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How it Feels Between Your Legs #1
Chuck and the Cross×Chuck
Bicycles are much more humbling than I ever imagined they could be.
Most kids have one at point (or knew someone with one). We rode around and after a while grasped the basic idea: hop on, balance, pedal, pedal, balance, and eventually brake when it’s time to slow down and stop. It’s fair to say that there is a universal understanding of that idea, and unless it is something that you are actively interested in there’s little reason to dig deeper.
I’ve been without a car for nearly seven years, and in that time I’ve somehow managed to get around Houston without (totally) losing my mind. I came to get very well acquainted with the Houston Metro, had a 4.9 rating on Uber, went through a few bikes gifted to me by kind friends who didn’t need them anymore, and came to be known (by the people that knew me) as the guy that showed up to everything a little early and a little wet. Most of all, I found others who were interested in bikes who helped reveal just how vast and interesting the topic is.
I could keep on waxing poetically, feel free to ask, but I’ve gotta reign it in and get back on topic.
The Cross×Chuck is my second ‘real’ bike, the first being my old Peugeot road bike that’s a tad too small (given to me by a kind friend named Boby). The Cross×Chuck is also my first venture into building a bike from the frame up. Deciding on the frame, how I intend to use the bike, picking out components, and imagining how it will all come together as the pieces came in the mail part by part.
A lot of my inspiration came from this post on Bikepacking.com, so shouts out to the author, Lucas Winzenburg for sharing your journey and inadvertently helping me on my own.
"What is my Purpose?"
Something that we are big on at EaDo Bike Co is figuring out what a customer looks to do with a bike so that we can pair them up with what best meets that desire. Sort of like match makers or little cupids but instead of bringing people together, we set people up with the bike of their dreams. So when it came time to take up this project, I had to ask the same thing to myself.
I am a commuter primarily, and even now I have zero plans of owning another car. Whatever bike I was going to have as my main bike, it would need to be capable of getting me where I need to be while carrying whatever I need to carry. Being able to mount racks on the front and rear is a requirement. I love the aesthetic that fenders add to the look of a bike, but realistically racks can give enough coverage to warrant not adding the weight.
I also want to have fun! Maybe not do any racing (I’ve never been the competitive type), but activities like gravel rides, bikepacking, touring, and other types of adventure riding are all awesome things that I wanna get in on.
The Peugeot, being my first road bike, was also the first bike that I had with 700c tires – 23s. I am not shy to admit that I’ve eaten sh*t riding over the Metro Rail track on Rusk St in Downtown during one of my first rides on it. While I haven’t done that again since, the idea of working with a wider set of tires was something that I decided was worth trying out.
Something else that I was never completely comfortable doing on the Peugeot was taking risks. I’d consider my style pretty conservative on it, careful to not ride over roads that were really beaten up or jump down curbs unless it was impossible to avoid. Even though it’s a steel frame, my being a larger rider than it was meant for coupled with Houston having poor infrastructure encouraged me to not do things like “send it.” Since I am wanting to carry cargo, steel will give me the confidence to ride through our poorly maintained roads while loaded down.
So a tough steel bike that can get me around Houston, hold front and rear racks, also be fun to ride around town. Check.
“Check.” Get it?
(it's a pun)
In the process of upping my product knowledge of what we carry, I came to learn more about Surly bikes. Their style really captured my eye, as I’ve always vibed with the type that presented themselves as capable, knowledgeable, and confident in their abilities while not taking themselves too seriously. Tough, purpose-built bikes with personality that encourages the owner to “make it their own.”
Since I felt confident and familiar with road bikes (and because we had some complete builds available in store at the height of the Great Bike Shortage of 2020), the Midnight Special stood out to me. The black frame looked sleek, and all and all I could tell that it would be fun to tool around on. I compared the 56cm to the 58cm, and knew immediately that the 58 gave me the space to fully extend my arms and legs that the Peugeot just didn’t have.
As these things tend to go, a customer paid us a visit and felt the same way about the 58cm as I did and snapped it up. All's fair in love and bikes :-P I consider myself lucky though, because it opened me up to another option that was more suited to the task: the Surly Cross×Check.
When you visit their site for the model, they describe it as a “tough as nails, super-versatile road bike that performs astonishingly well on any surface.”
“Well,” I thought to myself, “that sounds pretty awesome!” But it didn’t end there.
“Steel Commuter Bike That Can Do it All.”
“It's a dyed-in-the-wool commuter and utility rig.”
“It was a "gravel crusher" long before "gravel bikes" existed.”
By this point I was frothing at the mouth. The more I read, the more it spoke directly to me and what I wanted out of a bicycle. Of the frames that we had at the shop at the time, a 58cm Cross×Check in Black was available. I had my canvas.
Custom Character Creator, but IRL
If you’re a fan of MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplay Games), then you probably share my love for customization. The biggest appeal that drew me in was the options to create whatever sort of character I wanted. The prospect of building a bike from the ground up granted me a new opportunity to throw of splash of myself onto something that could otherwise just look like everything else. It’s my bike, I’m making it, so why not have it be a reflection of me? Come on!
FRAME/FORK: Surly Cross-Check (58cm)
HEADSET: Chris King Headset, NoThreadSet
RIMS: Velocity Quill Pro 36 Spoke
HUBS: Velocity Road 36 Spoke 100/130mm
TIRES: Teravail Washburn 700x42c
HANDLEBAR: Spank Flare 25 Vibrocore Drop Bar 46cm
BRAKES: Paul MiniMoto V-Brake
CRANKSET: SRAM Apex 1 42t
PEDALS: LOOK Geo Trekking ROC
DERAILLEUR: microSHIFT ADVENT X Rear Derailleur
CASSETTE: microSHIFT ADVENT X Cassette - 11-48T
SADDLE: Brooks Cambium C17 Carved
SEATPOST: Paul Tall and Handsome
FRONT RACK: Surly Nice Front Rack
REAR RACK: PDW Everyday Rack
Wheelset, Headset, Brakes, Seatpost, and Stem
Early on in the planning phase Desmond mentioned that he had some wheels from Velocity, which opened the door of just how customizable bikes are. The wheelset that he had was red, and while it looked cool it isn’t a color that speaks to me. My favorite color is purple though, and Velocity Wheels does make marvelous anodized Purple wheelsets. From that point the color scheme was set: Black and Purple. Desmond spoke highly of the quality of Velocity’s wheel builds, and considering he is the best wheel builder that I know I took his word for it. 36 spoke Quill Pros it is, 100mm in the front and 130mm in the back.
That shade of purple isn’t hard to find on bike components, with offerings from Paul, Chris King, White Industries, Wolftooth and more all matching perfectly. I went with Chris King NoThreadSet, and Paul for that Tall and Handsome seat post, and their MiniMoto V-Brakes, and Truck Stop stem (the one component in this section that’s black instead of purple). FUNNY ENOUGH, Chris King does not make their headset in purple anymore... I almost didn't get mine, but was lucky in having placed the order early enough. I'm not gonna say that mine is the last one ever made but... I won't not say that either.
Originally I went with Surly's Truck Stop bars, finding the idea of a 'riser' section cool. Also, so much of this bike was already Surly that it made sense to keep it going.
HOWEVER I would find after a few months of riding the bike that those bars, 42mm, were too small for me. When I noticed a pain in my right wrist, I assumed that it had to do with my saddle. Eventually the moment came when I realized that my arms were bending inwards at the elbows so that I can hold my bars.
"Why so many bags?"
I hear this question a lot.
Typically I have two bags that I rarely take off, my Petite Porteur House (the smaller version of Surly's Porteur House) on the front, and my Ortlieb Trunk Bag in the back. There are a handful of things that I keep on me that live in the trunk bag like my lock, sunscreen, and first aid kit. Some say that carrying a first aid kit is bad luck, but it's better than me or someone else taking a fall and not having anything (which has happened to me before). The front bag is where I keep things that I would in my pocket, so that my legs aren't weighed down while I'm on the road. The large pouch is often empty unless I am bringing my lunch to/from work, or picked up some food to-go somewhere.
The panniers I use least, but they are useful when needed: especially for trips to H-E-B. Outside of that, I've carried plants in them, banners, shoes, and all sorts of other things that wouldn't fit as well in the other two bags.
What can I say? I'm a man with baggage.
Impressions so far
After 1,000 miles it’s fair to say that this bike is awesome. I love how much of a head turner it is. The smiles and waves that I get from children and adults alike really brightens up my mood :-)
~55 of those 1000+ miles were done at once, the longest ride I’ve done on any bike and the first time that I did a ride off the beaten path: a bit of exploration around Second Ward before blasting North up on the White Oak Bayou Greenway all the way up to where it currently ends, a loop around the Hollister Retention Basin, then back down the way that we came. I joke that my bike is “fifty-something” pounds, and I definitely felt it. It was a fun ride, definitely broke the bike in, and broke me in a little bit too (sweat drop emoji).
It’s a great privilege riding a bike that I built for myself, and I can relate to the auto mechanics that I've known over the years that were nitpicky about every little thing on their personal cars. The I've had many opportunities to learn more skills already thanks to needing to make adjustments here and there. Building a bike from the ground up, doing things like sizing and cutting my fork, wrapping my bars, and many more things that I didn't know how to do or had the opportunity to try. I've got a year under my belt in the bike shop world now, and much more to learn!
See ya out on the road. - Chuck