Bike test: Steel tourers

Sonder Santiago Rival 22 Grand Tourer and the Surly Disc Trucker
Today’s touring bikes combine traditional materials and styling with modern standards. Simon Withers tests a Sonder Santiago and a Surly Disc Trucker

There’s more than one way to build a drop-bar steel tourer, as our two test bikes demonstrate. While disc brakes are now almost ubiquitous, the lack of a touring-specific groupset means that drivetrains often differ. Tyre widths vary, too – and sometimes so do diameters: tourers are one bike type where the 26in wheel isn’t dead. 

The Surly Disc Trucker, which evolved from the now-discontinued Long Haul Trucker, comes with either 26in wheels (sizes 42-56cm) or 700C (sizes 56-64cm). Since the test bike is a 54 it has the smaller wheels, which are shod with super-wide rubber for comfort on tarmac and grip and control off road. Its triple chainset provides wide-range gearing, while its maximum load capacity is a massive 136kg (300lb). 

The Sonder Santiago has a 2×11 SRAM Rival drivetrain with a sub-compact double chainset (48-32). All frame sizes come with 700C wheels fitted with tyres in a narrower, more traditional touring bike width: 35mm. They’re tubeless ready, as are those of the Surly, and Sonder will set them up tubeless for an extra £44.99. Both bikes come with rear racks. The Sonder also gets bottle cages and SKS mudguards. 

Frame and fork 

It’s steel for both bikes, of course. Why wouldn't it be? The Surly Disc Trucker uses 4130 chrome-moly for its frame and fork, while the Sonder Santiago’s frame is made from Reynolds 631, which Reynolds says is 10 per cent stronger than its 531 predecessor. Both framesets are neatly TIG-welded and tidily finished, with the Surly having a rich powdercoated paint job. Cable routing is external, which may make for a slightly cable-heavy look but also makes DIY maintenance easier – a win for me. 

Since the framesets are steel, you have the added bonus that, if looked after, these two should last you a lifetime. Steel production also has much less of an environmental impact than titanium, aluminium or carbon and is far easier to recycle than those three materials, boosting both long-term value and the bikes’ eco credentials. 

As tourers, both bikes come with a wide array of fittings, with bottle and luggage bosses everywhere. Down tube and seat tube bosses are complemented by bosses under the down tube, while each has a fork festooned with fittings for racks, bottles or cargo cages for touring and bikepacking. Top tube ‘bento box’ bosses are the only absentee.

Sonder Santiago stood up on a grassy field
First look Sonder Santiago Rival 22 Grand Tourer: Quite sporty for a steel tourer. Well equipped for the price but needs lower gears
Surly Disc Trucker bike standing up on grassy field
First look Surly Disc Trucker: Bombproof tourer with wide-tyred 26in wheels and touring-ready gears. Fairly expensive


Touring kit can come in different forms, and there are as many similarities as there are differences with our pair. The Surly has 26in wheels, a triple chainset – the cycle-tourist's friend – and a drivetrain that mixes an FSA chainset with Shimano's 9-speed Sora and Alivio. 

The Sonder comes with 700C wheels, with a lower spoke count than the Surly’s, and an 11-speed SRAM Rival setup with an FSA sub-compact chainset. While Rival nominally sits above Sora and Alivio, my experience is that you'll still get a lot of mileage out of the more budget-oriented Shimano components. 

SRAM's Double Tap levers take a little getting used to after Shimano's STI but after a couple of rides they become second nature: you press the right inner lever to change down, and tap it to change up. Simple, effective and the shifting was crisp and accurate. But while the 11-speed cassette means there are few big gaps on the cassette, I'd have liked a significantly lower bottom gear than 32/32 (27in). A more compact 46-30 chainset and/or an 11-34 cassette would help. Wolf Tooth's nifty derailleur hanger extender would allow for an even bigger cassette. 

The Surly's 26t inner chainring pairs with a 34t sprocket for a much lower and more touring-friendly bottom gear. Old school, yes, but thanks to its 20-113in range it would be my choice for any extended tour or even a regular hilly commute. 

Braking on both bikes is by cable-actuated disc brakes from the Tektro/TRP empire. The Surly gets the higher-level TRP Spyre-C and the Sonder the more entry-level Tektro MD-C500. Both are dual-piston designs that work well. I think mechanical disc brakes are a good call for a tourer, possibly more than for any other bike. They lack the super-light, all-powerful action of hydraulics, but they are consistent in all weathers, and I'd be more confident fettling them far off the beaten track. And as with any disc brake, if you ding or dent your rim you can carry on riding, which is a huge and often overlooked touring benefit. After all, it could be a bit of a schlep to your next bike shop… 

Close up of Sonder bike rear disc
The Sonder's budget dual-piston cable disc brakes work fine
Close up of the Surly rear disc
The Surly's slightly pricier cable discs are also decent

Both bikes have good quality bar tapes and handlebars, though the bars are very different. The Surly already has a longer head tube – a mighty 205mm – but the steerer comes with 6cm of spacers and the riser bar adds another 25mm or so. The bar’s flare takes the drops out to 50cm from 44cm lever to lever. I found it offered excellent comfort and control. The Sonder’s bar flares out from 40cm across the levers to 46cm at the drops. 

I had no issues with the Surly's WTB saddle. While I know a lot of people swear by Brooks leather saddles, such as the B17 fitted to the Sonder, I don’t (although I do like Brooks's non-leather Cambium). If I were buying a Santiago, I'd probably pick the standard (non-Grand Tourer) model that costs £1,599, then add a Sonder saddle, guards, rack and cages. The Brooks saddle pushes up the price, as well as adding some weight. 

Both the Surly and Sonder racks felt rock solid with the Altura and Vaude panniers I used. Surly's adjustable chrome-moly rack has a mighty 36kg (80lb) capacity that I got nowhere near approaching. The Sonder's lighter aluminium rack has a more modest 18kg maximum load, which is more realistic these days for my legs and touring ambitions. 

Close up of the Sonder saddle
The Sonder's Brooks B17 saddle looks classy but will divide opinions as to comfort
Close up of Surly saddle
The Surly saddle is somewhat anatomic


The combination of touring geometry, steel frames and wide – or super-wide – tyres means that both bikes are very comfortable. The Surly's ride is a regal affair. I rode it in the position it arrived in, with its half dozen spacers, though you could easily lower it. But this position puts no stress on your lower back and your upright posture is great for traffic, where you can both see and be seen, and for enjoying the wide open spaces on those long, long days in the saddle. Its flared bar is a real boon in a lot of situations, offering that much more control over more challenging surfaces. I like the fact that while the drops are shallow they come back a long way towards you. 

The Sonder, though still very much a tourer, is a little livelier. That isn’t surprising considering its lower weight, narrower tyres and steeper head angle. Once the bike is loaded with panniers, of course, any weight difference becomes pretty much negligible. The Sonder has an absolutely lovely ride on the road, where the tyres have enough volume to soften so-so surfaces without stealing too much of your speed. A long wheelbase ensures stable handling at all times. The only thing I missed was a bottom gear as low as the Surly's 26/34, which I think a full-on tourer needs, both for carrying heavy loads and for climbing – and especially for both at the same time! 

The Surly's super-wide Extra Terrestrial tyres, which Surly describes as ‘heavy-duty off-road touring tyres’, are comfortable over even the roughest surfaces. I found they worked well over both smooth and rough surfaces, gripping on grit and light gravel and not feeling too sluggish on tarmac. For road commutes or touring entirely on surfaced roads, I'd go for slicker and slimmer 1.5in or 1.35in tyres, but I'd happily stick with these for the towpaths, tracks and poorly surfaced roads I do a lot of my riding on. 

The Surly is a little heavier than the Sonder but it was a decent, albeit sedate, climber. Its 20in bottom gear keeps you in the saddle and spinning where you'd be grunting and out of the saddle on the higher-geared Sonder. The brakes on both bikes performed well in all weathers, though they do require more effort on your part than hydraulics. 

One final point: while the Sonder is virtually silent when you're pedalling, start freewheeling and it's like you've unleashed a hive full of bees! It was loud enough to turn the heads of walkers on the Bristol and Bath Railway Path.


Both these bikes tick the usual touring boxes – long-distance comfort, rear racks, solid components – plus some less common ones, such as tubeless-ready tyres. Yet there are differences. 

The Sonder’s geometry makes it a little livelier to ride, but although its SRAM gears work very well, they’re too high for extended, loaded tours, especially a tour that takes in hilly or mountainous terrain. Despite costing a good deal less, it’s equipped better than the Surly, featuring mudguards and bottle cages. 

The Surly can’t match the Sonder for value but, out of the box, is the one I’d pick for heavily-loaded, expedition-type tours. It’s tough, practical and comes with a more suitable gear range.

Other options

Kona Sutta SE - £1,899

Kona sutra se 2023 bike

Chrome-moly tourer with abundant braze-ons, a 3×10 Shimano Deore drivetrain controlled by bar-end shifters, TRP Spyre brakes and 700×40C Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tyres.

Genesis Tour De Fer 10 - £1,499.99

Genesis tour de fer 10 bike

A chrome-moly tourer that’s equipped with essentials like mudguards and a rack but whose 3×9 Shimano Sora drivetrain has a too-high (30/32) bottom gear. Cable discs, 700×37C Marathon tyres.

First published in Cycle magazine, April/May 2024 issue. All information correct at time of publishing.

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Tech spec

Sonder Santiago Rival 22 Grand Tourer

Sonder Santiago Rival 22 Grand Tourer dimensions

Price: £1,799. 

Sizes: S, M (tested), L, XL. 

Weight: 12.8kg (28.2lb). 

Frame & fork: Reynolds 631 steel with thru-axle, rack and mudguard mounts, three pairs of bottle bosses. Straight steel fork with thru-axle, mudguard mounts and triple bosses. 

Wheels: 35-622 Goodyear County tubeless-ready tyres, Sonder Nova 700C rims, 28 14g spokes front and rear, Sonder front hub, Sonder Nova rear hub. 

Transmission: FSA Vero Pro 48-32 chainset, FSA MegaEvo bottom bracket, SRAM PC1170 chain, SRAM PG-1130 11-32 cassette. SRAM Rival 22 shifters and front and rear derailleurs. 22 ratios, 27-119in. 

Braking: SRAM Rival 22 levers, Tektro MD-C500 cable discs, 160mm rotors. 

Steering & seating: Grepp bar tape, 400×31.8mm Sonder Spitfire bar, 100mm Sonder Storc stem, FSA Orbit MX headset 1 1/8in. Brooks B17 Standard saddle, 27.2×400mm Sonder seatpost 

Equipment: 45mm SKS mudguards, Sonder Mool 18kg capacity rear rack, two bottle cages. 

Available from:

Surly Disc Trucker

Surly Disc Trucker dimensions

Price: £2,400. 

Sizes: 42, 46, 50, 52, 54 (tested), 56cm (26in wheels); 56, 58, 60, 62, 64cm (700C wheels). 

Weight: 14.1kg (31lb). 

Frame & fork: 4130 chrome-moly steel with open capture thru-axle, rack and mudguard mounts, three pairs of bottle bosses, spoke holder. 4130 chrome-moly steel lugged and brazed fork with open capture thru-axle, mudguard mounts and four bosses. 

Wheels: 46-559 Surly Extraterrestrial tubeless-ready tyres, Alex Adventurer 2 26in rims, Novatec 6-bolt disc hubs, 36 14g spokes. 

Transmission: FSA Alpha Drive 48-36-26 chainset, Shimano BB-RS500 bottom bracket, KMC X9 chain, Shimano Alivio 11-34 cassette. Shimano Sora levers, Shimano Sora front mech, Alivio rear mech. 27 rations, 20-113in. 

Braking: Shimano Sora levers, TRP Spyre C cable discs, 160mm rotors. 

Steering & seating: Black cork tape, Surly Truckstop bar, Promax stem, Cane Creek 40 1 1/8in headset. WTB Volt Sport saddle, 27.2×350mm Promax offset seatpost. 

Equipment: Surly rear rack, Surly kickstand plate, two spare spokes 

Available from: