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!


9th Annual Saris Gala for the Wisconsin Bike Federation


The Saris Gala is a long running tradition in the Madison area. Each year the event draws roughly 600 attendees and volunteers to raise money for the Wisconsin Bike Fed. In all honesty this is probably the largest fundraiser of its kind in the entire US for a state run bicycle advocacy group and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Full disclosure, I work for one of the sponsors, so my opinion may be a little biased, but this event is a ton of fun. I encourage anyone in the Madison area (or in the state of  Wisconsin for that matter) to attend. There’s great food, beer, mixed drinks, coffee, and goodies you get with your ticket purchase. Not to mention not one but 3 silent auctions and one quite entertaining live auction.

There’s going to be over $60,000 retail of donated products, gift cards, trips, and bikes up for grabs at this event. All sorts of things that bike nerds would max out credit cards over. I’m one of the members of the silent auction committee and I’ve had to tell myself not to bring the big card out for the event just because there are so many awesome items to bid on!

Our major sponsors are listed on the poster above but to give an idea the following companies have donated to us: Planet Bike, Specialized, Giant, Trek, Portland Design Works, Donkey Boxx, Topeak, Slime, KHS, Bern, Nutcase, Park Tool, Peddle Pub tours, Civia, Quality Bike Parts (QBP), Eagle’s Nest Outfitters (ENO), Patagonia, People For Bikes, Wisconsin Bike Fed, Haro, Hayes, Answer, Sun Ringle, Selle An-Atomica, Fyxation, Scout Bags, Adam’s trail-a-bike, REI/Novara, Ben’s Cycle, Wheel & Sprocket (also a major sponsor), Shine United (major sponsor), Hotel Red, Majestic Theater, Old Fashioned, Brasserie V, B Cycles, Forward Theater, Underground Food Collective, Ladies Rock Camp Madison, Road ID, Twin Six, Banjo Brothers, SE Bikes, Fuji, Garmin, Sram, Timex, Cycle Ops, Saris, Enve, Zipp, UW Madison Badger’s sports, Sock Guy, Princeton Tec, Cognition Caps, Giordana, Sugoi, All City, Public Bikes, Revolution Cycles, We Are All Mechanics, Polar Bottles, Kryptonite, Ironweed, CatEye, Bike Wisconsin, Speed Cycling, Bombay Bicycle Club, Tour of America’s Dairyland, Race the Lake, Berbee Derby, Williamson Bike Works, Co-Motion, Boulder’s Climbing Gym, Bar Mitts, Adventure Cycling Association, Action Bicycles, Just Coffee, Crank Daddy’s, Blue Heron Cycling, Road Holland, Mike’s Mix, Mountain Hardwear, Leki, Fleet Feet, Brooks, Industry 9, Art Peddler, Draft Cyclery, Capital Fitness, Bar Mitts, Osprey Packs, Pacific Cycles…the list goes on and on!

My team and I have worked really hard putting this event together and we plan on using all the money raised from this event to hire a full time Madison designated Bike Fed member. Madison is a fantastic cycling city, but we still have a long way to go before we become a Platinum level bike city.

I’m asking everyone to please spread the word. If you love the idea of this event and want to contribute, please visit http://www.sarisgala.org or http://www.bfw.org for more info on how to donate to the Bike Fed.

One of my main goals with opening Spoke Haven is to be greatly involved in advocacy efforts. There are many shops in our city, but none who really take the time and effort to work closely with the Fed and other groups. That needs to change, big time. If we don’t have places to ride, we don’t have customers to buy bikes!

Thanks for reading.