Surly Cross-Check Review


Well, I’ve put about 150 miles on the new Surly Cross-Check that I purchased exclusively as a commuter so I thought I would provide a review.

Overall, the bike performs exactly as I envisioned it.  It’s not a speed-demon, but it isn’t intended to be.  At this point, I like it a lot…..

Overall, I would give the bike an A- on the grading scale.

Comfort = A

The biggest factor in deciding to get this bike was to get a bike that was comfortable on a day-in and day-out basis.  The steel frame does a great job of absorbing road chatter, and handles the bigger bumps and potholes I encounter downtown like  a champ.  In addition, you can see from the picture above that I’ve got the bar in a slightly positive relationship to the saddle.  This gives me a pretty upright ride for a road bike.  I moved the Serfas saddle from my mountain bike to this one when the Terry Fly I preferred wasn’t available.  At this point, that saddle is more than sufficient for the short, nine miles I commute from home to the office. 

Speed and Efficiency = B+

I knew I would be sacrificing a little speed when compared to my carbon-fiber road bike.  For the 150 miles I’ve ridden the Surly, I’m carrying a 15.0 mph average speed.  On the road bike, I usually pulled a 15.9 average on my commutes.  I’m not disappointed in this difference. 

The gearing I chose for the Surly is more in line with a mountain bike than a road bike.  I put a 42 tooth single on the front because I simply don’t use the front derailleur on any bike I ride except the tandem, and when we need it there, it is a rarity.  On the rear, I’ve got a long-cage Shimano XT derailleur coupled with a 12-32 9-speed cassette.  This gives me a gear range that is more than adequate for my rides through town.  In fact, I’ve yet to use the 32 or 12 tooth cogs.  The rear derailleur and cassette is an exact match to what we run on the tandem, so it performs exactly as I expected.

The Surly is a little slow off the line, much the way a truck or RV would be.  It takes a bit to get it up to speed, but once there, it is fairly easy to maintain that speed.  I suspect one of the main reasons for this is the wheelset I chose to use.  I’ve got 32 spoke Mavic Open Sport rims laced to Shimano 105 hubs.  While this combination is certainly above an entry-level wheelset, it’s not particularly speedy or sexy.  What it is, though, is tough, which was the requirement I had.

Handling = A-

With a slightly longer wheelbase than my road bike, and a fork rake that seems to be a little longer, the handling of the Surly is  more stable than the road bike.  It doesn’t twitch at each minute movement I make.  The ride is solid as a rock, even with my pannier on the back.

Frankly, I can rarely tell that the pannier is back there.  There is no wiggle from the back of the bike, even when I stand to climb a hill.  I suspect I could add a second pannier and probably even small ones on the front and the bike would continue to handle as well as it does.

Hill-Climbing = B

Unfortunately, I live most of the way down in a river valley, so to get away from the house I’ve always got to climb.  The strength of my road bike is that it’s a climbing fool.  The Surly, on the other hand takes a little more effort, but that’s to be expected.  Fully outfitted with racks, fenders and lights, the bike weighs in at a hefty 29.2 lbs which is plenty stout.  Add to that the 10-12 lbs of junk I carry around in the pannier on most trips and you can see why I give a “B” here.

Stopping Ability = B

The one thing I wished I could have done differently with the build of the Surly was to use a disk brake on the back.  Unfortunately, the frame isn’t built to take a disk, so I had to settle for cantilevers.  I went with the Avid Shorty 4’s, which provide adequate braking power, but nothing special.  When I wear through the first pair of pads, I’ll replace them with Kool-Stop salmon.  That should help in wet weather braking, but they’ll probably not last as long as you would prefer.

Other Thoughts

** I’m glad I went ahead and used the Tiagra STI shifter instead of the bar-end.  That shifter is definitely not as nice as the 105’s I’m used to on both my road bike and the tandem, but it will do.  The one nice feature of it is there is a little gear indicator gauge built into the top of it that my older 105’s don’t have.  On the downside, it doesn’t feel as crisp shifting as the higher levels of components do.


**  The Planet Bike Cascadia fenders are awesome.  They installed easily and perfectly, and provide great coverage for those times I can’t avoid wet weather.  And they look pretty cool!

planet bike

**  Likewise, the TUBUS Vega rack installed perfectly.  It was expensive, but I think it compliments the bike.


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10 Comments on “Surly Cross-Check Review”

  1. Steve A Says:

    So how much of the speed difference compared to the road bike is the wheel/tire combination? I’d guess MOST of it.

    You forgot to rate overall COOL factor. For that, I’d give it an “A.” Almost as good as a Tricross…

  2. tracywilkins Says:

    Steve, you’re probably right about that. The tires on this bike are Continental Gatorskin 28′s, and I currently have the Gatorskin 25′s on the other bike, so I suspect the difference is in the wheels, but the additional weight could be a contributor.

  3. DC Says:

    I never considered a single ring on the front before I read about your bike. I’m going to build a bike for my girlfriend with that setup. Hopefully that will end my endless answer of “no, on the left side click the small lever to go uphill.” :)

  4. tracywilkins Says:


    Thanks for visiting! Yeah, I’ve had that conversation a time or two also…..

    As for the single, I really thought about it a lot and decided that I didn’t really need it for this bike.

  5. [...] local cycling visionary Sky Boyer. Our Missouri cycling reporter is anything but Surly about his new commuter bike. Biking in Heels discusses the important winter-time topic of proper lighting. A great dooring [...]

  6. GK Says:

    I just bought a cross-check. It’s fantastic. It’s the second cyclocross bike I’ve had. I replaced my specialised tricross exactly because I was unhappy with the braking. To fix this issue would have cost more than I was willing to spend on an old bike. I bought a complete cross-check and got the LBS to replace the from fork with a disc compatible one and put an Avid bb7 on it. The rear brake is still a cantilever but thats not such an issue, afterall its the front brake that will stop you when you need to be stopped. No regrets it’s awesome.

  7. SurlyaboutSurly Says:

    Surly Cross Checkes are great framesets, but a medicore as complete bikes. They cut corners on their components and you will pay the price. Surly website states that “stuff that works well and doesn’t dent your piggy bank too bad.” What they should say is that, “our goal was to keep the MSRP to $1000 because if we picked quality parts, the bike would be $2000 and no one would buy it.”

  8. I’ve got to agree that as spec’ed, the complete bike leaves something to be desired. Most folks that I’m aware of who own one have done as I did and built it up from the frame for their specific purposes. I can’t think of one that I’ve seen or known of that’s a stock build.

    That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing that they’ve spec’ed it as they have. They give you the option of buying the complete bike, albiet with low end components, but I’m guessing that’s a conscious decision based on the versatility of the frame rather than keeping it at a specific price point.

    For example, the LHT as equipped is a mighty fine touring bike that would require very little mods if I were going to buy one.

  9. Jeffrey Says:

    I am sort of oldish (>70) and overweight (>215 lbs) and ride along the Schuylkill River and up the steep hills of the valley. I have always had triple chain rings on my road bikes but they are hard to shift. If I get a Surly Cross Check, what kind of gearing would you suggest? Doesn’t that single chain mean too much space between gears?

  10. You know, that’s the great thing about the cross-check. You can run just about any configuration on it with confidence. My experience in going from a triple to a compact double on my road bikes was that it was more annoying than the triple, which I left in the middle ring 99.999 percent of the time anyway. I’ve got a single chainring up front with a 12-32 cassette on back of the Surley, and that’s plenty to get me out of my river valley, but then again, I’ve got a few years and a few pounds advantage on you. If you put me on the spot, I would recommend a triple on front with a MTB configuration on back like I have. With that, you should be able to climb anything.

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