First Impression: Surly Big Dummy

An amazing thing happened this morning. A commute that would have normally been by car was instead taken on a bike.

Surly Big Dummy

Commute by Bike has taken delivery of a Surly Big Dummy for review. We’ve been talking about this bike since it was first shown at Interbike in September of 2006. They recently went on sale in February (and quickly sold through) and for most of Spring I’ll be riding this bike everyday to put it through the paces as I use it on a daily basis to see how I can reduce my car use more than ever.

Over the past twenty-four hours since I built it up I’ve put over 25 miles on the Big Dummy and this post will give you plenty of pictures to look through and include my first impressions of the bike.

This morning I had several things I needed to get to my office that were out of the norm. I had a couple big textbooks, my normal bag full of goodies (computer, power cord, etc) and a new coffee pot in the box. This would have normally resulted in me taking my car to the office as the bike I’ve been using lately has no where to store all that cargo. On the Surly Big Dummy everything fit easily.

The Surly Dummy is designed around the Xtracycle system and is rated to carry 200lbs worth of gear in addition to a 200lb rider. The setup you see in the pictures includes the V-Racks, Freeloader panniers and SnapDeck. The Freeloaders are extremely unique and versatile. Here’s the description from the Xtracycle website:

Open ended and expandable to swallow backpacks and guitars, they hang flat and out of the slipstream when not needed. Buckle configuarion allows for over-the-top loading, too.

Indestructable Hypalon inward, UV resistant and fast drying polyester outward. Mesh ends keep your tomatoes and flip-flops from getting lost. Made of coated nylon for durability and weight saving and adds two pockets to the inner panel: a large velcro enclosed pocket for a rain coat, pump or sweater and a small mesh pocket for tools, coins, etc. The material (600d nylon with three layers of PU coating) is water and abrasion resistant. The rip-proof nylon shaves two ounces off (making it 14oz per side) and wears well.

As you can see in these pictures I easily strapped in my bag, books and Coffee Maker. The inward pouches held my tools and digital camera.

Surly Big Dummy Surly Big Dummy Surly Big Dummy Surly Big Dummy

The Big Dummy is only sold as a frame and fork (although both QBP and Xtracycle sell a build kit) so you’re able to build it up however you need. Since this review is geared toward a daily commute, the bike has been built to have a comfortable position for regular road riding. The handlebars are Nitto North Road and tires are Schwalbe Big Apple. This makes for an upright position and a smooth ride.

Surly Big Dummy Surly Big Dummy Surly Big Dummy

I have to admit that my first commute yesterday was extremely nerve racking for me. I’ve never ridden a comfort style bike more than a couple minutes around a parking lot so sitting upright is a new thing and took some getting used to. However, by the time I road home yesterday evening I was getting much more comfortable with the setup.

Getting used to riding a long bike is quite the paradox. On one hand it’s just a bike and rides like one. Once you’re going and pedaling the bike feels no different and is extremely comfortable. In fact the longer wheelbase makes for a much more stable ride, especially at low speeds. You’ll be able to track stand and/or keep from putting a foot down way more than usual when coming to a slow roll or stop.

On the hand, there’s a lot of things to keep in mind while riding the Big Dummy. Just like a tractor trailor has to take wide turns, you have to be mindful going around corners. If you cut it close on a normal bike you’ll catch a curb on a long bike. If you go to ride over a curb or obstacle your timing will be way off. Last night I popped the curb in front of my house and went to lift the rear wheel off the ground and nothing happened… then the rear wheel finally hit. It’s just a split second but it’s plenty to throw everything off. It knocked my right foot off the pedal which caused me to bear claw my shin.

I’m looking forward to getting more accustomed to riding a long tail bike and not having the constant feeling that something is amiss.

Here are a few things I have in store in the coming weeks for a review of this bike:

  • Plenty of trips to the grocery store and other errands
  • A fully bike-support camping trip from my front door to the campsite
  • Changing out the handlebars and tires for a more aggressive riding position to allow for a rougher urban ride and some mountain biking
  • Measuring out 200lbs worth of stuff and loading the bike down to see how it rides under those conditions

If you have any other ideas for how I can put this bike through the paces please leave it in the comments. Also, as always, if you have any questions drop those in the comments as well.

More updates in the near future…

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Ed. This is part of my ongoing review of the Surly Big Dummy. You can click here to view all of the articles from this review.

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0 thoughts on “First Impression: Surly Big Dummy”

  1. Quinn says:

    I have been looking for a handle bar like that, what are they?

  2. Tim Grahl says:

    They are the Nitto North Road bar. You can buy one here at JensonUSA $43 (affiliate link):

  3. Fritz says:

    Mountain biking on the Big Dummy – that I’ve GOT TO see on video! Maybe you should ship the Big Dummy to Sea Otter 🙂

  4. JoelGuelph says:

    Did the kickstand come with it or did you add that yourself? It doesn’t look like it could handle a 200lb load, but maybe it could. A double kickstand, a la the Bakfiets might be better?

  5. Quinn says:

    Fritz- TV has a video

  6. Rick says:

    I converted my mountain bike into an Xtracycle two weeks ago. I have never been more in love with a bike than I am right now. If anyone is looking at a bike for daily use, this should be it.

  7. Be sure to carry some passengers.

    Did they give you wideloaders and a longloader or two? It’s way fun to carry absurd things like an extension ladder or kayak or big bulky stuff like attic insulation.

  8. Jason says:

    Will it fit on a transit bus bike rack?

  9. Mike Myers says:

    Surly has done a good thing with the Big Dummy. They took their time in designing it to work out all the bugs. If I had enough room for it I would have one.

    I would think that front and rear discs would be a good investment if one was planning to haul 200 pounds of cargo plus rider.

  10. Andy Morris says:

    How about seeing just how many supermarket bags one of these can take, can it be a replacement for a car for a weekly family grocery shop?

  11. Tim Grahl says:

    Fritz: I won’t be the first one to mountain bike with a long bike. Apparently the Xtracycle folks do on a regular basis with their kits and at the Punk Bike race one of the Dirt Rag crew was rolling a Big Dummy.

  12. rick says:

    How did you like the performance of the Big Apple tires installed on the bike? Schwalbe markets them and the Fat Franks as balloon type tires for non suspension bkes. Do they smoothen out the ride? Would you perhaps prefer a 80mm travel front fork?

  13. Andy,

    Here’s what I carried:

    24 pack of CFL lightbulbs
    a whole house humidifier filter
    1 dozen eggs
    26 pack of diapers
    1 pound of green beans
    5 pounds of bird seed
    2 packets of beef stew seasoning
    1 pound of Reame’s noodles
    1 pound of frozen dinner rolls
    5 frozen loaves of bread
    2 pounds of pork tenderloin
    6 packages of shredded cheese
    cake mix with frosting
    3 red delicious apples
    1 onion
    1 pound of carrots
    1 head of lettuce
    1 bunch of celery
    12 chicken breasts
    6 bratwurst
    package of butter
    box of cheerios
    1 pound of bacon (Thick cut)
    1 six-pack of beer

    This fit into four reusable grocery bags. I could have easily put two more in the freeloaders. I could have strapped a few of those things onto the rack if needed.

  14. Jon says:

    I concur with the post regarding passengers. I’d like to see you attach handlebars to the seat stem and add a pair of footsies.

    I would like to get one in order to pick my wife up from work… BIKE POOL!

  15. Tim Grahl says:

    rick: So far the Schwalbe tires are doing fine, however I hesitate to give much of a review on them at this point as I’m still getting used to the overall feel of riding the Big Dummy. I will say that I was rather surprised when I saw the max tire pressure was 50psi, however I’ve had no problems with them. Even ran them straight into a curb just to see what would happen and it pop over them without a problem and without a flat. I’ll make sure to give an update on them in the future.

    Jeff: I’ll see what I can do about getting some passengers on there. I don’t have the footsies, however I do have the wide load attachments which should siffice.

    Jason: I’m not sure on the transit bus bike rack and I really can’t test that around here. Our bus system doesn’t roll with bike racks… welcome to Lynchburg, VA, land of two bike commuters.

    Andy Morris: Rick (the other one) gave a good run down of what he carries. I’ll make sure to take over a full grocery run from my wife one week to see if I can buy a week’s worth for three people and get it all home. She’ll love that!

  16. Kirk Johnson says:

    Thanks for the info! I’ve got a Surly BD frame on order and I think it will be here in Minneapolis tomorrow. You pumped me up even more. I plan to use it for some commuting but also hauling landscaping and home remodeling items. Anyone have experience using a Bikes at Work trailer or similar with the Big Dummy, please email me at kirk.johnson “at”

    Tim: Wishing you many happy rolls on your setup, thanks for sharing.


  17. Ben says:

    I’d like to know how it climbs.

    I’ve got a bunch of hills in my area, which is the main thing that hold me back from going utilitarian.

  18. That is one cool looking ride, and practical too. I especially love the sloping top-tube. In my experience bikes with a longer wheelbase are harder to control at slow speeds.

  19. Bicycle Tutor: In my experience, Xtracycles are actually easier to control at slow speeds. They trackstand like champs, for example. I’ll let you know real soon whether the Big Dumm is the same…

  20. CaptCanuck says:

    My Dummy is on order and should arrive next week. I have a custom snapdeck, footsies and fenders on order from Woody’s Fenders. I’ll throw pictures up of those as it was a first request for him and he does beautiful work.

    I am going to run Hayes hydraulic disks on mine (I have some lying around) and an OnOne Mary Bar – similar shape to a Jones H Bar. Maybe run a solar panel on the snap desk to charge my phone, etc when on long trips.

    I agree that a multi-day camping trip would be a great story. That’s my plan for the summer

  21. Shawn says:

    I finished building up mine middle of this week and have had a couple of rides and one trip to the grocery store on it. So far:
    – its heavy but I don’t think its that big of a deal. It is probably 10 pounds heavier than the frame it replaced (Cannodale XC frame/fork) but doesn’t feel that much slower (a bit but not enough to really bother me). I think the weight is a bit of a non-issue personally, I think speed has more to do with wind resistance, and rolling resistance combined with how agressive the riding position is on a bike. Just me but after a couple of years of an 1h10min commute I noticed + or – 5pounds in my messenger bag never stretched my commute time out by more than a minute or two.
    -climbing: it climbs, not a rocket but it will get you there.
    -groceries: you could carry a stupid amount of groceries on this thing if you use your imagination and pack intelligently. I’ve only done one run and it was a smallish shop (3 full bags) so I don’t know but I think you could get pretty crazy.
    – If you live somewhere where it rains v-brakes would be a bit sketchy and would kill rims fast enough to make upgrading to discs cheaper in the long run
    – I think any real mountain biking would probably warrant a susp fork. Its really hard to get either wheel off the ground.
    Other than that it rides more or less like a normal bike until you have to do really tight manoveurs. The steep head angle does a lot to counteract the long wheelbase and it handles really nice.

  22. red says:

    Sure, they go fine as MTBs: check these guys out!

  23. Milan says:

    I have been riding the big dummy for almost a month and most of my riding is commuting to work and I have done two camping trips which involved 50 miles of riding.

    I have fallen in love with the bike, and now I am wondering why more people don’t ride utility bikes. I have several bikes (Seven to be exact) and the big dummy is the most comfortable.

    I thought, given the “big apple” tires it was going to significantly slower, but when I look at the computer I am riding just as fast (12 to 15 mph) and the long wheelbase is very comfortable…

    My next experiment is to get another utility bike, for example the KONA and try an internal gear hub….anyone has experience with that?

    Overall: I love the big dummy!

  24. CaptCanuck says:

    I too have commuted lots on my Big Dummy. Sure got lots of smiles and stares yesterday (Earth Day!) I really like that I don’t have a messenger bag or back pack on now that it is getting warmer, and it has lots of mounts for bottle cages. But it is a little too big to bring in the elevator and store in my office (like I do with my road bike)

    A kickstand is a must. I saw the little plate I wondered what it was for, given I haven’t put a kickstand on any of my bikes in over 20 years 🙂

    I am running 3 rings in the front and I honestly rarely use the middle or granny ring on this bike anymore. Once you have it moving you hardly notice the extra weight and I second that it trackstands like a pro.

    The Freeloader bags are terrible and you have to run inner bags with them. I am looking to replace them with custom bags from PAC Designs. I am also thinking of running cotter pins through the frame & vracks as I have had them jump out of teh uprights when I drop off a curb, etc.

  25. sean says:

    I think that if your v-racks are popping out then your freeloaders are not installed properly — and that may also explain why you dislike the freeloaders.

    I think the idea of a sling into which you throw other bags is much better. For minor stuff, you can toss a backpack in and then at your destination, grab it and go … no removing bags form the bike etc. for bigger loads or touring, you can pack much more efficiently by having different sized dry sacks for different gear…

    check the xtracycle instructions and the pictures in the big dummy manual and make sure you are running your freeloader bag straps around the correct frame members — then the v racks will not pop out, i’m positive!

  26. CaptCanuck says:

    I see your point about the correct way to run the straps – I actually never received the manual when I picked up the bike. It makes sense now, though I still don’t like the freeloader bags.

    I am wondering why there are the threaded inserts on the front upright tubes of the frame, where the vrack bottms out? Any idea what one is supposed to use those for?

  27. CaptCanuck says:

    Oh, and did you notice in the pictures above the author hasn’t run the straps correctly either? 🙂

  28. Tim Grahl says:

    CaptCanuck: Yeah I figured that out eventually. This post is from March 12, so I got my crap together not long after.

    Thanks for the heads up!

  29. Hi,

    Here is something that may be of interest to you…

    It’s a small web community for surly big dummy owners, a bit like fixed gear gallery but for hefty haulin’ bikes… a bit like an owners club (but that sounds too lame).
    Have a look, and send in some pictures and words for the gallery page. Join in, contribute.
    Its early days, the website is about 3 hours old, but in time we will have a glorious collection of pics, movies, tips and tales of adventure.
    I do sell Surly bikes, but this is not about that… this is about bringing the DB community together.
    All the best, please feel free to email if you need anything.

  30. Wil Yeo says:

    If you want to avoid safe tire issues go with tires that last long and properly maintain them. At JaxTires you can find the latest performance TIRES.

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