Building a Commuter Bike: Choosing a Frame


Surly Head BadgeWhile I love my Raleigh, I wanted to get something a bit sturdier for year-round commuting.  I wanted a frame that could take fenders and racks obviously, but I was also looking for something that could change as my needs do.  For now, I have a short commute, only 2-3 miles each way depending on which location I’m working that day.  But given how much driving in Boston infuriates me, I also wanted the ability to go a bit further.

Being able to run single speed was important, as I thought this would be an easy way to get started and would allow for something lower-maintenance, especially during the winter.  I wanted the options of gears however, in case my commute gets further/hillier, or if I decide to use this bike for more than just the daily back and forth.

The other big choice was braking system – caliper vs. cantilever vs. disc.  My thinking was that disc was probably the best option, but also carried with it a higher cost, both for the braking system and for the wheels. For that reason, I was willing to consider cantis as well.  Calipers were last on my list, as they would likely limit

Finally, I needed something affordable.  I wanted this to be a solid bike, but it couldn’t break the bank.  For this reason I was looking mostly at made-in-Taiwan steel frames from a number of US companies.  I ultimately considered the following bikes:

  1. Soma Doublecross/Doublecross Disc: A steel frame that would take the racks, fenders, and wide tires that were my basic requirements.  Color options are nice and plain (grey and black), which is what I was looking for.  Comes with standard vertical dropouts
  2. Velo Orange Polyvalent: All the rack/fender attachments, canti brakes, semi-horizontal dropouts to allow for single speed setup.   But, it has a 1″ threaded fork.  While the classic appearance works with this frame, I felt like it would be limiting in terms of options for bars, as most are made for “oversized” 31.8mm threadless stems these days
  3. Soma Wolverine: This was released just as I was looking for frames.  Seemed like a perfect option – built for discs, has slider dropouts to allow for single speed, and even a split chainstay to allow for a carbon belt drive.  Seemed ideal, but was the most expensive option, and wasn’t yet available for purchase at the time I was looking
  4. Surly Cross Check: The tried-and-true option.  People seem to love this, or feel like it’s completely overhyped.  It checked all the boxes for me in terms of mounting options, tire clearance and horizontal drop outs.  Cantis instead of discs, though.  I also thought about the disc-brake Straggler, but that came at a higher cost and I wasn’t thrilled with the purple “Sparkle Pony” paint job.

Ultimately, as the image above suggests, I went with the Cross Check as I was able to get the prior year “Dark Dusky Blue” frameset at a bit of a discount, and that along with canti instead of disc brakes would make things easier on the budget.