Surly Big Dummy Long Term Cargo Bike Review

Surly Big Dummy Long Term Cargo Bike Review
Surly Big Dummy with accessories

It's been over 11 years since I bought a Surly Big Dummy longtail cargo bike. Here's a summary of how I used it and why I'm still riding it.

The Surly Big Dummy  was a great bike with growing kids and now continues to be valuable "pick up truck" personal vehicle now that they are no longer ride as passengers or stokers on the bike.

Surly Big Dummy with a Yepp Maxi child seat

This cargo bikes works really well with the Yepp Maxi bike seat. At the time I bought it, an adapter was needed, but with newer FlightDeck LT1 - Version 2, the adapter is no longer required.

Surly Big Dummy with Yepp Maxi car seat and strider bike. 

The Yepp Maxi has a quick release dial, a high quality build and a soft, water-shedding design. A superb product all-around with a good resale value. A highly-recommend bike accessory.

Surly Big Dummy Rack Stability

I do have a point of caution about the stability of the plug-in rear rack. The U-shaped bars plug into the frame. These bars are initially only held in by the straps of the slings, but you can buy RackLocks to fasten the rack tubes to the frame, which I did. Then, the plastic top deck is held in place with eight hooks which attach to the rack.

So in practice, there are several places where the connection between the bike and an attached child could come loose. In practice this didn't happen. But it's a trade-off in the flexibility of the design. Cargo bike designs with built-in rear racks offer better stability and security with less flexibility.

Surly Big Dummy hauling cargo

Here, I quick-released the Yepp Maxi kid seat to haul 100 pounds of sand.

Surly Big Dummy with 100 lbs of sand

I felt some frame flex under this load, but it got the job done. At the time, I also had a Yuba Mundo, which has a stiffer frame. The stiffer frame of the Mundo makes it a better dedicated load-hauler, while the lighter build of the Dummy makes it a more versatile all-around cargo bike.

Hauling long loads with a Surly Big Dummy

The open sling design excels at hauling odd shapes. Here I hauled a four foot long box

Surly Big Dummy with four foot long box. 

Didn't work out: internal hub and chainguard

I had the bike built with a NuVinci 360 internal hub, Velo Orange Chain guard and "Salsa Ring Dinger" chain guard. I loved the sleek look.

Surly Big Dummy with Velo Orange Chain Guard

That system worked well... initially. I'll spare you the details, but the internal hub eventually failed had had the whole drive train replaced with a a standard derailleur, a triple chain ring and click shifters. The change extended my gear range and crucially has been more reliable and easier to maintain ever since. These days there are new options for single chain ring designs with a high gear range, so maybe a build with a chain guard would work again.

Surly Big Dummy for bike touring

With the modular design, you only need to bring as much of the rack system as you need. On some trips I removed the top rack. On another I took the right half of the rack but not the left!

Here, I stayed at a hotel overnight and just unplugged the whole rear rack system and carried it into my hotel room! It's probably not the strangest cargo people have carried in.

The whole Surly Big Dummy rack system can be unplugged. 

In fact, the longest I've ever ridden on a bike in one day is 114 miles, and that happened on the Big Dummy on a short tour. We had planned two sixty miles days with the goal of "wild camping" somewhere in the middle that we would find along the way. Well, we kept looking and looking for a good spot to camp until we got to mile 90. At that point we made a Red Bull powered design to power through to the destination. The saddle comfort was good and I loved the stability and handling of the long frame. I think for classic loaded touring there wasn't a huge difference in the final weight, so I would still continue selecting the bike for some kinds of bike tours in the future– especially family bike trips where I need to carrying extra gear.

Surly Big Dummy for carrying two kids

The top deck has not one, but two positions for mounting a Yepp Maxi. Here, a larger child sits up front while a smaller one is in the Yepp Maxi. The slings double as a place to put feet!

Surly Big Dummy with two kids

This was in the era before the Hooptie that surround kids and would provide extra protection in the case of the file. These days, I would recommend the Hooptie for carrying kids.

Surly Big Dummy with a Bikes-at-Work trailer

I have an attachment to use the Surly Big Dummy with a Bikes-at-Work trailer. While an electric cargo bike would be faster for hauling big loads, the Big Dummy is quite capable as well. Here I removed the rack to save some weight while hauling a table and chairs on a trailer.

Surly Big Dummy with Bikes at Work Trailer. 

Surly Big Dummy with a Burley Piccolo

I've written elsewhere about How to attach a Burley Piccolo to a Surly Big Dummy, and wow, why hasn't this been commercialized yet? I made a quick-release attachment point at the rear of the top deck that allowed attaching a trailer-bike. This powered SO many family adventures for us that it's hard to sample just a few of them.

Surly Big Dummy with Yepp Maxi and Burley Piccolo

Both the Yepp Maxi and Piccolo have quick-releases, allowing quick transitions from dad-mode to rad-mode.

Here's great a little adventure: we went to drop off some recycling, but found abandoned kid bike, so we packed the smaller bike into the bin  we had a brought it home.

Surly Big Dummy is great for family adventures. 

Epically, my family used the Burley Piccolo attachment as part of a 270 mile ( 450 km) bike tour when the kids were five and eight years old. I started to write a book about family bike camping after we returned from that trip, but needless to say, I'm fan of family bike camping and the Big Dummy made a great "dad bike".

Surly Big Dummy on a family bike camping trip. 

Bag and Drag with a Surly Big Dummy

Sometimes it's useful to tow another bike, and the Surly Big Dummy excels at this task. Just "bag" the front wheel and put a strap through the spokes and "drag" the rear wheel.

Bag and Drag with a Surly Big Dummy

Christmas tree on a Surly Big Dummy

Yep, it hauls Christmas trees, too.

Christmas tree on a Surly Big Dummy

Surly Big Dummy as platform for juggling machetes

And if you need an impromptu platform for juggling machetes, the Surly Big Dummy is good for that too.

Juggling knives on a cargo bike

Slings for the Surly Big Dummy

The photos above speak to the versatility of the slings. They are like an expanding pickup truck bed. Easy to throw things into and get things out of. Always there. Add your own waterproofing if you need some. The specific slings I would recommend buying today are made by Carsick Designs. See my full review of the Carsick Designs Surly Big Dummy Slings here.

Surly Big Dummy vs electric cargo bikes

Electric assist pairs really well with electric assist. Electric cargo bikes were rare when I bought this bike, but now there are lots of options. So does it still make sense to consider non-electric cargo bike if an electric one is an option? I also have an electric Yuba Mundo in my garage so I can speak to this.

If I could only have one, I would buy an electric cargo bike. It's the one that replaces the most car trips in my family. But a non-electric cargo bike is still worth considering for a few reasons:

  • The Big Dummy makes a great "city bike". The extra frame weight is a small penalty for short trips, offset by the utility of hauling things around.
  • For bike touring, the need to re-charge limits your range and keeps you closer to the grid.
  • The Big Dummy is a fun, versatile "personal bike". The removable rack system allows you go to lighter and faster on the long, stable frame with a quick change. This is my favorite bike for fast descents due to the long wheelbase!

Watch how the frame can quickly lifted off:

Lifting off the Surly Big Dummy frame

Surly Big Dummy vs smaller wheels

One newer trend in cargo bikes is using smaller wheels. These smaller wheels are stronger. They lower the center of gravity of hauling loads. Smaller wheels also allow motors to deliver more torque. Those are all true benefits.

But my wife and I both continue to prefer 26" wheels on our cargo bikes because:

  • Taller wheels allow for bigger bags. We love the depth of our massive Yuba Mundo bags and Big Dummy slings. Our bags simply carry more than those for smaller-rear-wheel bikes and the carrying capacity is a fundamental feature of cargo bikes
  • A higher deck allows for the growing legs of older children. You can carry kids with short legs on a tall rear deck, but you can't carry big kids on a lower deck.
  • 26" wheels are strong enough. We've been using cargo bikes for over a decade and have never had a wheel fail. The ride is also stable enough. While the smaller wheels may help improve handling through the lower center of gravity, the handling of our Yuba Mundo and Big Dummy have felt good, not something that needed to be fixed.

Maybe the smaller wheels really shine when paired with an electric motor, or they help the bikes to be parked or carried in smaller spaces. But if those aren't concerns for you then you might get more utility out of a cargo bike with the larger 26" wheels of the Surly Big Dummy.

Wrap up

After eleven years, I have no plans to retire my Surly Big Dummy. The original slings finally wore out and were just replaced with some Carsick Designs slings. Now my "dad mode" days of cargo biking are over and I'd like to lighten up the build in a few ways but otherwise I continue to enjoy the Big Dummy as versatile pick up truck.