Favorite Things: Surly Cross Check

Everybody has their favorites. Whether it’s foods, coffees, cars, restaurants…the possibilities are endless. Like Oprah, I have my favorite things. Unfortunately I don’t have a screaming, wild audience of middle aged ladies and gay men to throw my favorite things at, nor the money that Ms. Harpo herself has to gift these items. Nonetheless, I’d like to share them with the world.

Today I’d like to talk about the Surly Cross Check. Yes, it’s an obvious and super popular choice. Many a blogger has written about the Cross Check. I don’t care. I want to tell my story and continue singing its praises.

My cross check (seen above) is the 2008 or 2009 model. The color is Beef Gravy Brown, or what I like to refer to as Foxy Brown, 50cm, and 100% awesome. This bike has taken me through two Wisconsin AIDS Rides (600 miles 0f hardcore Wisconsin road riding), all the training for those rides, commuting to work, bike camping, rail trail riding, single tracking, hauling of groceries  w/the Burley in tow, and the occasional cruise around town for fun.

I purchased the bike as a complete with all stock components and have since changed it up quite a bit. The original build is pretty similar to what Surly has listed on their current website, but with a few minor changes such as front derailleur and headset. (They now have a lower grade front d and a Cane Creek headset rather than Ritchey.)

Currently I have it set up as the following:
Fork & Frame stock Foxy Brown
BB: 118 Velo Orange
Crank: Added a granny ring and am using Sugino Chainrings
Pedals: Crank Brothers Candy 2’s
Front Der: Shimano 105 Road Triple
Rear Der: Shimano SLX 9 SPD Long Cage
Stem: Civia (?) Silver 100mm w/17 degrees of rise
Top Cap: Thompson Silver
Spacers: no name silver
Handlebars: Salsa Poco 40cm
Seat Post: Ritchey Classic
Saddle: Brooks Flyer
Brakes: FSA Cyclo Cross
Cassette: Shimano HG (?) 12-32 (?)
Chain: Shimano fancy road 9spd
Wheels: Cycle Ops Powertap G3 Alloy training set (Demo set I was given to aid in product testing- Yes, I feel silly riding with a Powertap on a Cross Check. I get strange looks from roadies all the time!)
Tires: Vittoria Randonneur Hypers 38c folding bead
Cables: Jaguar Racer kit
Handlebar tape: Lizard Skins DSP

The three things I haven’t changed yet are the headset, bar end shifters, and the seat post clamp. Oh I guess the crank arms are the same Andel or no brand ones.

I plan on changing the brakes again as I’m not a fan of the current ones I have on the bike. They don’t work that well for hauling a lot of gear, which I’ve been doing a lot of lately. I also want something that works a little better in crappy weather. I’m looking at the Paul Mini Moto’s. I’ve also decided to purchase the newest CC fork. It has all the fancy eyelets, so I can mount all sorts of awesome front racks on it and turn it into a load carrying machine! The fork won’t match the frame, but I’d rather have an ugly functional bike that won’t get jacked if I leave it parked downtown. (Madison has a crazy amount of bike theft, but it’s usually dumb asses who don’t know how to lock their bikes or leave their bikes either unlocked or locked poorly on their porches. I’d rather be safe than sorry!)

I’ve also all the sudden become really picky about component color matching. This means I’ll be upgrading the chain rings once again (probably due for it anyways as I’ve ridden the hell out of them), upgrading the headset, swapping out the seat post clamp, and maybe even getting some fancy stainless steel water bottle cages to boot. Dunno if I want to be that classy or not yet.

Enough about components. I apologize dearly for the nerdery. I simply can’t help myself!

Benefits of this bike are that you can set it up for pretty much anything and will feel pretty good. I don’t think the bike does one finite thing really great, but it does a lot of things well. (Does that make sense?) I’ve put skinny road tires on it without racks and it rides fairly zippy as most cross bike to road conversions would. I’ve fully loaded it up and commuted on it with full racks, fenders, panniers, and it still rides fairly well. A tiny bit sluggish, but what bike wouldn’t feel like that fully loaded? At its current state it doesn’t feel as heavy and sluggish as some of my friends more touring oriented bikes while fully loaded, so I see that as a plus.

The set up that I love the most on this bike is putting big, fat, cushy tires on it that are fairly light weight for the width and riding it rack free. I road that way for the AIDS ride this past summer and had used a new stem to raise the handlebar more up to seat level and it was sooo comfy. I was able to climb hills well with the granny and flew over the potholed back roads that South Eastern Wisconsin has to offer. I feel like I had less fatigue than the folks rocking aluminum road bikes and uber skinny tires. I passed a lot of people by on my bike and felt damn proud to fly my steel is real flag!

You don’t see too many folks riding steel on long distance charity rides. I don’t know if that’s because Trek is huge in these parts and when people walk into a shop, that’s the easiest thing to sell on of their many mid level aluminum road bikes (mmm yeah, that’s it right there) or…never mind.

Moral of the story. It’s a f*cking awesome bike and if you are a person that needs only one bike or has room for only one bike, I’d definitely recommend it. I’ve gone back and forth considering selling my Cross Check for something with a little more style, but I just can’t get over how dependable and awesome it has been to me over the years. You can put pretty much any combination of parts on that frame and it’s going to work. Flat bar, mustache, drop bar, STI’s, bar end shifters…it can really handle it all.

The complete bike may cause sticker shock to folks looking for a basic commuter bike, but it’s the Swiss Army Knife of bikes. You aren’t just getting one bike, you’re really getting a dozen due to its versatility. I started out as a total bike NOOB and owning this bike now has be lusting over a new build every few months! It’s just so fun to change up.

I give the Surly Cross Check 4 1/2 out of 5 spokes. I’m docking half a spoke because they upped the price and lowered the component level on the most current models. I know there’s inflation and such, but being a part of QBP, the largest distributor in the US, means that you probably aren’t hurting for money. You can’t throw a rock in a major Midwestern city without hitting a Surly! I also kind of expected more for my $$$ when first purchasing the bike a few years ago. The stock components aren’t the best and are kind of lead weights. I noticed as soon as I swapped them out that my bike was significantly lighter.

Full disclosure: I purchased the bike at a discount because of the shop I was working for at the time. I would still purchase the bike today at full retail value. Well…I’d probably purchase the frame and then do a custom build as I’m now a bit spoiled component wise…either way, I aim to be as fair as possible with my reviews and was in no way paid by Surly or associated with them.

Thanks for reading!

-Cassandra