Salsa and Surly have been leaders in the world of bikepacking and off-road touring, long before the days of big box brands jumping on the bandwagon. Salsa has embraced the ethos “Adventure by Bike” since 2007, while Surly has made deep backcountry travel possible with the introduction of big wheels. Last weekend at QBP’s Saddledrive, Salsa released two new frames along with some exciting updates, and Surly has given a complete overhaul to the original twenty-niner, the Karate Monkey.

Salsa WoodsmokeSaddle Drive--16

The Salsa Woodsmoke is a carbon fiber, short chain stay, big tired trail wrecking machine. The Woodsmoke is able to take 29 plus tires, 27.5 plus tires, or standard 29er tires. Salsa made this possible with an update to their Alternator dropouts, aptly named the Alternator 2. As opposed to the original Alternator the swinging mechanism is now separate from the frame and bolts into the frame; this helps reduce stress points on the carbon, instead putting the stress points on the replaceable dropout. These replaceable dropouts also allow the rear spacing to change from Boost 148mm, to 142mm, all the way down to the old standard 135mm. The replaceable dropouts also make the frame rack capable. The elevated chainstay helped Salsa shrink the chainstays down to 400mm on a 27.5 plus or 409mm with 29 plus tires. Up front the Woodsmoke can take up to a 140mm suspension fork, but was designed to also work with Salsa’s rigid Firestarter fork. One of the surprising inclusions that makes the bike especially unique for bikepacking use, is the hidden front derailleur mounts behind the down tube allowing for wider gearing options for those steep bikepacking trips (29+ and 2x are still not compatible).

A bike with such massive tires used to mean compromises in maneuverability for the sake of rollover, not the Woodsmoke. The 29 plus tires sucked up trail chunk but the bike was still huckable around tight bends. With the 140mm slacked out demo bike, there was an expectation of some front end lift on the climb, but with a bike of that nature, it was surprisingly not there. While it was not the most capable climber of the day, the fact that you can narrow in the bikes purpose with different fork, gearing, and tire combinations means that this bike could be built to be a killer climbing bike for Tour Divide roads or a singletrack slayer for the Arizona Trail chunk. All these options make the Woodsmoke the quiver killing mountain bike you’ve been looking for. The Woodsmoke will come in 5 options this December, from 29 plus and 27.5 plus models in XO1 at $3,999 or these same models in a GX1 build at $2,999. The final option will be a traditional 29er rig at $1,999.

The Salsa TimberjackSaddle Drive-

The Salsa Timberjack could be considered the Woodsmoke’s aluminum little brother. The Timberjack features the original Alternator dropout, giving it some of the same flexibility as the Woodsmoke. The Timberjack can take between 27.5 plus tires or regular 29er tires and axles between 135mm to 142 and 148 mm. It is rack capable and has the option for up to a 130mm suspension fork. While closer in style to the Woodsmoke in its hardtail design, the Timberjack’s geometry is more based off the full-suspension Spearfish. The more neutral riding felt natural on trails, while this may not give it the same lively feeling as the Woodsmoke, it was certainly easy to get the bike to where it needs to go. This bike may not be the most exciting of the releases this year at Saddledrive, but it’s value is incredible with a $1,399 sticker price. The bike did not feel like a budget conscious introductory model. The trickledown ingenuity in this bike and the low sticker price make this a great bike for anyone curious about the world of bikepacking, but a little intimidated by the high prices of plus sized hardtails.

Salsa MuklukSaddle Drive--3

Since the Mukluk’s conception in 2010 the market has been flooded with aluminum fatbikes. This year Salsa has not only updated the frame material, but has also given the bike some geometry tweaks that could make this a fun bike from winter to summer. Salsa was the first to offer a carbon fatbike in the Salsa Beargrease, but unlike the Beargrease the carbon layup has been modified to maximize comfort on long days as opposed to gaining every inch to squeak out the win in winter racing. The Mukluk features the same updated Alternator dropouts, giving it the ability to be a surefooted snow tourer to a nimble 432mm trail fatbike. Riddled with eyelets for plenty of water and the ability to take a rear rack, the Mukluk has great potential for an all year round go anywhere backcountry explorer. While it doesn’t dart up the hill like it’s more stable brother the Beargrease, it is most certainly an enjoyable downhill ride. The short geometries make you forget the size of tires you’re on, that is until you barrel into that rock garden and the tires just suck up your mistakes. This bike is a blast to ride. The carbon models range from $4,499 with X01 and a suspension fork to a rigid GX1 build at $2,699. Salsa has also not given up the aluminum models with a $2,499 suspension build and a $1,799 rigid build.Saddle Drive--2

Salsa EXP bikepacking bags

Saddle Drive--9To accommodate their line of bikepacking bikes this year, Salsa is also releasing their own line of bikepacking bags. The series will feature a traditional seatpack, a top tube bag, a front harness system, and frame bags measured to fit their frames specifically. Salsa has gone all in with their bag systems integrating M5 bolts on the top tube of their bikepacking specific bikes for their in-house top tube bags. This helps eliminate sway of the top tube bag, as well as giving the bike a neater aesthetic. The top tube bag will also have a removable strap for any bike that doesn’t have top tube boss mounts. The handlebar bag differentiates itself from the rest with struts that push the bag off the front of the handlebars to avoid conflict with brake levers and shifters. The bags will start shipping late Fall.  

Surly Karate Monkey Saddle Drive--10Saddle Drive-29

The Karate Monkey hasn’t seen any major geometry updates since it’s conception. In those years Surly released the Krampus, reinventing how fun a hardtail can ride. The Karate Monkey has taken those same geometry ideals and applied them to their tried and true 29er mountain bike. The biggest update about the original production 29er though, is that it’s not just a 29er anymore. The Karate Monkey will now be a 27.5 plus bike. In order to accommodate wider rims the Karate Monkey will feature flexible rear spacing as well using what Surly is calling Gnot Boost. A 145mm frame spacing, the Surly chromoly is able to stretch out to 148 Boost or compress down to 142mm, similar to the 132.5 spacing on the Cross Check that has worked for years. With a nut adapter the bike can also run 135mm hubs. Using other smart tech from other frames, the new Monkey will have vertical wheel removable similar to the Wednesday.Saddle Drive--11 The slacker headtube can take up to a 140mm fork, but even rigid the slack front and short rear makes the bike very snappy. The Karate Monkey ships with the 3 inch Dirt Wizard that grips just about everything. The Dirt Wizard’s do come at a weight penalty, which makes the 29er version an intriguing option, whereas the 27.5 plus option you might just charge over that boulder, the 29er gives you the option to hop it or quickly pop around it. With Salsa phasing out some of their popular steel frames the new Karate Monkey is a great option for anyone wanting a steel hardtail. The 27.5 plus geared bike will sell for $1,425 or a 29er singlespeed for $999.

Surly TrollSaddle Drive--12

The Troll is Surly’s around the world all-road tourer. This year Surly has updated the frame by losing the suspension correction for more frame bag spacing and more tire clearance. The Troll’s 2.5” Surly Extraterrestrial tires grip low knobs grip gravel and dusty roads really well. Unlike most other bikes at Saddledrive, the Troll’s long low build made it by and large the most comfortable bike of the day, it’s a bike you would not be afraid to pedal all day on. While Surly would tell you this bike is an off-road touring bike, it was still plenty capable on the rocky swoopy singletrack at Lake Tahoe. Surly has also worked with Alex to bring back the Adventurer rims for the wide tires while still having a rim track for the canti-boss mounts that are still featured for those bike shops in rural Bolivia that haven’t quite gotten disc brakes yet. The Troll will sell for $1,649.


  1. Awesome article, I really enjoyed reading this. Super helpful!

  2. Why no Teravail tires?

    • Neil Beltchenko
      Neil Beltchenko

      Apparently they should be available soon, but we’re not ready yet. Stay tuned, we will report on them as soon as we have info.

  3. Can the Karate Monkey 29er handle the 27.5+ wheels or are they 2 separate frames?

  4. Does the new Troll have the same ‘in the bike’ feel as the ECR? I think I want to build one as an all road bike, if it does… I miss that feeling so much since selling my ECR. I’ve found I’m not a fan of the perched on top feeling so many bikes have.

    • Patrick Dowd

      Hey Josh,

      It definitely feels like you’re “in the bike” it’s very comfortable. I’ve never ridden the ECR but they have similar geometrys in terms of long wheelbase. The bike was very much designed to be an all road loaded touring bike.

    • Kurt Schneider

      I had a chance to ride the new Troll at our demo over the weekend. (Rode my ECR to the event.) That Troll is a fine riding bike. I’ve had the Extra Terrestrials on the Big Dummy, and they make for a great off-road tire. They also set up tubeless on a wider rim very easily. As soon as they’re in stock…I’m building one up.

  5. Is the drop out on the troll really rusting on the demo bike or am I seeing grit left over from the ride?

  6. Neil just a FYI that many of the images in this article do not show up. I tried refreshing my page and tried both Firefox and IE.

  7. The Troll looks quite useful…

  8. When does the KM frame set go on sale?

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