Words and Pictures by Chief Cyclery
Ok, I admit...I was a part of, and influenced by, the fixie craze of the mid to late 2000's. But shortly before that, I started cycling when I got a job within 2 miles of my house. Two weeks after starting my job I bought an old 80s Yellow Schwinn Continental that I could barely stand over with my tippy-toes touching and I began my first bicycle commuting.
In the next couple months I saw a group of cyclists bombing through Tempe without looking like they were headed for the Tour de France and I thought that is the kind of cycling that excites me! Come to find out they were on clean and simple fixed gears. I began my DIY fixie bike conversion, buying a Schwinn Sprint from a thrift shop with the help of a friend. Although some long time cyclists looked on with disdain, my buddy Zac was just excited that more people were being drawn to cycling. During this time I moved from Chandler, AZ to Tacoma, WA to Irving, TX and back all within a year. While living in hilly Tacoma I realized I need something with a little more gearing to really enjoy cycling to it's full capacity and thus I began a desire to build a road bike.
In Dallas I bought a cheap 1989 Trek 1200 that I fixed up and brought back with me to Arizona. I commuted on the Trek 42+ miles round trip to work for about 6 months. During this time my wife and I were discussing ways to downsize and simplify our life. We had done a pretty good job of it while fitting 4 people into a 750 sq ft one bedroom apartment in Dallas and missed some of the simplicity of just having less stuff. This meant purging my now booming fixie collection plus my old Schwinn down to one bike. So I wanted a bike that could do it all: A road bike with gearing, but something that I could convert back to single speed or fixed gear if I wanted, oh and maybe something that could do a little gravel grinding too.
Enter the Surly Cross Check. During this time I was following the progression of some other popular figures: Prolly is not Probably (now The Radavist) and The Great Escape. They definitely influenced me in making the decision of purchasing a Cross Check.
I slowly saved and built my Cross Check with a couple revisions before ending with the first pictured version with a mix of SRAM Rival and Force group topped off with Thomson Stem and Seatpost, Chris King headset, Salsa Rasta Skewers, Brooks B-17 Saddle, Fulcrum Cross Wheels and FSA Omega Compact handlebars. A balleur' build in my eyes!
Since 2012 I put over 2,000 miles on this bike all while my love for cycling flourished at the same time as our attempts to downsize failed. The Cross Check lives up to it's marketing that it is a do it all and master of none. It's not the lightest Cross Bike or the fastest road bike. It makes compromises here and there but for me it was the perfect bike. The newer versions have a lot more bells and whistles meaning more braze on mounts for front racks, lights and other do-dads. But I made due fine without these. The Proprietary Natch 4130 Steel Frame was forgiving for my commuting while also being tough enough for the wear and tear I was putting it through. As any well ridden bike, it got it's fair share of love with sticker logos ripping off (A plus in my eyes) and a small dent in the top tube. But one of the great things about Surly's is that you can easily go into stealth mode and remove all the stickers, or you can add new ones or create your own on the durable powder coat.
The Tire clearance on these is great. Fatties Fit Fine is the greatest conversation starter at work. I love how many people would take offense without knowing what it meant! I rode it with the pictured Hutchinso 34s for most of the miles, later upgrading to 40c WTB Nanos. The canti studs allow for this clearance and I am a big fan of Mini-Vs as I prefer the ease of set up and the added stopping power over traditional cantilever brakes. I Tried this frame in many different variations and used it from commuting to solo road rides to family trailer pulling.
The 132.5 rear clearance is added bonus for flexibility in selecting wheel size but it did make it a little difficult installing 130mm rear wheels after flats.
One qualm with the bike is there was not a pump peg for a full size frame pump. This was easily remedied with an aftermarket vintage pump clamp but not really as elegant. But are you really going for elegant with a Surly?
All in all the Cross Check is really a tremendous all around city bike. It may not have the glitz and glam of others but it is a true work horse. If you live in a confined space or just want to live simply the Cross Check can easily be your all in one bike: rigid trail bike with flat bars, road bike with drops and commuter. The Cross Check opened my eyes beyond the exercise of cycling and into the art of cycling. There will always be a place in my stable for a Surly!