Editors Note: Seth Bell is an eighteen year veteran of the bike industry and makes his home in Mason City Iowa. He currently owns six or seven fat-bikes and he spends his days working on the frontlines of what can go spurious with your average fat-bike. Those two things alone should put him in the cat bird’s seat when it comes to prognosticating on the status of omni-terrain bicycle technology. So please welcome Seth to our fat-bike tribe – ala choy
When fat bikes first hit the scene, few of us could go far without someone asking “what the heck do you use that bike for?!”. With fatties now fairly common, that outwardly flabbergasted response from the general public has pretty well gone away and few bikes illicit that same response. Enter Surly’s Big Fat Dummy – once again people stop and ask, “what is that thing for?!”.
This article serves as a long-term review after a year with a Big Fat Dummy in my stable, as well as a comparison to my old Xtracycle long-tail that was retired in place of the BFD, highlighting the increased capabilities of the BFD over its kin. If you’re considering using up some valuable funds and garage/basement real estate on a monster cargo hauling fun machine like the Big Fat Dummy, I hope this post will be helpful in demonstrating just what a bike like this can be used for.
While the BFD is still a relatively new bike, as it’s only been available to purchase for just shy of a year, long-tail cargo bikes have been around for quite a while. A couple of the most popular and reliable versions of the long-tail was the O.G. Xtracycle Freeradical, which allowed the use of almost any old mtb frame as a platform to bolt on the cargo hauling extension to the rear triangle. Surly improved upon this design with the Big Dummy, which used a one-piece frame construction and was much stiffer than the Freeradical. Of course, as time went by, people clamored for bigger rubber in the Big Dummy. A quick Google search will find some interesting photos of modified Big Dummy builds, with full-fat fronts and various mid to full-fat rear tires shoved in there. I’m glad I held off and never bought a Big Dummy, and as you read on I’ll highlight why, and why a Big Fat Dummy might be right for you as well.
I used my old Xtracycle mostly as a grocery getter and errand runner. With the long-tail add on attached to an old steel GT mountain bike frame, the weight of a modest grocery run would tend to “wag the dog”, if you know what I mean… lots of flex and wiggle. Another disadvantage to the standard long-tail is having to run max tire pressure (at least in the rear) to keep from pinch-flatting with a load out back; a drawback that kept my old cargo bike on the streets and out of the woods.
Those aforementioned detriments don’t plague the BFD in the slightest. The all-new, extremely beefed up frame with its exceptional number of triangles and wide rear hub spacing with thru-axle make this thing rock solid with the max cargo weight on deck… no tail wagging here. The nature of fat bike wheels and tires play further to these strengths; a load of cargo spread over a wide rim and tire requires much less air pressure than a normal 26″ tire, making the BFD much more stable and comfortable off-road.
I never took my old long-tail out to our local mountain bike trails to aid with trail work. With the BFD, hauling a chainsaw, brush trimmer and a multitude of hand tools is a breeze. The big rig handles the trails with confidence while hauling 4-6 people’s worth of trail tools, and as a result, our mountain bike trails were in better condition this year than ever! Run out of fire wood for the Sunday evening backyard bonfire? No problem… grab the Stihl, zip to the nearest patch of woods and fill up the bags!
In daily driver duty, the Big Fat Dummy also excels in places the old long-tails cannot. A trip to Menards to stock up on 100+ lbs of wild bird food or mulch is no problemo on the BFD, where before the whole rig would have been nearly too wiggly to control. Current Big Dummy owners know how awesome Surly’s Dummy Bags are, but having come from the old Xtracycle bags, I had no idea the extra capacity and capability of the Dummy Bags. The Dummy bags are easily twice the size of the old ones, swallow massive amounts of cargo and can be configured many ways to accommodate bulky and odd-shaped cargo. Bonus – taking the shortcut home that involves riding through some old industrial areas and over railroad tracks with no actual crossing while carrying these loads is totally possible on the BFD!
All the carrying capabilities of this bike practically make a person search for junk to haul, trails to maintain, Sherpa the gear for a group camping trip, or any other reason to break it out. Truth is, the Big Fat Dummy is a hoot to ride without a load or a mission as well. Fun, stable, comfortable and easy going, the BFD is perfect for a quick jaunt to the park, the long way home on a beer run or to dress up with bright lights for a group holiday ride.
The Big Fat Dummy has very few of these (for me, at least). Size and weight could be a potential issue for some folks, although it’s nothing that I’ve had any issue with. I carry the BFD up and down my basement stairs every time I take it out, and the little bit of extra heft is nothing compared to the bike’s expanded abilities; although if space is tight or you live in a third floor apartment, it’s something to consider. I bring my BFD inside every time to keep it from getting stolen and to be able to give it a little love and keep it running well. Having a bike with this much extra frame material, longer chain, etc. does make it a bit more work to keep all cleaned up (if you’re into that sort of thing).
Understandably, the Big Fat Dummy’s frame has grown beyond the dimensions of the previous Xtracycle FreeRadical and Big Dummy long tails in order to accommodate the wider spacing and bigger tires, and therefore most accessory items from those bikes will not transfer to the BFD without modification. It would be nice to see Surly whip up some “Wide Loaders” and even attachments for their trailers to fit these rigs in the future.
Speaking of attachments… the biggest miss with the Big Fat Dummy is not having a kickstand to support the bike and its carrying capacity. I have broken several kickstands on my BFD in less than a year, the last of which happened in front of Menards, on a – 14-degree evening with 140lbs of cargo. Despite my careful loading of the bike, the kickstand gave out right at the end and sent the whole mess crashing down; a difficult mass to try and pick back up off the ground! After this episode, I did some extensive Googling and found a discontinued Xtracycle Kickback center stand… to the tune of $200… yikes! A little time with the belt sander and a Dremel got the Kickback mounted up – it was actually much less of a project than I’d have thought. I’m not the only person to employ this expensive, non-Surly-approved-will-void-your-frame-warranty hack, but it’s been the last piece of the puzzle… the bike can finally stand up under the weight it was designed to hold. I hope that a Surly approved center stand will be along at some point.
I opted to build my Big Fat Dummy up from a frame-set, which was a difficult waiting game for me; the complete bikes were in stock a few weeks before the frames were, which left me chomping at the bit to get started on the build.
Surly did a great job on the spec. for the stock BFD, but I had some parts squirreled away for a rainy day and decided to make use of those, as well as have some other preferential parts on the bike right away so I wouldn’t be dreaming of upgrades in a few months. One big plus about the Big Fat Dummy frame-set vs. the standard Big Dummy is that it comes with the Dummy Bags, rails and deck – all items that must be purchased separately when you’re building a regular Big Dummy.
** A quick note on spec. The new color for the the Big Fat Dummy is currently out (Bliolet, which is very purdy) as well as an updated tire change to Edna front and rear… a solid improvement to an already good build. Sadly, the lumberjack starter kit pictured on the Surly site is not included. **
The wheels are older Rolling Darryl’s laced to Salsa hubs; tires are my favorites from Surly – good ‘ol Bud and Lou. Some older Sram 10 speed X9 parts and a Surly O.D. crank with Wolftooth chainring make up the no-fuss drivetrain. Sram Level Ultimate brakes and 180mm rotors bring the big rig to a stop right quick. A note here – the stock hose length on the rear brake was long enough to reach the back on my Medium frame. A Salsa Bend 23 degree handlebar and grips, a Brooks Cambium Saddle (my first and so far, I dig it) and ISSI pedals make up the contact points. A Thule bed block fork mount attached to the rear of the frame allows giving another bike a quick tow out to the shop if needed.
I must admit that at first, I was a bit concerned that I wouldn’t put the Big Fat Dummy to its full use, given the investment both in the bike and in making space to park it in the basement. Was it an impulse buy? A novelty? Something just to have because I could? Creeping up on a year of use, I can say that those concerns have vanished completely. The Big Fat Dummy gets far more use than my previous cargo bike because of its huge increase in capacity and places it can go without floundering. I think being able to bomb through our mountain bike trails hauling tools and equipment to do upkeep is my single most favorite thing to do with this bike, and something I was never comfortable with or excited to do previously. Grocery runs in the winter that traverse large, vacant, snow and ice covered parking lots no longer become a hike-a-bike. And you know, at the end of the day, it is still pretty fun to talk to people about just what in the world you can do with a bike like that.
For more information about Surly and the Big Fat Dummy visit your local Surly dealer or visit surlybikes.com