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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