Review: 2021 Surly Ice Cream Truck

This review is a long time coming, but now that I have over 100 miles on the bike I feel like I can share my thoughts. I acquired my Ice Cream Truck in January 2021, late one evening when my local bike shop suddenly put two online in their store. These bikes had been delayed for a long time, and their production run was very small. I estimate that I managed to nab one of less than a dozen in the entire state of Minnesota (Surly’s home state).

Observant readers will notice that this is my second fat bike purchase this year. I had originally wanted to wait and see what the new Ice Cream Truck would look like, but with how delayed they were I had to make a choice to pick up a different bike at the beginning of the season (or risk losing months of riding). In retrospect this was absolutely the correct call. I got to ride for the first half of winter on a solid bike (Salsa Mukluk), and then mid-season a friend got to buy it off me when there weren’t any fat bikes to be found anywhere for sale.

What drew me to the Ice Cream Truck to begin with? I had test rode the 2020 (Pink) version and really liked the steel frame, the exciting geometry, and especially the killer Shimano SLX drivetrain. I just wasn’t very fond of pink, and since I knew Surly changed colors every year, I figured I might as well wait. Then the pandemic hit and bikes became more popular than bike jersey pockets that can fit full crowlers of beer. However, with some patience, I managed to score my prize, a size small Surly Ice Cream Truck in the new Buttermint Green color. Oh, and I’ve named her ‘Minty’.

What do I like?

First off, even though many people will claim you can’t feel it on a fat bike, I love the feel of steel bikes. There’s something about the responsiveness that resonates with me. When I first rode my steel Salsa Vaya, I knew it was the frame material for me. Do I notice it as much in the winter, on snow? Probably not, but in my head I feel a difference. Now that we’ve had some snow melt, and I’m riding on bare ground, I certainly can tell a difference, and am happy with that steel-feel.

The geometry of the Ice Cream Truck is playful and fun. It rides a bit like a downhill bike, and even on easy terrain that gives it a bright and poppy feeling. The head tube is a little bit slack, giving it a really stable feel when descending or hitting rough stuff quickly. The chainstays are 440mm which also lends to a more stable feeling to the ride. Plus, it gives a lot of room on the bike for just about every attachment point you can wish for (except a top-tube bag).

The component spec on the bike is in the higher end of the mid-range, which fits great with my budget. Tektro 520 hydraulic brakes, 4.8” Surly Bud and Lou tires on My Other Brother Daryl wheels, all are solid choices for a bike of this type. But what really sold me on this bike was the Shimano SLX 12-speed drivetrain.

This ultra-wide-range groupset pairs a 30t chainring on the front with an impressive 10-51t cassette on the rear. The SLX derailleur provides smooth shifting between each gear, even when under load. I’ve never had an issue with shifting in any condition. It’s smooth, reliable, and responsive, which is a huge benefit in rougher conditions than just commuting around town. Even though it costs more than other drivetrains, it’s well worth the money. And yes, I know a lot of people love SRAM Eagle, but I’ve never been a fan of SRAM shifters, so SLX is right up my alley.

What don’t I like?

Honestly, there’s very little for me to complain about on this bike. One issue is that both Surly and Salsa bikes are sized exactly wrong for someone 5’8”. On all of their size charts I’m on the edge between small and medium. When I first tried out the Mukluk in a medium it was apparent that it was just too big, and so when the Surly went for sale I didn’t even bother. I went right to the size small. However, the Ice Cream Truck does have a shorter reach than the Mukluk, so I did invest in a 70mm stem to extend that out a bit. It’s not really a design flaw of the bike, just a reality of my height and their sizing.

My only other complaint is that for some reason many Surly bikes this winter are shipping with heavy grease in the hubs. Almost right away when I got the bike I started having engagement issues. I brought it back to the shop and sure enough they had to strip out all the heavy grease and go with something lighter and more resistant to the cold weather we have here. In a normal production year I’d ding Surly on this, but I’ll give them a pass (slightly) for not thinking through where their fat bikes are most commonly used, especially when you’re releasing them in January.

So far all the other components have been solid, which is to be expected after just over a 100 miles. Time will tell if they’re durable enough to stand the test of time, but for now, everything is working as expected.

Oh, and of course, steel framed fat bikes are a bit on the heavier side, but I’m not planning on winning Iditarod on this thing.

Conclusion

A couple of final thoughts. First, it’s important to understand that the Ice Cream Truck rides differently than many other fat bikes like the Mukluk or even the Trek Farley. The bottom bracket height, stack, and reach, make for a different feeling ride. More playful and energetic, and less laid back. This is a good thing and a bad thing, depending on where you’re riding. Since I do a mix of just about everything, I opt’d for the more playful feel. However, if you’re only ever going to ride this bike long distances on straight, snowy, terrain, you might want to give it a test ride first and see if it’s what you want.

I’m happy with my choice to go with the Ice Cream Truck over the Mukluk, although I can’t deny that both bikes are really solid. They have different feels and different strengths and weaknesses, but they’re both good bikes. Given the steel frame and upgraded components I felt the Surly was the better choice for me.

I’m looking forward to many more years of riding and tons of adventures with my new pal Minty!

Jamison

Beer, running, and geeky things.

2 thoughts on “Review: 2021 Surly Ice Cream Truck

  1. Hi, Jamison,

    I happened upon your blog in searching for a Mukluk Deore 11, and I am so glad I did! Your writing is so refreshing and easy-going, and tells a great story. I am looking for my first Fat Bike, and your reflections on your bikes are helpful. I am late to the market, and cannot find a Mukluk anywhere. I love the geometry. I am just shorter than you at 5’7″, and the shorter chainstays with the weight more over the back wheel is where I like to ride. I was going to let you know if you ever want to sell your Mukluk, I would buy it right away, but you sold it to your friend. Well, the offer still stands! Maybe he wants an Ice Cream Truck now, too! Take care, and enjoy many moons of riding 🙂

    1. If you’re 5’7 then a small of either the Mukluk or ICT would fit perfectly. I would keep an eye out on places like Facebook Marketplace to see if people are selling ones, even from a year or two ago. They’re both great bikes!

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