I’m still not super great at it (I find myself ghost-shifting in the middle sometimes, which may very well be due to the chain, but also the cable tension, since it seems to be a derailleur thing, too). Most of the time, that’s not an issue — really just when I’m starting and stopping a lot, changing speeds often, fiddle fucking around downtown in traffic when I shouldn’t be (i.e., flyering bikes for work).

Boston is “wicked flat,” and even to get up the hills to get back home in the semi-‘burbs where I live, it’s not so bad. Definitely don’t need more gears, or a wider ranger. (My friend Jim in the back of my mind: “You don’t need more gears, you need less gears” [He’s a cranky old messenger mechanic, if that wasn’t clear].)

I’m not sure that the 9-speed is actually going to save me any money (so far, it’s just cost me money), but it will, in theory, help my much-more-expensive Rival 1 derailleur and shifter last longer. So that’s good. And I needed a new chain anyway, and 10-speed chains are a lot cheaper than 11.

The really fun part, though, is riding the fucking thing. Especially with friends. Especially when there’s beer involved.