I have left this blog live, despite not updating it as it still gets a fair number of visitors and hopefully remains as a helpful resource. I have just built another Surly Cross Check (for me this time), so thought I would detail the build and also provide an update generally.
So what's changed... cycling habits and kids
I am continuing to cycle regularly, a bit of commuting but mostly general short leisure rides - all road riding and a mix of the Bob Jackson World Tour and Condor Acciaio. Older kids has meant family rides have become more popular and the trend is definitely MTB rather than road bikes.
The Bob Jackson remains a terrific, comfortable all weather bike, it is a bit heavy but runs well and silently (I hate rattles and squeaks) - testimony to high quality components and fairly regular cleaning. More soap less grease as Maggie at Brixton Cycles once told me. My Condor Acciaio remains a fun and comfortable quick bike - I have used much less use of the Brompton and tend to be walking around town more - although I have used it locally when I need to hop on a bike and don't want to bother changing shoes!
Lately I have "needed" something to do gravel tracks and off road - with the kids mainly, initially an MTB seemed the best, or at least the obvious choice. I had a look at some of the big name MTBs, Specialized, Cannondale, etc. but was a bit uninspired. Rather than going for something conventional, I sought out a test ride on the Surly Krampus. This is a "plus bike" according to Surly. Steel frame, fully rigid and 29 x 3" tyres. It was superb but felt huge - not heavy, but like driving a limo! Definitely not an easy transition from road bikes!
So, a sensible compromise seemed to be a Surly Cross Check. I loved my first Cross Check which I sold after the Bob Jackson took over as my main bike, my second build was for my sister, so this is number three and my first built for off rather than on road.
Towards the end of the season, a 56cm frame has proved difficult to source but perseverance paid off and I was able to get the "Mule Mug" that I was after - a sort of orangey brown with a sheen. I sized up from a 54cm on my previous build to a 56cm. I wanted slightly higher bars - reach is identical between the two sizes and the extra cm of head tube and 2cm of stack seemed sensible whilst maintaining adequate standover height. The 1cm additional top tube length offset by using a non-set back seat post. I've always thought it strange that all bikes seem to have set-back seat posts now.
Stem calculation is always tricky but I went with a 10 degree 110 stem and 3cm spacers before the bars - 2cm of spacers and a 1cm brake cable hanger.
The fun part is always working out the build kit - I knew I wanted to go silver rather than black, a bit different and I still like the look, but it is getting much more difficult to source silver parts now. I already had a Thomson seat post and went with a matching stem. For off road, I knew I wanted to keep drop bars, but went with something more "gravel" oriented - the Nitto RM-014 "dirt drops". These flare at the drops to a wide 52cm maximum. There's always a few small parts to seek out, hangers for front and rear canti's, down tube cable stops, spacers, etc. I went with a Hope headset - never tried one before but their reputation tempted me. They do nice matching spacers too!
A Tiagra groupset with compact 50/34 chainset and an 11-32 cassette seemed sensible - their current 4700 ten speed running gear seems very similar to the older 105 5700 and is good value - time will tell if it shares the durability. The only substitution from the groupset was for Shimano's own BR CX50 Cantilevers. I have tried Avid, Tekto and Paul - Paul are definitely the best by far, but with the very high cost of Paul brakes now, I thought I would give the Shimanos a go. I always use a Wippermann Connex link for quick and easy chain removal and cleaning and calculate length using Leonard Zinn's method of wrapping round the largest chainwheel, largest cassette (ignoring the derailleur) and adding one link overlap.
Pricing came out lower than a full build from Surly, with higher end components.
I have no experience with MTB or gravel tyres at all, I occasionally used some cyclocross tyres on my original Surly but was looking to take advantage of the "fatties fit fine" clearances on the Surly Cross Check and after some research (more opinions than tyres on the web), I have selected WTB Nano 700 x 40c tyres. They look like they will do well on gravel and a range of off road, while being usable for the road where necessary - again time will tell!
I will finish with a few tips - think about position of the wheels in the horizontal dropouts, I go almost fully forward as I find shifting has always worked best that way. I always use plenty of insulating tape to secure the cables on the bars - it makes the bar taping easier and with lots of tension on the brakes keeps flex to a minimum. Cable donuts are vital to prevent my nemesis of rattles and particularly needed with the Cross Check as the rear brake cable routes on top of the top tube. And finally make sure you have plenty of spare cable ends and bits!