Finally the Ultimate Commuter is built! The basis of the concept was to create a road-eating machine with enough clearance for larger wheels and a solid ride. After weeks of research and trusted recommendations, I ended up with the Cross Check frame set from Surly. The frame and fork are made of CroMoly steel and while that makes it a bit heavier, I found the sturdiness and soft ride quality that comes with steel worth the sacrifice in weight.
Speaking of weight, Surly states in their marketing material that the Cross Check frame weighs 2.2 kg for the 56cm model – this is not true. I have the 56cm model and our scale showed 2.9 kg when removing everything that we could remove from the frame. The fork weighs 1 kg un-cut, after cutting it’s about 800 grams. Still, this is not a frame for weight weenies and I personally would not even recommend the Cross Check for cyclocross racing as it clearly has road bike like elements in it that are not optimal for CX racing.
I see the Cross Check as a great platform for building a great all-rounder. The frame has semi-horizontal dropouts in the rear with good quality tension screws with springs to set up the location of your rear wheel with great precision, so the bike can be easily set up with a cassette, single-speed or fixed gear. The frame and fork also have enough braze-ons to attach pretty much anything you can imagine to it, has two braze-ons for bottle cages.
The frame does have a few things to remember for the builder: Firstly, it has down tube shifter bosses (which are old school) – the frame doesn’t come with gear cable adjusters for these bosses and it also doesn’t come with a manual telling about you remembering needing them, luckily my local bike shop sells Surly bikes and they had them in stock, but I doubt these parts are available in every LBS, so if you’re building a Cross Check, make sure you have those parts. You can see the braze-ons for them in the photos above, in the down tube right behind the head tube.
The second thing you have to remember is to get the front brake cable hanger, that attaches to the fork under the stem, they usually come with a 10mm spacer, so take that into your calculations before buying spacers. For all the holes the frame has, it does not have a road-bike like braze-on for the front-derailleur, so you’ll have to remember to get a clamp if you are using a front derailleur designed for road bikes.
On the brake side you are pretty much limited to V-brakes or Cantilevers as you cannot install disc or caliper brakes as the frame doesn’t have the places to put them, but getting good cantis (like the Shimano BR-R550 I got, you can also go with Avid’s Shorty line or the higher end Tektros.)
Once you remember those, you are well off with the build. The frame can eat pretty much any size tyre you can chuck at it, the Cross Check has even been seen with 700 x 50 Schwalbe Big Apples, which are huge. Surly themselves say that you can go with a 700 x 45 tyre with clearance for fenders and racks, which is just awesome for us all-year commuters in countries where there’s ice and snow and you need studded tyres for the ride.
The 2010 models is not any different from the first Cross Checks some seven years ago, they always come in two colors: black and something else, this year the something else is a luscious “beef gravy brown” and I have to say, it looks much nicer in real life and the color has the ability to look very different in different lighting. The black is a very glossy piano black, making the white decals jump out like a rabbit in a minefield.
Surly also makes the frame in many sizes from 42cm to 62cm, and if you’re thinking of buying one – remember that the effective top tube lenght is long so if you normally ride a 60cm, you might be happy with a 54 or a 56cm Cross Check. Don’t buy without trying one!
The ride is very smooth thanks to the slight curve in the fork, coming down curbs hasn’t felt this good in a long time and it also sucks the vibration off sand roads, which was surprising taking my 28mm hard tyres into account. The welding is immaculate and the steel work has some nice touches put in it, I feel loved.
For what it was designed for, the Cross Check delivers and it has personality. Surly also gives the frame a three-year warranty, which is something I haven’t seen much, especially in a €400 frame – which also shows the trust they have in their work. It’s not perfect, but it sure is close.