BSNYC Product Review: Surly Big Dummy

As I mentioned in my Wednesday Bonus Blog today, having acquired Alberto Contador, Bjarne Riis (known as "Mr. 60%" during his riding days in reference to his hair-to-scalp ratio) announced that his new charge will attempt to pull off the so-called "Grand Slam." This, of course, refers to the feat of winning the Giro d'Italia, the Tour de France, and the Vuelta a España all in the same season, and not to the popular Denny's breakfast special of the same name. It's unclear what Contador himself thinks of all this, though he could be seen in the corner during Riis's interview "fingerbanging" himself nervously. Should Contador succeed in winning a "Grand Slam," he would be the only rider ever to do so. Should he fail, he could redeem himself the following year by winning the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, the Critérium du Dauphiné, and the Tour de Pologne all in the same season instead--a somewhat less impressive feat known in cycling circles as the "Moons Over My Hammy."

Moving on, yesterday I rode a Surly Big Dummy to my semi-secret shipping hub and storage area along Brooklyn's "Great Hipster Silk Route," where I rallied all my smugness and retrieved and loaded this unwieldy delivery:

(Note haphazard and dangerous "flesh hook"-style bungee cord attachment technique.)

While the large box contained a Russian mail-order simian bride for my helper monkey Vito (the smaller box contained the beautiful Nadia's elegant Vera Wang wedding gown), that information is only tangentially relevant. More to the point, ever since taking delivery of the Big Dummy in like April-ish, I have intended to share my impressions of this large green bicycle. However, I did not want to do so prematurely. Rather, I wanted to "live with it" awhile instead of simply listing the components, hopping on it for 45 minutes, and then declaring it "vertically stiff yet laterally compliant," as is standard industry practice when it comes to both bicycle reviewing and international Internet monkey dating. (By the way, if you're still wondering about Vito's nuptials, they're already married, but the reception will take place in Rhinebeck on an undisclosed date.) I have now lived with the Big Dummy for almost six months--which I suspect is five months longer than Vito's marriage will last.

Moreover, when Surly asked me if I wanted to try a Big Dummy, I accepted not because I wondered if a bicycle like this would be useful for carrying things (obviously it would be), but because I wondered if a bicycle like this would be viable in New York City, a city of well over eight million people--many of whom live in small apartments accessible only by small elevators or multiple flights of stairs (and some of whom share their small apartments with newlywed monkey couples, an arrangement which I assure you is not conducive to either sleep or good hygiene.) In truth, I'd never really thought seriously of owning such a bicycle, for the simple reason that I had no idea where I would keep it.

However, now that I had the opportunity to try one, I wondered if the bicycle would indeed prove as inconvenient as it seemed, or if its practicality would ultimately outweigh its significant tonnage.

Here is the Obligatory Drive Side Shot (or ODSS) of the Big Dummy, and I had to stand roughly 700 feet away from it to fit it into the frame:

(Yes, this bike needs "wheelbrows.")

Here it is from the front-ish:

And here it is "presenting" itself in almost exactly the same way that Nadia presented herself to Vito when I let her out of that box:

Obviously, the Big Dummy's long wheelbase is what allows it to remain stable while carrying large loads (in the name of good taste, I will refrain from jokes about Nadia's load-bearing ability). Unfortunately, it's also what makes it impossible to fit it into my elevator, very difficult to carry up multiple flights of stairs, and by far the largest item of furniture in my home once I've actually wrestled the thing in there.

Since there was no way I could keep the Big Dummy inside, I realized that I would have to store it outdoors. As it happens, there is a covered area outside my building that has been given over to bicycle parking. It's not totally secure from theft, but it is safer than the street, and it's also protected from the weather. Clearly the Big Dummy (protected by a big lock) would have to take up residence with the Magnas of my neighbors.

Once I'd settled on a home for the Big Dummy, I set about putting it to use. The first thing I learned was that I was now in possession of a bicycle with a "cult following," since as soon as I mentioned it I received helpful emails from people offering Big Dummy advice and insight. I also consulted the "Internet," where I learned of all the exciting things I could do with my Big Dummy. For example, I could install a sound system:

Or I could tow a boat:

Or I could simply strip it down and render it completely useless:

However, I don't want to ride around playing loud music (the San Jose Bike Party was one of the worst experiences of my cycling life), I don't have a boat (are kayaks the "fixies" of the high seas?), and I have no need for an inconveniently long singlespeed.

I do, however, want and need to carry crap, and the Big Dummy immediately proved to be very capable in this regard. In fact, I was surprised to discover that it soon seemed indispensable to me. I used it to procure foodstuffs:

I used it to transport beach-related items:

(That cooler contains a kidney, but I always perform my organ transplants on the beach.)

I used it to "curate" family picnics:

(New York Philharmonic in Prospect Park, otherwise known as "Where the White People Are")

Note I persist in using plastic bags--I need an environmentally insensitive chaser after the cloyingly sweet smugness of cargo bike "palpage." Plus, they often contain delicious takeout.

Speaking of delicious takeout, I've even used it as a mobile dining room table for impromptu burrito feasts:

Most useful of all though is that the Big Dummy has greatly simplified picking up bulky items such as monkey brides and circus peanuts (Vito loves circus peanuts) from my shipping hub:

And thus, to my surprise, did the Big Dummy manage to slot neatly into my "lifestyle" (inasmuch as an existence of producing bicycle-themed wiseassery interspersed with errand-running can be considered a "lifestyle"). I'd simply load or unload it in the lobby and then return it to its place among the Magnas. Unfortunately, though, because it carries so much so easily it's become like a college student's car in that it collects random junk:

For example, while photographing it earlier, I found an entire bottle of tea in there, and I don't even like tea:

Unless it's full of sugar, is served to me in a plastic bag, and is called "Snapple."

Of course, the only thing that makes this decadent orgy of cycling smugness possible is that I have a relatively safe place to store this bicycle at street level, which is not the case for many people in big cities (unless you're a wealthy person with a hyphenated name--even in 21st century bike-friendly New York, smugness is a luxury). Also, while I'm comfortable trawling the streets of Brooklyn with it and even locking it up occasionally, the stock Big Dummy is an expensive bicycle, and it's too lavishly-appointed to leave unattended in a place like Manhattan for long periods of time. For the same functionality (assuming you have the room), you can obviously bolt an Xtracycle to a crappy old mountain bike, or just get the Big Dummy frame if you're one of those people with a bunch of spare parts, since it's got provisions and braze-ons for pretty much everything.

But while it's a bit lavish, it is pretty nimble despite its size and is in no way cumbersome to ride. While the truly smug prefer their "bakfiets," until the entire city is David Byrnified with protected bike lanes I think a cargo bike built on a more "sporting" chassis like the Big Dummy is a better fit in Brooklyn--where you might have to dodge the World's Scariest Car:

("Are you there, Elohim? It's me, Moishe.")

Confronted with that, there's not a cargo bike in existence that could transport my fear.

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