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My New Bike - Surly Cross-Check

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Part 1: Road Biker - Well, Not Really

Last July I bought a road bike. I went to the bike store with the intention of buying a Specialized Tricross Elite Disc Apex Compact.

This bike was pretty and very comfortable. The gearing was well suited for the mountains where I live. The Tricross could handle dirt and rough pavement, which are abundant in the Rocky Mountains where I live. This bike was within my budget at $1,450.

I was about to pull the trigger on the Tricross when I spotted a sweet looking Specialized Allez sport bike nearby. I test rode the Allez (pronounced “al-lay”). The Allez was a two-wheeled rocket! I was in love. I plunked down $1,300 and the Allez was mine!

I have never regretted buying the Allez.

Part 3: Fast Ride

A few weeks ago, during a rare non-snowy day, my boss, Steve, and co-worker and biking buddy, Jason, took an hour out of the work day and rode along the Cherry Creek bike path. Steve has a titanium Moots road bike. Jason has a carbon Specialized Tarmac.

This photo gives you some idea on how nice and smooth the Cherry Creek bike path is.

We started off fast and kept pushing each other. We covered 18.12 miles in 53:30 minutes at an average speed of 20.3 mph. Our top speed was 36.5 mph. Granted, there were no hills and the path was smooth.

It seem to me we were going very fast. I think pedaling knobby-tired beasty mountain bikes up steep hills, over rocks and through snow is good training for a speedy road bike outing. Jason is a competitive bike racer. Steve is a spin class instructor. I was lucky to keep up. I think these guys were dogging it for my benefit. The ride was hugely fun!

Part 4: Surly Cross-Check

I am very happy with my speedy Allez road bike. However, I did not enjoy riding my Allez in my neighborhood. The hard smooth tires made the bike skittish on rough surfaces. The Allez also has tall gearing that makes it difficult to pedal up steep climbs.

I wanted a bike that could handle both dirt and pavement. My mountain bikes are great for rough terrain but are not a lot of fun on pavement. I started thinking about a cross bike again. I test rode the Specialized Tricross Sport Disc Compact.

This is a new model for 2013 that has a light aluminum alloy frame and decent components. Disk brakes are a big plus. I liked the Tricross and knew the bike would serve my purposes well.

However, there was one more bike I wanted to check out. I was intrigued by the Surly Cross-Check.

I did a search online and found one, and only one, Surly Cross-Check available in the greater Denver metro area. The downtown “Flagship” REI had a single medium-frame Surly Cross-Check. Surly does not make a lot of bikes, which can make them hard to find.

As with most Surly products, the Cross-Check is a slightly strange bike. All Surly bikes are made of 4130 chrome-moly steel tube. I like Surly’s sense of humor and attitude. They make old-school bikes. Except for color choices, Surly does not really change their bikes much year-to-year. Here is a link to Surly’s website:


I drove down to the store in my Toyota Corolla. It is a long drive to from my house to downtown Denver. I did not anticipate buying the Cross-Check. I had pretty much made up my mind to get the Specialized Tricross. When I arrive at REI I had a hard time finding a place to park! The store was packed! Colorado is a big outdoor recreation state. I noticed that people who frequent stores like REI and Whole Foods tend to be fitter than those you see at Wal-Mart. I can’t help thinking that nutritious food and exercise may have something to do with overall fitness and health.

I walked into the store and made my way over to the bike department. REI has 100’s of bikes. I managed to find the one-and-only 54cm Cross-Check sitting in a rack. I was there about 20 minutes when a bike sales guy approached me, “Hi, I am Joe. Can I help you?” The guy was tall and maybe in his late 40’s. I reply, “Yes, I would like to test ride this Surly Cross-Check.” I thought that I was pretty clear. Joe then says, “What sort of riding do you plan to do?” Maybe REI trains their sales people to ask certain questions. I really suspected that Joe took me for a newbie ignoramus. I felt like saying, “I plan to do the sort of riding that requires this bike.” But I was nice and said, “I want a bike for riding on mountain roads, including rough pavement and dirt. I also might take the bike for a ride on an occasional dual track trail or fire road. I may try a little light touring.” Joe nods and pulls a Cannondale Quick CX-1 off a nearby rack. He says, “This is the bike I would recommend for you.”

I didn’t ask for a recommendation.

The CX-1 would be perfect for riders looking for a high-performance hybrid bike. I could tell at a glance that the Cannondale had mountain bike geometry. I have five mountain bikes already. I wanted a versatile road bike. I could also tell the Cannondale had very slack steering. “Slack steering” means the fork has a lot of rake that makes the bike very stable and forgiving. Hybrid bikes are designed for relaxed cruising so stability is a desired characteristic. I like bikes that are extremely responsive, unforgiving and slightly dangerous. I am not likely to mend my ways any time soon!

I said to Joe, “I already have a bike that fills the niche of the Cannondale. I really want to tryout the Surly.” Joe decided that I was not going to listen to reason. He said “OK, you need to sign a waiver. I will get the bike ready for you.” He gave me a helmet and told me to take the bike on the paths next to the Platte River. I asked, “When do I need to be back?” He smiled, “We close in three hours. Try to be back by then.”

I was somewhat skeptical about the Cross-Check. The bike has odd bar-end shifters, cantilever brakes, lacks the secondary tricross brake levers, has rear horizontal dropouts and has only 18-speeds. The gloss black triangular frame looked rather ho-hum.

But as I stared to ride the Cross-Check I found that the bike felt pretty good. After carefully navigating through the some of the crowded areas, I let the bike go. Boy was I surprised! The bike accelerated sharply and handled really well. The bar-end shifters were delightful and the brakes worked well. The Cross-Check was responsive, maneuverable and fast! I became convinced that Surly had really thought through how to make the Cross-Check a great bike. I found some dirt paths and gave the Cross-Check the acid test. The bike gobbled up the dirt with perfect controllability. I rode the bike for about an hour and covered a lot of ground.

I was sold!

When I got back to the store, I held onto the bike until Joe noticed my return. He said, “What do you think?” I said, “Wrap it up! I’ll take it.” I had to remove the wheels to get my new bike into my tiny Corolla.

Here is a photo of my Cross-Check when I got the bike home:

After riding the Cross-Check around my neighborhood a few times, I decided I needed to change some things. Where I live the roads are loose dirt and rough pavement. There are also lots of really steep hills. I did not like the WTB SST saddle that much.

Part 5: Unable to Leave Well Enough Alone

I decided to modify the Cross-Check to make it better suited for my neighborhood.

The first thing I did was to get some lower gears. The bike came equipped with a rear gear range of 11-32. High gear was fine with 11 teeth. But I wanted a lower gear than 32 teeth. The small chain ring on the crank had 36 Teeth. Therefore, the lowest gear ratio the bike had was 1.125, which is not bad in most parts of the country. Where I live, every ride is uphill both ways! I bought a new cassette that was 11-34T. Two more teeth on the low gear (34T vs. 32T) makes a big difference.

Hear is the new cassette on the bike.

I bought a better quality cassette than the bike came with. I shaved a whopping 1/3 of a pound off the bike with the new cassette.

I also bought a 34 tooth small chain ring. A smaller the chain ring equates to a lower gear. Just like a larger rear cog equates to a lower the gear. Here is a comparison between 36 tooth and 34 tooth chain ring.

The new chain ring is on the left. There is actually a big visual difference.

Here is the new chain ring installed on the crank.

The bike now has a 1 to 1 low gear ratio that makes the bike much easier to pedal up steep hills.

I also got a new saddle. One of my favorites is the Specialized Phenom. The new saddle meant I needed to change the seat post. The Phenom requires very precise adjustment and the original UNO post did not adjust finely enough. Here is the new saddle and post:

The final modification was to swap out the Ritchey Speedmax tires for Kenda Slant 6 tires. The Kenda tires have much better traction on loose surfaces than the Ritcheys.

I am a big fan of Kenda bike tires. Kenda tires provide a lot of bang for the buck. I also changed the original brake pads to larger pads with higher friction.

The bike stops a lot better with Clark pads. The stock Tektro pads were fine for flatter terrain.

Part 6: My Real New Bike

With a few strategic modifications this bike is a lot of fun. I also think it looks more serious somehow.

The Cross-Check is extremely versatile and allows me to jump on a bike, pedal up my driveway and go for a ride. As a result, my training mileage has shot up.

I added clipless pedals that help me pedal a bit faster. Today, I got in 21 miles on the Cross-Check. I rode from my house and was pretty much on dirt the whole way. I found a nice trail. The Cross-Check did fine on the trail but was a bit of a handful on some moderate rocky sections. I climbed 1,411 feet during my ride. My average speed was 10.5 mph. I think I can get faster.

Thanks for reading my blog.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Really enjoyed this blog. Loved the description of interacting at REI, gave me a good giggle. I had a similar experience up here in MT. Looks like you ended up with the perfect bike for the job, and pretty sweet looking ride it is!

    2112 days ago
    what boilham and lilpat said.
    2145 days ago
    SWEET!!! Even King is drooling...but he drools all the time.
    2151 days ago
    Sweet ride!
    2151 days ago
  • KA_JUN
    That's a sweet rig, Bruce! There is something to be said for steel, in comparison to aluminum. A bit more forgiving. The Cross Check looks like a great addition to your stable!
    2151 days ago
    Before long you will have your very own used bike shop, lol. Nice blog. Glad you got what you wanted. emoticon
    2161 days ago
  • JACKIE542
    Looks like you have another great bike. I I ever need a new one I know to came back and re read your blogs. Thank you for all the info. emoticon
    2163 days ago
    I just love reading your blogs! Your enthusiasm for biking just pours out of them! I always feel like I am watching the whole event, you are so descriptive.

    Congratulations on the newest member of your bike family!!
    2163 days ago
    Lance Armstrong once wrote, "It's not about the bike." I guess he was wrong. It's interesting to read how you match the bike to the niche.
    2163 days ago
  • HILLSLUG98239
    And that, my friends, is why I carry a folding bike rack in the trunk of my car.
    2164 days ago
    Amazing. Enjoy.
    2164 days ago
    N + 1 is the correct number of bikes to own. Glad you found something new to love!
    2164 days ago
    Your blogs are so well written that I actually get interested in finding out more about something in which I have no interest.
    Seriously, I do learn a lot about bicycles in your blogs. So much to learn, so little time.
    Thanks, and ride safely.
    2164 days ago
    2164 days ago
    2164 days ago
    You really know your bikes!

    2164 days ago
  • NWFL59
    'I think I can resist the urge to purchase a Specialized Carve Expert 29er hardtail mountain bike' ... glad you could resist as the bikes you've previously described in your inventory seem to cover your riding conditions well even if they are getting a bit of age on them. Enjoy your ride and please try not to fall off! emoticon emoticon
    2164 days ago
    As usual, you're proof that the correct number of bikes is N + 1
    2165 days ago
  • OWL_20
    Bruce, I'm drooling over the new bike. I took mine out for a spin today--a whole 12 miles, lol. But nothing can beat that feeling. Also wanted to say that you have some of the prettiest riding along the Cherry Creek Trail--my husband and I lived in Denver for almost 5 years back in the early 90's. Good job with the salesperson--not sure where he was going with the interrogation, sheesh.
    2165 days ago
    I really dislike it when I go into some kind of speciality store for something, whether it's electronics, or something for fitness or whatever, and some salesperson wants to talk me out of what I went in for and sell me something different. I went into one of the stores in a mall once looking for a particular type of Nike I wanted. I also know that my feet swell when I run, or walk long distances, and what size I need to accommodate that. The sales guy insisted checking my shoe size and tried to talk me into a smaller size. Then they didn't even have the particular type I wanted. I ended up leaving without buying anything. Sometimes we know exactly what we want and don't want to try to be talked out of that into something else Glad you were able to get the bike you wanted, modify to fit your needs, and up your mileage!
    2165 days ago
  • no profile photo AUSTRALIA55
    2165 days ago
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