Surly Cross Check

It's been in the Surly Catalogue for more than 20 years, what possible relevance could the venerable Cross Check still have in a world of modern adventure and gravel bikes...? That would depend on you, here's mine.

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for a long time. Originally it was started in response to increasing interest in my Cross Check, both online and while out and about, so it seemed like it might be worth writing about it, a little. Doubts soon set in however, after all the Cross Check has been in the Surly catalogue, essentially unchanged, for more than 20 years now. What relevance could it possibly have in a world of modern gravel and adventure bikes that tends towards a focus on light weight, electronic shifting, and all the latest, and frequently shifting, standards in bicycle design such as through-axles, tapered head tubes, and wotnot. As such this post has been languishing for a while, but on a wet August evening, in what has felt like a deeply weird and oppressive summer here in Cornwall, with no desire to just watch telly, and with precious little else to write about, I may as well push this out. It also has relevance perhaps as I ponder what my hypothetical ideal bicycle for, say, riding from here to Central Asia might be; I’ve decided that it would look an awful lot like this.. but preferably with a little more tyre clearance.

It is oft described as a jack of many trades, master of none, and marked down as a consequence. To do so misses the point of a Cross Check entirely.

It is probably also important to point out that this isn’t intended as a review in the conventional sense of sharing views around “good points vs bad points”. Having seen many reviews of the Cross Check over the years that attempt to make a definitive judgement, I’ve formed the opinion that, in the context of a modern, highly segmented cycling world, it is not a bike that is easily reviewed in an impartial way; it is oft described as a jack of many trades, master of none, and marked down as a consequence. To do so misses the point of a Cross Check entirely.

Solid rather than flashy… but super-versatile on a wide range of terrain.

Being something of a nerdy modern classic, apparently, I’ve seen some very classy examples of Cross Checks around the web. Mine isn’t like that, rather it’s just solid and reliable but with component choices based on longevity and functionality rather than weight or style, or the idea that expensive is always best. It’s a bike born of many years of riding and figuring out what’s important for the riding I like to do, whether that’s knocking around local trails, big days out, riding to a fishing spot, or months-long touring – all of which I’ve done on this bike.

in many respects I think of my Cross Check as being more like a rigid mountain bike with skinnier tyres, than a gravel or cyclocross bike with fatter tyres

It’s also not put together with even half an eye on the scales. I learned long ago, contrary to what the industry will tell you, that it doesn’t really matter a great deal how much your bike weighs. Unless you’re riding a time-trial up Alpe d’Huez, then if you haven’t got the legs the lightest bike in the world won’t help you.. and if you have got the legs then it really doesn’t make a great deal of difference what bike you’re on provided it fits well and puts a smile on your face.

The crank is a Middleburn R01 spinning on a ridiculously reliable and long-lasting Shimano UN55 BB. Inner and outer rings are stainless steel, 22T and 38T respectively, that are showing no signs of significant wear after many, many thousands of kilometres in all weathers, on all kinds of terrain. Combined with an 11-28 cassette at the rear, I have an almost straight-through set of closely-spaced ratios with minimal gear overlap in which the inner ring is really only necessary for loaded bikepacking or steep climbing on difficult terrain. The rest of the time it may as well be a single-ring setup with a top gear that’s tall enough to let me twiddle along at 30mph if I have to. I’m of the opinion that most ‘gravel bikes’ are sold over-geared when in fact “quiche-gearing” makes far more sense for tackling a variety of terrain, and long days in the saddle. (quiche-gearing = “real men don’t eat quiche”)

This is actually my second Cross Check. I first put one together in 2005 (I think, or maybe it was 2006, I can’t remember..). It was ace, I hammered it on rough tracks all across the moors, I did some touring on it, and an awful lot of just riding around. At that time I hadn’t yet learned that “stiffer, lighter, and more expensive” doesn’t always make for a better experience, so figuring that, as it was so good, a spendy, lightweight titanium version with a carbon fork would be even better. It wasn’t. It was great on smooth tracks, but on technical, rocky, lumpy stuff it was no match for my old Cross Check, so after a few years of denial I sold it. I’d missed the compliance of the Cross Check frame and fork and its ability to soak up abuse; in many respects I think of my Cross Check as being more like a rigid mountain bike with skinnier tyres, than a gravel or cyclocross bike with fatter tyres. It’s a super, confidence-inspiring frame for flying along singletrack and down rocky trails with gleeful abandon (within limits..). For this class of bike it’s a nimble climber too I find, and geared low as I have it, I can tackle quite technical climbs on it that would otherwise be a struggle on a more conventional gravel bike.

From time to time my head is turned by newer machines, for whatever reason, but I don’t have the confidence that I’d enjoy anything else, on such a variety of terrain, as much as my Cross Check. This one is eight years old, at the time of writing, and seems to be one of those bikes that feels better and better as it ages, rather like a favourite pair of jeans. It is slowly acquiring a patina reflective of all the fun times I’ve enjoyed with it, and looks absolutely spot on with a light coating of dust from the trails. It could well outlast me.

Friction downtube shifters wouldn’t be everyone’s first choice of gear shifter, especially if used to integrated shifters on the bars, and nothing wrong with that. However… I really like them; shifts are a bit slower but in a way having these reinforces what this bike is all about. I don’t find them a handicap but I do find them a delight to use – elegant simplicity aside, after enjoying the satisfaction of a perfectly executed, and silent shift the “clack clack” of an indexed system feels crude by comparison. There are functional advantages too in terms of simplicity and durability, and the lack of indexing means I can make do with pretty much any derailleur I can find should I need to. I have a 9 speed cassette at the moment, but I could easily use that with a 10spd mech, or vice versa, or switch to a complete 10spd transmission without having to buy new shifters (11spd setup require more cable pull; Dia-compe make a friction shifter that will pull an 11spd mech). While I’m on the topic, I do have misgivings with the trend towards electronic shifting and non-recyclable, non-repairable parts.. I get that it’s fast, and has a techy appeal but I struggle with the idea of something as elegantly simple as a bicycle being burdened with the environmental overhead* of additional supply chains and toxic issues around extraction, manufacture, and disposal of lithium batteries and electronics, all of which are likely to be in service for less than half as long as a simple mechanical setup before they’re in the garbage.
I am a fan of old-school hubs with loose bearings; I think they appeal to my “inner fettler”, needing as they do, a service from time to time (bit arbitrary but roughly every 10,000km or so seems to work provided the cones are properly adjusted). When looked after however they should last ages. They also have steel axles which I like, having seen many a broken aluminium alloy axle in a high end hubs used for touring.
My current favourite rims for this bike are Kinlin ADHN. They’re a single-eyeletted box-section rim very similar to the much more expensive H Plus Son TB14. The £25 price tag belies the quality of the rim; they’ve proven terrifically durable, and the consistent metallurgy means I find they build effortlessly into a strong, evenly-tensioned wheel. They have a nice classic look too. Every few years I need to swap a rim when the sidewalls are worn out, but it’s a quick job of the kind you can mostly do on the sofa with a mug of tea and Star Wars on the telly. Worn rims go off to be recycled, along with worn chains, cassettes and so on.

Other than those already mentioned in the captions, there isn’t much else to say about the component choices. I’ve tried a few different handlebars over the past few years and have settled on a Velo Orange Nouveau Randonneur as being just perfect. Not as radically flared as most dirt-drops, they have just enough flare to allow wrist clearance when descending off-road in the drops, but not so much as to make long days on the hoods uncomfortable. The top is slightly ovalised too which I find very nice when climbing in the saddle, especially on dirt. Surly frames tend to be proportionally long in the top tube, this is a 54cm frame and has a top tube of 56cm. Being proportionally long in the leg, short in the body, I’m generally happier with frames around 55 x 55. With the relatively short seat-tube however the Velo Orange tall-stack stem puts the bars in a good place for both touring and dirt adventures, and means I have plenty of top tube ‘knacker clearance’ for mucking about off-road.

Tektro CR 720 cantilevers definitely are not gucci, especially in light of some of the high-end offerings from the likes of Paul Components. What they are however is a very effective brake with no obvious design flaws likely to cause issues in the long term, and that are excellent value for money. Incidentally the Tektro logo polishes off easily with a drop of T-cut.. in case you’re a tart.. like me ;-)

As for whether or not I would use it for the long trek to Central Asia (once the pandemic is little more than a memory).. I could, quite easily; after all Robert Jefferson made the journey by bicycle from Catford, London, to Khiva in 1899 on his basic singlespeed of the era (look for his book “A New Ride To Khiva”).

The problem with having more choice is that we have more scope to feel we are using the wrong equipment…

Despite that, I still feel that some rubber a little fatter than the 45c-47c that fits here would be handy, especially for some of the dirt routes through the Caucasus and on to Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. That would in fact be the only thing I would change, everything else would be just perfect I think. As a wise friend recently said however, in the context of a conversation about bikes and the current vast range of wheel sizes, tyre widths, and gearing choices available, “the problem with having more choice is that we have more scope to feel we are using the wrong equipment“. Not being restricted to the tyranny of a manufacturer groupset, you can just hang all sorts of old and/or interesting bits off a Cross Check and end up with a bike that will keep a smile on your face pretty much forever. Perhaps that’s why people have been asking about mine recently; fatigued by the endless barrage of new kit and marketing spiel shoved down throats every day by the cycling media, something like this starts to look like a good way to sidestep all of that and just get back to enjoying riding. In that sense it’s kind of like a geared fixed-gear.. if that makes any sense at all.

Here’s the build list, for those that still care enough to have read this far:

  • Frame & Fork Surly Cross Check, 54cm
  • Cranks Middleburn R01 + 110/58mm BCD “Incy” spider
  • Chainrings Stainless steel 38/22T (Surly/Blackspire)
  • BB Shimano UN55
  • Rear Derailleur Shimano SLX 9spd
  • Front Derailleur Shimano Ultegra CX70
  • Shifters Rivendell
  • Cassette Shimano 9spd, 11-28T
  • Hubs Shimano LX T670
  • Rims Kinlin ADHN
  • Tyres WTB Riddler 700x45c
  • Brakes Tektro CR720 cantis with TRP levers
  • Seatpost On-One Twelfty
  • Saddle Brooks Cambium C17
  • Handlebars Velo Orange Nouveau Randonneur, 46cm
  • Stem Velo Orange Tall Stack 80mm
  • Pedals Shimano M540
  • Weight Wrong question ;-)

* A drop in the ocean I know, and maybe I’m overthinking things, but I feel that it is important, increasingly so, to be in the habit of thinking about the buying choices we make in the context of the full lifecycle, from extraction of raw materials, to end of life disposal or probability of being recycled, not solely in terms of the immediately obvious benefit or appeal, and what the true cost of that benefit is. Gear shifting is a good example, to have the convenience of pushing a button instead of moving a lever requires lithium extraction and processing, semiconductor manufacture – and the associated toxic materials and energy involved in those processes, plus issues around disposal, and difficulty of recovering materials for re-use. It’s also depressing to see the bin-loads of unserviceable, non-repairable, non-recyclable bike parts in the corner of the workshop in my local bike shop. They do the best they can to at least recover the metal parts for scrap, but it’s not always possible or time-effective to try separate them.

68 thoughts on “Surly Cross Check

  • Ooh, do you know what chain line you’re getting with what BB length?

    I have the same crank and was considering going 2x.

    • hey, good question, from memory I fitted a BB 2mm shorter than recommended, knowing that I was going to spend most of my time in the outer ring, so it puts the outer ring ever so slightly inboard such that it aligns with the middle of the cassette, and I can happily use the whole cassette without the angles getting too much. it does mean I don’t use the smallest couple of cogs with the inner ring but it’s hardly a loss… Thing is I can’t for the life of me remember what BB length I used. I do have a vague memory of the Incy spider having a recommended length different to that of the other road spiders. ah google to the rescue, I just found this which has some advice for using that spider:

      • Nice one, thanks that’s useful.

        It goes against the spirit of this post slightly but I’m considering pairing it with a GRX drivetrain sounds like it could be possible.

        FWIW my other ‘gravel’ bike still has rim brakes!

        • haha, nothing against new stuff when it fulfils a need, and I think the other thing is.. everyone is on their own ‘journey’ and has their own needs when it comes to bikes and cycling. All am trying to do is articulate my own experiences and thoughts. I used to be pretty obsessed with lightweight, techy stuff when I was racing, but in the end realised that actually, it wasn’t giving me the happiest riding experience. The final nail in the coffin of all that, for me, I think was discovering that the thing I enjoyed riding the most of all was an old steel fixed wheel, and I ended up being quicker on that than any of the other stuff. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea however :-)

  • An excellent read. I completely agree with your slant on (disposable) electronic gadgetry on bikes – if your bike becomes “unusable” because the batteries are flat and it’s stuck in one gear (oh the horror) then you’ve really missed the point of cycling completely.

    • Really enjoyed that, although I’m probably biased as I’ve had my mustard yellow one for about 8 months now. It really is a jack of all trades and should be applauded for not pandering to trends, It feels like a quicker version of my 90’s mountain bikes and can cover the same type of terrain more or less.

  • Great post Mike, enjoyed reading this. Such a versatile platform the cross check – really like the build you’ve gone for here. Got a sage green cross check frame waiting to be built so this has given me some food for thought. Liking the quiche gearing concept and the mix of lower cost components here. Nice!

  • Hi Mike, I have followed your posts for a while now and love your thoughts and writings. As a photographer I really appreciate the beautiful images that you post.

    As for your CC I love it , and my own CC is 13 years old now and just had its third rebuild.

    And as a note for TEA, it will run GRX no problem ( well apart from actually getting the parts down here in OZ) I am running the 10 speed 46-30 with the 11-34 cassette. Its a fantastic range and should see my CC through another decade. I also changed to a SQ Lab flat bar setup and it works a lot better than I expected.

    I was going to add an image but did not figure out how to :)

    Thanks again for one of the best blogs out on the net, enjoy your riding and kayaking in a beautiful part of the world.

    • Hi Stephen, thanks for taking a moment to write, and thanks also for sharing your Cross Check details, it’s fantastic how many are around, all with different builds depending on the owner’s thoughts; such a versatile frame. Also… that’s awfully nice feedback from you, thanks, much appreciated!

    • oh p.s. – images, they have to be hosted somewhere, there isn’t a direct public upload into the comments, and then [img]…[/img] BBCode tags should work… but I best test it… !

  • This is a superb viewpoint writing on the Cross Check! It expresses my own thoughts as a cc owner perfectly, only much better articulated than I could’ve done. I was a bike tech for about 12 years through the mid 90’s to about 2012, so I saw so much continual change in the bike industry that I wound up disgusted and burned out by so much so called advancement that was mostly a bunch of B.S. I bought a cc frame as a backup in 2010 and gradually upgreded all the parts to mid 90’s MTB components, most of which were N.O.S. found on eBay. I have fallen in love with the bike and will now never even consider another brand than Surly. For me it’s about being satisfied with when things were good enough and embracing it to the full which in turn brings freedom from the stress of trying to stay current with a relentless industry. Freedom, I believe is one of the key words that describes the bicycle, and also the word simplicity. In fact simplicity is freedom in many ways, and less is more. Probably it’s the reason why few reviews on the Cross Check really do it justice, because a mindset needs to be involved to really get the pure appreciation and joy from this bike… BTW, if you can still find them, because I think they have discontinued production of them, the Kenda Karma 29×1.9 aka 700×50 may be just the tire you’re wishing for. It fits with an acceptable amount of clearance and causes a bit of toe overlap, but otherwise runs great as long as you stay away from sticky mud and snow since it has a tendency to pack up between the tire and stays/fork blades, otherwise awesome in the dry stuff and lightweight for a tire so plump.

    • hey, that’s awesome, I really appreciate you taking the time to share your view / experience. Your assertion of the bike representing freedom is so spot-on. When putting the post together I felt as if my mind was skating around that concept without knowing quite how to articulate it, and you nailed it with a single sentence. It’s hard to articulate how much of a positive influence on my cycling life a Cross Check has been.
      Thanks too for the tyre recommendation… heading to eBay…!

  • Thanks! And sorry, I was in a bit of a hurry when I wrote that so I didn’t take the time to proof read. I just noticed an error I’d like to correct for whatever it matters. At the end of the fourth sentence it reads “90’s mob components”, but I meant to say “mtb” as in mountain bike… Happy journeys!

  • Thanks Mike! I’d love to send you a pic of my Cross Check in its element if you have an email you give out??

      • Yes, I got it. I’ve tried four times and for some reason it keeps returning the mail back to me. Never had that happen before… Might be an issue with my iPad, not sure. No worries on my side though. Sorry mate!

          • Hey Mike, sorry bout the delay! Yes, actually there is one. I posted a pic at around a year ago when I did a review about it, so you could look there under Cross Check reviews. It’s a green one with no decals. Not the best pic in the world, but it’s acceptable. You’ll see my name, Fleabody McCoy on the review. Cheers!

  • Ah thanks, you’re too nice! Yes, 90’s Race Face Turbine crank I got on eBay never used. I rubbed out the logo to give it a cleaner look. Awesome score! The original color on the frame was black. The shifters are Dura Ace 9speed bar end shifters mounted to Paul Thumbies. For some reason the pics come out a bit fuzzy when you put them on Surly’s site. Anyway, when you stated how you think of your Cross Check as a mountain bike with skinnier tires I had to wonder how many times that exact thought ran through my mind about my own.

  • Great read mate, I was just digging through Google Images for some inspiration for Sally, my 2005 Crosscheck who’s been mothballed for most of the year waiting for some inspiration. Since she’s been a Commuter, fixed gear, single speed and Gravel Bike so far but based on the sentiments in your article, I think its time she returned to her first incarnation as a 9 speed miles muncher. Cheers!

      • Well happy to say the bike came out great, took her out for the first time today and the clean cockpit, downtube shifters and 20 year old drivetrain brought all manner of fun to the proceedings. Know that the sentiments in this blog went some way to inspiring this build so thanks!

          • Hey Mike,

            You know your vintage parts! Yeah thats a 7700 Dura Ace Double crankset with a 48/37 chainring set on it. It used to be on a friends CX Racer and it got donated when I restored their frame. I’d bought a bunch of other 7700 parts to build up a vintage Dean but that build went another way so I was left with this downtube Dura Ace 7700 groupset. So onto the Crosscheck went the Dura Ace Downtube Shifters, Crankset, Bottom Bracket & Front Derailleur. Sad I couldnt use the rear derailleur but I need more range in LA than the 24T 7700 Dura Ace Cassette I had. That rear derailleur is an old 30 year old Shimano STX long cage that I got bundled with another frame I restored. Originally on 7 speed bikes but thanks to that Shimano cable pull, works great on 9 speeds indexing. Gave it a clean, replaced the cable clamp and hey presto 9 speed 36T in the rear.

            Bashed out 35 miles on it yesterday and the drivetrain is as good as any of my newer bikes, its hard not to appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into making drivetrain parts last this long. So the build wound up being some old, some new, some borrowed, nothing blue. The bike has been a London commuter, a single speed neighborhood utility bike, an CA gravel bike but I think its current incarnation is my favourite so far. Its a Crosscheck, all it ever needs to be.

          • lovely, thought it was,I’ve had a few, it’s pretty much the last nice looking crank shimano made, IMHO…! Really nice suite of parts, it’s great to keep using that stuff, it was all so nicely made.

          • hey sure, the WTB Riddler 45s are slightly undersize, they measure to 43mm inflated on the kinlin rims. There is still room however for a genuine 45c tyre, and I have in the past run 47c Marathon Mondials on this bike without issue.

  • Great write up that captures the spirit of owning a Cross-Check. Why does our equipment need to be so precisely optimized and specialized? That path only leads to discontent. There is a freedom in quietly ignoring the trends and just riding what you have, wherever you are (or want to go). More fun, too. Thanks for the reminder.
    I think my Cross-Check is the same colour as yours, dark blue, running the stock fixed/SS drivetrain. Mine’s currently set up for utility (fenders, swept bar, basket, etc.). Fixed wheel with studded tires makes winter commuting in Canada safe-ish and fun. But I am strongly considering picking up a second frameset (while we can?) to build up a “9 speed miles muncher”, to borrow Cqcycles’ phrase. I already have most of the parts I’d need and I think that would be an ideal “fun bike” stablemate for my “work bike”.
    Thanks again for the great article and the inspiration.

    • hey, thanks for taking the time to write, much appreciated. Your comment “while we can?” strikes a chord, it’s something I have been pondering over the last year or so, wondering how much longer it’s going to be possible to buy such a singularly versatile frame… Like you I do think about useful it would be to have a second, in my case set up with a fixed wheel. hmmmm, you’ve set me thinking again! cheers!

  • Hello! Really love reading your stories. Like many others I have also fallen for the trap that lighter and newer is better, until I bought a cross check and my outlook changed. I have a question about the cranckset. Mine has the standard FSA double with 110pcd and 48/36 rings. I would like to lower the hearing to something like 42/34. Is there anything I have to think about apart from the pcd and number of holes?
    Thanks again and keep up the good work.

    • hey Luca, thanks for taking the time to write, it’s really super to hear from so many different folk with their stories. Re the crankset, no it should be fine. Sometimes when going very small with rings, a normal front derailleur can be hard to ‘tune’ but as your smallest ring is not that much smaller I don’t think you’ll have any problems at all. You will probably find that you just need to slide the derailleur a little lower down the seat tube to accommodate the smaller rings. There’s a guide to setting it up here:

  • Came across your article about the Surly Cross Check, great read! I have also become quite passionate about the humble Cross Check, have been riding mine for many years, touring across Europe, lots of local trips here in Norway, so called “gravel” riding, and everyday riding around town, including winter riding with studded tires. But I want to be a modern person of course, so a couple of times a year I will check if bike shops now have anything better to offer, supposing things are developing. And I have to say I find most of what they have a little laughable compared to the manifold qualities of the CC, unless it costs at least 4 times as much, and that makes me feel really good too of course!

    But a word about sizing; since it was mentioned that the CC geometry is a little bit eccentric with its long top tubes and short head tubes and so on. I ended up bying a very small frame for my size, and I love it. It is a 50 cm which is considered tiny for a man of 180 cm, but the length is exactly right for me, I can use a longish stem on it and the handling is great. I prefer a short and low front end, lots of seat post and a good part of the weight on the front wheel. My preference for small frames might be a little extreme, but my point is that I would advise buying CC frames based on the top tube lengths rather than seat tube, since they are not roughly the same, as on most frames. For example a 54 has about the length of most 56 frames. Sizes also feel different, the 50 is so compact it feels like a harder spring, so to speak, I also built up a 52 size frame for my son, which has a longer torso and is a little taller, and I think maybe that 52 size is a little “springier” in the frame an absolutely lovey feeling bike, but a little on the long side for my taste. Also would like to mention those lovely semi-horizontal dropouts, they give you several bikes in one. If I am feeling like having a racier bike with a snappy lively feel, I position the back wheel as forwards as possible, if I go touring with some load, or I feel like cruising, I push it all the way back, and everything in between. I have several bikes, but the CC has a special place for sure! Compliments for the very nice website!

    • hey Magnus, thanks for writing! We’re on same page with regard to not bing able to find a compelling reason to replace a Cross Check with something else :-) I agree completely re sizing based on top tube, I generally have always done that although in picking a 54cm cross check I was looking for a compromise in that a short stem would give me the right reach without being too low for preference at the front with my long legs; you’re right though, a 50cm does sound very small for someone of your height but clearly it works for you and your riding style, and definitely a small frame is going to be better than on that’s too large.

      Happy trails!

      • Hi Mike,

        Do you mind me asking how tall you are and if the CC is comfortable riding on the drops?

        I am torn between a 54 and 56 cm CC. I am 181 cm, and also ride a Salsa Casseroll with a 56cm effective top tube, which feels perfect–very comfortable even 10 hours in the saddle–as it seems you also ride the same sized Casseroll, I am guessing the 54cm CC would suit me too.

        Until recently, I had a Trek 520, which was comfortable on the hoods, but not on the drops–I think it’s ETT was around 57cm.

        As Magnus mentioned, the CC has a unusally long ETT, which is why I am leaning towards a 54cm CC frame = 56cm ETT.

        There are no LBSs with either sizes near me, which is why I’m asking for this advice.

        • hey no problem. I’m 174cm with a 99cm inseam. my upper body is proportionally short relative to my legs so while the TT on the 54 is quite long for me given the intent of the bike (not as road-oriented as the casseroll), it can be mitigated with a short stem. my long legs means a smaller size would have been far too small vertically. the 54 is a trade-off between having a frame that isn’t too small vertically, putting the bars too low without a stupid amount of spacers, but not too long horizontally.

  • Love the post. It describes the kind of mindset I like. Can you tell me how many mm’s clearance you have between your tire and the front derailleur? Also, do you have to deflate the tire at all when removing the wheel due to the forward facing dropouts?

    • Hey, cheers for the feedback, much appreciated. there’s a bit more than 1cm between front mech cage and tyre when on inner ring. the actual clearance concern with tyres on this frame is the chainstay, there’s ~3-4mm with the riddlers.
      As for removing rear wheel, it helps if its soft with this size tyre.

  • Just as a follow up to a previous question you asked about tire width and fr derailleur clearance…. I frequently run 50mm aka 1.8 knobby Kenda Karmas plus I have triple chainrings up front and never had any derailleur issues at all… I do however get a bit of toe buzz when carving sharp single track turns, but these tires are as plump as you can go on the Cross Check. When I switch wheel sets and put the set on with these tires I have to deflate them substantially to get them to pass through the brake pads.

    BTW… If you don’t have a Surly Hurdy Gurdy yet, get one! On heavily loaded pedaling it eliminates axle slip at the Q.R. and though a bit finicky when changing a wheel out it is a precision fit.

  • Regarding the chainstay clearance, is it the knobs or the tire carcass/sidewall that’s close? Also, where in the dropout is the axle positioned? If placed all the way to the rear of the dropout, do you think shifting would be affected?

    • knobs and carcass on the riddler fill to about same width. The axle is middle of the dropout which puts the widest part of the tyre in the middle of the chainstay “crimp”. moving the wheel farther back doesn’t look as though it will give you more clearance, rather the opposite, if that’s what you’re thinking.

  • Thanks for the information – your bike looks great. I’ve been thinking about a 2x Cross-Check build and taking advantage of the down tube shifter bosses to simplify the cockpit (and build). However, I had only considered “typical” chainring combinations. I never thought of assembling a custom crankset like your 38/22t combination so I really appreciate the suggestion.

  • Hi Mike,

    I’m looking at using the same front mech on a Cross Check and would like to know what chainline you are running your double chainset with.

    I’m mindful of the mech rubbing either or both wider tyres (like the Raddler 45s you are using) and on the chainstay with the mech mounted in a lower position on the seat tube than it was intended (because using a smaller outer chainring).

    I’m considering using a MTB chainset with similar gearing to you (40-24) which on paper has a wider chainline than the CX70 can achieve.

    I’ve had my Cross Check for ten years and would like to keep it rolling. This post is great inspiration.

    Thanks, Jonathan

    • hey, chainline is 42mm. it’s a bit narrow really but as I said in one of the comments I deliberately biased it towards having the outer ring in the position of a single-ring setup as I tend to ride it as a single ring unless heavily loaded or offroad. Clearance with the tyre isn’t an issue but clearance between bottom of the cage and the chainstay is tight. Shimano GRX 10spd front mech supports a 47mm chainline so that might work for you…

      cheers for writing and good luck with it!

      /*– UPDATE –*/
      I’m adding some more info to this comment, having been intrigued by the actual chainline measurement. The outer ring, set up as it is, aligns with a point between cogs 5 and 6 on the cassette (counting out with the largest cog being #1; it’s a 9spd cassette). it works well bing able to use the full cassette effectively like a single ring setup, and just ignoring the couple of smallest sprockets when in the small ring. That’s where the {minimal} gear overlap is anyway, so it’s not a problem.

      • Thanks Mike for you comments. That’s a great idea to get the chainline setup for the bulk of your riding. I am surprised it’s that narrow considering you are using 135mm MTB hubs (me too!). I’m trying to decide whether to convert my road triple and have narrow chainline, or to use a MTB double and have a wider one. I mostly use the bike for offroad touring / bikepacking (e.g. Second City Divide) – so I guess the chainline to get right is the climbing one – maybe narrower would be better.


        • yeah I was surprised too when I measured it.. there was also some element of having a BB in the parts bin that I could use rather than buying new. It seems to work fine however and the chain life seems excellent.. the moral is probably just not to worry too much :-)

  • Hi Mike,
    Thanks for this post – there us a lot of inspiration for my Cross Check build here and the build list is a great help. I like everything about your build, from the horizontal stem to the down tube shifters. I also appreciate the simplicity, which is exactly what I hope to achieve.

    I am unable to locate a front derailleur for a chainring combination similar to your 38/22T. From what I can determine, your front derailleur was designed for 46-52 top gear teeth. Are there any shifting problems with your front derailleur and the Surly/Blackspire chainrings? Thank you!

    • hey, cheers, and you’re welcome, happy to hear it’s been helpful. With regard to the front mech, it shifts just fine. Most of the time it’s parked on the big ring anyway but shifts in both directions work great, never a hiccup. The surly outer ring is not ramped or pinned so the shift is a bit slower than you might expect from a ramped ring, but honestly it’s really only a bit and not a big deal and certainly not as bad as some sources might lead you expect. Probably needs a little more sensitivity in terms of shifting under pressure – i.e. don’t force it under heavy pedal pressure but some sympathy towards mechanical components is always a good idea anyway, imo…

      N.b. I can’t comment on whether an indexed system would shift as well, friction shift being more “feel-based” as it is.

    • Hi Rick,

      I tried to get hold of CX70 front mech but couldn’t find any in the UK. Then I stumbled across the FSA compact front mechs which are available in stores and on eBay. I have just fitted and works fine as Rick and Mike suggest. To add I am also using it to shift a triple (46/36/26) at the moment – despite it being designed for double. It has sufficient adjustability to reach a third chainring and the flat plates and compact curvature works much better than the road triple I had before with its contouring to lift the chain which did not match the chain position. I plan to give this triple the SPA treatment at some point and convert to a 40/24 and had this in mind when sourcing the FSA front mech.

      I was inspired by this fantastic article on STI triples and compact chainsets by Jan Heine –

      And if you want to do away with the STI and cables all together the associated articles have some incredible descriptions of direct, lever-operated front mechs.

      • oh those Nivex lever-operated mechs look ace, I had no idea they existed, cheers for the link! (and the super contribution to what seems to be becoming something of a useful resource around front gearing on Cross Checks..)

  • Just to add, I have shamelessly copied Mike’s setup for my Cross Check as well and had similar worries about derailleur compatibility but it really does work far better than you’d imagine. Like Mike has said you won’t be able to ‘bang shift’ between the 2 rings but as long as you have a degree of mechanical sympathy and are happy to use friction shifting it will make all your gearing range dreams come true.

    Just to add I used a Spa Cycles Super Compact chainset for mine, which I highly recommend as a budget option.

  • Thank you for the reply. I guess chainring ramps and pins are a bit of a help, not the necessity some would have us believe. And it’s good to know there is a bit of flexibility with front mech as well.

  • Front mech UPDATE :-)

    I got the FSA road compact double front derailleur to shift my Stronglight Impact 46-36-24 45mm chainline chainset ok. Jan Heine was right about flat plated double mechs being suitable for road compact triples :-) It works a treat.

    I decided to convert my triple to a super compact double (40-24) and replace the bottom bracket, mostly to give tyre clearance. Sadly the FSA mech has too long a cage and I can not mount it close enough to my new outer/old middle chainring because it fouls the chainstay. The resulting shifting is awful with the chain dropping unless I am super careful with timing and force on pedals.

    I had a look at alternatives: short cage road, modern MTB with contoured plates but unsuitable cable pull ratios, older MTB with flat plates and similar looking cable pull, and lastly using a chainguard in the outer ring position.

    There are a few short cage road mechs which would be compatible with road indexed front shifter (IRD Sub-C, Gevenalle BURD, and Microshift R74S) but not available at a reasonable price ;-) Maybe next time.

    Next best I thought would be older MTB FDs that some report success with. But I was worried that they would be too wide caged to reliably derail a 10-speed chain.

    So I ordered a modern 10-speed 2x MTB FD (XT FD-M786) which is designed for oversized seat tubes (34.9mm) figuring that I could use an eccentric shim to offset it towards the seat tube and effectively inboard the chainline from reported 48.8mm to my measured chainline at 44mm – assuming there isn’t enough range in the mech to do this anyway. It just arrived and it looks like it will work so have ordered the shim. And fingers crossed there is enough cable pull in my triple shifters to effectively operate and hopefully trim this mech.

    If this doesn’t work I think I will try an older triple front mech and take the hit on the wider cage. And failing this I will resort to friction shifting :-)

    Hope this is helpful for someone and will report back. If anyone locates a compatibility table including cable pulls and ratios between indexed front shifters and front mechs please share! This would be most helpful for civilian riders where 46-30 is overgeared for casual riding.

      • That looks like what I referred to as a modern MTB double front mech, looks like it could be the Microshift Advent or Marvo and I think not dissimilar to the options from SRAM and Shimano. I think the main problem will be the cable pull ratio (and secondary problem of chainline) if you want to use that mech with indexed road shifters. If Grant Petersen and Rivendell do develop a front mech I hope they figure out to how to balance cross compatibility between cable pulls and the range to work across broad chainlines. I wonder if you can do something clever with different cable mount options to effect the pull ratio. I’ve read about people fixing the cable in different positions to adjust it but haven’t tried this yet myself.

        • it sounds like I just got lucky with the CX70.. shame that appears to be discontinued. I haven’t seen a used one on ebay for a while either – for a time i kept an eye open for one to keep as a spare…

      • I think Rivendell only just started stocking that mech because I had looked there to see what they sell before knowing they use super compact doubles e.g. 40-24. It sounds like they have also tried the SunXCD mech too with success.

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