Ben Caldwell’s Surly Cross Check

surly cross checkIT’S A HARD LIFE
Ben rides through anything, nearly anywhere. His bike must be durable. I’m pretty sure this is the cross bike he rode in the Iceman mountain bike race up in Traverse City a couple of years ago. It has seen hard times. It has taken the abuse. Even the paint job is tough on this thing.  Ben rides this to and from work, about 16 miles each way even on the not so pretty days. He rides this bike on his days off as well.

He knows how to fix bikes, so he tinkers with it a lot as well, swapping things out to see how things work. Ben isn’t really old school, but, more accurately, whatever’s lying around school. Between the day I took the first photos and a few weeks later when I took the shot of the overall bike he’d swapped the massive 29er tires for a thinner, lighter 700cc tread. Keep in mind 29ers are basically 700’s on steroids. They’re made for mountain bikes and they’re a tad heavy. They offer a cushy ride, though. The bike has a “fatties fit fine” decal on the chain stays, indicating that wide tires are an option, which on many bikes is not possible.

Surly Cross Check

Surly Cross Check

Go to the Surly website and you’ll find a no excuses, we build tough frames at a reasonable cost kind of thinking. They don’t use the lightest tubing, nor do they do carbon or aluminum. They do crome-moly steel and they’re proud of it. For the Cross Check they put it this way: “Steel rides like nothing else (when was the last time you saw a spring made of aluminum?), takes a lot of crap, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.” That’s like the Surly mantra. Ben’s bike is a testament to the frame’s toughness.


Ultegra rear derailleur, 9-speed cassette, semi-horizontal rear drop outs.

This is the Swiss Army Knife of bikes. Even has a Cross in the name.The Cross Check has rear drop-outs (see photo) that are semi-horizontal, with chain tension adjusting screws. This means that it’s possible to make this into a fixed gear or a single-speed bike as well as one with a derailleur like Ben’s. That’s a nice option if, for instance, you want to buy another geared bike at some point, but would like a single-speed as well. Keep the Cross Check along with the new bike and life is a happy experience.

Ben uses a Shimano 105 derailleur for the front and a Shimano Ultegra derailleur for the rear. The Ultegra line is one step up from the 105 and both are excellent components that (sorry to say this again, but in Ben’s case it’s important) take abuse. Ultegra is just one step down from the top of the line Shimano Dura Ace (Top of the line non-electronic, I should say).

He has a 9-speed cassette on the back. The low gear (big one in back) has 27 teeth, the high gear (small one in back) has 12 teeth.

crank / chainrings

Crank & Chainrings

Leg power is driven through a 172.5 mm FSA “compact” crank (110 Bolt Circle Diameter (BCD)). A “standard” crank BCD is 130 to 135 BCD. Ben’s chain rings are 46 for the large and 36 for the small.


Shimano SPD M-747 Clipless Mountain Bike Pedal

He uses clipless Shimano SPD M-747 mountain bike pedals. These, like the frame, have a reputation as bombproof. Look at the photo. These have seen trouble. The clipless pedals allow for a complete power output on both the up and the downstrokes because you’re “clipped” in (I know, very confusing, but first came those goofy toe clips and they got the honor of being called clips.)

saddle and seatpost

Saddle | Seatpost

The seat post is a Thomson, another quality component, and has an easily adjustable tilt. Perched atop this is a Specialized Phenom saddle.


A unique set of bars.

The bike has an aluminum stem and handlebars. The bars themselves have a unique curve. They splay out at the bottom. Not sure if Ben bent them out as a display-of-strength exercise or if they came that way. They are one of a kind.

This bike, rugged and crusty as it looks, is a great option for someone looking for a steel frame bike that has a long reputation for strength and versatility. It can be used for cyclocross racing, commuting or as a touring bike. There are braze-ons and mounts everywhere on this bike for racks, panniers, or whatever else you want to slap onto it. Rigged in various ways, it can be geared or used as a single-speed or a fixie. Few bikes can have so many uses all in one.



This is not Ben. He wishes it was. (photo courtesy Justin Dawes)

1. Triumph Tiger XC
Ben wants to commute on this. I think it has a motor, though. All of a sudden Ben’s power and fitness would be transferred to this machine. I’d much rather see him suffer on the hills between work and home after a long day, but then I like the idea of some pain involved in Ben’s commute.


Titanium Moots 29er MootoX RSL (photo courtesy Moots)

2. Titanium 29er, like a Moots
I’m with him on this. Connie, I changed my mind about a birthday present. I don’t want sunglasses, I’ll just lose them again. I want a Moots 29er Mootox RSL. Much more practical. Is it too late to change?


Trek Cronus CX - A carbon cyclocross bike for the aficionado. (photo courtesy Trek)

3. Trek Cronus CX
He rode this recently at Trek in Waterloo, Wisconsin. He says it’s like a Madone, only for cross. It’s nice to see Trek getting serious cross bikes into their line.

Ben wants more bikes than this. Really nice bikes. I don’t want him to have too good a bike because I ride with him and he’s already strong on the Surly, which is heavier than my bike. As I said earlier, I like to see him work hard as he rides. I like to see him work harder than I have to. But these are dreams. He can have his dreams.

5 thoughts on “Ben Caldwell’s Surly Cross Check

  1. ben,

    i don’t know you. but i am building a surly cross check to replace my specialized tricross that got stolen. i bought a size 54 frame based on the top tube measurements… and then i got the frame and it looks so SMALL. i have not done anything to it but slip the fork into the head tube, then slap some wheels on it to imagine what it might look like… anyway. what size is yours? and what is your height and inseam, if you don’t mind me asking?



  2. Evan
    I’m 5’8″ and tend to ride road bikes with about a 53.5-54cm TT.
    My Surly is a size 50 which has an effective TT of 54.2cm. Your bike’s should be 56 which, in my opinion, should fit someone from around 5’10” to 6′. Cross bikes may look smaller than the same size road bike because of less bottom bracket drop. Hope this was helpful.

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