Urban Velo

Surly Karate Monkey Review

surlykm1But I thought this was a track bike magazine? Nah, we ride it all—fixed gears and road bikes, geared wünder mountain bikes and cheap single speeds. Bikes, they’re cool. Surly wanted to send in the stock Karate Monkey with slick tires for ripping around town, and I was like, “Here’s the address.”

These days mountain bikes are not in fashion for city riding, even if in some ways they make a lot of sense. This was not always the case, at one time in a more renegade city riding age it was fairly common to see mountain bikes tackling potholed streets. The single speed, disc brake Karate Monkey with giant 29” x 2.35 Schwalbe Big Apple slick tires is an unorthodox choice as a city bike, and not really the best choice for long distance commutes, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more fun bike to shoot through alleyways and parks with on your way to hang out and ride some more. Riding the Karate Monkey throughout town took me back to when I first moved into the city during college and had a fleet of mountain bikes quite different than my current selection. I regularly rode my pre-Surly 1×1 Rat Ride single speed to campus, hopping curbs, hitting staircases, navigating forgotten alleys and small bits of greenspace devoid of cars. The Karate Monkey has taken me right back, and I’ve found myself finding different ways to ride the neighborhood I’ve called home for almost ten years.

This is undoubtedly a mountain bike, meant for trails first with time proven geometry giving it a predictable ride as responsive as it needs to be, “like a bike” as they say. The Karate Monkey is perhaps the very first production 29er and it remains much the same as it did when introduced, with a few refinements along the way. The frame is now disc only with a slightly lighter weight tapered fork for a better ride, but retains the 4130 chromoly tubeset, curved seattube to shorten the wheelbase and versatile track ends with a derailleur hanger. The complete bike comes single speed as shown, but it has the appropriate braze ons for a geared drivetrain along with fender/rack eyelets front and rear. Track ends with disc brakes can be a hassle when it comes to changing a flat and require the disc caliper position to be readjusted for different gear combinations but there is something to be said for the simplicity of the Karate Monkey. As mountain bikes go it’s versatile and uses as “standard” components as it gets—there are many examples of people getting into backcountry trouble or tackling the daily commuter grind with a Karate Monkey build.

The parts selection on the complete bike isn’t particularly fancy, more a durable, serviceable group with an MSRP of $1225. The 660 mm wide, 17º bars are comfortable all day and for getting rad, and the spec’d Avid BB7 brakes are still my favorite disc brakes on the market all things considered. It comes geared at 33 x 17, too tall in the woods around here in my opinion, and too low for the street—not a big deal, freewheels are cheap to swap out for your riding style. The size large as tested weighs in at 26.5 lbs.

Large volume slick tires roll remarkably fast on pavement and hook up in everything but mud, at least for me they bring about a different way of getting around less concerned with speed and more so with just riding. The destination will still be there whenever I finally get there, inevitably with a splash of mud and stupid grin. If speed is of the essence or your favorite bike accessory is your scale, a Surly is probably not for you. As a primary commuter there are better choices, as a second bike for your mountain and back alley ripping around needs this is a damned fun choice.



  1. James SApril 2, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    Very strange that no mention is made of the Ogre in this review given that the Ogre is the Karate Monkey’s twin sister and is more commuter friendly (easier to attach racks to, for instance).

  2. danApril 2, 2013 at 9:26 pm

    A campsvone green karate monkey has been my commuter of choice for years upon years. Its comfy and more than happy to take the rougher ride home when tempted.

  3. Andy G.April 3, 2013 at 9:48 am

    Very nice no non-sense bike. Rigid MTBs like this are very good for cities like Rome, where I live, with its potholed streets. I run a rigid fork 29″ MTB with Big Apple tyres too and find it great fun and utility. My one is geared, you know, I live in the City of the Seven Hills.

  4. Ham-planetApril 12, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    You say you ride all kinds of bikes, yet the BB7 is your favourite disc brake? Something doesn’t add up here.

  5. MarkDecember 29, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    I am living in Bangkok and have finished my KM last week. What I missed was that my hubs are coming with quick release spanners and the problem is that quick release of rear hub cannot stand the kick on pedals. It slips forward.

    I have to decide whether I shall use surly’s tuggnut or dartmoor’s lite in order to keep rear hub from slipping.
    My concern for dartmoor’s lite is that it will not fit into outer rim of the dropout.

    Any comment, please?

  6. Dominikus BWJanuary 3, 2014 at 7:31 am

    hi Mark, get shimano quick release and down it hard, my rear hun KM never slip with shimano quick release, they very strong

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