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.

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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.

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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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