Last spring I was looking for a singlespeed bike for some basic commuting. Nothing too crazy, but nothing too plain either. I wanted a bike that would be reliable and strong enough to take a beating on the pothole-laden Chicago streets, but still fun to ride and with some personality. Although I looked at a few complete bike options, I was pretty much set on a Surly Cross-Check. While it looked great and would be a perfect candidate to build up singlespeed, it also has semi-horizontal dropouts and thus can be built as a geared bike, whether for commuting, touring or even cyclocross racing. Flexibility in the future was just an added plus for this already awesome bike.
I spoke with the guys at Iron Cycles and set a time to pick out components. This was the first bike where I’d be picking essentially everything for the build, so Steven and I sat down at the shop to discuss options. For anyone who has not done this, I highly recommend it at least once. The simplicity of a singlespeed bike also makes it both easy and overwhelming to select parts. This is because there are a limited number of items you need to buy for the build, but each part has nearly unlimited options from which to choose.
The end results were follows: an All City crank and chainring (which looked slick in black, with etched silver logos), a basic flat handlebar with dirtbike grips, and mini-V brakes. One area I did spend some extra dough was the wheels, as I picked a set of electric blue Velocity deep V rims, with black spokes and hubs, wrapped in 25mm Conti Gatorskins. Rarely would a chip of glass or stray nails would cut through these reinforced tires, so they seemed a good choice for worry-free riding.
Two weeks later everything was at the shop. My wrenching skills are approximately limited to picking up an allen wrench to adjust a seatpost, so I opted to have the new Surly built at Iron Cycles. That said, I did want the opportunity to learn, so while Ben built the bike up he patiently explained everything he did. I picked up a good deal and found that while the beauty of a singlespeed (or fixed gear) bike is its simplicity, there is still a fair amount of prep work and skill associated with building any bike. I helped here and there with a few small tasks (though it depends who you ask – I may have slowed the process down) and after maybe 3 hours we were finished. I took the bike home and was pretty excited to get to ride it the next day!
Fast forward just over a year to today. I’ve not had a day riding the Surly that I don’t absolutely love it. It has been completely maintenance-free, other than just lubing the chain and keeping the bike clean. If I could go back to build this bike again I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s my first steel bike and while I will stick with other frame materials for racing, there is something about the steel ride that has character and as I’d heard, kind of a soul. As a rider you are not totally insulated from road vibrations, but they are dampened and the result is a comfortable yet solid ride feel. The sensation of being connected to the road through your bike is definitely present with the Cross-Check. I highly recommend considering this particular Surly if you’re in the market for a bike that is fun to ride, reliable, friendly to your wallet and flexible enough to be built up in several different ways.
Of course, this review wouldn’t be complete without a huge thank you and shout out to Ben, Steven, Brandon and Chase at Iron Cycles for the help, guidance and answering all my pain in the butt questions while building the Cross-Check. You couldn’t find a better place to bring your bike or begin your search for a new ride, so look these guys up if you’re in the market or need any repair, fit or general bike advice.
Edit: this is also posted on the Iron Cycles Blog…check them out!!