by Raoul Morley
OK, let me put this review into context. I needed a bike to ride to work on. It didn't have to be dirt cheap, but it needed to be relatively inexpensive, easily replaceable and fit inside my existing insurance policies.
I had considered building up an old MTB frame I had lying around. But then, inspired by various people and forums, badgering on the part of the local bike shop, and a need for regular exercise, I went upmarket. At the beginning of February, I took delivery of a new Surly Cross Check. So, how's it been?
The frame is nicely put together. The welds are neat, certainly as good as you could expect for £300. The horizontal dropouts are pretty good copies of the old Campagnolo design, right down to the little adjuster screws. The originals were always a favourite of mine on 80s road bikes, and it's nice to see Surly bringing them back to life. The forks are lovely, a nice cast sloping crown being a pleasant sight in this world of unicrown designs. I fell instantly for the finish, too. Mine is a retro maroon colour, although I understand that the Crosscheck is available in black, too.
I have two criticisms of the frame. Firstly, the fittings and dropout filing are not up to scratch. Perhaps I'm being unduly harsh, given the price? However, it seems a shame to go to all that effort on nice dropouts and tidy cosmetics and then mess it up with poor factory work. The other objection is off-topic: I think the gear cabling stops should be made to take an adjusting screw. However, if you're a 63xc.com reader, you can presumably ignore comments about finessing derailleurs...
The build was totally self-indulgent. I had the local bike shop set it up with an assortment of bargain basement bits, many of them seriously out of date: SunTour self energisers and Dia Compe 986s, an old Race Face stem and seat post. The only glamorous component was a set of Middleburn Uno cranks, unless you count my ageing and totally excellent Brooks saddle.
The build went fine. I was a bit worried about the Aheadset setup, but that's me being picky and retrogrouchy. I guess I should have used the Cinelli and Campagnolo bits I had in the shed, but--considering all the bashings the Surly has taken--perhaps they're best off where they are.
I ordered a larger frame than I would normally have chosen. I've had back problems recently, and I wanted a relatively small drop to the bars. Built up, the frame offered minimal overlap--only a problen with platform pedals, and even then not much of a problem.
So, what about riding? Well, I'll begin by saying that the CrossCheck was built up for commuting and it's ended up being my only bike. That's partly due to the sale of forks and things but mostly because the Crosscheck is such good fun. I ride it literally everywhere: town commute, old railway paths, woodland singletrack, epics along the Pennine bridleway...
I'd better confess to using a freewheel on the longer jaunts, but the railway and woodland riding is all fixed, and it's an absolute pleasure. The CrossCheck zips along on the road, but it also has a very stable feel offroad and so far seems totally resilient. I've noticed that the forks have a tendency to move when the going gets tough--especially on big rock-strewn descents--but the inch of travel in all directions really just adds to the grin factor.
Unlike other cheap bikes I've tried, the paint seems to be pretty hard-wearing, too. The fork ends get unceremoniously dumped on concrete daily and the dropouts are holding up well despite the constant readjustment of the rear wheel.
I've probably gushed a little too much by now but that's really a reflection on the bike. I had been expecting something cheap and dull and got instead a bike that just goes and goes and goes and begs to be hammered. It's a perfect all-round bike, able to cope with everything from razorblade 700-18s up to fat 29ers, albeit with paper-thin clearances. (I've personally settled on Conti 37cs, which give me more mud clearance than many MTBs I've seen.) Plus for town use it has the advantage of looking odd and old and not particularly attractive to thieves as it has neither suspension or gears.
I'd be amazed if anyone was to buy one and be disappointed as the Cross Check is so unassuming that it just surprises you with its hidden character. It's proof that well-thought-out frames can be as much fun as their more expensive counterparts, especially since you don't have to worry too much about pranging it or having it stolen. Although I'm getting alarmingly attached to mine...