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.


Best Advertisement for Cycling, Ever.

I don’t think it reads quite exactly how she intended it to read.

Picture courtesy of Chicago CBS Channel 2 news.  If I were the owner of this bike shop, I’d have a giant print of the story made, and mount it on the wall of my store.

Full story here.

In brief, she writes in defense of her car (a Chevy Cobalt), which she uses to commute from the south side of Chicago to the north side (an trip which could be easily completed via public transportation, probably faster and cheaper than using a car).  But instead of talking about how great car travel is, or why she likes her Cobalt, she uses the platform to talk about bikes.  Brief excerpt from article, quoted below:

“Q: Sounds like you have some pretty strong views on driving in the city versus driving in the suburbs?

A: The city has too much traffic in my opinion. Sometimes it takes an hour to get to a place that should really only take twenty minutes. That is so irritating too me. I also can’t stand bicyclists! They are always in the way. In the suburbs, you don’t have to worry about any of that. Traffic is always generally very good. If people ride bicycles they primarily ride them around their neighborhood or on a bike trail. You rarely if ever encounter them, which is a good thing.”

Someone who speaks so eloquently about bike use, and who so clearly values having a car to drive, must have put buying a car at the top of her priority list, right?

Q: Where did you get your car? Did you buy it new?

A: My parents paid for it. After I totaled my other car, I couldn’t afford to buy another one, but I really needed one. It would literally be impossible for me to get back and forth from school since I live in the suburbs and public transportation doesn’t really even exist out there. My parents agreed to buy me another one.


So she totaled her car, and then Mommy and Daddy bought her a new one?  Well, at least she takes good care of the car, right?

Q: Now for a few fun questions. If your car had a human emotion, what would it be?

A: Probably dirty because it’s kinda of junky in my car right now. I just went to Iowa last weekend. I haven’t gotten a chance to clean it. Right now I have some gym shoes, a couple changes of clothes, and perfume. It’s kind of like my little changing room at the present moment. Usually I would describe it as happy, crazy, and wild. I even have zebra print seat covers. I’m really into animal prints.



Her car’s emotion is Dirty?  At least she drives safely, right?

Q: Do you have any rules in your car at the moment?

A: No smoking, no drinking, no eating and I don’t like having more than three passengers in my car. I guess I’m so anal because I’ve been in a couple of really bad accidents. I totaled my last car. This car someone t-boned me. I try to keep my distractions to a minimum nowadays.

That’s probably a good idea to keep distractions to a minimum.  Sounds like safe, responsible driving.  At the very least, after her car accidents, she now drives responsibly, without distraction.

Q: Do you ever pump it up and rock out when you’re driving?

A: Oh yeah! Especially if my song is on. I don’t care if someone is looking or not. I turn my music up really loud. If it’s hot, I roll down the windows, and sing and dance. A lot of people care if they feel like someone is watching them, but I don’t. I’m all about having a good time and trying not to let other people’s perception of what I’m doing ruin my good time.


I concede the point.

So what’s scarier: 1) knowing that people like this are among the people who will someday decide what kind of resources should be allocated to bike use; or, 2) knowing that, “if her song is on”, she will “turn the music up really loud” and “sing and dance” while driving around hating cyclists?  Would it ruin her good time if she hit a cyclist, or would she refuse to let their perception (injuries?) ruin her good time?

Carry on.  Nothing to see here.


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.



So my bike handling goal for this year…it’s fueled by stuff like this:


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.


Road Bike Disc Brake Madness!

I don’t want to claim to have an inside track on the industry or anything…but my recent post about disc brakes (and hydro disc brakes) for drop bar bikes was prescient.  [Sarcasm] I mean really, I think I’m the only blogger talking about disc brakes for road bikes.  [/Sarcasm].

The interwebz are full of information today about SRAM’s new hydro disc brake road levers.  Velonews is covering the story, and for that matter, Bike Rumor is covering the story.  I’m pretty sure that Velonews and Bike Rumor are pressing this issue heavily based on the stir caused by my post.  (I omitted the sarcasm markings there, but rest assured…they’re implied).

Point being…Disc Brakes.  Drop Bars.  Get used to it.

In other disc brake/road bike news…just saw some great pics of one of the first new Volagis to hit the stores…thought they were: 1) interesting; and, 2) relevant, in light of last week’s disc brake epiphany.

Full Story Here, courtesy of PlatyPius on RBR.

Pics from that thread:

Shipping box:

Well packaged bicycle:


Nice detail:

Complete bike:

Matte finish and wheels are purty.  Disc brakes are soooo intriguing.