It's alive! Mechanical reanimation of a Big Dummy
0 comment Friday, May 9, 2014 |
Will invited me to contribute to this blog detailing my experience so far with my new Surly Big Dummy, so I will do my best to comply. At present, much of this has to do with building it up, so the detailed build story follows.
Like any bike, this one has a story. I unexpectedly placed a winning bid for the frameset on eBay late last Fall and the big green carcass arrived in an enormous coffin-sized box just before semester finals. I unfortunately had to wait for over a month before having enough time to work on it, and even so it took another month or so for completion. That said, it was a simple, if somewhat unusual assembly.
The extra time that it took to build is due largely to an internal rule: I have to use available parts whenever possible while building up a bike. This rule has come about out of necessity through a combination of limited capital resources, a desire for continued marital bliss and the practicality of dealing with a dozen and a half or so other bikes and projects I seem to have around at all times. As a result, my shop at times has the appearance of being a sort of mad scientist's laboratory and many of my most ridden and enjoyed bikes are pieced together creatures, built with components and equipment spanning several manufacturers, originally intended uses and decades.
When it came to the Big Dummy, I knew that certain features would rise to the surface. Essentials in the cockpit were Nitto Albatross bars, Oury grips, an Incredibell and NOS 20-year old Suntour XC Comp top mount thumb shifters. I bought out the thumb shifter inventory of a shop years ago because of my dislike for trigger and grip shifters and anything else needlessly complex, lacking a friction mode. To this I added a bunch of parts that I had around and which would do the job: Shimano Deore II brake levers, Shimano STX cantilevers, an old Avocet saddle, Ritchey seatpost, a high angle steel stem, mid 90s XT derailleurs, Shimano Deore XT II cranks and loose ball bottom bracket, Wellgo platform pedals, 2 new Sachs chains, a standard-grade Aheadset and a Greenfield kickstand. Most of the parts have had varying degrees of use on other bikes and contribute to the pithy character of this two-wheeled monster.
I faced a bit of a dilemma with the wheels. I considered a set of Wheelsmith-built Mavic 231/Deore XT II from the early 90s hanging in my shop, but with 32 fancy double-butted spokes, they didn't inspire confidence for use on a cargo bike with a carrying capacity of 400 pounds. I had a couple of 130mm-spaced 36-spoke older mountain bike wheels, but didn't feel like re-spacing them to 135mm, and "squishing" the dropouts of the beefy Surly wasn't an option. So, for the time being, I stole a set of wheels off my next-newest bike, the single-speed Schwinn Panther I was given for my involvement in the DNC bike sharing program. These wheels are actually well-suited for cargo bike use, with 36 beefy black spokes, wide rims and high-flange hubs. I pulled the BMX freewheel off and threaded on a NOS 6-speed 13-28 freewheel. As a bonus, the wheels already had Ritchey 2.1 slicks installed.
Running cables was an interesting experience, since the Big Dummy has no cable stops, just braze-ons to aid the holding of hydraulic hose or cable housing. All my other bikes are too old to have disc brakes, so this system was new to me. Zip ties hold the housing in place. It works fairly well, but the path to the rear derailleur requires nearly 3 meters of housing. Another little challenge is that the Dummy is designed for either disc or v-type brakes. Since I had neither available, but did have a selection of cantilevers, I devised a rear cable stop from an old cable hanger originally intended to be situated at the seatpost bolt of a bike. It worked. The derailleur housing is Shimano XTR gray, the front brake housing is Dia Compe black and the rear brake housing is Dia Compe white, as these were the colors I had in the correct lengths. I feel this incongruity adds positively to the overall frightening stoicism of the creature.
I had to buy the non-included Xtracycle longtail kit, which assembled and bolted on to the Dummy in minutes. It really is well-designed equipment. With the snapdeck in place, I added a couple of zip ties to keep everything tensioned. I installed a rearward-facing threadless stem on a shim to the seatpost, along with a cut-down flat bar for use by a rack-straddling passenger. I also added some old mountain bike bar-ends to the v-racks to serve as footpegs for small passengers, namely my 3 1/2-year old daughter Stella. They work well enough, but need some experimentation to determine optimal positioning to avoid heel interference with the captain.
Future plans for the Dummy include an improved version of my license-plate fenders, a beefier kickstand, a custom wooden kid seat, disc brakes and wheels and possibly a fancy lighting system. I'll also likely add the optional wide-loaders to increase my cargo possibilities.
The bike certainly lives up to its first name. Big is certainly an apt descriptor for a 22-inch frame cargo bike with a 1.5 inch steel downtube and a bar height somewhere around four feet. Its dimensions are as staggering as its possibilities. I plan to employ this bike as a family truckster. In addition to shuttling my daughter to preschool and soccer, I see many grocery and hardware trips in the Dummy's future as well as overnighters to local outdoor destinations.

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