needing to use our car once or twice a week for site visits, and to ferry rubbish, recycling and files/ paperwork between home and office. I wanted to reduce the need for these car journeys even further and investigated trailers, but Canterbury is a small city with narrow lanes and heavy traffic. An Xtracycle kit seemed ideal, but I didn’t have a donor bike to convert. When I saw the Big Dummy I realised this could work, and be a fun project to work on too. My local dealer, Downland Cycles, was able to order the 18" frame through one of their regular suppliers in May 2008 for £600, and delivery was set for the end of August. They also generously offered the loan of their workshop for the build. My normal ride is a single speed road bike which is very low maintenance, so I decided, following reviews in Velo Vision, that a hub gear would give the same level of simplicity and adequate gearing for the area. Shimano’s Alfine 8 speed unit seemed well priced at around £120. Downland recommended a matching Alfine chainset and bottom bracket. The hub arrived as numerous separate deliveries – hub; 18T sprocket; Rapidfire shifters; gear selector; nuts/washers... and the chainset is still in the post! Having dabbled in wheel building as a youth I was keen build my own wheels, so I enrolled on one of Downland’s wheel building courses (highly recommended) in order to learn how to do it properly. Both wheels use Mavic XM719 disc rims, a good compromise between strength and weight. The front wheel has a Shimano dynamo hub with disc mounting. While waiting for the frame I selected the other parts based on recommendations in Velo Vision, scientific research, and rummaging through a box of old bits in my garage. So it has a ‘Twelfty’ seat post, plus ‘Mary’ bars and stem from On One. I chose a Hope headset and a Crank Brothers Cyan 68 mm bottom bracket, which has double bearing on the drive side. A Truvativ chainset was found in a corner of Downlands workshop, complete with trouser guards, as a substitute for the missing Shimano item. It has a 44 tooth ring, but 42 tooth would be ideal for a touch lower gearing. Also from a dusty box came a Brooks B17 saddle and Wellgo platform pedals. Wheels were fitted out with some serious stoppers as befits a load bike, with Magura Louise BAT hydraulic disc brakes squeezing on Shimano Centrelock 203 mm discs. Finally, I used Bontrager Hank 26 x 2.2 inch balloon tyres, ‘borrowed’ from my wife’s bike! The frame finally arrived in late October, finished in a thick and durable coat of military olive drab which is quite understated. Downland faced the bottom bracket and head tube, but I also found that all of the threads needed to be run through with a
tap to remove paint. I treated the interior of the frame with boiled linseed oil against corrosion, as recommended by Surly, rather than using a toxic petrochemical. It was a rather messy operation, but at least you can polish your woodwork with the remnants. The build went very smoothly, having the space of the workshop and all the right tools and expert advice on hand (thanks to Andy and Bryan). Xtracycle’s Longtail kit was supplied by Loads Better in Surrey. It all fitted perfectly. Surly recommend sealing the joint between the V racks and the frame with old inner tube, which works nicely and also prevents vibration. The frame has every lug and cable guide you could need, including four bottle mounts – more than enough for a commute to work. Assembling the hub gear was also very straightforward, and amazingly the standard gear cable was long enough to reach the hub. Setting up the gears was a doddle, just a matter of aligning two dots on the hub. One and a half chains are needed, and the tensioner picks up any slack. My only criticism is that the tensioner does not pull back far enough to allow easy removal of the rear wheel, but that may be partly due to the large tyres. Gear ratios are 33" to 102" according to Sheldon Brown’s website. The Alfine’s gear changes are very smooth, requiring just a light reduction in pressure on the pedals for slick up-shifting. It is brilliant
being able to change gear at a standstill, especially if you stop sharply when heavily loaded. In the time I have been using the bike I have found it great fun, and I have been taking it to work even when not loaded up with junk. It is extremely stable and easy to balance in traffic. I have quickly gained enough confidence to negotiate slow traffic with no risk of swiping the sides of cars; the length is only about 45 cm greater than a mountain bike. There are no rattles or vibrations from the racks. The bottom bracket is quite high, requiring a slightly lower than optimum seat height to be able to reach the ground easily in town. The brakes are still bedding in, but the rear needs a good squeeze, as more braking load is carried at the back due to the weight distribution. I may invest in a braided steel hose for the rear to improve performance. Brake squeal has been a problem, and although I have used a facing tool on the caliper mounts, it probably needs a bit more work. Carrying bags, laptops and briefcases is simple: they drop into the Freeloaders, whilst boxes or crates can be strapped to the Snap Deck. Children can be carried on the deck, they don’t need to be strapped down, and there are even footrests for them. The Freeloader bags are not waterproof, but they do tend to collect water nevertheless, which could be useful on a survival expedition, but not so good in Kent. The bags each have a small mesh pocket and a long Velcro pocket, ideal for storing bungees, lock, pump or baguettes. Handling is best when the load is well balanced. There is a dedicated plate at the back for a stand, which completely clears the pedals. Load the stand-side bag first, or it falls over. When evenly loaded you can negotiate steep hills out of the saddle, you just have to keep the bike quite upright. The weight is noticeable mostly on hills, but downhill the 203 mm hydraulics are excellent, with no wobble or weave discernable. Total weight is 20.8 kg. Kerb hopping is difficult, so caution is needed. The Hank tyres proved puncture prone and very poor on slippery surfaces, and my wife can have them back now that I have replaced them with Schwalbe Big Apples. Surly provide a tool for straightening out the two short cross tubes in the rear frame as they can easily be dented. I am looking for a suitable nylon bungs to close these off, as they do seem prone to damage. My conclusion is that the Surly Big Dummy is actually rather well mannered, and quite smart too, but I wouldn’t want to ride a bike called ‘Well Mannered Smarty-Pants’!
Surly: see www.surlybikes.com Downland Cycles: Tel 01227 479 643 or see www.downlandcycles.co.uk
ISSUE 32 DECEMBER 2008 VELOVISION