About an hour’s ride from Adventure Cycling’s headquarters in Missoula, Montana, there’s a little campsite along Rattlesnake Creek. It’s called Poe Meadow, and it’s easy to miss. There’s no picnic table, no bathroom, and no tent sites. There are, however, a couple of makeshift fire rings and a bear hang.
It’s a great spot for bike and gear testing because, in addition to its proximity to town, the route includes pavement, dirt road, doubletrack, and a little bit of singletrack if you go the fun way. And I always go the fun way.
You can get to Poe on just about any kind of bike: a touring bike, a mountain bike, a gravel bike. Heck, you could probably get there on a beach cruiser. But some bikes are a little better for a Poe Meadow overnight than others.
The Surly Bridge Club debuted a few years ago as an affordable, do-anything all-road touring bike with mechanical disc brakes, a 2x drivetrain, and room for big tires. Now it’s been updated with hydraulic discs, a 1x drivetrain, and two versions to suit your all-road needs: the “off-road” build you see here with a flat bar, 27.5in. wheels, and knobby tires; and the “pavement” build with Surly’s big-sweep Terminal bar, 700c wheels, and faster-rolling rubber.
But what is the Bridge Club, exactly? An off-road, all-road touring bike? A casual mountain bike that can take on some light-duty bikepacking? A commuter, if your commute involves rough dirt roads and a bit of singletrack? In many ways, it’s the ultimate Surly: a blank canvas on two wheels, awaiting your oils. And if you tend to paint en plein air, perhaps in the dirt, near a campfire, all the better.
With a steel frame, a non-suspension–corrected fork, and a longish stem, the Bridge Club rides a bit like an old mountain bike — quick steering and tight, predictable handling. If you miss your old 1993 Stumpjumper (as I do mine), you’ll like the Bridge Club. But it’s 2019 (soon to be 2020), so this Surly has a skosh of modernity in its geometry, namely in the form a nice, long reach and a longish wheelbase, which makes for a stable ride while loaded.
Like any good Surly, the Bridge Club is ready and willing to carry your stuff. Racks and panniers? Yup, it’s got rack mounts front and rear. Bikepacking-style soft bags? Sure thing, the fork even has triple mounts for Salsa Anything cages. And you can mix and match to your heart’s content, as I did pairing a Wald 1392 basket mounted on a Surly 8-Pack Rack up front with a Revelate Terrapin seatbag out back. The basket-and-bag combo turned the Bridge Club into the ultimate Poe Meadow bike, ready for quick-and-dirty packing with plenty of easily accessible space for snacks and beverages.
I also made good use of the Bridge Club as an everyday commuter and grocery-getter, and in both roles the bike was an absolute pleasure. The 27.5 x 2.4in. WTB Riddler tires felt a little slow on pavement, which was fine because the Bridge Club is not an especially speedy bike to begin with. But even with that big Wald basket filled to the brim with groceries — or firewood, or camping gear — the bike’s handling remained neutral.
The Bridge Club was also surprisingly adept on a mostly singletrack overnight — one of my local favorites with a steep climb to the campsite on a saddle, followed by a fun, twisty descent back to town. With most of the weight packed into the basket up front, I was a little worried that the Surly would feel lethargic or tippy in the corners, but, happily, I was wrong. The front weight bias made for tons of traction.
But the Bridge Club felt most at home on dirt roads, pedaling casually and enjoying the scenery. After spending a week on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route this summer on my personal bike, I’d bet all the money in my wallet that the Bridge Club would make a fine Divide rig for those who aren’t trying to break records.
With a 32T chainring, the Bridge Club is geared for loaded climbing. Don’t believe me? Look at that gear chart: a low of 17.8 gear inches. That’s your stump-pulling gear right there. And if you want something even lower, it’s as easy as swapping the chainring. SRAM’s SX Eagle may be the most affordable of all the Eagles, but its shift quality is nearly up there with the shinier versions, and it still offers a huge gear range of 454 percent.
Given a choice in brakes, I’ll almost always go for hydraulics. This was my first experience with Tektro’s new M275 hydros. The pads took a little while to bed in, but once they did, they were plenty powerful for the application. I’ve spent some time on Shimano and SRAM’s budget stoppers, and I think the Tektros have them beat.
I wouldn’t expect to see fancy wheels on a bike in this income bracket, and indeed the Novatec hubs laced to WTB rims are of the serviceable, if a tad heavy, variety. But the rims are wide (29mm internal) and tubeless ready. The tires, however, are not tubeless ready. (My test bike arrived set up tubeless anyway, and I had a heck of a time keeping air in the tires. If you want to go tubeless, my recommendation is to wear out the stock tires, then have your local shop set you up with appropriate rubber.)
With a WTB Volt saddle, Promax stem and seatpost, and a comfy Salsa Bend handlebar, the Bridge Club is ready to go out the door. I would recommend swapping out the stock grips, though. They’re not too bad unless they get wet, in which case they’re slicker than snot. I threw on a pair of trusty Ergon GA2 grips and went about my business.
The best thing about the Bridge Club was that, while sitting by the campfire at Poe Meadow, I didn’t think about the bike at all. I hadn’t thought about it on the way to Poe, and I wouldn’t think about it the next morning on the descent back to town for a breakfast burrito. You can devote a lot of mental real estate to thinking about this bike or that bike, these parts or those parts, but sometimes what you really want is a bike you don’t think about at all.
Complain all you want about shelling out $1,200 for a “budget” bike, but the fact is budget bikes are getting better all the time. Considering the Bridge Club’s capability and versatility, I’d call $1,200 a fair price. There’s so much choice these days that it’s easy to get caught up. The Surly Bridge Club is a great little bike. Don’t overthink it.
Sizes available: XS, S, M, L, XL
Size tested: L
Weight: 29.3 lbs. (tubeless, without pedals)
Head tube length: 145mm
Head tube angle: 71°
Seat tube length: 508mm (center to top)
Seat tube angle: 73°
Top tube: 615mm (effective)
Bottom bracket drop: 60mm
Fork Offset: 43mm
Standover height: 812mm
Frame: 4130 chromoly steel, three bottle mounts, rack and fender mounts
Fork: 4130 chromoly steel, rack and fender mounts, triple mounts
Handlebar: Salsa Bend, 710mm
Stem: Promax, 90mm
Brake levers: Tektro HD-M275
Shifter: SRAM SX Eagle
Rear Derailer: SRAM SX Eagle
Brakes: Tektro HD-M275, hydraulic disc
Rotors: Tektro, 160mm
Crankset: SRAM SX Eagle, 32T, 175mm
Cassette: SRAM SX Eagle, 12spd, 11–50T
Chain: SRAM SX Eagle
Bottom bracket: SRAM Power Spline, threaded
Seatpost: Promax, 27.2mm
Saddle: WTB Volt Sport
Headset: Cane Creek 40
Hubs: Novatec, 135 x 10mm rear, 100 x 10mm front, QR
Rims: WTB STPi29 TCS, 32h, tubeless ready
Tires: WTB Riddler, 27.5 x 2.4in.