Surly Big Dummy Review…

A typical Big Dummy mission...

A typical Big Dummy mission…

What is it?

The Surly Big Dummy is a long tail cargo bike that was designed to use the Xtracycle line of cargo products as plug-ins to a robust one piece steel frame. That provides a lot of flexibility from carrying kids to lumber, to groceries and even ladders or kayaks.

The current configuration...

The current configuration…

Specification as Tested

I got one of the first batch of BD frames and built it up from parts. At the time there were no BD completes available. My BD features a Rohloff IGH for a very strong rear wheel and minimal maintenance.

  • 2008 Surly Big Dummy frame 18″
  • Rohloff hub + shifter + Mavic EN321 Disc rim
  • Shimano SLX brakes + 160mm rotors [Avid fr & Rohloff Rr]
  • Shimano XT hub + XC717 rim [front wheel]
  • Schwalbe Marathon XR tires 26 x 2.0″
  • Race Face Turbine crank 38T ring x 16T Rohloff cog
  • platform pedals
  • Titec H-Bars + Egron Grips
  • Brooks B17 champion flyer saddle
  • Xtracycle Long Tail Kit
  • Old Man Mountain Cold Springs front rack
  • Planet Bike Cascadia fenders
  • Porcelain Rocket frame bags [custom]
  • $7 kickstand

You can see all my Big Dummy photos here.

Hauling a Pugsley...

Hauling a Pugsley…

Hauling a shelving unit...

Hauling a shelving unit…

Surly Spew

“The Big Dummy is designed for carrying cargo. Like all our frames, it’s made of steel and it’s got lots of little touches that you’ve come to love in a Surly, like clearance for bigger tires and common component sizing.

It’s built around the longtail standard design platform, invented by Xtracycle which means that Xtracycle or Surly accessories can be added depending on what you want to carry, or you can build your own to meet whatever hauling need you have. However, being a dedicated single-piece frame instead of an add-on to an existing bike, it’s more stout and resistant to torsional flex, and this makes it resistant to fatigue and failure.

The load weight, and how it’s loaded, will affect the handling. Also plan on using gears, provided on the complete version, especially as cargo weight increases. This may seem obvious, but as you get comfy with it you’ll use your full range of gears as never before.

One of the funny things about the Big Dummy is that it doesn’t ride quite like you might think. Sure, it’s a little longer, but mainly it rides like a bike. It’s smooth, maneuverable, even nimble. Are you riding light and want to hit some singletrack on the way home? Do it. And if you get a call from your better half asking you to pick up some groceries, or you see a nice lamp at a garage sale, you’re all ready. Lots of people bought one to use once in a while and began using it as their everyday ride.

The frame can be built up lots of different ways to suit your needs and budget. The complete bike option has reliable but understated components to help keep the price down while still retaining durability and quality components Surly is known for.

New this year we’ve designed bags, deck and bag frames. All are well thought out, durable, and high quality.”

The current configuration...

The current configuration…

Groceries for the week...

Groceries for the week…

Testing

I’ve had my Big Dummy for over 5yrs. It’s seen thousands of kms of cargo biking – hauling passengers, bikes, groceries, furniture, SUPs, etc… I’ve also used it as an expedition style touring bike on paved and dirt road tours. Surprisingly I also used the BD a ton for cruising around town with no plans to haul jack shit.

The only common BD mission I haven’t had much experience with is hauling kids. I wasn’t prepared to breed just for testing purposes! 😉

The business end...

The business end…

The Frame

The Big Dummy is a typical Surly frame – built from no nonsense 4130 chromoly and covered in a robust understated powercoat finish. It looks like a mountain bike that’s been stretched out like a limo. You can run disc brakes or v-brakes as desired.

After many years of riding the decals are shredded, the powdercoat is scratched and scuffed, but all in all the Big Dummy is going strong.

Behind the seat tube things get interesting. There are a number of extra tubes that form the longtail cargo area of the Big Dummy. This provides a bunch of extra water bottle cage mounts for long rides or an opportunity to fill the space with some custom frame bags. The Big Dummy allows for plug and play installation of pretty much any Xtracycle accessory you care to use.

There is a kickstand plate just to the front of the rear wheel on the non-driveside of the frame. I have installed at generic $7 kickstand which has proven very useful all these years and survived much abuse.

That compatibility is key to the BD’s versatility and usefulness. Many of the other cargo bike options available give you few accessories mount. That means you are left to DIY any hauling solutions you need. Sadly the basic longtail isn’t all that useful. The saddle bags most longtail cargo bikes come with are great for small items – pretty much what a touring bike could carry. To really get the most from your Big Dummy you need to start adding the correct accessories for the mission at hand.

  • Going to carry 2 kids add some child seats
  • need to haul a bike plug in a bike carrier
  • need to haul 2 bikes plug in 2 carriers
  • got a 12″ sea kayak you need to move add a wide loader with a long loader
  • want to give your GF a lift on date night add some foot rests and a set of stoker bars
  • you get the picture!

Now if you are a DIY kind of rider the Xtracycle design is easy to work with. So you can make any parts you don’t want to buy. That means you get a choice. Buy what you want and build anything you feel you can make at home.

Having a one piece cargo frame gives you a stiffer more solid bike than a 2 piece bike + Xtracycle combo. This matters most at the heaviest end of the hauling spectrum and/or when you are riding off paved roads.

The rear brake on a BD is a long way from the lever. If you are using mechanical cable actuated brakes you’ll want the most compression resistant housing you can get your hands on. Standard brake housing will result in spongy low power braking at the back. I started my BD build with Avid BB7s and moved to Shimano SLX hydraulic brakes after a few years to get better performance.

Towing a longboard...

Towing a longboard…

Riding...

Riding…

The Ride

The BD rides like a mountain bike. A long one, but still a mountain bike. That’s a good thing. It means you’ll want to ride your BD when you aren’t going to haul any cargo and you don’t worry when the road turns to dirt or disappears altogether.

I’ve got wide Titec H-bars on my BD combined with a 23.5″ TT puts me in an upright position. That’s great for controlling heavy loads and enjoying the scenery, but not very aerodynamic.  I could easily be riding a 20″/Large frame.

My BD is built like a tank. It rides like a tank. The upside is that I’ve never had a lick of trouble with it even when hauling over 200lbs of stuff. The wheels have been bomber. The frame has been stiff enough to let me haul the heaviest loads with confidence in downtown traffic or at 75kph on a steep mountain road. I’ve never had a flat and I just ride it like it like every mission is search and destroy. The downside is the burly tires, the upright riding position and the heavy frame don’t reward sprinting. OTOH you can cover a lot of ground at a decent speed with a steady effort.

Faster rolling tires and a longer lower riding position would let you pick up the speed if your cargo rides are longer than most. Some folks have also installed e-assist kits on the their BDs.

You want low gears on a cargo bike if you have steep hills where you live. I can conquer all sorts of ridiculous climbs on my loaded BD with my Rohloff in gear #1 and a constant spin. I’m fine with minimal gear range on a lot of my bikes, but this isn’t one of them. Using an IGH is nice since you can’t lift the rear of the BD easily if you stop on a hill in a gear too high to get started in. IGHs can shift while stopped or while coasting – perfect!

Although the BD is a rigid bike its length, steel construction and the rider position in the middle of the bike mean there is a leaf spring type suspension effect. It’s very comfortable on rough roads or trails. An unexpected bonus.

The long wheelbase means Cadillac type stability. That means low stress when riding at speed with a load onboard.

One quirk with longtail riding is that the rider is not on top of the rear wheel so when you ride towards a curb or a log and try and lift the front wheel not much happens.

Urban assault mode...

Urban assault mode…

11' SUP heading out for a paddle...

11′ SUP heading out for a paddle…

Hauling Stuff

A longtail cargo bike is great for carrying a lot of different loads:

  • kids
  • adults
  • boxes
  • groceries
  • long items [ladders, SUPs, lumber, etc..]
  • other bikes

In stock form the Xtracycle rear gives you two options: 1) a cargo deck you can sit passengers on or strap boxes to and 2) Freeloader side bags that let you load up both sides of the bike with cargo in a lower more stable position. These bags are very versatile on their own, but I like have some plug in Wide Loaders that give you a wide horizontal shelf on one or both sides of the bike to support bigger loads.

If you are going to transport adults or older kids a lot you’ll want to invest in some foot rests and possible a set of stoker bars which give them someplace to hang onto. For the occasional ride these are not essential.

If you have young kids there are a variety of child seat options available, but I’m not really up to speed on what they are.

I’ve got the following accessories:

  • wide loaders [shelves to support wide loads like boxes]
  • long loader [pushes really long loads out a bit at the front so you have room to pedal]
  • bike carrier
  • tie down straps
  • foot rests [passengers love ’em]
  • deck pad [comfy for passengers]
  • $7 kickstand

Click here to read a review of the accessories I use.

I carry everything except the bike carrier] on every ride because you just never know what you will end up carrying home.

You can visit my old Big Dummy Blog for lots of cargo hauling ideas and tips. I’ll be reviewing the Xtracycle accessories I use in a separate post.

Groceries and my buddy Steve...

Groceries and my buddy Steve…

Mountain touring...

Mountain touring…

Touring

The BD makes a great expedition touring bike. It can carry anything you need. It doesn’t care if the road turns to dirt or you start exploring trails. Since most people don’t tour full time it’s handy that your exploring bike is such a useful cargo rig at home.

The leaf spring suspension of the BD’s long steel frame is comfortable on the roughest track. There us room in the BD’s frame for the biggest touring rubber you care to mount plus fenders.

I use an OMM Cold Springs rack on the front on my BD. This balances out a touring load a bit and gives me easy access to stuff I need throughout the day.

The long wheelbase of the BD is very confidence inspiring when descending a hairy steep muddy road with a heavy bike.

The BD is longer than a single touring bike, but shorter than a tandem so flying or taking it on a bus/train isn’t a real problem. You can install S&S couplers on your BD if being able to pack it into a smaller box is important to you.

Muddy Dempster Highway...

Muddy Dempster Highway…

Loading a couple BDs...

Loading a couple BDs…

Big Dummy vs. Trailer?

You might be thinking should I just get a cargo trailer or an Xtracycle kit for an existing bike instead of a Big Dummy? The answer depends on what you are going to haul with your bike and how often. It also depends on what sort of bike[s] you already have. I’ve had 3 cargo trailers over the years [BOB and Burley Nomad style] and they work well, but for regular hauling duties I far prefer the Big Dummy. Not only can I carry passengers on the BD, but I can carry a wider variety of items more easily than with the trailers I’ve owned. Most importantly I often ended up hauling stuff on the BD when I wasn’t planning to. With a bike trailer that means I most likely wouldn’t have had it with me since riding around with an empty trailer isn’t all that much fun…however, riding around on the empty BD is pretty much like riding a normal mountain bike.

There are speciality trailers that can haul loads that far exceed the BD’s capacity in size and weight. Trailers so huge you can move apartments with them. If you need one of those you are in an ultra small niche of cargo bikers and you may need a BD to haul that 15′ beast around! 😉

Where I think a trailer does make a lot of sense is if you only need to haul cargo occasionally and you have a bike you like to ride already. Investing in a dedicated cargo bike probably doesn’t make sense. Say getting groceries once a week and a summer bike tour.

The ladies like the BD...

The ladies like the BD…

CETMA...

CETMA…

Big Dummy vs. CETMA front loading cargo bike?

I owned a CETMA front loading cargo bike with a nice wooden box for a couple years. It was much heavier than the BD and could haul more weight. In fact it handled better with a heavy load than empty. I ended up selling it because the BD was a better fit for my needs.

What was better about the CETMA?

  • big box made loading loose items [say recycling or groceries] easier
  • box could be removed to carry large heavy boxes
  • most cargo could just be placed in the box without any straps for fast loading
  • could haul more weight than BD
  • you can keep an eye on your cargo
  • if you are carrying kids you can talk to them and watch them

What was better about the BD?

  • rides like a normal bike unloaded
  • narrower when unloaded [better for gates on bikepaths]
  • more nimble
  • carries long loads easier
  • carries adults easier and more comfortably
  • lighter/faster
  • handles dirt and steep hills better
  • blends into the background well when empty so less stupid cargo bike questions

I found that since I rarely needed the cargo capacity of the CETMA and I preferred to ride the Big Dummy the CETMA only got used a fraction of the time. If I was going to keep just one of the two the BD was the more fun and more versatile option.

Doug and Fiona love their CETMA...

Doug and Fiona love their CETMA…

Hauling a bike to the UPS Store...

Hauling a bike to the UPS Store…

What don’t I like about the Big Dummy?

  • my build was expensive…although I could have skipped the Rohloff and if I was buying today I would probably just get a complete bike and get OEM savings on the parts.
  • it’s heavy and long. Finding someplace to store it and still have easy access to it can be a challenge.
  • the price of flexibility is that you need to spend a few minutes reconfiguring the BD to haul a load and strap it down.
  • Xtracycle accessories are expensive.
  • My BD in this build is not a rocket ship.
Backroads Big Dummy touring...

Backroads Big Dummy touring…

Big Dummy in camp...

Big Dummy in camp…

Would I do it all over again?

Absolutely. The BD has been a super fun and useful bike to own. I would probably just buy a complete BD from Surly to save $$$ and worry about upgrading to an IGH down the road when stuff wore out. I buy and sell bikes regularly so bikes that don’t hold their own in my garage don’t last long.

The Big Dummy is my oldest bike.

What keeps it safe is that it can do pretty much anything. If I need to haul something the BD has my back. If I just want to go out for a cruise the BD is fun for that. If I have a tour on the books the BD can take me on the road travelling. Commuter bike down for repairs – the BD is reliable all weather bike with an IGH and fenders.

The Big Dummy may not be my first choice for rides other than cargo missions, but the fact it can do everything means I always have a bike to ride which is great for peace of mind.

At least so far I haven’t found a better cargo bike solution for my needs.

Picking up a new bike for a friend...

Picking up a new bike for a friend…

Loaded for a tour...

Loaded for a tour…

More Surly Big Dummy reading:

5 thoughts on “Surly Big Dummy Review…

  1. Awesome post, as usual Vik!

    Really liked this one a a lot, as I have been interested in a long-tail bike for quite some time. However, I ended up getting a CETMA 5-rail rack instead for my exising mountain/commuter. With my panniers, It added some nice carrying capacity, but didn’t break the bank. I realized that I don’t have the need enough to justify a long-tail. Might do it eventually.

    Again, I appreciate your post because it helped confirm I made the right decision.

    Ty

  2. researching the Big Dummy a few years ago is what led me to you and your writings. I use my Big Dummy multiple times a day, and it has replaced our car for most errands. I built a custom padded deck for my wife, added a stoker bar, and the wood xtracycle running boards. So much more pleasant for the 2 of us to tool around town compared to a car. I even went so far as to build a custom wood crate for our dog that clips into the side rail mounts. We call it the “Pickle Barrel” and our dog loves it.

  3. Nice post Vik.

    The BD completes are being dropped (in the UK at least) so a custom build may soon be the only option… Also, Surly now have their own bags & BD accessories 😉

    cheers

  4. Pingback: vikapproved | Xtracycle Accessories Review…

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