The Surly Cross-Check was a pioneer. It was a versatile and affordable gravel bike decades before the gravel category really existed. But the Cross-Check is no more. Times have changed, technologies have evolved, and Surly is moving on. They still building plenty of modern versatile drop bar bikes from the Straggler to their newest Preamble. And they’ve teased that several more new bikes are in development.
But the rim brake Cross-Check is dead. And so we’re gonna quickly pour one out for an old friend…
Surly Cross-Check 1999-2023, Rest in peace you old soul!
First off a shout out to internet bikeshop friend Parallel Handbuilt for sharing the sad news of the Cross-Check’s passing, and pointing me towards the moving Bicycle Pubes eulogy. And probably to James Johnson now of Analog Cycles who guided me in the Surly virtues way back in the day. You see, I was working in a bike shop in the US when Surly launched the chromoly steel Cross-Check way back in 1999. It was Surly’s 3rd ever bike. And it was a revelation.
Here was a cheap welded steel frameset with a lugged crown fork and canti brake studs masquerading as a cyclo-cross bike. But really, it was an invitation for adventure.
It was a blank canvas to build whatever bike you wanted. This was a cross bike, a fat tire road bike, a city commuter, a loaded touring bike, or an unlimited adventure bike. It fit any hub spacing standard of the day. And that was the only standard that really varied from bike to bike back in the day. It was everything we say a gravel bike can do now, just without the word gravel. And it only set you back $389 in 1999 for a cross frameset with 45mm tire clearance. The limits were up to you.
Over the next 24 years, the minds of countless cyclists were corrupted by riding dirt roads and gravel roads on Cross-Checks. Paired with 32mm & 35mm Panaracer Pasela tires, that was the birth of gravel biking in my mind.
Why did it go away?
Anyway, Surly just quietly took the Cross-Check out of their line-up. According to Surly brand manager Dan Rasmussen, they’re all “sad to see it go as sales were strong until the end.” But times have changed. Everyone’s on disc brakes now. So the rim brake Cross-Check – last really updated around 2017 – was simply not keeping up with the times. And Surly already had the Straggler – much the same bike as the Cross-Check, but with disc brakes – since back in 2013.
And there’s the lighter, more modern Preamble with an all-road leaning, but still room for 41mm tires. Now, there’s less and less reason to keep the old bike around.
So, what’s next?
Rasmussen describes the decision to retire the Cross-Check as “multifaceted“. We take that to mean is that even though the Surly crew held the old bike dear in their hearts, it probably just didn’t make logical and financial sense to keep it around. When at the same time, they could devote resources to other more up-to-date projects. Rasmussen assures us that, “Surly is doing great“. And that they have “several new bike and [parts & accessories] offerings that will be coming out in the coming months and years that we are really excited about and will no-doubt be great additions to the bike industry.“
So, let’s remember the lovely, pioneering Surly Cross-Check as a pioneering gravel bike. And we’ll look forward to what Surly has in the works!