Review: Surly Big Fat Dummy

Name: Evan Gross
Age: 30
Weight: 187 lbs.
Height: 6’2”
Inseam: 36”

Introduced in late 2016, the Big Fat Dummy is not just a Big Dummy (Surly’s original 26-inch wheeled longtail cargo bike) with fat tires, though the name makes it seem as such. But there’s a lot more than just fat tires that separate these two. It’s as if the 26-inch wheeled counterpart got all enduro’ed out, with a longer top tube and slacker head tube, while increasing the tire size. It is 2017, and the original BD came out in 2006, and it was time for an overhaul.

The BFD is still compatible with the Xtracycle longtail standard, so if you are upgrading from a Big Dummy or a Xtracycle FreeRadical, all your old bits should work here. The deck is much wider, so there may be issues with things that mount on top, but everything else should be plug and play.

The box for this thing was huge. Like way huge. Like makes a refrigerator box look small, huge. Impressive, knowing that you could literally haul a fully loaded, average-sized household refrigerator (200 pounds) with a BFD. Judging by Surly’s photo gallery, I’m sure someone has, or it won’t be long before they do.

The size large BFD, with included Dummy Bags installed, weighed in at 55.4 pounds and measured just over 7.5 feet long. Though Surly claims it’s only a roughly 11 percent increase in weight over the regular BD, it is still a lot of bike to move around. It doesn’t fit on any traditional rear racks, and putting this thing on a roof rack is largely a two-person affair with the chainstays resting on the rack and rear wheel hanging out over the back of the car. Even getting this rig in and out of a pickup truck proved to be troublesome without a motorcycle ramp or an 8-foot section of two-by-four.

Seeing the BFD as a primarily a trail work tool, I ordered a few ATV mounts from Kolpin: the Saw Press ($55) and the Rhino XL Tandem Gun Mount ($40). Despite a love of venison jerky, I’m not much of a hunter, so the gun mount held all kinds of hard-to-carry things: McLeods, hoes, rakes, weed whackers, a burl or two, old well pipe, and anything else less than 2.5 inches in diameter at the ends. The rubberized claws and straps kept everything in place and completely rattle-free. These brackets mated well with the saw press out to the side, allowing both saw and tools to be carried and utilized without having to remove the whole mess. The saw press is super rigid, encapsulating the bar in closed cell foam. With a simple turn of a thumbwheel, the saw press opens and the saw is released. Quick, reliable, durable and cheap – you almost never get all four.

Having both Dummy bags mounted and loaded really cut down on the trails that this bike could be ridden on. A long wheelbase paired with a wide load made for some serious bag rubbage. Bag rubbage is never good. Removing the drive-side bag allowed the chainsaw to sit pretty far inbound and greatly reduced the width for narrow, brushy trails. The bags are bit overdesigned for my liking with more pockets, Velcro, straps and flaps than an army surplus store, but they can probably strap down anything from a canoe to a round bale. I’d rather just have a flap and a pocket with a cinch strap, maybe a few internal organizers.

After getting the setup dialed in, this thing rips. Momentum is everything on this bike, and if you’ve got enough of it, she’ll plow through just about anything. Full speed into rock gardens, down axle-deep creeks, flow trails, it’s downright fun. It sort of goes without saying, but it has to have some weight on the rear if you want to think about climbing up anything loose. The saw, chaps, wedges, sharpening bits, extra bar and chain, fuel, oil, and various hand tools brought the weight up into the 75-95 pound range. Depending on the terrain. I’d be lying if I said it was fast, agile or easy to pedal, but it was a great way to get out to a remote section of trail and get some serious work done. Compared to a BOB Ibex suspension trailer, this was a far more manageable, more fun, bike to ride. No trailer jack, relentless bouncing or flop to deal with.

Why not put an e-bike kit on it? Sure, one could throw an e-bike kit on this, much as you could just about any other bike, but if motorized bikes are permitted and I’m doing trail work, I think I’d just opt to ride something with a bit more oomph and potential range than a 500-1500 watt pedal assist e-bicycle. Sure, there are currently trails where e-bicycles are permissible that aren’t approved for motorized use (as confusing as that is). I’m of the mindset that we just keep it to non-motorized and motorized. Gas or electric, assist or throttle, spades a spade, dude.

Compatibility between axle sizes and dropouts has been a Surly thing since they first came out with Gnot-rite spacing then, later, Gnot-Boost spacing. Well, they did it again choosing to utilize a Breezer style open dropout that mounts like a regular QR despite having accommodations for a thru-axle. The reasoning behind the slot is so the rear wheel can drop cleanly out of the cargo frame. Otherwise, fixing a flat in the field with a thru-axle would prove to be a pretty tedious affair.

In the winter, I could see some lakeshore fishing trips or snowmobile trail camping excursions. It seems Surly’s sister company, Salsa, thought the same thing. Salsa released its own fat cargo bike recently, the Blackborow. Effectively the Blackborow is a shorter wheelbase, lighter, easy to transport, lighter load carrying (110 pounds) aluminum Big Fat Dummy. If the heft and carrying capacity of the Big Fat Dummy is overkill for your needs, a Blackborow might be better suited to your rad-dad adventures.

So much to the chagrin of fellow trail enthusiasts (and internet trolls everywhere), this is a totally capable, albeit a touch slower, trail bike that has the capacity to hold nearly 200 pounds of whatever the hell you want to bring. Oh, and like most things with two wheels, it’s still fun to ride. If you have aspirations of bugging out for a few weeks through the backcountry, riding the coastline or just getting to work on the local trails, this might be your next mule. Before you run out and grab one, just make sure you can haul it to the point of intended use. I must admit after having had BFD for the better part of four months, I’ll miss having this bike as a trail tool.

Specs (based on size tested):

Reach: 24.6”
Stack: 17.6”
Top Tube: 24.3”
Head Tube: 69.5°
Seat Tube: 20.0”
Chainstays: 34.4”
Weight: 50.4 lbs.

Price: $2,999
Sizes: S, M, L (tested)

Don’t believe that this bike can be ridden on technical trails? Check out Evan in action on the BFD:

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4 Comments

  1. Nice write-up, Evan! I, too, have a Large BFD that I built up from a frameset when they first came available. Just a couple quick callouts for readers…

    1) The BFD was sort-of built around the Xtracycle longtail standard; the Dummy Bars and bags are the same, but the deck is wider (which you mentioned), and the horizontal accessory mount tubes are further apart than on a Big Dummy or Xtracycle. This is a HUGE detail for someone considering the bike, as accessories like Wideloaders or U-tubes will not work.

    2) The head tube angle is 69.0 degrees, not 69.5 degrees. I do enjoy the bike, but don’t care much for the slacked-out head tube. It makes the steering more “floppy” than I prefer…a trait that gets worse as more weight is added to the bike. I just swapped a set of Surly Moloko bars on the bike (previously flat bars), and those seem to have better leverage/ergonomics for controlling this big beast. I ran into similar handling challenges with one of the several mountain tandems I used to own & ride. Steeper head tube angle = Better steering under load.

  2. I hope everyone has noticed, and will stand and resist the English mutilation of Flower of Scotland” that sings think” on the wrong note.It goes down a whole grim and surly tone from tae”, not a polite little garden-party semitone. Love the gansey, too

  3. Could you clarify what you mean when you say this meets The extra cycle standard? Allmost none of their accessories actually fit on this bike.

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