Surly Cross-Check Trail Bike
October 12, 2012 – Time for a New Bike
After finally coming to terms with my advancing age, and recognizing that I should no longer pedal where I have to share the road with vehicles, I have decided to replace my 1985 vintage Fuji with a new bike set up specifically for longer rides on rail trails. I also have a 2005 Jamis Coda Comp that I converted to an 8-speed town bike. For the backstory on these bikes, see: https://twofootartist.com/back-to-biking/.
The new bike will combine the best attributes of the two bikes I have now. I will use the 180mm Specialized cranks, the White Industries pedals, and the narrow gel saddle from the Fuji, along with the 700c wheels and Alfine hub from the Jamis.
I plan to build new wheels for the Jamis, using a less expensive Sturmey-Archer 5-speed hub. The Jamis will keep the 32mm Panasonic Pasela Tourguide tires, while the new bike will have 37mm Continental Contacts.
December 1, 2012 – Ordered the new frame
After researching various frame choices on-line, I was considering either a Velo Orange Campeur or a Soma Double Cross. The Campeur has a very low bottom bracket that would not work well with my 180mm cranks, however, and I was not excited about the bland color choices on either frame. They both have vertical rear dropouts which would require a chain tensioner for the Alfine hub.
While searching some of my favorite on-line bike sites, I came across a Surly Cross-Check frame in an elegant dark gray-blue color, with very subtle black and gray decals. This color doesn’t appear on the Cross-Check page, but is available as a single-speed Cross-Check SS. In Surly’s inimitable style, they call it Blark Due or Dark Dirty Blue.
The Surly has horizontal rear drop-outs, so it will take the Alfine hub without needing a chain tensioner, and is $60 – $100 less expensive than the VO or the Soma. JensonUSA offered to ship it for only $15 so I ordered one on the spot.
I have decided to use a drop handlebar after trying the Soma Junebug. Intended for dirt bikes, this bar is 56cm wide, with a short reach, shallow drop, and substantial flare on the drops. It is similar to my old favorite GB Tourist bend but at 56cm is 16cm wider, and should be comfortable in all positions.
The Alfine trigger shifter won’t fit on a drop bar. Versa sells a brifter set that does fit, but costs $240 and reportedly has some quality problems. Instead, I went back to Harris Cyclery and ordered a Jtek bar-end shifter that Sheldon Brown discovered and used on his own bikes. It is CNC machined in the USA and costs $150 less than the Versa.
I have on hand a VO sealed-bearing bottom bracket, Tektro canti brakes, Cinelli bar tape, and Blackburn mountain rack, although I might try to fit my original 1970-vintage Blackburn rack currently on the Fuji. I’ve also ordered a VO sealed-bearing headset and Zeppelin aluminum fenders, Dimension stem, FSA Metropolis City seat post, various headset spacers and brake hanger, and other hardware. I’ll take the short-reach brake levers off my Fuji for use on the Soma bar.
The Continental tires are on back-order, but I expect to have everything put together before the next riding season. In the meantime, I still take the Jamis out on the rare days that the wind isn’t blowing too hard here on Cape Cod.
December 4, 2012 – Jtek Bar-end Shifter
The Jtek shifter arrived today and I mounted it on the bar to see how it looks and works. Unlike most bar end shifters, this one fits over the outside of the bar. It fits precisely on 24mm bars and includes a shim for use on 22mm bars. The Soma bar is slightly undersized, but a single wrap of thin electrical tape took up the slack.
This is a sweet piece of gear. It looks and works great. The stops are so positive it would be unlikely to accidently over-shift or under-shift, yet it is still easy to drop down to lower gears or move up multiple steps in a single move. It’s also easy to tell by feel which gear it’s in.
I see now that I could have bought it directly from the manufacturer (www.Jtekengineering.com) for $10 less than Harris’ price. If not for Harris, though, I would not have known this part existed.
December 7, 2012 – Early Christmas
A pair of Santa’s elves showed up this morning in a big brown truck to deliver my new frameset and a box of miscellaneous parts to build my new bike. The frame is just stunning – between navy blue and royal blue.
It is advertised as 62cm but is actually 64cm to the top of the seat tube – the same as the Fuji that it will replace. The head tube is shorter than the Fuji, but the steerer is long enough so that the bar will be at the same height. The new seatpost is so long it would fit a person nine feet tall, so I may cut it down a bit.
For once, I’m actually looking forward to the predicted rainy weekend.
(Later the same day…)
So I clamped the frame gently to the workbench, and read the instructions for installing a headset in the Park Tools manual. I checked the facing with a machinist’s square, and measured the inside of the headtube and outside of the headset with a precision vernier caliper.
But when I tried to install the headset I quickly realized I was way over my head and needed better tools. So it’s back to painting windows this weekend. I’ll take the frame to Corner Cycles next week and, hat in hand, ask them to install the headset, bottom bracket, and star nut. I won’t need to cut the steerer tube, though, as I have enough spacers to use the full length.
December 12, 2012 – Getting Professional Help
The great people at George Sykes’ Corner Cycle in Falmouth bailed me out today by installing the headset, star nut, and bottom bracket in my new frame. They also aligned the fork ends for me. This is, in my opinion, the best bike shop in southeastern Massachusetts. The staff is always friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable.
My experience with other bike shops is that the employee attitudes range from indifferent to rude, but not at corner cycle. George told me today he has been in business for 27 years. Check out his store web site at http://www.cornercycle.com/
December 18, 2012 – Putting it all together
The Fuji is now just a bare frame and a box of parts that will go to eBay after the holidays. The Surly is all assembled except the wheels, which I will install after the new tires arrive.
The fenders were a real challenge, although I finally got them where I want them. After struggling with the rear one, I found a blog on line that described the same difficulty putting these VO fenders on a Cross-Check. It seems the rear brake bridge needs to be about five mm higher for fat tire clearance with fenders. The 37mm tires should fit okay, though, and there is plenty of clearance for the front wheel.
The Blackburn Mountain rack did not fit well on this tall frame, but my original 1970s vintage Blackburn fits perfectly. The old rack is about an inch lower than the new ones. It’s lighter but will serve my purpose just fine. This rack was designed for 127mm dropouts, but fits neatly on the inside of the 132.5mm dropouts on this frame.
December 20, 2012 – Ready to build wheels
UPS says the tires and rims should arrive tomorrow, so I ran down to Corner Cycle today to pick up tubes and rim tape. The weather service is predicting a cold and rainy weekend, so it should be a good time to hang out in my shop next to the furnace and build the new wheels.
December 22, 2012 – Building Wheels
It had been well over 30 years since I last built a wheel, but I did it again yesterday. First I removed the tire from the front wheel of the Jamis. Then I confirmed my suspicion that it was off-center. I had trued this factory-made wheel on the bike when I bought it, but at that time had not found my truing stand. When I did put it on the stand yesterday, I found it was about 3mm off. It took quite a while to ease it back to center.
I also reduced the spoke tension, which was unusually high. I test tension by plucking the spoke with a fingernail and judging the frequency of the tone. Then I mounted the 37mm Continental Contact tire with a new tube, and put it on the new frame.
There is about 30mm of clearance between the tire and front fender. This is a good thing, as it reduces the chance of getting something caught under the fender and stopping the front wheel. That can be a disasterous event when moving fast. The front wheel suddenly stops but the rest of the bike and the rider don’t.
After a couple of false starts, I managed to assemble a new wheel for the Jamis. To assure that I do it right, I keep an assembled wheel on the bench for comparison.
There is a very subtle difference in location of the spoke holes on these rims, with half slightly right of center and half slightly left. Today I will move the rear wheel, with the Alfine hub, to the new bike, and build a wheel for the Jamis around the 5-speed Sturmey-Archer hub.
December 23, 2012 – Finishing Up
Today, I swapped out the rear wheel from the Jamis with the Alfine hub to the new bike. Then I installed a Wippermann Connex chain. These are super-rugged and smooth German chains for fixies and internally geared bikes. All that’s left to do is to connect the shifter to the rear hub, make a few adjustments, and it will be ready to ride on New Years Day.
Note how perfectly the old Blackburn rack fits without any modification, and how tight the rear wheel clearance is with fenders on this frame. Total weight as shown is 26 pounds – not bad for a tall heavy-duty steel frame with an internally-geared hub. Crank center is 11-1/4″; standover is 34″.
Here you can see how different the Soma Junebug bar is. The distance between the brake hoods is the same as on my old GB Tourist bar, but the drops are a lot wider and more angled, so they should be a lot more comfortable. I have since added a small mirror to the left bar end.
January 25, 2013 – Notes on Suppliers
It’s been almost a month since I finished this bike but I have yet to ride it. The weather here on Cape Cod has been either too cold or too windy to get me out of the house.
I’ve been meaning for some time, however, to comment on bike suppliers. When I can, I like to patronize Corner Cycles in Falmouth, but I also buy a lot of parts online. Rare items like the Salsa chain guard on this bike I find on eBay; high priced special order items, like the White Industries pedals and the tall Surly frame, I look for on the internet to get the best prices and avoid sales taxes.
I’ve found some online sources, even big ones like Cambria, to be less than reliable when it comes to customer service. I am very pleased, though, with JensonUSA, (http://www.jensonusa.com/) where I got this frame. They ship quickly, have low prices, free or minimum shipping costs, and excellent communications.
I also like Universal Cycles (http://www.universalcycles.com/). They have phenomenal stock on hand, good prices, and ship quickly.
February 13, 2013 – Selling the Fuji
I broke down the Fuji and have been selling the parts on eBay. Sale of the frame, wheels, shifters, rear derailleur, and seat post covered the cost of my new frame. Still have some parts to sell, and expect to cover all costs of the upgrade, except for the new wheels on the Jamis.
February 26, 2013 – Calculating Spoke Length
One of the most vexing tasks when building wheels is getting the right spoke length. There are a bunch of websites that claim to do this, but I found most of them to be pretty clunky or to require specific dimensions of hubs. One site stands out, though, because it is very user-friendly, allows you to test various hub and rim combos by entering the brand and model names, and gives quick accurate responses. It can be found at http://www.prowheelbuilder.com/spokelengthcalculator/
March 11, 2013 – Building More Wheels
I liked the polished rims on the new wheels I built for the Jamis, so ordered a pair for the Surly. Using a VO low-flange hub and DT spokes that I’ve had on hand for 40 years, I built a new front wheel with 32 spokes; and will rebuild the rear with 36, using the Alfine hub.
The VO hub has sealed bearings and is the smoothest hub I have ever seen. It seemingly has no rolling resistence whatsoever. It is also beautifully finished and highly polished like the rims. To top it off, it only cost $55, which is a quarter the price of the top-end hubs. It even comes is a soft cloth bag.
March 13, 2012 – First Impressions
Finally, ten weeks after finishing this bike, the wind died down and the rain last night washed away the remaining snow, so I took it out for a road test today. Only rode a couple of miles around the neighborhood, but there are enough hills and grades to test all the gears and experience most road conditions. The verdict: I am very pleased.
The Surly frame is stiff and lively – the characteristics that keep so many of us riding steel frames. The geometry of the Surly is nearly identical to the Fuji that it replaced, so the handling is similar, but the shorter fork rake is a big improvement.
The Soma Junebug bar feels wonderful, although it will take more than a quick ride around the neighborhood to get used to the wide stance on the drops. Hand positions on the hoods and flats are highly ergonomic and comfortable.
I only made two adjustments after the ride: tilted the bar down a tad, and adjusted the toe-in on the front brakes. Everything else fits and works as it should.
Even the bar-end mirror is a hit. My experience with mirrors – both helmet mounted and bar mounted – is that they shake so much that they are useless. This one is rock steady, although my arm blocks the view when I’m on the hoods.
The real star, however, is the Jtek shifter. It is startlingly faster and easier to use than the Alfine click shifter, moving one step or eight in a small fraction of a second. It has a very solid feel to it, and well-defined stops at each gear. I am so glad I decided to use this unit instead of the much more expensive and reportedly troublesome Versa brifter.
The weather turns foul again tonight, so I will mount the new front wheel and replace the rim and spokes on the rear. I think I’m going to like this bike even more than my old favorite Raleigh Super Tourer.
March 17, 2013 – Road Test
Despite the 42 degree temps and stiff off-shore wind, I pedalled the Surly seven miles along the Cape Cod Canal path today. I had forgotten that I built new wheels for this bike since the test ride on Wednesday, so was disconcerted at first by the gentle ping, ping, ping, of newly stressed spokes and nipples getting comfortable with each other under load.
The VO front hub is eerily smooth, and the Alfine rear hub is well broken in from use on the Jamis. The Continental tires absorb a lot of the little bumps that high-pressure tires pass on to the rider, and without any noticeable rolling resistence.
Everything worked as it should this time, with no adjustments needed. The Junebug bar may be the most perfect bend for a touring bike, and the Jtek shifter is simply magical. I didn’t even have to adjust the saddle, as I had taken detailed measurements of its height and angle before taking it off the Fuji, and both bikes have the same seat tube angle.
June 3, 2013 – More Changes
This is a sort of postscript, as I will write about the new riding season on another page, but it covers some last-minute changes to my new bike after the spring rides.
The June Bug bar is by far the most comfortable and ergonomic bend I have ever used. It should be the standard bend for touring and trail riding. When I ordered it, however, it was offered only in black or white. I would have preferred polished aluminum but bought a black one. And after a few months of use, I wish it were a few centimeters narrower.
So I was pleasantly surprised when I went to the Soma on-line store, to see that they now offer the same bend in polished aluminum, with 26mm clamp diameter and 53cm width, as well as 56. Here is a photo comparison of the new Soma Portola bar with my long-time favorite (40 cm) GB Tourist Bend.
I also want to reduce the clutter on the bar, so ordered a bell that’s mounted on a head tube spacer, a headlight that mounts to the fork, and a gorgeous octagonal stem from VO, along with their elk hide leather bar cover and a stem head clock. Here’s what it looked like before and after. The headlight is now stowed in my rack bag, since it only takes a minute or so to mount and I rarely need it. The stemhead clock is terrific. I can even read it without glasses.
I ordered the saddle from my local Specialized dealer, Sail World in Buzzards Bay (MA). It came in on the Friday before the Fourth of July, but I didn’t want to deal with traffic crossing the Cape Cod Canal on a holiday weekend. Jim Ballentyne, the shop owner, lives near me, though, so dropped it off at my house on his way home. Now that’s customer service!
July 14, 2013 – More Sources
In listing my favorite sources of bike parts, I neglected two of the best: Velo Orange http://store.velo-orange.com/ and Soma Fabrications http://www.somafab.com/. Both are small shops that offer unusual items of superb quality at reasonable prices. Soma supplied the wonderful handlebar and stem-mounted bell on this bike: VO supplied the headset, bottom bracket, front hub, stem, brakes, leather bar cover, and fenders.