Review: Surly Big Dummy [From BA 43-300]

"With the Big Dummy, Surly has answered the call of car-free people everywhere with a bicycle of utilitarian sublimity."

from BA 43-300

The fact that the Big Dummy is a creation of Surly lends some serious credibility to a bike that raised many eyebrows during our nearly yearlong test run.

People—even über geeky bikey people—didn’t know what to make of it. “Wait, is that...?” “Is this part here a...?” “But what about...?” “You have a skateboard deck on your bicycle!” Though at first glance a bit bewildering to behold, the Big Dummy is pure genius in design and a delight to ride.

Things we carried/hauled with the Big Dummy:

  • a 10-foot ladder
  • two buckets of paint
  • six boxes of books (at one time)
  • the majority of items in the editor’s bathroom that we transported during a move
  • three children at once
  • an adult woman and picnic items up to Washington Park in Portland, Oregon (the steep route, via Park Place) without getting out of the saddle
  • innumerable bags of groceries, boxes of laundry detergent, bottles of wine, cases of beer, and bundles of toilet paper
  • bags and bags of clothes taken to a Goodwill donation center

On one of our excursions, a dapper elder gentleman spent over 20 minutes asking us questions about the Big Dummy. He was incredulous, to say the least, that a bike of such magnitude and practicality was sitting there before him. To be honest, we ourselves actually never lost that sense of amazement in the entire time we rode it, nor did the friends and acquaintances we showed it to. Every mount was a reminder of how brilliant, smooth, and comfortable such a lengthy (and seemingly unwieldy) bike could be.

Among several other features, we loved the disc brakes and the fat Schwalbe Big Apples that came standard on the model we rode. If this bike was ours to keep as a Wolverine Farm Publishing fleet vehicle, we'd outfit it with a front fender (no need for one on the back), a Brooks (the stock WTB saddle doesn’t really cut it), as well as a front rack with some panniers to make it an all-out rig ready to go anywhere, with anything, anytime. We would also swap out the handlebars—the Nitto 1x1 Torsion Flat Bar (made especially for Surly) is just not the right feel if you're a smallish person.

With its FreeLoader Saddle bags and support shelves, the Xtracycle componentry system is a wondrous invention, improvable only by making the mechanisms easier to tighten. We realize you could just outfit the bags with boxes (or some other device that would hold smaller things), but it would be nice if the whole set-up just sort of worked without augmentation. What we wanted was to be able to carry smaller cargo sometimes, but the bags don’t tighten down enough for tiny things to stay in place.

All told, we can’t believe how little the Big Dummy weighs for what it is, and how well it handles. Despite the bike’s girth and lankiness, it's cushy, fast, and stable—we passed more than one tricked-out roadie on this beast, even with a load, much to those riders’ chagrin and our own surprise. With the Big Dummy, Surly has answered the call of car-free people everywhere with a bicycle of utilitarian sublimity. 

Evan P. Schneider