Review: Surly Cross Check

If you could have only one bike to commute on, gather groceries with, tour, cyclocross race, use, abuse, and not worry about where you lock up, what would your choice be? Four years ago I purchased a Surly Cross Check frame to build up as my do-everything bike, because, as their website states, "it takes a lot of crap, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg."

Founded in 1998 and headquartered in Bloomington, Minnesota, Surly designs functional frames and components that address the needs of most riders at an affordable price. The Cross Check frame and fork are made in Taiwan from double-butted 4130 chromoly steel, and have adequate welds covered with near-indestructible powdercoat. The non-sloping top tube measures 58cm, with a 72 degree head tube and 72.5 degree seat tube that compliments the 40.6" wheelbase.

The rear triangle is what makes the Cross Check so adaptable to different builds. The 16.7" chainstays are spaced 132.5mm apart to accommodate either a road (130mm) or mountain (135mm) hub, and have long, horizontal dropouts for building the frame up as a geared bike or singlespeed. Tension adjuster screws are included with the frame and can be used to alter the wheelbase. With the rear wheel slid all the way back in the dropouts, my wheelbase is 41". There’s also enough space to mount 700x45c tires with fenders, and eyelets for a rear rack and front and rear fenders. Cantilever brake mounts, down tube shift cable routing with barrel adjuster mounts, and two bottle cage mounts round out the package.

The bottom bracket can support single, double, and triple road or mountain cranksets, while the brazed chromoly fork has an uncut 300mm steerer tube and uses a standard 1 1/8" threadless headset. So you can pretty much slap whatever random parts you have onto the frame and end up with a usable bike.

My Cross Check is built up with a Velocity Aerohead wheelset, the SRAM Rival components that I tested in Dirt Rag #127, Chris King headset, Planet Bike Cascadia Fenders, Duro Sevilla 700x35mm tires, and some stuff I had in the basement. I swap tires with the conditions and add a rear rack when I’m tired of wearing a backpack. Justin, our subscription guy, built his Cross Check in a flat-bar, fixed-gear configuration to race the Single Speed World Championships, whereas my friend Evan frequently commutes and races his Cross Check as a singlespeed or fixed-gear with moustache bars. 

The suppleness of the steel frame makes the Cross Check comfortable for all-day use, feeling smooth when rolling over railroad tracks or riding on stone trails. Steel also keeps the price low. It handles calmly through sweeping turns and tighter standstill traffic without being twitchy, and has a decent turning radius for circling and nabbing that last parking meter.

I haven’t experienced any surprises in frame behavior, whether I’m pedaling along at 15mph or spinning downhill at 35. When standing to climb steep hills or really mashing on the pedals, I notice a little frame flex, but that’s the nature of steel and why I like the bike. The only time I’ve noticed undesirable wobble is when I have the rear panniers maxed out with grocery weight, which pins the rear to the road, lightens the front and makes things feel twitchy. 

My Surly has taken the abuse of riding railroad ballast and singletrack, has plowed through snowy streets and gotten me home safe on rainy nights. My only complaint is that it’s not disc-brake-compatible and it lacks a frame pump peg. Anyone looking for a do-it-all frame, inexpensive commuter, or a cyclocross frame will appreciate the Cross Check’s diversity. It’s available as either a frameset or a complete build. There’s also a version called the Travelers Check that has S&S brand frame couplers installed for those that frequently travel with their bike. This year’s powdercoat colors are Beef Gravy Brown or Gloss Black, and a Surly Constrictor seat post clamp, stainless brake hanger, and a three-year warranty are included.

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