The Surly Cross-Check is a popular model with bike enthusiasts of almost all kinds. Many devotees of this model have owned several versions, from its early gravel-eater origins to more recent releases of the bike.
The extreme customizability of the Surly Cross-Check, where almost all parts can be replaced by something other than the stock design, makes it a great bike for cyclists who are looking to create a completely custom rig.
At the same time, the stock configuration offers a good balance between high quality, high performance, and reasonable price. But, does the Surly Cross-Check live up to the hype?
We’ll look at this unique bike based on the stock components, not a special customer configuration. This is simply because the stock components are a good combination and there are almost endless possible configurations for this truly customizable bike.
We’ll review what the bike is designed for, and whether or not that differs from what the bike is actually good for in practice. We’ll talk about what kind of cyclist the Surly Cross-Check is ideal for, as well as examining the features of the bike and comparing them with a couple of similar models.
What is the Surly Cross-Check Designed For?
When the Surly Cross-Check first came out, it was known as a gravel-eating bike, and it excelled on rougher terrain and harder trails more than many of the other bikes which were available at the time. More recent versions of this bike still have those gravel-eating qualities, although it’s not quite as good as a modern mountain bike in terms of ability.
However, the Cross-Check also has the responsiveness and maneuverability of a road bike, which makes it a joy for highly technical riders, and it is more suitable than your average mountain bike when it comes to commuting.
This bike is designed to do a little bit of everything, with the ruggedness to hit mountain trails, and a finely tuned system for riding on asphalt. It’s been used in cyclocross, but Surly makes doesn’t deny that that isn’t really where the bike was meant to end up.
At the end of the day, this bike is something of a jack of all trades. It does everything moderately well thanks to its versatile design and high-quality components, but it doesn’t do anything as well as a more specialized high-end bike.
Who is the Surly Cross-Check Ideal For?
The Surly Cross-Check is ideal for cyclists who are looking for a flexible and multi-purpose workhorse. Its durable design means that the frame can tolerate a lot of stress and mistreatment before it begins to have any problems, while the high-quality components, such as the Shimano Drive system and Tektro brakes (more on those later), mean that it can tackle challenges with finesse.
While it’s a good all-purpose workhorse, it’s not a great racing bike. The fatter tire design and heavy Chromoly frame mean that this bike is just a little bit too heavy for most races. It’s also not a great design for cyclists who want a dedicated mountain bike, although it’s better as a mountain bike than a racer.
Many cyclists prefer this model of bike as a middle ground addition to their collection. It’s a fun bike to ride and experiment with, and it’s hardy enough to survive mishaps which a lighter bike might not manage to do.
While this bike is by no means a single-speed option, the system will appeal to cyclists who are fond of fixies, thanks to a design which feels slimmed down and simple, even though it isn’t.
We really recommend this bike to anyone who is looking for a less specialized bike that still offers phenomenal performance. It won’t quite match more specialized bikes, but it’s better for situations where you might switch between gravel, dirt, and asphalt.
It’s a good middle-ground option for cyclists who usually stick to road bikes or mountain bikes but who want to experiment with other riding styles.
Finally, the Surly Cross-Check is a good model for cyclists and professionals who want a commuter bike which is a little more heavy-duty than a road bike, or an urban bike.
Features and Benefits
One of the main features of this bike is something we’ve already discussed but can’t really evaluate. That is the ability to swap out components for a custom rig which is more suited to your riding style. The frame is designed to be compatible with almost any high-end components, and you can order the frame with or without stock parts.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the advantages of the stock kit.
Fatties Fit Fine
Fat bikes, known for their wide (fat) tires and beach cruising ability, are a specialty bike all of their own. However, as the Cross-Check is a bike of all trades, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s designed to fit fat tires just fine. The stock tires are Surly Knard, 700c x 41mm, which aren’t the fattest of tires, but that shouldn’t stop you.
Fat tires are designed to plow through whatever they encounter. They’re great on sand and snow, and other low-grip terrains. They’re also a shock-absorbing tire which will survive potholes and ride curbs without a problem.
The ability to upgrade to a fat tire set if you choose, while still being able to use a more standard tire, makes the Cross-Check incredibly versatile.
Shimano Drive Train
The stock drive train on the Cross-Check is made entirely from Shimano parts. This means that you’ll have the advantage of a whole system which is designed to work together, reducing maintenance needs and cutting the possibility of a chain jam.
Shimano is known for its smoothly operating and high durability parts. On a workhorse bike such as this, they offer smooth operation like a road bike, without the need for a ton of extra maintenance to handle tough terrain and rough treatment.
The bike will still require regular tune-ups, of course, but it’s unlikely that you’ll need to upgrade away from any of these components.
Tektro Brake System
The brakes on this bike are made by another big name for reliable, high-quality, high-performance parts. The Tektro M730 V-Brake is a consistent and easy-to-use system. It suits the fast braking demands of commuting in a busy urban area, as well as providing additional control on low-grip terrain.
This system isn’t quite as good as a mechanical disk brake, but it’s close. And, considering its more modest price, this system offers a higher value to performance ratio.
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Chromoly Frame and Fork
The chromoly frame is a little different to what you normally see on a bike like this. It’s a little heavier as it’s a steel frame, but it’s also highly durable. Compared to a carbon fiber frame, this one can seem a little clunky.
However, the added weight also makes it a little easier to maneuver, and it’s less likely to overbalance if the rider makes a wrong move.
It’s heavier than an aluminum alloy frame would be, but, only moderately so. Compared to aluminum, the added weight still adds considerable durability and is part of what makes it possible for this bike to hold up to so many different riding styles and terrain types.
As a side note, we also appreciate that the powder paint is incredibly durable. If you’re a sticker lover, you can rest assured that this paint job will survive several generations of stickers. It’s also easy to remove them when it’s time to replace your current stickers with something new.
The fork is also made from chromoly, and unlike some bikes which combine a frame and fork that aren’t really designed for each other, these two are specifically meant to work together.
While this doesn’t necessarily result in significant performance improvement, it does mean that they wear more predictably and you’ll be able to ride for longer before either the frame or the fork require repair or replacement.
Pros and Cons
No bike is perfect, so let’s look at the strengths and weaknesses of this design.
Other Customer View
Customers who buy the Surly Cross-Check tend to emphasize that it’s an incredibly durable workhorse. They note its extreme versatility, but also that it’s better as a cruising bike than a racer and better for a marathon than a sprint.
There are very few customers who rate the Cross-Check poorly, and of those who do, it’s usually due to the weight of the bike, or the fact that it’s more designed for fat tires than thinner, faster designs.
Self-proclaimed tinkerers also note that they love the customization options this bike offers, and some riders even say that they’ve reconfigured the bike several times, getting slightly different performance and different specialties each time.
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The Surly Straggler
We wanted to pick at least one other Surly bike for comparison. This manufacturer came out with the fat tire to begin with, and their bikes tend to have a lot in common. The Straggler and the Cross-Check are no exception.
The biggest difference which most people note between the Straggler and the Cross-Check is that the Straggler (which is actually a redesign of the Cross-Check) offers disc brakes. This makes it a slightly better option for off-roading and touring, although both bikes can handle this kind of use.
You can also adjust the Straggler to offer slightly better tire clearance than the Cross-Check.
Overall, this is another all-round bike which is designed to do a little bit of everything. However, it comes at a slightly higher price point and leans more towards off-roading and all-terrain riding than the more evenly balanced Cross-Check.
The Trek CrossRip 2
Trek’s CrossRip 2 falls right in the middle of the CrossRip line. It has a few more refinements than the original CrossRip, but a slightly lower price tag and better performance for price ratio than the CrossRip 3.
Unlike the Cross-Check, which is billed as an all-round bike that does a little bit of everything, the CrossRip 2 is considered to be a rugged commuter. That being said, both bikes are designed for users who are looking for a good urban bike that can still handle all-terrain riding and more difficult bike trails.
Both offer a 10 speed Shimano drivetrain, but whereas the Cross-Check has a slightly heavier chromoly frame, the CrossRip 2 comes with a more lightweight aluminum frame and is designed for narrower tires. However, it makes up for the lost tire versatility with higher-end disc brakes.
Unlike the Straggler, which tends to be a little more heavy-duty and rough-riding than the Cross-Check, the CrossRip 2 is more of a commuter bike with off-roading abilities added on. It’s a little slimmer, a little lighter, and similarly fun.
Overall, the Surly Cross-Check is an impressive example of a do-it-all bike. While it technically falls into the cyclocross category, that’s almost too limiting a classification for a bike which can be a fat bike, a commuter, a mountain bike, a cyclocross bike, and much more.
The design is a little heavier than true lightweight enthusiasts might prefer, and the design is heavier and slower than your average road bike or racing bike. That being said, this bike can do a lot more than more specialized designs and deserves a special place because of this.
Thanks to its high level of versatility, customization, and high-quality stock parts, this bike out-performs our expectations and is a very fun ride.