Searching for a trusty steed to whisk you away on the long-distance bike tour of your dreams? The Salsa Marrakesh and Surly Disc Trucker are two very competitive options and both are completely qualified for the job.
Having ridden thousands of miles on both a Surly (the Disc Trucker’s now-discontinued sibling the Long Haul Trucker) and a Salsa (the bikepacking-focused Fargo), I have a soft spot for both these brands and am very familiar with their approaches to long-distance bikes. In this comparison I’ll go through the specs of the Disc Trucker and Marrakesh side-by-side to tease out their differences and help you choose between them.
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Disc Trucker Overview
The Disc Trucker is the more modern disc brake sibling to the famous Long Haul Trucker, and long-distance road touring is its reason for living. It’s the kind of bike you buy right before quitting your job and putting all your belongings in storage. Or perhaps, for those of us who can’t quite manage such a major commitment, it’s the kind of bike we tour on for a few weeks or months, and then ride to the grocery store and back while pretending we’re on an around-the-world bike tour.
From Surly: “The Disc Trucker is a pure-bred drop bar touring bike suitable for traveling anywhere in the world on mostly paved roads.”
Drivetrain: 3×9 (Shimano Sora / Alivio)
Wheel size: 700c or 26″ depending on frame size
Brakes: mechanical disc (TRP Spyre-C)
Handlebars: drop bar with rise (Surly Truck Stop)
For complete specs see Surly’s website
Salsa Marrakesh Overview
The Marrakesh, first launched in 2016, is Salsa’s dedicated road touring bike. Like the Trucker it’s a bike you take on “The Big One” if you can, or a bunch of small ones in the meantime. Lots of attention has gone into making this a bike you can feel confident riding anywhere in the world.
From Salsa: “Marrakesh is our ready-for-everything drop-bar touring bike. Its durable steel frame, stability under heavy loads, upright drop bar bike geometry, and thoughtful touring features make it a comfortable, capable long-hauler.”
Drivetrain: 3×9 (Shimano Alivio)
Wheel size: 700c
Brakes: mechanical disc (TRP Spyre-C)
Handlebars: drop bar (Salsa Cowchipper)
For complete specs see the Salsa website
In the vast world of bikes, the Surly Disc Trucker and Salsa Marrakesh are close cousins designed for the same niche of long-distance bicycle touring. As such, they have quite a bit in common:
- Chromoly steel frame and fork
- 700c wheel size (for larger sizes of Trucker and all sizes of Marrakesh)
- Drop handlebars
- Touring tires of similar width
- 3×9 drivetrain with similar gear range
- Identical price point
- Designed to be sturdy and reliable for long-haul rides
- Bottle cage and rack mounts in the same places
- Same collection of touring-focused extra mounts: fender, spare spoke, kickstand, downtube shifters
Despite all those commonalities however, these bikes offer different pros and cons that will appeal to different riders. Read on as I tease out the differences between them.
The lengths and angles of a bike’s tubes determine how it feels and handles on different types of terrain. Both the Disc Trucker and Marrakesh are designed primarily for pavement and a bit of gravel. As touring bikes they aim for a comfortable all-day posture that’s reasonably upright, and stable handling even with a heavy load.
Here’s an overlay from bikeinsights.com showing how they compare:
As you might expect from two touring bikes, their geometries have more in common than not. At the risk of oversimplifying, the Marrakesh edges a tiny bit closer to gravel bike geometry with its slacker head tube angle (70.75 degrees versus the Trucker’s 72 on medium sizes) and 13mm longer front-center. To be fair, the compared frame sizes are slightly different because Salsa doesn’t have a 56cm size, so that last number might not be meaningful.
Overall I would expect both these bikes to handle confidently on pavement and well-maintained gravel. The Marrakesh might feel just a hair more confident on steeper and rougher descents, but it’s hard to tell from this simplified view. The best way to understand if the geometry differences are important to you is to test ride both, if possible.
Surly offers the Disc Trucker in an especially wide range of sizes, and if you’re on the shortest or tallest end of the spectrum you’ll want to know how they compare to the Marrakesh.
The smallest Disc Trucker is a 42cm frame with 26″ wheels, while the smallest Marrakesh is a 50cm frame with 700c (29″) wheels. As you can see in the overlay below, the smallest Marrakesh is a bit longer and taller than the smallest Trucker. But thanks to the increased top tube slope on the smaller sizes of Marrakesh (to compensate for not switching to smaller wheels like the Disc Trucker), the standover on the Marrakesh is actually a bit shorter.
If you’re a small cyclist, these two bikes offer fairly substantial differences in fit and geometry. You’ll probably need to look at your specific measurements and their geometry charts, and ideally test ride your top choice if you can find it in stock.
If you’re very tall the choice is clear: the largest Disc Trucker is considerably larger than the largest Marrakesh:
Side by Side Comparison Table
|Surly Disc Trucker (latest model: 2022)||Salsa Marrakesh Alivio (latest model: 2021)|
|Full spec||Surly website||Salsa website|
|Frame material||double-butted chromoly steel||triple-butted chromoly steel|
|Fork material||double-butted chromoly steel||chromoly steel|
|Wheel size||700c (frame sizes 56 – 64cm)|
26″ (frame sizes 42 – 56 cm)
|700c / 29″|
|Tire clearance||700c x 47mm|
26 x 2.1″
(with or without fenders)
|700c x 40mm tires with fenders |
29 x 2.0″ tires without fenders
700c x 41 mm
26 x 46 mm
|Teravail Rampart 700c x 42 mm, Durable, Tubeless-Ready|
|Rims||Alex Adventurer 2 (tubeless ready)||WTB ST i19 TCS 2.0 (tubeless ready)|
|Handlebars||Surly Truckstop (drop bar with rise)||Salsa Cowchipper (drop bar with generous flare)|
|Brakes||Mechanical disc: TRP Spyre C, 160mm rotors||Mechanical disc: TRP Spyre C, 160mm rotors|
Cassette: 9-speed 11-34t
Cassette: 9-speed, 11-36t
|Groupset||Shimano Sora / Alivio||Shimano Alivio|
|Other Extras||none||Salsa Down Under Front Rack, Salsa Alternator 135 Low-Deck Rear Rack|
|Drivetrain compatibility||1x, 2x, 3x, singlespeed with chain tensioner||1x, 2x, 3x, singlespeed without chain tensioner, Rohloff hub|
|Extra Mounts||fender, spare spoke, kickstand, downtube shifter||fender, spare spoke, kickstand, downtube shifter|
|Hub spacing||Front: 12×100 (thru axle)|
Rear: 12×142 (thru axle)
|Front: 100mm QR|
Rear: 135mm QR
|Frameset options||steel: $799||steel: $1149|
|Sizes||42, 46, 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62, 64 cm||50, 52, 54, 55, 57, 59.5 cm|
|Weight||28 – 29 lbs (according to FAQs on Surly’s website)||30 lbs 14 oz (according to Salsa’s website)|
Key Differences Explained
Salsa vs. Surly
These two brands are actually owned by the same parent company: Quality Bicycle Products (QBP). They are a large distributor of bike parts and bikes headquartered in Minnesota, and owners of several other well-known brands including All-City, Whisky, and Teravail tires.
The difference is in the branding and bike specs. Surly’s innovative history included some of the earliest fat bikes and singlespeed setups. Today they’re known for bomber and affordable steel bikes, many of which focus on bikepacking and touring, and a quirky irreverent vibe.
Salsa’s “adventure by bike” tagline includes all kinds of riding, from road to full-suspension MTB. They make bikes and components from a wider range of materials than Surly, including steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, and titanium. They offer bikes across the price spectrum but their range is generally a bit higher quality, lighter, and more expensive than Surly.
If you’re in the larger half of the Disc Trucker’s size range (56 cm and bigger) the wheel size is the same; both the Marrakesh and larger size Truckers come with 700c wheels (equivalent to 29″ diameter). Smaller riders have a meaningful choice to make though, as the smaller size Disc Truckers come with 26″ wheels while the smaller Marrakesh sticks with 700c.
In some ways this is a point in the Trucker’s favor for smaller riders. Smaller wheels scale the geometry more consistently and allow for a lower standover height. If you want to run bikepacking bags, 26″ wheels create more tire clearance on smaller frames. They’re a bit more maneuverable and efficient, quicker to spin up to speed, and lighter overall – meaningful advantages for smaller people who tend to be disadvantaged in bike-to-body-weight ratio.
On the other hand, riders of the smaller Disc Truckers will miss out on the advantages of larger wheels: more efficient at maintaining speed, less resistance when hitting bumps and ruts, and larger volume tires to soak up vibration.
Touring bikes invite yet another consideration: parts availability. The Surly Disc Trucker clings to the older standard of 26″ wheels for small frames in part because it’s more common in developing countries. If you want to ride Cairo to Cape Town you’ll have better luck finding spare tubes, tires, and spokes for 26″ wheels, though as bikes become more widely available this is less true than it used to be.
On the other hand, finding 26″ parts in the US and Europe can be hard. Here it’s far easier to find 700c and 29″ wheels, so if you like to experiment with different tires or wheels you’ll have far more options with the Marrakesh.
I’ve ridden over 9000 miles on my Long Haul Trucker (the now-discontinued rim brake version of the Disc Trucker) with 26″ wheels. I’ve also ridden equally as far on other bikes with 700c / 29″ wheels. I prefer the feel of larger wheels on anything except smooth pavement because they absorb bumps and handle obstacles better. I’m 5’5″ which is tall enough for a reasonable 700c geometry, but if I were a few inches shorter I might prefer 26″ wheels for standover reasons.
According to the manufacturers’ specs, the Marrakesh has slightly wider tire clearance than the Trucker: up to 2″ versus only 47mm (1.85″) for the 700c wheel size. That’s only without fenders though for the Marrakesh; with fenders the Trucker clears a few more mm than the Marrakesh.
The 26″ Disc Trucker can clear up to 26 x 2.1″ thanks to the smaller wheel diameter. I can personally confirm: years ago I put 26×2.1″ Vittoria Mezcals on my Long Haul Trucker, and probably could have fit a little wider if not for the rim brakes on the LHT (the Disc Trucker has no such problem).
Here we have an interesting comparison: The Salsa Marrakesh has bar end shifters while the Surly Disc Trucker has typical brifters (integrated brake and shift levers). Older models of the Disc Trucker used to come with bar end shifters as well, but Surly has recently moved away from them.
Bar end shifters are a matter of personal preference. I’ve used them for about 9000 miles on my Long Haul Trucker, the now-discontinued sibling of the Disc Trucker, and I’ve also used brifters extensively. So I’ll offer my two cents.
Bar end shifters can take some getting used to if you’re accustomed to brifters. They require moving your hand off the bar in order to shift. This can feel awkward at first but has the benefit of forcing you to change hand positions often, which helps stave off the hand fatigue and numbness so common on long-distance tours. It starts to become limiting if you’re riding rougher dirt roads and trails, but that’s not what the Marrakesh is designed for anyway.
They also have a few mechanical properties that make them well-suited to a long-haul touring bike. They’re simpler than brifters, so if something goes wrong mid-trip they’re easier to deal with. I had to make some adjustments to mine in Southeast Asia, but (with the help of the internet) it was a quick and simple job. If something goes wrong with your brifter in Mongolia or Liberia it’s likely harder to DIY fix.
Crucially, the Marrakesh’s rear MicroShift bar end shifter can be switched to friction mode. This means you’re not locked into indexed positions – just move the lever until the shift happens. This makes it much more forgiving than a standard indexed shifter if you’re having problems with rear derailleur alignment, which can (and probably will) happen on a long tour.
Finally, bar end shifters allow you to move through multiple gears at once with a single throw of the lever. No need to step through one by one or plan your shifts in advance (you might build some bad habits). It’s convenient, and I missed it when changing to brifters after so many miles with bar ends.
In summary, if you like the Marrakesh in general, don’t be turned off by the bar end shifters. You might end up liking them!
Drivetrain and Gearing
Both the Disc Trucker and Marrakesh have 3×9 drivetrains with a Shimano Alivio 48/36/26t triple MTB chainring. In the back they both use a Shimano Alivio MTB 9-speed cassette with just one small difference: the Disc Trucker ranges from 11-34t while the Marrakesh gets a slightly wider 11-36t. Thus these bikes have similar gearing but the Marrakesh will be slightly easier to grind up steep climbs.
But wait! The smaller frame sizes of the Disc Trucker have 26″ wheels. This makes the climbing gear feel a bit easier, which offsets the slightly narrower cassette. So for smaller riders the gearing should feel pretty similar, and larger riders might notice that the Marrakesh has a slightly easier climbing gear.
Triple chainrings are certainly the standard for road touring bikes, but you may be aware that many gravel and mountain bikes have moved to 1x drivetrains. Thus for some people three chainrings is starting to feel like a bit much. I’m in this camp; after spending time on my 1x mountain bike and 2x Salsa Fargo, all those gears on my 3x Trucker feel unnecessarily complex. I rarely use the top gears on the Trucker anyway, as I suspect is true for most people touring on a loaded steel bike.
My personal preference would be a 2x drivetrain for a road touring bike these days. If you feel that way too, look into the Kona Sutra.
Both Surly and Salsa are known for some clever dropout systems that support chain tensioning and a wider-than-usual variety of hub sizes. In this case however, the Disc Trucker gets a straightforward 12mm thru axle. The Salsa Marrakesh, on the other hand, gets Salsa’s Alternator Dropouts for a more versatile setup.
Salsa’s Alternator Dropouts are a sliding setup that can be used to adjust wheelbase (for minor tweaks to handling or pannier heal clearance) or tension a chain (for an easy singlespeed conversion, whether official or the emergency kind when your rear derailleur bites the dust). I have the Alternator system on my Salsa Fargo and like it a lot, though I recommend carrying a spare drive-side plate since the derailleur hanger bends easily.
Both bikes can be converted down from a 3x to a 2x or 1x, if you’re willing to put in the effort and money.
Neither bike has a frame split for a belt drive; sorry Gates fans. Check out the Salsa Fargo if that’s a priority for you.
Hubs and Axles
The Disc Trucker uses thru axles and the Marrakesh has QR skewers. Both have pros and cons, and the difference is unlikely to matter too much on a road touring bike (I do strongly prefer thru axles for mountain biking).
One consideration is wheel compatibility. If you like to switch up your wheelsets, the Disc Trucker’s more modern thru axles give you more modern/high-end options without using any adapters. But the Marrakesh’s QR skewers, though seemingly more dated, actually give you more options overall. This is because you can easily adapt a thru axle hub to a QR frame, but not the other way around.
The Marrakesh’s Alternator plates can also be swapped for thru axle versions, so you can use either type of rear wheel without a hub adapter.
In summary, the Marrakesh is more flexible in terms of wheel choice and drivetrain experimentation, though you would need to have the relevant bits with you (spare Alternator plates or a hub adapter) to make use of this flexibility while on tour.
Neither of these bikes is light. Steel touring bikes, as a genre, are heavy beasts. If you’re looking for a road bike to ride mostly unloaded, these bikes will feel heavy and sluggish compared to many other options.
According to the FAQs on Surly’s website, the Disc Trucker weighs between 28 – 29 lbs. Obviously there will be a substantial difference between sizes, especially considering those with 26″ wheels. According to the Salsa website the Marrakesh weighs just under 31 pounds for a 57cm size frame.
So the Salsa Marrakesh is heavier? I actually have my doubts. Though I adore Surly bikes, they have a reputation for heft. Salsa uses triple-butted tubing while Surly uses double-butted tubing, which means the Marrakesh’s tubes taper down thinner than the Trucker’s. I’m speculating here, but the fact that a Marrakesh frameset costs $350 more than a Disc Trucker frameset suggests that the Salsa frame is indeed higher quality, and in the bike world that usually means lighter. I see no other difference in their specs that could account for such a big weight difference.
Maybe the Marrakesh’s claimed weight includes the front and rear rack that come with the bike? Those racks are a nice touch but add almost three pounds of weight. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case, and subtracting out the racks would close the gap.
In summary, I would bet a small amount of money (enough for a cheeseburger on my next tour) the Marrakesh is a bit lighter than the Disc Trucker, at least in the 700c wheel size, but I have no way to prove it.
Both these bikes are designed to carry all your worldly possessions to the other side of the globe and back. They come with identical mounting options: 3 standard bottle mounts on the frame and a three-pack set on each fork blade. Both also have mounts for front and rear racks.
The Salsa Marrakesh actually includes those racks in the complete bike build. A rear Alternator Rack and (new in 2021) front Down Under rack, roughly a $200 value depending on where you buy them, are included in the Marrakesh’s price tag. This is a nice convenience and added value if you know you’ll want the racks. If you prefer something different I guess you can sell them on eBay.
Value for Money
Both the Surly Disc Trucker and Salsa Marrakesh are on the affordable side of the spectrum for a reliable and respected touring bike. They currently have identical price tags, but which one is a better value for the money?
I’ve always said Surly bikes are highly affordable, but after reviewing the specs I’m inclined to say the Marrakesh is a slightly better value. Its triple-butted steel frame sells for considerably more than the Trucker’s double-butted frame, yet the component specs seem comparable and the Salsa includes racks.
That said, I’m not an expert on every single component and ultimately these bikes are pretty close in value. The best value for you will be the one that fits you best and checks all your particular boxes.
Ideal Terrain and Riding Style
Normally in my bike comparisons this is where I point out important differences, but in the case of the Surly Disc Trucker versus the Salsa Marrakesh I have mostly similarities to share.
Both are pavement-focused touring bikes, but any good long bike tour is bound to include some gravel and these bikes are ready for it. I’ve ridden my Trucker on plenty of gravel and dirt and can confirm: though it’s not very agile on anything technical, it’s happy to grind along unpaved roads.
I might give the Marrakesh a slight edge on unpaved roads based on its geometry, bigger wheels on small frames, and clearance for wider 700c / 29″ tires. But for all practical purposes these bikes are suited to similar types of riding.
It’s often the case that one bike or another is more touring-focused in its design and construction, but again the Marrakesh and Disc Trucker are on even footing here. Both are designed with the longest of long bike tours in mind. You can certainly ride them both unloaded too, and many do service as commuters and around-town bikes when not out exploring far-flung lands.
The Trucker, from personal experience, is tuned to be at its best with a heavy load. I ride it unloaded too, but when I load it back up for a trip there’s a sense of “ahhh that’s better” about the ride feel. I’m a relatively light rider, 120 pounds, and I’ve heard this is less of a problem for heavier folks. The 26″ wheels may be contributing too.
I haven’t heard this criticism of the Marrakesh, and I suspect the triple-butted tubing and 700c wheels make for a more relaxed feel. If it’s comparable to my Salsa Fargo, which also uses triple-butted tubing and which feels great to me both loaded and unloaded, then that would be a point in the Marrakesh’s favor for lighter riders who want to sometimes ride unloaded.
Summary and Reasons to Choose Each
Ultimately these are two excellent touring bikes from respected brands, and it’s impossible to go wrong with either. Smaller riders may want to choose based on their wheel size preference, but larger riders might have trouble finding strong differentiating factors to base their choice on. In summary, here are a few reasons that stand out.
Reasons to choose the Surly Disc Trucker:
- You dislike bar-end shifters
- You’re a smaller rider and want 26″ wheels for geometry or compatibility reasons
- You prefer thru axles to QR skewers
- You’re a very tall rider and the Marrakesh doesn’t go big enough for you
- You already have racks or don’t want to use racks
- Though both are well-known, the Trucker has a bit more of a cult following
- Easier to spell than “Marrakesh” 🙂
Reasons to choose the Salsa Marrakesh:
- You’re a smaller rider and want 700c wheels / don’t want 26″
- You want bar-end shifters
- You want to run wider 29″ tires
- You’ll get use out of the included racks
- You want compatibility with both QR and thru axle wheels
- You might want to run singlespeed without a chain tensioner
- You might want to run a Rohloff hub
- The combo of bar end shifters and sliding dropouts give lots of options for dealing with drivetrain issues mid-tour
- It might be lighter (?)
Which one would I choose? This is a tough one! I love my Surly (Long Haul Trucker) and my Salsa (Fargo) and can see the appeal in each of these bikes and brands.
I bought my Trucker for its cult appeal (I didn’t know about Salsa back then) and have adored it during 9000 miles. But if I were choosing today, I might be tempted by the Marrakesh. I’ve gotten used to 700c / 29″ wheels on other bikes and enjoy the versatility of Salsa’s alternator dropouts.
In the big picture though, there’s nowhere in the world I wouldn’t ride (on pavement or gravel) on either of these bikes. Each is an epic adventure machine just waiting for your Big Ride, your next small ride, and everything in between.
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