Unicorn bikes: bikes that do everything pretty well

Unicorn bikes: bikes that do everything pretty well

Last year our bike tour czar, Bill, started talking about building up a bike to use for touring, road riding, hard mountain biking, and rail trails.

He wanted one bike that would do everything well. I was convinced he would end up with a bike that didn’t do everything badly. Since it sounded like he was on the hunt for some mythical beast, I started calling his project the unicorn bike.

When he mentioned an internally geared rear hub, a generator front hub, full fenders, and racks, I was sure that the bike would turn out to be a fifty pound monster that was a drag on the road and too unwieldy to get through tight single track.

Then he finally put it together. I turned out to be wrong:

Surly Ogre bike in Ohiopyle

He used a Surly Ogre frame, which is a tweaked version of Surly’s staple 29er mountain bike, the Karate Monkey.

The Ogre is durable 4130 steel, has track ends so that it can be set up single speed or geared, and includes mounts for racks and fenders. The disc brake is mounted on the inside of the rear triangle so that it doesn’t get in the way of a rack.

Surly Ogre Alfine 11

Bill used a Shimano Alfine 11 internally geared hub, and the first time I rode it I was really impressed. The hub has a 409 percent range, which is about the same as a traditional 2×9 drive train. And it works great. Shifts are instant, and there’s no derailleur to get screwed up by mud, sticks, or trail grit.

The Shimano Alfine Generator hub uses magnets to make power, so it doesn’t add any drag.

Shimano Alfine Generator hub

It makes enough juice to run a headlight, rear flasher, and charge an iPhone or GPS (Bill hasn’t bought the USB charge port yet, but I think it’s on his list.)


The rest of the build is a nice mix of reliable parts. Raceface Turbine cranks, Thompson stem and bars, Formula RX brakes, Ergon grips, Stan’s Arch rims, and fast-rolling WTB Nano Raptor tires setup tubeless. And of course, the required finishing piece for any classy build, a Brooks saddle:

Colt bike saddle

After riding his bike around a few times, I was so impressed that I started thinking about building my own unicorn. I didn’t care about riding on pavement, and I wanted something that would ride well off-road all year. Which around here means that it had to be able to handle snow.

So I also got a Surly. With slightly bigger tires:Pugsley and Ogre

The Pugsley is Surly’s fat bike, and uses four inch wide tires. The huge tires are rad. I can easily ride through eight inches of fresh snow, and still roll quickly on hard surfaces.

I laced the wheel with an Alfine 8 hub, which has the about the range of a 1×9 drive train. Since I’m used to riding a single speed the hub feels like it has plenty of gears.

Alfine 8 Pugsley

Even though I’m not totally done with the build (I still want to get some fenders and rack-less luggage), I’ve been having a blast riding the thing, and I’m looking forward to doing some multi-day trips on it this summer. Pugsley and a train

So despite what I thought, it is possible to build up a bike works well in all situations. The keys are fast-rolling fat tires, space for racks or a frame bag, fender mounts, and an internally geared hub.

As a side note, the internally geared Alfine hub can be installed on any bike, and it would be a solid choice for a Pittsburgh to DC tour, especially if it rains. The grit on the GAP Trail and the mud on the C&O Canal can kill a derailleur pretty fast. If you’re interested in fitting one to your bike, give the shop a call at 1.800.272.4141, and we can get a package together for you.

posted by Montana