The Surly Big Dummy Review.

Yup.  Big Dummy Review.

The Big Dummy does, and always will, have a special place in my bike heart.  It was my first “real” bike.  Sure…before it I had a Trek Fuel EX 5.5 and a Trek FX.  (Yes.  I’m not proud of it, but I had a flat bar road bike.)  But those aren’t real bikes.  Not like the Dummy.  Not like the Vaytanium.

Before I get to the pics, let me give you the truth.  I really thought about pulling a few things off the Dummy and dressing it up for pics.  But the truth of the matter is that the pictures show the bike how it is, 95% of the time.  I’ve had it for 2 years this summer, and I just rolled over 1,000 miles.  It isn’t an everyday bike for me.  That’s the truth.  It’s a luxury to have it.  And it’s so damn fun.

When I started riding more, I realized that I wanted to be able to take my daughter with me.  Based on that desire, I did what everyone does, and got a trailer.  I hated having a trailer, for a multitude of reasons.  And there was that fateful day when I walked into North Central Cyclery and saw my first Big Dummy in person.  It was their shop Dummy, which I rode and loved.  I went back and rode it again.  Loved it again.  Went back and rode it a third time.  Loved it more.  With their assistance, I got a Dummy of my own.

Quick note on trailers vs. Dummy.  No comparison.  On the Dummy, my daughter and I can talk without yelling, we can point things out to each other, we can ride when it’s windy without dragging a parachute, we can ride anywhere a regular bike can fit without worrying about width, we can hop curbs, and we can do just about anything you can do on a bike.  In far, far greater comfort.  The Dummy allows parents to go for a ride with their children, instead of taking their children along on a ride.  See the difference?

It’s gone through a few iterations, but here’s the current spec:

18″ swoop Big Dummy, stock build (Deore LX 3×9, Avid 7s, Salsa Gordo wheels, Schwalbe Big Apple 26x2s, somewhat cushy Bontrager saddle (I never wear bike shorts on the Dummy, so a little cush helps).  Ergon grips.  I run an inverted drop bar for a stoker bar (details below).  I have the family kit and the cargo van kit, and usually run a flight deck, Peapod kid seat, and the 2 side bags.  Jones Loop Bars.  Rolling Jackass center stand.  A ton of bottle cages, pump mount, etc.  Planet Bike fenders.

This is how we roll.

The vast majority of the time, the Dummy is my kid-chariot.  I also use it for errands and trips to town, and occasional fun rides around the ‘hood.  I haven’t used it for touring (I’d like to), or anything really serious.  Longest ride was about 45 miles over the course of a day.  I said it–the Dummy is a luxury for me.

Big Dumb Shadow:

Mirror is useful for watching traffic…and passengers.

Jones Loop bars, wrapped.

That’s a mount for my Edge 800 on the stem (I’ve used it once on this bike).  Ergon Grips.  Stock Avid SD-7 brake levers (love them) and Deore LX shifters.  Cheap-o Bontrager headlight (used to be seen, not to see.  I run it on flashing mode when it’s dusk, so others can see my daughter and I returning from a park).

The lever in the center/front of the Loop is used to deploy the Rolling Jackass Centerstand.

Squeeze it, and it deploys the center stand down to the ground…then you just lift the front tire and pull the bike back onto the center stand, just like a motor cycle.  You can then dismount in complete comfort.  Frankly, it makes the bike so much more stable for loading cargo…and for loading and unloading my daughter.  It works perfectly.

Nice wide stance, easily adjustable feet.

When you’re ready to ride, just ease the bike forward and the spring shown above will retract the center stand…roll away.  It’s ugly…very ugly.  But it works great.  If you’re loading/unloading kids, dealing with the extra weight and the aesthetic concerns is a small concern compared to the security and stability of the center stand.  Srsly.

Because we ride after I get home from work a lot, I run reflectors and lights.  I don’t care if it looks stupid–I’ve got my daughter on board.

Goofy inverted drop stoker bars.

Why the inverted drop bars?  Well, for starters, they’re incredibly comfortable for a rear deck passenger to hang on to…without having to put their hands in incredibly close proximity to the biker’s rear end.  Equally as important, they’re surprisingly functional.  They’re easy to grab to lever the bike around in tight quarters.  They’re super easy to lash heavy/large/awkward loads to.  They’re very comfortable for kids to get close to and hang on.  They just work.  They’re also great for holding helmets at the park.

I intentionally took these pics at the park because that’s the second home of my Dummy…parks all over my local area.  My daughter begs to ride on the Dummy.

In the rear, you can see my dual lights and extensive reflectors.

Mr. Whirly cranks and DMR Vault pedals.

Why the Vault’s?  Because I had them, and they’re awesome.  Awesome.  I love them.  Best platforms ever.  Reasonably light, totally bombproof, great traction.

The Peapod is very nice…super comfortable for my daughter, and very adjustable as she grows.

The downside to the Peapod is that it’s pretty huge.  If I want to carry significant cargo, it has to come off.  The stock design requires you to remove the flight deck to remove the Peapod.  That is really inconvenient.  Xtracycle really needs to come up with a quick attach/release version of the Peapod, so it can be mounted and dismounted with ease.  They don’t have one–and that’s unfortunate.  I ended up building my own, with a fabricated aluminum subframe that the Peapod mounts too.  It works well, and mounts/dismounts quickly and securely.

The Dummy handles loads with ease.  I have yet to find a load that it feels uncomfortable or unstable with.  Last year, there were a few times when me, my wife and daughter would all ride the Dummy to the park (or to Ollie’s for custard).  The more weight you put on it, the more stable it feels.  And yet, for as sturdy as the wheels and frame are (look at that ovalized bottom tube), it has a very prototypical steel frame ride–which is to say it rides great.  For big loads, throwing the wide loaders on is very, very helpful.

The parts spec is dead-on.  Deore LX isn’t exactly high-end in the drivetrain…but as long as the chain is, the drivetrain is totally forgiving.  My Dummy lives a pretty nice life…it’s been out in the rain one time.  That said, the only work I’ve ever had to do on it is chain lubing.  It’s never needed a derailleur or brake adjustment, and has, after 1,000 miles, always shifted and braked perfectly.  (With those super long cables, that’s a really impressive feat.  I attribute much of that to the careful setup at NCC).  The headset has been nice and tight from day 1.  I started pulling apart the bottom bracket to check it last weekend (after hitting 1k miles), and it was tight and lubed.  Wheels are true and spin easily.  When I got it, I did spray the frame down with some Boe-shield…and I have washed it once.  (After it was out in the rain).  But that’s it.

I did run clip less pedals on it for a while…and for heavy loads, clip less rocks.  But after one “almost didn’t unclip while stopping” when I had my daughter on the back, I went back to platforms.  As long as I have passengers, I’ll stick with platforms.  Risk/reward.

The Dummy is a great bike.  Riding it just makes you smile.  The perfect Dummy speed is 15mph–it just loves to ride 15mph.  It will ride faster, it will ride slower…but 15 is about perfect.  The drivetrain offers a wide enough gear spread to cover any load, any hill, any situation up to about 30mph.  And 30mph is plenty fast on the Dummy.

I’ll close out with a few comments on the Schwalbe Big Apples.  They’re quiet and have a great ride for the suburban use that I put the Dummy through–the high volume design works well at squelching bumps, especially in combination with the steel frame.  At lower pressures, they’re comfortable, at higher pressures, they’re fast, around 45 psi, they’re both.  I’ve had 400 pounds of rider and cargo on the Dummy, and the B’Apples didn’t even blink.  The reflective stripe is a nice touch, as well.  My complaints?  Obviously, no real tread means no effectiveness in any kind of mud or snow.  (I threw a Schwalbe Smart Sam on the rear end and screwed around in the snow once…it was super fun.  The long wheelbase meant you could hang the rear end out sliding around every corner, and have complete control).  Also, when you push it hard into a corner, the front tire squeals like a pig.  Really.  It’s annoying.  I’m also not fond of the look…I’ve seen a few Dummys with more aggressive tires, and think that they fit the bike’s personality much better than the Big Apples.  But after 1,000 miles, they look relatively like new.

The Dummy is a great bike.  It would be a great urban, all-purpose bike, and it is a great suburban, special-purpose bike.  And it can carry a butt-load of gluten free beer.


Wireless Electronic Brakes!

This post is about hydraulic electronic brakes.

Yup, you read that right.

Wireless electronic brakes.  Don’t need to worry about road hydraulics anymore…

Because what the world truly needs is additional bike e-gadgetry.  Don’t worry…the system will include “mathematical calculations to check such systems automatically.”  I hear the whole thing runs on a computer running Windows Me.  The proponents of the technology also point out that they can integrate anti-lock braking and traction control…and frankly, with my massive power output, it would be helpful to have a computer deciding how much wattage I can throw down, so I can stop burning through rear tires so quickly.

I believe version 1.2 of the technology will include a wireless controller that is held by a safety monitor who follows you around on a gas scooter…so the safety monitor can apply your brakes safely in the event that you ride too quickly.  It will also permit automatic enforcement of speed limits on multi-use trails–so if you exceed 10mph, the brakes will automatically bring you to a stop and hold you until park police arrive.  And finally, the brakes will have a feature where Starbucks can stop passing cyclists at will, forcing you to come in for a $7 cup of coffee (price increase due to the technology they have to purchase to enable forcible stops).

When I think about how incredibly reliable wireless networks and cellular communications are, the first thing that comes to mind is: ‘Man, I wish there was a way that my ability to stop a bike depended on this wireless network.’  I’m envisioning something along the lines of:

RATG riding along.  Applies brakes to avoid obstacle.

Braking Computer:  “DNS Error.  Please renew your wireless host by unplugging brakes for 30 seconds.”

RATG crashes into obstacle.

The good news is that your wireless brakes will integrate with both your electronic drivetrain and the electric motor concealed in your seattube.

Favorite New Frostbike Products

Just a quickie, about a few of the products shown at Frostbike that I think look really interesting.

Salsa’s Full Suspension Fatbike:

Looks like a really sensible build.  (Did I just use sensible to describe a full suspension fatbike?  Wowzers).  I’d looooove to give it a test ride.  I think it really shows some forward thinking, and a willingness to try new ideas, and I’m curious to see where it leads.  My guess: Salsa’s 2013 product catalog will have a full suspension fatbike, with 82mm Rolling Darryls, 80mm rear suspension travel and 100mm front suspension travel, and the same basic suspension design shown above (shared with Spearfish and Horsethief).  Bike weight will be in the low 30s.

HED’s New Wheels:

Can’t find a pic of these at the moment, but HED was showing some new 700c wheels that don’t have a brake track on them; flat black finish.  Lighter weight than my Velocity A23s on the Vaytanium.  With the new growth in disc brakes, and with the coming full hydraulic road disc brake setups, it completely makes sense to start developing more rims that are trackless.  What am I looking for?  How about a lightweight, aluminum, trackless 700c UST wheel, so I can update the Vaya with something as durable as my Velocitys, but lighter and stealthier, and tube-less-er.

More Whisky Parts:

(Photo courtesy of North Central Cyclery)

I’m excited about some of the flat black carbon bits coming out of Whisky these days.  I think they’ll work smashingly good on Inigo Montoya, if he gets the green light.  It’s nice to have some American companies to select from (acknowledging overseas production).

Foundry’s Complete Builds

The build above is their Ratchet road ride, built up with the new SRAM Red group set and some spiffy Zipps.  I have to say…I’m a sucker for the flat black carbon aesthetic.  If I wasn’t head over heals about my Ridley, I’d be giving that a look.  I’m hopeful that Whisky’s product line expands enough that Foundry can use Whisky seat posts, stems and bars…that would be most excellent.

I’m also quite interested in their Auger, full carbon, disc friendly cross/gravel bike.  I’m really curious to see how they tuned the frame’s ride quality, and if it is as compliant as I’d like for gravel bomber runs.

Note the Whisky, disc-friendly, carbon fork.

45NRTH’s Studded Husker Du

(Photo from

Factory studded fatbike tires are a very, very positive trend.  I’m curious to see some more pictures of the tread to see how the studs are placed…and I’d really like to see a higher volume studded fatbike tire (that doesn’t require DIY).  But this is obviously a step in the right direction.  Now if they’d only do a BFHD.

Dry Cleaning. (Bikes).

A little tech update…

I’m borderline A/R when it comes to bikes…and one of the most bothersome parts of bike maintenance is chain maintenance.  I’ve yet to find a cleaning/lubing protocol that I really, really like.  If you really clean things, then: 1) you’re taking the lube right out of the parts that need it; and, 2) lube it and hit the gravel and it’s all undone–insta-dirty.

Cold weather complicates this even more, as your bike gets dirty, but it’s too cold to wash outside.

In doing some research, I’ve found some interesting ideas.  There are a number of people who suggest ‘dry cleaning’ bikes–cleaning with a dry towel.  And the gents at This Bike is F&*#$@ have recently suggested both dry cleaning and cleaning your chain with oil, instead of solvent.  So this past weekend, I undertook a bike cleaning experiment.


Note: I had tried a ‘wet’ petroleum based lube on the chain, and really, really don’t like the results.  Back to dry/wax based lubricants for me.

The cleaning method I’d normally use would be to get a wet rag, use some water to wet down big dirty areas, spray mud with a little highly diluted simple green, and wipe down the frame.  Then, use a Park Tool degreaser bath machine on the chain, followed by a spray with degreaser on the cassette and chainrings, followed by brushing those chain areas with a stiff-bristled brush.  Get everything clean, then wipe down the dirty areas of the frame (those that got dirty during chain cleaning) with a washcloth wet down with simple green.  Then, lube chain…let sit overnight…and then wipe off excess lube.

The cleaning method I tried this time was different.  I started with a dry cloth rag, and wiped off the worst dirt and mud.  After that, I wet a cloth rag and wiped down the whole frame.  Then, I wiped down the chain with a rag that had been lubed with oil, which took a lot of the grime off.  But try as I might, I couldn’t get the chain and drivetrain clean.  So I tried a new method: compressed air.

Using my air compressor, I carefully cleaned off each chain link and the cassette and chainrings.  Then, I relubed the chain and drivetrain.  Results?


I’m very, very happy with the cleaning results.  We’ll see how well the cleaning holds up.  I’m well aware that the compressed air could blow lube out of the chain, and tried to avoid that.  At the very least, I’m pretty darn sure that the compressed air would not force contaminants into the roller pins, like a degreaser bath could.  The overall bike cleaning went pretty well, although it’s a lot easier to wash a wet bike than it is to wash a dry bike.  For example, if you look at the last picture, you can see areas behind the chainring that I couldn’t/didn’t reach.

We’ll see how it goes…I’ll post an update in a while, after evaluating how this holds up.

Sof-Ti, Fatt-Ti, Pret-Ti

On the Fatbikers on Facebook page, there was a recent debate about whether the incredible ride quality of titanium frames could be detected whilst riding atop 4-5″ wide tires.  The conclusion of those who had ridden both back to back was that the difference was detectable and delectable.  While my Mukluk 2 is aluminum, I still appreciate the glory of Ti bikes.

With that in mind, the Saturday ‘bike of the day’ is Mike Curiak’s beautiful Ti fatbike on MTBR.

If you look closely, you’ll see 45NRTH on 80mm rims in the rear, Big Fat Larry on 100mm Clownshoes in the front, and a soft tail in the rear / suspension crown fork in the front.

It’s a beautiful bike, and Mike shows his usual great eye for photos…

All of those photos are from his post, and all photo credit belongs to Mike.  He makes some great wheel sets at his custom wheel shop.

Salsa recently posted some info on a full suspension fat bike that they’re working on as a concept.  That prompted a great deal of discussion and speculation.  In seeing Mike’s great bike, I really have to wonder if full suspension is the way to go, or if his  approach, with minimal travel to take the hard edge off of knocks, is a more elegant option.

Friday’s Coolness: Thinking outside the box.

Just a quickie for Friday…

Lefty, Belt Drive + Drop Bar + Carbon + Bamboo + Fatbike = some really cool projects from Drew Diller on MTBR.  That’s a pretty crazy list of stuff to put together…when I started reading it, I was thinking that it was a bad idea–a list of cool ideas, where the end product is less than the sum of the parts.  But it works…surprisingly well.  A few more builds, a little less disclosure, and Drew’s ready to go commercial.

Maybe Salsa needs to start making “Bamboochippers”.  Oh, and Drew…let me blow your mind.  Internal cable routing for the rear disc brake.  That would be super, super, super clean.  I’m deathly curious how it rides.

Full Thread Here.  Starts getting really good around page 4.

Oh, and tandem axles.  Midget Bushtrekka.

That’s right.  A tandem-axle, pop-up bike camper.  Not sure what they were imbibing when that concept came to the designer’s head, but hey–for serious bike touring on improved surfaces, travel in comfort.

Hydraulic Disc Brakes for Road (Update!)

Thanks to Hand of Midas for the working link to a pic.

Interesting shape to the grip…looks pretty long.  I’ll be curious to see whether the master cylinder is fixed into place (and actuated by a moving brake lever) or is floating.  I’ll also be curious to see how the linkage between the brake lever and master cylinder works.  Combining road tires and their compact contact patch with hydraulic disc brakes may create a good reason to have a design where the angle between the master cylinder and brake lever changes as the brakes go through their actuation.

I’m not certain what metric bike designers use for this issue, but let’s talk about braking force generated per millimeter of lever travel.  It might make sense to have road bike brake levers where the force generated decreases slightly as the lever moves through its travel.  You wouldn’t want it to decrease so much as to feel spongy, or to sap your confidence in the brakes…but if there was a small, linear change in the force generated, it might give better brake modulation, to manage the increase that’s coming in overall stopping power generated.