Surly Big Dummy... you too can haul cargo


Ok, so i got a new bike.  I love a new bike. Every time a new bike makes me feel like a little kid.  its great.  I love dreaming about them, listing all the parts, planning out its intended use, and exactly what I’m trying to accomplish.

 The list of bikes I’ve had goes on and on, just like any other bike junkie.  Of course there is always, the line... “this one is different”.  ya ya ya.  we’ve all heard it.  bike addiction is bike addiction.  like new shoes, or anything else we seem to collect.

onto the real deal.


New bike is the Surly Big Dummy.  This bike is great because is seriously address the notion of being able to actually use the bicycle as a daily tool.  We’ve all seen those bumper stickers that say things like “Bicycles are Freedom”, and even The Sierra Club has started showcasing bicycle lifestyle as being “Green”.  


For 27 years, the bicycle has been at the center of my life or lifestyle.  As a kid one of the first father son projects we had was a Schwinn Varsity 10 speed, which was finished off with a few coats of “British Racing Green” as my dad always called it.  I call it OD Green (Olive Drab).  its been my favorite color since childhood.  I loved army clothes, i loved those old ammo cans, as a kid I liked taking to school c-rats a p38, and my army lunch box (ammo can).  I even loved the smell of Cosmoline.  I suppose it was no real surprise that at 18 I joined the army.IMG_0902

I have always had a bicycle.  And I don’t mean that it was sitting the garage gathering dust.  I mean, I always rode a bike.  During the 4yrs I was in the Military, bikes were definitely recreation, but I still rode.  From 87’ to 92’ bikes changed a lot.

Mountain bikes emerged on the scene in great success.  No doubt a historical marker in the evolution of bicycles.  The 87’ Olympics in LA brought a huge shot in the arm to the bicycle industry as more and more people went into shops and discovered the world of road bikes.  Suddenly 5spd cogsets gave way to 6spd, then came indexed shifters, 7spd... 8, 9 and 10spd today. 

In short, here in the US, what we have mostly seen is a progression in the direction of Recreational Sport.  Bikes today are awesome with all the carbon fiber, the trick design, ergonomics, and sheer Sport Performance.  


Bicycle trailers have become somewhat popular.  We see BOB Trailers and Burly Trailers mostly, as cargo and child transport.  The Touring market has pretty much been the same for the years, with changes that naturally followed the Recreational Sporting Goods market.  Just like MTB’s and Road Bikes, Touring bikes now have index shifting, 8 to 10 speed cogsets, v-brakes, and maybe even disc brakes.  The world of panniers has not changed too much.  Maybe some innovations in material and then again, more trickle down from other industries.


A few years back, Xtracycle suddenly popped onto the scene.  I vaguely remember their emergence.  At the time I was fairly well focused on the Sport of bicycles.  I was doing some racing, and every day, to and from work, on the in betweens, on the weekends, it was all about some sort of “training” and i seemed to work, save, and scheme to buy new bike stuff.  The new bike stuff, part of life has not seemed to change.  


I recall seeing the bolt on subframe that Xtracycle offered up, and I recall one of the guys around here getting one, mostly to carry his surfboard.  


Years go by, until about a 18 months ago, when i decide to give the longtail a try.  All things have a “shake down” period.  Especially when it comes to dynamic things like a bicycle.  here we have this thing we ride.  we actually risk life and limb on these things, and we bring them into our lives.  For me, the bicycle has become the center of my life.


I rode my Cannondale Xtracycle conversion since June 2006.  At the time, I had a few too many bikes, as I had just recently brought The Pug to my collection.  Therefore, suddenly I had an old bike, (the Cdale a 99’ model) free to explore with.  In the years past, I had used a BOB Trailer to great success.  I lived out of doors for about 1.5yrs, on the Cdale pulling the BOB.  I learned of what its like to use this system.  Still to this day, I think BOB’s are great.  what I especially love, is that all you have to do, is replace your existing quick release with the BOB Trailer one, and its done.  No big modifications to your bike.  The trailer easily pops off and on. 


I also began to explore the world of panniers.  Awesome invention are saddle bags.  I’d sit and lament over the weight differences of pulling a trailer, the added 3rd wheel, the different wheel size than the bike’s, and of course, the actual cargo volume.

For about 3 or 4 years now, I have not owned a car.  In the past it was life of going to work, and living my life primarily off the efforts of being on a bike.  Grocery shopping, transportation, recreation, and social life.  a whole lifestyle with the bicycle at the core.  Its not the first time, I’ve done this before, but obviously this has been the most “complete” and/or most “capable” in the last 14yrs. 

The BOB Trailer ultimately gave way to using panniers.  I found that in daily life, a set of nice panniers that click off and on with ease, is much more practical that pulling around a trailer, having it bounce around in the back, and then still what you end up with is using the DrySak that comes with the BOB.  I’ve come to discover that the duffle bag is key.IMG_0202

Ironically, when it comes to packing things like groceries and camping gear, panniers and the BOB Trailer are just about equal.  Really the big variable is the intended use.  Even that area has been bridged with success, enter Old Man Mountain racks out of Santa Barbara. OMM racks are unique in that they can be bolted up to suspension.  basically these racks can fit onto any bike.  they have a ton of hardware to make this happen.  they rock!


Panniers and BOB Trailers.   what they have in common is the “type” of cargo or payload that can be carried.  whatever it is you are going to transport, it needs to fit.

Ahh... now enter the world of Cargo Bikes.

Now you can carry a bookcase!  


uhh.. how about some firewood?  


ok... i did this a lot with the BOB trailer, carry firewood, but can you carry 2 BOB trailer bags full at the same time?  how about toss on top a big bag of charcoal.  Ummm... how about 4 tool boxes, a bike stand, and a floor pump.


Or simply all that which could be carried before, and double it.

The Cargo bike is the daily bike.  For me, being car free, its perfect.  Cargo bike with racks up front and panniers.  Panniers for the little items that are best stowed away in a bag, and the big rack out back for sheer hauling ability.


The Big Dummy’s long trellis like frame is much more efficient than the bolt on combo of the Cdale.  The big differences really comes down to availability, and affordability.  While the Big Dummy and an XtraCycle seem very similar, they really are very different.


The Xtracycle is probably the “Greenest” of the two, altho Surly’s OD green frame is as close to my heart as could ever be.  The Xtracycle makes use of 


existing bikes.  its the ultimate in re-cycle.  it opens a new door to what the bicycle can be used for.  That has to be THE ULTIMATE STATEMENT.  USEFUL BICYCLES.

For me, I simply wanted the Big Dummy.  Heck I’ve been waiting for this rig for about a year now.  I have come to very much appreciate Surly’s efforts.  I’ve been riding the Pugsley for about 2yrs now, and everything that I have come to know of the company has struck a chord in my heart.  I was so elated to learn of the co-operative efforts of Xtracycle and Surly in developing this first mass produced “Long tail Cargo Bike”.  


From the week long impression of the BD, the frame is more efficient. IMG_9436 

My old rig would flex, standing up with a load to climb induced a funky “wiggle” that I avoided by simply A:  improve how smooth I am while standing, B: simply stay seated.  “B” was the most common method.  With the BD I can just stand up and act if walking up an escalator in the wrong direction.  stand and pedal. just what i had hopped for!

but you know, I'm a good solid 180lbs these days, and often I'm hauling a 50lb payload.

on a tangential note:  it has been brought to my attention, the factor of "Combo's"  that is.

rider, bike, use, and of course, FreeRadical and bike.

that is to say, the combination of FreeRadical to bike frame, will yield various ride characteristics based on the bike frame.  In my case, the Cannondale proved to not be the best choice.

also there is the rider, the way they use the bike, and how much.  Again, here I am living life without a car, so I depend on my bikes a lot, and I use them.  A lot. I go thru about 3 sets of brake pads per year between the rigs i use, i also eat up drivetrains, and tyres. 

i also haul these silly loads that most people probably would simply use a buddy's truck for.

The guys at Xtracycle are pure genius.  thats my opinion.  With all the various bicycles out there in the world, and to develop a product that will effectively match up and produce a useable rig, is simply amazing.  not only that, BUT... the XtraCycle now takes a bike that was not getting used so much, and turns it into a viable transport solution.  it changes lives.  that is the beauty of it.

With the hole in the Cdale seatstay, and me pursuing a different ride, what would i have done if the Big Dummy didn't make it to market?  I guess I would have tried a Surly Instigator/FreeRadical combo with a rigid fork.  if that didn't pan out like i wanted, I probably would have asked someone to weld up a custom Cargo Bike.  that would be DOLLARS!

A week is just a snapshot in time to experience a new rig.  


However being without car, I do all my errands on bike, and the Big Dummy has received a curious shake down.  Last weekend, day #2 with the BD, I spent 5 or 6 hours on it, riding around Ft. Ord.  The day consisted of pavement, fireroad, and single track.  The tyres of my choice had been a set of Maxxis Holy Roller 2.4”  On the Cdale convert rig, I had chainline issues.  The chain rubbed the 2.4 tyre to the extent that the 22x34t grannygear combo was not useable.  i had to shift down 1 cog to avoid grinding the chain into the side knobs of the tyre.  regardless of tire choice, the chain also rubbed against the seatstay of the Cdale in the last 3 cogs.  like I said... issues.  even then I still rode this rig for sometime, being mindful of the issues, and avoiding them if possible.  

with the chainstay rub, eventually i cut a hole in the frame, which is not good, and to further avoid that, i ghetto rigged a piece of soda pop can, folded over and over, glued and zip tied it into place as a sacrificial scratch plate, preventing any further damage.  Luckily the frame seems to be ok, even with the hole.  like i said... ghetto.

with the Big Dummy none of that exists.  Surly has identified all these little variables that go into making a quality bicycle.  its purpose designed, and i couldn’t be happier.  a big thanks to Surly.  they definitely did their home work.  the BD is such a joy to ride.

not only have i taken it in the dirt, but i had also stripped it down bare, with no racks on it, and a set of Continental Town and Country 2.1” tyres to ride with a local roadie group.  From the days prior of riding the BD, I felt that the combo of myself and the new rig would be capable enough to be with roadies for 30 or 40 miles.  Sure enough I was correct.  I even managed to take a group sprint.  albeit I did sit back a bit in the pace line, and watch the scene unfold, when one of the guys made an attack, the others followed.  Me being a few yards back, I grabbed 44x11t, stood up, and started the wind up.  with it’s long and low frame, comes more momentum, and momentum management is something you start to embrace with heavy bikes.  I was intro’d to this with The Pug. 

with the momentum I simply kept on the attack, pulled off a nice flyer with a substantial speed difference, and off the front I flew...  the long tail of the BD, keeps your roadie buddies at bay.  its just far enough back to keep them out of your draft.  in the end, the guys pretty much let me have the sprint, as i couldn’t really hold it to our invisible sprint line, falling about 20ft short.  None the less the effort was impressive, and the long tail is a fun ride at speed on the pave.  

I found that going fast on the BD is very fun.  Going fast around neighborhoods, I suddenly discovered how hard you can make this thing corner.  I use a Thudbuster seatpost, so I put my weight into it and the outside pedal, as i corner.  Tri-pod one leg to the inside, pull the outside bar, lean it over, and its an exhilarating feeling as you exit faster than typical.  FUN!

in the dirt, i tapped the rear brake enough to have it step out to the side, and the long wheelbase lets you slide, in a way you’ve never felt before.  More FUN!

Really people.  Cargo bikes can make HUGE improvements to our lives.  In countries that are not as affluent as the US, cargo bikes help to improve daily lives, simply as an affordable utility vehicle.  its a machine!   here in the US we are so busy, our economy being what it is, we too suffer in our daily lives.  Very different from the necessity of hauling fire wood, but rather we don’t have the luxury to slow down.  

For both sides of the spectrum, enter the bicycle.  Here in the US, we have plenty of health issues, ok... try riding a bike.  its great mentally and physically.  oh ya... its cheaper than a car.  that helps too. Instead of burning petrol, we start to watch our diet.  “you got to fuel the fire.  what you put in is what you burn”.  so if you are living on chips and sodas, well you get what you put in.   

in our modern lives, we have entered the erra of Zoom Zoom.  that is transportation.  Impoverished countries need it, Industrialized countries need to clean it up.  we have the starving, and we have the polluting.  that is in gross terms.

the cargo bike can help even out this equation.  the end result is healthier people, better living conditions, and hopefully helping our environments.

get a cargo bike, park the car, ride to the store, enjoy the day...