Surly Big Dummy Update: Carrying Loads and Living by Bike

After a couple months of daily riding the Surly Big Dummy for everything possible (including a 42 mile, over night camping trip), I’m ready to give my thoughts on how the bike fairs in carrying big loads and whether this is truly a car replacement.

If you haven’t read my first two installments of this review, click below to check them out:

First Impression

How it rides

As mentioned in previous posts, the Big Dummy is built around the Xtracycle system and I’ve been using it mainly with the Freeloader panniers on a daily basis. When carrying big loads that need extra room and support, I clip on the Wideloaders.

What can you use it for?

The Freeloader panniers are about as perfect a system as I can imagine for every day use when carrying small to medium loads. Here’s a few things I’ve carted around town:

  • Lots and lots of grocery bags
  • Messenger pack
  • laptop
  • 20″ iMac (box)
  • bulky purchases from the hardware store
  • Japanese take out
  • packages to and from the post office

There’s been other miscellaneous items, but that list captures the spirit of what it’s like to own a long tail bike. Everyday things that are often hard to accomplish on a “normal” bicycle become a breeze on the Big Dummy. There have been lots of days that I would have been forced to drive my car because of the size of stuff I needed to carry with me, but I was able to pedal instead.

Every thing mentioned above is carried easily in the Freeloader bags. Not one time have I had anything fall out.

Camping and hauling a big load

This past weekend I finally had a chance to take my camping trip I’ve been planning since the Big Dummy review began. I mapped out a 21 mile route through the country roads of Virginia and started packing up the bike.

My wife always gives me a hard time when we travel together because I consistently over pack (or, in her words, “pack like a girl”) and this camping trip was no exception. Here’s the list of stuff I took along with me for one night:

  • 3 person tent
  • sleeping bag
  • extra blanket
  • two pillows
  • two extra sets of clothes (seriously, I’ve got a problem)
  • two gallons of water
  • Some adult beverages
  • messenger bag full of books and journal
  • Ravioli, macaroni, donuts, etc
  • cooking pans/utensils
  • coffee percolator
  • foldable chair
  • misc stuff such as matches, toilet paper, etc
  • bike misc such as pump, tube, tools, etc
  • handsaw
  • hammer

I was able to fit every bit of that on the Big Dummy with very little trouble. Thinking back (and after repacking it the next day) I can see ways that I could have packed it better, but even with my bad packing job everything fit pretty easily.

Camping by Surly Big Dummy

Once I pulled out onto the road it took a few minutes to get used to the heavy load behind me, but in general it road really well with all the extra weight. The best advice I can give for loading the Big Dummy is to pack things as low as possible to keep the center of gravity down. I didn’t do this the best and at higher speeds the bike would get to rocking back and forth which is a bit disconcerting. Otherwise, the entire 42 mile round trip was pretty uneventful. It road great the whole way and everything stayed strapped down on the bike.

My one problem with the Big Dummy…

is the kickstand. This is, by far, the biggest annoyance with the bike and only gets worse the more stuff you pile on. You have to be extremely careful where you stand the bike as it will fall over or skitter away down a hill if you’re not careful.

The Big Dummy is rated to carry a total of 200 pounds (not counting rider weight) but I can’t imagine relying on that thin piece of aluminum to hold up that kind of weight.

I’ve heard that the Xtracycle folks are working on a better version of their kickstand (think motorcycle) and I hope that future versions of the Big Dummy will be made to fit this.

Edit: The Xtracycle KickBack is now available and works great with the Surly Big Dummy.

Can it really replace my car?

In my mind, this is the most important question. My answer:

Definitely maybe…

Obviously everybody’s life circumstances are different. Mine, for instance, includes a two year old and a new baby on the way in a city that’s very bike unfriendly. I won’t be carting them around by bike any time soon.

However, pretty much every trip around town that includes me going by myself has been by bike. I no longer have to think about what needs to be carried and if I have enough room in my messenger pack, etc. If my wife asks me to pick up a bunch of groceries on the way home, it’s no big deal.

Life by bike becomes simple.

There’s no more trying to think ahead of what you’ll need to carry. No longer coming home to get the car so you can go run an errand to the grocery or hardware store.

The longtail bike has completely changed what it means to live by bike and I can’t imagine a much better rendition than the Surly Big Dummy.

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0 thoughts on “Surly Big Dummy Update: Carrying Loads and Living by Bike”

  1. Fritz says:

    A 42 mile round trip on your Big Dummy for a camping trip. Tim, you absolutely rock. If you were a girl I’d kiss you.

  2. Jen says:

    Is it possible to put another kickstand on? I don’t think they’re that expensive. I have one on my Long Haul Trucker that has the two sides so it stands up straight (I think that’s what you’re talking about).

  3. Siouxgeonz says:

    Yea, I struggle with the kickstand issue, too. For me, being able to pack badly is extremely important; I know of no other way. I *love* having a bicycle that’s like the back seat of my car, if I had one still. Only problem (which I’ve heard others have too) is that tendency to leave stuff in there, like that barbell…

    And the other amazing thing is that “gravity ju ju” … where what looks incredibly hard to haul simply isn’t, because of the magic of momentum and where the load is sitting.

    Like the bike, I hope you Fare well 😀

  4. Vik says:

    Thanks for the post. I just got back from a 3 day camping trip with my Big Dummy and have to get a kickstand sorted out. I managed without one, but it would have been way better if I had something that let me stop without having to lean the bike up against something.

    I’m going to link to this post on my Big Dummy Blog [] – it’s great to get some feedback from other BD owners…=-)

    safe riding,


  5. Vik says:

    I just finished a 3 day tour with my Big Dummy and sure wished I had a kickstand! I’ll have to sort that out ASAP. I managed without one, but life would have been simpler with a way to stand the bike up without having to lean it up against something.

    Thanks for the posts I’m going to link to them on my Big Dummy Blog. It’s great to get feedback from other BD owners about how they like their bikes and what they are doing with them….



  6. 82times says:

    I highly recommend the Pletscher two-legged kickstand. That kickstand is the only thing I’ve found that’ll keep a loaded touring bike upright, and should work well with this setup.

  7. Rob L says:

    Excellent write up, I really want one of those in the near future for around town hauling/groceries/etc. Though I dunno if i could get the monster down into my basement for safe storage. 🙁

  8. jeff says:

    Hi. Please join the Bicycle to Work! LinkedIn networking group. Members pledge that they will try to ride their bicycle to work or on an errand at least once a week. Although the benefits should be obvious, let me outline them here.

    Right now people in the industrialized world are facing two very grave problems: obesity and a growing scarcity of oil. Compounding this problem is the new food shortage brought about, in part, by the conversion of food cropland to bio-fuel crop production. Most people feel powerless to help, but there is one thing that we can do. Ride our bicycles to work.

    If everyone would agree to ride their bikes to work one day per week we could cut oil consumption by as much as 10-15%. No one would argue that riding a bike burns more calories than driving the car. Although popular politically right now, most bio-fuels consume more energy than they produce. We would be much better to eat those bio-crops then use our own energy to transport us around.

    So spread the word. Make it a movement! Bicycle to work one day a week and do your part to cut back obesity and the overuse of oil and precious cropland.

    Just go to my profile at and you can click on the group to be included. While you are there, don’t forget to ask to link to my network of more than 9,000,000 like-minded professionals. I accept all invitations and look forward to meeting you.


  9. Meghank says:

    Aw, Fritz, don’t kiss Tim. I’m going on my first ever camping trip tomorrow, It must be a 50 mile round trip at least, and I’m going by bike. I got a tent yesterday (kind of a last-minute trip, ok), and I’m bungee cording it to my Specialized Dolce. Hopefully my boyfriend will get a rack on his Allez today so he can help carry the sleeping bags.
    Tim, how was your trip? Did your wife go with you?

  10. joel says:

    Not to knock the write-up (thanks for it, now I REALLY want one of these, because the three bikes I already have clearly aren’t enough) but I wanted to write in a say nice shirt. I have the same one hanging at home.

  11. Tim Grahl says:

    Jen: What kind of kickstand do you have? Brand and model?

    Siouxgeonz: Yeah I agree with you there… I’ve got menus, old mail, a flashlight, random tools, etc. Although that’s still not as bad as how my car usually looks…

    Rob L.: Mine also won’t fit in my basement (actually a crawl space that has a tiny door but lots of room inside). I keep mine behind the house, under the deck and locked up.

    Meghank: The camping trip went great. My two biggest fears was a) taking a wrong turn and b) forgetting something. Both which aren’t a big deal in a car, but quite the pain in the ass on a bike. Both of those didn’t happen and I had clear skies and great weather. Candace didn’t go as she’s eight months pregnant and has trouble getting comfortable in our bed, much less a tent in the woods 🙂

    Joel: Yeah, love that shirt. Twin Six rocks my world!

  12. Quinn says:


    There is a double on

  13. Surly Bee-anchi Lady says:

    Great to hear about your success with the Big Dummy. I am loving mine and am very close to being car-free when I am in town. It is great to be at the grocery store and when the thought, “Oh, I can’t get that – I’m on my bike” comes, I just remember my BD parked outside and load up the shopping cart.

    I, too, will probably opt for a better kickstand. My bike toppled in the garage after a shopping trip and fell on my bottle of wine. Fortunately, I had my Footsies on the bike and the wine escaped unharmed, along with the rest of the groceries. Actually, I probably unpacked the bike wrong so it could have been more operator error than kickstand deficiency.

    I rode my BD unloaded (except for bungee cords and snacks and stuff to be returned and extra bike gear that now live in my panniers) on a short group ride and had no problem staying in the middle or closer to the front of the pack. Obviously the BD is a heavier bike than most others, but it is easy to ride. I think it may just be the fun and joy I have on my Big Dummy . . .always brings a smile to my face on that bike!

  14. Antoine says:

    Coffee percolator? That’s not camping, it’s moving house.

  15. JoshM says:


    What kickstand are you using? Have you tried the Xtracycle Rock Sturdy Stand, or is the issue that it won’t fit in the wideloaders? I gotta believe it’d be a rather simple hack job for someone to make something similar out of a couple of u-brackets and some pipe for use with the wide loader. Hell, for camping you could make a couple out of a single 2×4 and stow it in with everything else.

    Rock Sturdy Stand –

    BTW – Hella cool write up. I’m dreaming of a Big Dummy some day.

  16. Amy says:

    Aaron’s Bicycle Repair, in Seattle, has a kick butt mechanic named Val Kleitz who has been rolling a great looking center stand:

    Its the 5/5/08 post.

  17. Ralfieboy says:

    “Rolling Jackass Xtracycle/Big Dummy Center Stand by Val Kleitz – $374.99”

    that price is a little out of reach for most people

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