I’ve been riding the Surly Big Dummy on a daily basis for a month now and am reading to give my thoughts on how it works from a commuting standpoint. This first segment will focus on how it rides.
One of the regular question of longtail bikes is how it rides. In general, it feels like a normal bike. When going straight down the road nothing feels much different. However there are several idiosyncrasies that are important to point out.
The first, and most disconcerting, was the slight give in the frame when going over potholes, bumps and other obstacles. Because the wheelbase is so long, you can feel a slight bow underneath you. It’s nothing bad and is completely safe, however when you aren’t used to it, this difference in ride can take you by surprise.
If you regularly hop curbs or go over bigger obstacles, you’ll want to remember that all of your timing instincts will be off with the longer wheelbase. The first time I pull it over the curb I got knocked off the pedals because the wheel hit a split second later than I was used to due to the longer wheelbase. What I foundis to just stay seated through the whole thing. Since the wheel is so far back you don’t feel the impact as hard and you don’t have to worry about your timing. Not to mention, if you’re used to unweighting the rear wheel this won’t do you much good on a longtail
The final big question is how it climbs. This is where you will feel the extra rear weight more than anywhere else. The feeling that kept coming to me was that I had a bag of sand on a skateboard tied behind me. It obviously climbs better than that scenario, however I could distinctly feel that heavy load behind me. I also feel like it gets increasingly difficult to climb the slower I go. I’m sure there’s somebody reading with a degree in physics that could explain this, but I feel like it’s easier to pull the bike up the hill, especially with a heavier load, when I keep the bike in a harder gear and stand to pedal. When I shift down to an easy gear and try to hamster wheel up the hill I feel like the rear end of the bike is much heavier and it’s harder to get up the hills.
Last weekend I headed to my childhood home and put my father on the bike for a ten mile ride. He only rides a bike a couple times a year when he’s with me, however he’s in good shape due to his job. So during and after the ride I questioned him on what he thought of it. It was interesting that he mentioned a lot of the same things I had already noticed. He liked how it rode and said it felt more comfortable and stable than other bikes I’d put him on. He also could feel the heavier weight of the bike behind him. Like he was “pulling a sack of potatoes” in his words.
The last thing I would point out is the turning radius. Since the bike is so long you’ll catch corners if you cut them to close. This hasn’t caused me much of a problem though, just takes some getting used to.
After a month of riding the Big Dummy I feel completely comfortable zooming around town. Dropping on and off curbs, riding in traffic, ducking between cars, etc all feels very natural now.
I point that out because this bike took me longer than any other to get used to riding. The idiosyncrasies of riding a longtail bike can be very disconcerting at first. So if you’re looking to buy one and get a chance to do a test ride, don’t be quick to judge. I’ve heard more than one report of people disliking a longtail at first and then growing to love it as they got used to riding it.
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.