Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Inconspicous Consumer No. 3: Why I was sweating in the freezing cold

I've had my new ride for a couple weeks now. I was out in below-freezing temperatures today just so I could get the thrill of my new ride. The Surly Cross Check has changed my life. Well, strong words, but I really have been pleased with the way it performs. I spent several years with a KHS Flite 300 as a recreational ride, and as you know I've spent the last year on a fixed Schwinn as a regular commuter. All three bikes are steel. I can't make a comparison for anyone on aluminum or carbon frames, but I want to say that the Cross Check handles like nothing I've ridden before, in the best way possible.

I've been reading Rivendell and some commuter blogs recently, and I read a lot about everything that is wrong with frame geometry and what features a real commuter bike or Randonneuring set-up should have. I wasn't so sure what the big deal was. Now I know! The KHS is set up as a dedicated road bike. After about 15 miles on it, parts of my body fall asleep that I previously didn't know could fall asleep. I admit it's not top-of-the line. Something pricier or a few changes in components might have been the fix, but I was ready for a change. I don't have the time, expertise, or money to put together a custom tourer and a dedicated commuter. To split the difference I settled on the Cross Check. Surly claims "everything you can do on a bike, you can do on a crosscheck" so I took the bait. Like the KHS, the Surly is a 54 cm frame, but oh what a difference. I haven't fully put the Cross Check through the paces of a long ride, but I can tell that Surly got everything right with this unbelievably versatile stock set-up.

The Surly website made the crosscheck look like an attractively aggressive "beef gravy brown" workhorse. I know it's kind of intended as cross bike, but I wanted something roadworthy but short of the Long Haul Trucker in heft. I wasn't sure how different it could be from a road bike or from the old Schwinn, so I went to the Nebo Ridge shop in Indianapolis to try one out. Almost immediately, I knew I couldn't leave without ordering one. Surly does everything right. After weeks of commuting and a few slightly longer test-rides I haven't change my mind.

The Cross Check provides a firm but smooth ride. I can tell its a little heavier than the KHS, but the loss in agility over a true road bike comes with a gain in the sure footing that's ideal for slower speeds, big potholes, and those places where off-pavement riding is just more convenient. The geometry of the frame, stem, and handlebars also adds to the firm-but-nimble handing. The rider is placed much closer to upright via frame geometry and stem height and angle. This give a more commanding feel while also making for a comfortable ride. The handlebars look funny, buy they are amazing. These salsa handlebars have five distinct hand positions. In comparison to the bars on the stock Kona Jake, the position closest to the bar ends allows for my whole (relatively wide) palm to rest comfortably. In comparison to typical road bars, the top position after the curve but before the brake hoods is a distinct position separate from the hoods. Finally, the remaining components make for smooth, easy handling. The cantilever brakes and Tektro levers make stopping effortless from either the hoods or the drops. The Tiagra gearing is smooth and the bar end shifter are much more intuitive than I imagined. Wide tires and a forgiving saddle complete the package. Fender clearance and braze-ons for a rear rack are icing on the cake.

In short, it's a great bike. I hope to provide photos and some more comments on the ride in the spring after some short, local touring. S24O anyone?

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