Saturday, May 31, 2008

Riding with Karen & Dwayne

Riding through Mount Royal, Calgary, Alberta

On our way to Planet Organic to restock the cupboards.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Karen's Xtracycle

We had a cold wet weekend here in Calgary Alberta so what better time to build up Karen's Xtracycle. The Xtracycle went on fairly easily. The only snags involved her fairly old 80's drivetrain. Other than the drivetrain her rigid Trek made an ideal Xtracycle donor bike. It's strong, light and wasn't seeing much use as a MTB since she got a full suspension MTB.

The finished product looks awesome and rides great. I am pretty amazed how versatile and complete the Xtracycle kit is. If you were installing it on a newer bike you wouldn't have any issues getting everything working nicely. We added some Planet Bike Cascadia ATB fenders, Super Flash Blinky, Brooks saddle and replaced her cantis with XT v-brakes.

I had some issues getting the really old Gripshifter working with her rear dérailleur. She'll take it to a LBS to see if they can get it working better. If not we'll swap in a new drivetrain. Unfortunately we couldn't install the new BMX platforms she bought as the pedals were seized into the cranks. That will have to wait until we deal with replacing the drivetrain.

Karen threw her heavy backpack into one side of the Freeloaders and was concerned it would throw off her balance, but after a few pedal strokes she was off without any issues and a huge smile on her face. Welcome to the longtail revolution Karen...=-)

We do have a few tweaks to make to get her Xtracycle rig fully dialed:
  • adjust the rear dérailleur shifting better [LBS?]
  • replace drivetrain and build up heavy duty rear wheel [end of season if she can get by with stock setup]
  • de-squeal her front v-brake
  • fabricate a mount to lower her front fender so it doesn't interfere with the V-brake and so it looks nicer
  • install BMX platforms whenever new cranks go on
  • add some Egron Grips

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Aaron's Bicycle Repair Xtracycle Page

Photo: Forrest's Big Dummy from Aaron's Bicycle Repair

I was poking around Aaron's Bicycle Repair's Xtracycle page and found some really fun photos of all the Xtracycles they have sold. Just click here and scroll towards the bottom of the page. It's great to see all the Xtracycle rigs that people are riding as well as the proud owners. These photos really demonstrate how versatile the Xtracycle is.

Val Kleitz's Center Stand

I've been looking for a good kickstand solution for my Big Dummy. Val Kleitz's center stand looks bombproof and is available from Aaron's Bicycle Repair for the not inconsiderable sum of $374.99. It looks nice, but I am going to try a lighter & very inexpensive kickstand to see what I think. I thought I would post it in case someone out there was interested.

If you have one of these stands I'd love to hear your impressions of it.

Commute by Bike's Big Dummy

Tim Grahl from Commute by Bike just came back from a Big Dummy camping trip and has written some interesting posts about the Big Dummy:

First Impressions

How it handles

Carrying Loads and Living by Bike

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Beth's Xtracycle

Photo: Beth [bikelovejones]

Beth has posted a step by step of her Xtracycle installation on her blog. This was useful and very timely as I'm going to be helping Karen build up her Xtra this weekend. It's great to see another longtail on the road - congrats Beth...=-)

Beth's Posts:

Bow Valley Bike Tour

I set out with my friends Anna & Kurt for some bike camping fun this past holiday weekend. Since Kurt was a novice cycle tourist and Anna always complains I climb like a goat I rode the Big Dummy loaded with all the group gear. Normally I tour on a lightly loaded Long Haul Trucker so the extra gear and heavy duty bike would be quite a change. I'm not sure how much I ended up carrying exactly, bicycle weigh scales being absent on the highways we traveled, but I'm guessing it was in excess of 100lbs with our car camping tent, tools/spares, double set of stoves and cookware, food, more food and snacks! Did I mention all the water, beer, more beer and wine???...=-)

By keeping the mileage low and choosing a beautiful route along the Bow Valley Parkway we ensured everyone had a lot of fun. Riding a heavily loaded Big Dummy evened out the pace nicely and meant I always had a welcoming committee at the top of the steepest climbs...=-) We had intended to take a jaunt up the Icefield's Parkway, but heavy rain in Lake Louise and a grim forecast persuaded us that riding to higher elevations was not a great idea. As it turned out the worst rain fell when we were outside the bakery in Lake Louise. A clear sign that we were in the good graces of the Cycle Gods!...=-)

Although I had checked on campground status with the Banff Park Office on the Wednesday prior to leaving for the tour only one of the campgrounds I had confirmed would be open was actually open. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we were able to ride around the locked gates and have some prime camping spots all to ourselves on a long weekend...=-) We took a primo spot by a partially frozen creek in sight of a small waterfall. The sound of running water was very peaceful in our empty campground.

The Big Dummy handled the load with aplomb. After about a block I was able to get a handle on the slower steering due to the heavily loaded front panniers. The BD proved to be completely stable and the long wheelbase made fast descents super fun. It was a bit like riding in a softly sprung Cadillac. Riding with all that gear and 2" wide Marathon XR expedition tires made climbs slow & challenging. I had a 40T chainring installed with a 16T cog on the Rohloff. This provided a reasonable gear range on all, but the most ridiculous pitches. I will probably use the 38T chainring for any future heavily loaded mountain tours, but around town the 40T is perfect. The Titec H-Bar provided several hand positions, but I didn't find them as comfortable for touring as drop bars. They are great for hauling heavy loads around town so I'll play with the bar height a bit to see if I can adapt to them for long days in the saddle. Interestingly I was getting numb hands with a pair of old gloves on that have served me well for thousands of KMs, but the combo of these gloves and the H-bars was not a happy one. As soon as I removed the gloves the numbness disappeared.

As expected I received a lot of attention riding the Big Dummy. Many double takes and several astonished comments about how much gear I had on my bike. Every time we stopped and bought more supplies the Big Dummy had no trouble finding space for a few more bottles of beer or some extra snacks! Tour with a Big Dummy and your traveling companions will love you...=-)

I have to admit I had a hard time mentally adjusting to the loaded Big Dummy. I'm used to being pretty fast on tour and zipping up climbs. Gearing down and slowly grinding my way uphill was a change of pace for me that took some getting used to. Watching my companions zoom away when the road turned skyward made me yearn for my Long Haul Trucker and ultralight camping gear.

All in all it was a wonderful trip filled with lots of laughs and it reminded me I live in spectacular spot on the planet. I'll definitely be hitting the road with my bike and my tent a lot this summer!

For my Flickr photos of the trip click here - for Anna's Flickr photos click here.

If anyone wants help planning a bike tour in the Canadian Rockies around Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper - feel free to contact me. I can help you with super fun routes from 2 days to 2 weeks long through some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever had the privilege of laying my eyes on.

Ursula's Townie

I ran into Joel [the other Big Dummy owner in Calgary & a Bike Forums member] on my way back from Bow Cycle with Ursula's Electra Townie. I was amazed anyone even knew what a Big Dummy or Xtracycle was let alone be the owner of the other Big Dummy in town. I'm looking forward to checking out his rig and going for some longtail coffee rides....=-)

Hauling things like a bike are so easy with the Big Dummy my truck is going to sit idle even more than usual this summer.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Anna's Banff Park Tour Report

Hauling all our gear, food, water, wine and beer across the Rocky Mountains has made me really, really, really tired so I didn't get around to sorting/editing/posting my photos. That will have to wait until tomorrow. In the meantime enjoy Anna's post about the trip.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Towing Kurt Uphill

Testing out the gearing on my Rohloff - this was much steeper/harder than it looks!

Hauling a Chariot from Bow Cycle

This trip would have required my truck before my Dummy arrived. Now it's an easy cycle 30kms round trip to grab a kid's trailer/jogger for Jeff & Jo-Ann.

Big Dummy Info Cards

I made up these cards so instead of answering a billion questions I can just point folks at this blog when they want to learn about the Big Dummy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Free Radical Load Limits

Josh's Paint Magic

I'm not really sure what to say about Josh's Longtail kit painting wizardry - wow! FREAKing amazing....great work Josh...=-) Click on the pic to see more of his Big Dummy porn.

I particularly like the powder coated V-racks and Wide Loaders. I may strip mine in the winter and get them powder coated - if I'm not too lazy!

Xtracycle Unboxed

Resistance was futile. I had to see what was in Karen's Xtracycle box...=-) The kit looks straight forward and quite complete. I had a read through the manual and the installation should be reasonably easy.

The contents include:
  • Free Radical sub-frame
  • V-racks
  • Free Loader bags
  • Snap Deck
  • Kickstand
  • long shift & brake cables + housing
  • extra chain links
  • all necessary hardware
  • manual
  • some cryptic business cards to promote Xtracycle with
Karen also bought some Footsies, but these are not part of the stock Xtracycle kit.

Since Karen wants to do most of the installation herself I really do have to show some restraint and just put all the Xtracycle goodies in the closet until next week.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Karen's Xtracycle is here...

I picked up Karen's Xtracycle today...=-) She ordered it from Rarified and they were nice enough to arrange for Xtracycle Canada to drop ship it to me. The only trouble is Karen is away on a work trip so we won't be able to install it until next week.

I'm sure she won't mind if I just open the box and admire her new Xtracycle! It will be fun to see how it installs on her mountain bike and compare her Xtra-fied rig to my Big Dummy.

One more biker has joined the longtail revolution...=-)

Hauling a Chariot Bike Trailer

Monday, May 12, 2008

Gearing Choices

The mail man brought me a 38T & 40T chain ring for my BD. I think I'll try the 40T out first and see what the gear range is like. Ideally you want to spend a lot of time in the Rohloff's direct drive gear [#11] as it is the most efficient.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Prohibit this!

Giving Karen a Lift

Espresso Stop

The Big Dummy waits patiently while we run inside for a quick double espresso refueling mission. Yes - we stopped for coffee not to visit the sex shop next door!

Relaxing with the Big Dummy

The Big Dummy proves useful even when I'm not riding it...=-)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Graham's Test Ride

I met up with Bike Forums member Graham at MEC this afternoon so he could test ride the Big Dummy.

It was great to meet another forum member and put a face to a nickname.

It was also really nice to talk to someone who had heard of an Xtracycle before! Instead of all the usual newbie questions we were able to converse on some of the finer points of cargo bikes.

Mugwump Comfort

Sarah gets ready to enjoy the padded comfort of a Mugwump Snap Deck Cushion.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Rob's thoughts on Big Dummy touring...

Rob Byrne sent me the following email discussing equipment choices for his up coming bike expedition:

"Using the Surly Big Dummy for Expedition Touring

Hi Vik,

As you know, Maureen and I have been looking at using Big Dummys and/or XtraCycle FreeRadicals for touring. We’re planning a tour starting in 2009 setting out from south-eastern Australia and taking us through Asia and Europe, over a few years. We’re in our mid fifties and we’ll be selling our home and business and living off the interest. I’ve recently had surgery for prostate cancer and Maureen has just had major surgery too; time for some travel.

I weigh about 80kg, Maureen about 60kg and to even things up I expect to carry about 60% of the load. Our touring philosophy is to travel slowly and self-sufficiently (ie. loaded) with low gearing (Rohloff, about 17”). I expect that a typical day will be about 80–100km and there’ll be a reasonable number of days off to smell the roses. The plan is to buy a Surly Long Haul Trucker with racks and panniers for Maureen and a Surly Big Dummy with FreeLoaders for me.

The primary reason for choosing the Big Dummy is its luggage capacity. There are several other advantages but before covering those, I’ll cover the negatives and issues. The major negative of the BD is its transportation by plane, bus, taxi, etc. The extra 15” in length creates some challenges in crating and carrying. To address this we’re considering use of S&S couplings. A minor issue may be soft braking on the rear disc due to the long cable (hydraulic is not being considered, to simplify maintenance) however we believe we can address this by using a high end cable housing and Teflon cables, such as the Avid Flack Jacket. Another minor issue is that some consider the bike looks a little weird. We think it looks great (and potential thieves may think it looks just too distinctive to bother).

I hear two substantive criticisms of the BD for touring: its weight and the weight distribution over its wheels. However I’ve done quite a lot of analysis on these points. A LHT with strong racks and panniers is almost exactly the same weight as a BD with FreeLoaders and waterproof compression sacks. And, when loaded, these two bikes distribute weight over the two wheels almost identically. So these are non-issues.

On the plus side, the BD clearly has a big advantage in carrying capacity: 110 litres for the FreeRadicals vs 65 for four Ortlieb panniers. This much capacity could be viewed as a negative by summer tourers but my view is that it’s a plus for fully self-sufficient, multi-year expedition touring covering extremely diverse terrains and situations (provided the bike has the right gearing!). XtraCycle’s other products, such as the WideLoaders, are surprisingly lightweight and provide outstanding versatility. For most of the trip, we won’t be using anywhere near the BD’s full carrying capacity but in some stretches we will need to go heavy on provisions and the BD gives us the ability to do this.

The FreeLoaders also provide simpler loading of luggage and more ready access to packed items. The use of, say, six compression dry sacks provides great flexibility in packing related items together, with the most-used items at the top of the sacks. Packing involves no clips – just put the sacks in the FreeLoader, close the top and go.

Another alternative to racks and panniers is a trailer such as the Bob. We were planning on using these until we looked more closely. Their carrying capacity is rated at 92 litres, about 20% less than the BD. While the BD can be difficult for transportation (planes, buses and taxis) trailers are much worse. Trailers are also much more problematic for stairs, crowds and wild camping. And while the draughting effect behind a BD is likely to be not quite as good as a traditional bike (I haven’t tested this yet), there is effectively no draught that a following rider can use behind a trailer.

Reports about the BD’s comfort and handling are very good. The rider’s weight is much more centred between front and rear wheels – so whereas the shock of the rear wheel hitting a bump is transmitted straight up the traditional bike’s seat tube, on the BD the effect is dampened by the frame (possibly a good feature after a prostatectomy). Despite a fairly high bottom bracket (to provide adequate clearance for the long wheelbase) the BD’s centre of gravity appears to be quite low, particularly as the FreeLoaders are mounted lower than traditional rear panniers. No doubt this contributes to the reported stable ride.

While our tour is likely to be primarily on tarmac, some roads are likely to be pretty ordinary, particularly in Western China and Central Asia. And even in countries with good roads, being forced off the shoulder onto rougher ground is an issue for tourers. Surly comments that the BD’s “long wheelbase makes for an incredibly stable and predictable off-road ride” and the reports about off-road performance from the Ride the Spine group are also extremely positive.

A key issue for a multi-year tour is the strength and reliability of the bike. Dealing with a broken bike in the middle of Kyrgyzstan carries very little appeal. Like other Surly bikes, the BD appears to be extremely robustly constructed. Once again, the experience of the Ride the Spine group is useful.

A discussion that seems to rage in the touring community is the use of disc brakes. Despite the argument that discs are more difficult to maintain than rim brakes (I’ll take a course), my view is that the extra stopping power of discs makes them the right choice for a heavily loaded tourer. We’ll also have some very long descents (eg. Himalayas), where discs excel. With its large cargo carrying capacity, the BD was designed to support discs. Another facility built into the design is support for the Rohloff Speedhub 500/14. With its huge gearing range, ease of use and outstanding reliability, these gears are another obvious choice for the very long distance tourer, despite the cost. Reports on the Rohloff’s reliability are excellent. We regard the Rohloffs as being of pivotal importance to this expedition. The BD frame also has lots of braze-ons, including four for drink bottles – great for long, arid stretches.
Another attraction of the BD is its use as a utility bike when we return from our travels. A good way to maintain touring fitness will be to do without a car.

BD Pluses for expedition touring
  • Capacity to carry expedition loads when required
  • Load versatility (XC WideLoaders, etc)
  • Ease of packing and access to luggage
  • Single vehicle (no trailer means better for planes, buses, taxis, stairs, crowds, wild camping, etc. Also, a following bike can draught)
  • Ride stability / low centre of gravity
  • Performs well off road (ref. riding the spine)
  • Strength (ref. riding the spine)
  • Disc brakes fully supported (important when fully loaded or braking on very long descents)
  • Rohloff gears fully supported (the breadth of gearing is pivotal to our ability to handle all terrains)
  • Lots of braze-ons
  • Utility vehicle when not on tour
  • Distinctive appearance (definitely not a me-too, and harder for a thief to fence!)

BD Minuses for expedition touring
  • Transportation (planes, buses, taxis; we may address this, at least in part, by using S&S couplings)
  • Rear brake cable is a bit longer, softer braking (we plan to address this by using high end cable housing and Teflon cables)
  • Unusual appearance (eye of the beholder)

  • Weight (same as tourer with strong racks & panniers)
  • Weight distribution (same as tourer when both are loaded)

Add 1kg [2.2lbs] to the Xtracycle weights above if you want to compare the Big Dummy.

Hope these views are of interest.

Between Missions

OMM Cold Springs Front Rack

With a heavy load in the rear it wouldn't hurt to have some extra weight over the front wheel. I had this Old Man Mountain Cold Springs front rack in my parts box so I threw it on the Big Dummy. The great thing with these OMM racks is they will fit virtually any bike.

I'll be fitting a pair of Ortlieb panniers to this rack for even more cargo capacity and improved weight distribution.


I'm running a 44T chain ring with the Rohloff 16T cog mounted to a trusty Race Face Turbine crankset. The 44T is really unnecessarily high, but it's what I had on hand at the time of the build. I'll be replacing it with a 38T or 40T which will provide a more appropriate gear range.

A Rohloff Chain Guide keeps my chain in place. Not absolutely necessary, but it's a nice design and not worrying about my chain coming off is worth the cost.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


Todd Frahner built this Xtravois custom cargo bike long before the Big Dummy was available.


...neither snow nor tight single track can stop the Big Dummy.

Bike Hauling

Hauling Kurt's MTB to a LBS for service proved relatively painless.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Still Minty Fresh

The beast on its first day of real riding.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Tool Kit

Although I've never had a flat on a Marathon XR and I haven't had a chain break in years I don't want to tempt the Bike Gods so I carry some basic tools and supplies with me when I ride the Big Dummy:
  • tire levers
  • spare tube
  • patch kit
  • battered, but not broken Topeak Road Morph pump
  • multi-tool
  • chain tool
  • spare SRAM powerlink [not shown]

With any luck I won't have to use any of these items, but even if my bike doesn't break perhaps I can help out another cyclist as I roam the streets of my city in search of ridiculous loads to carry...=-)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Bike Mechanics Love the Big Dummy

Stopped by a LBS on my first Big Dummy ride and was surprised that all the mechanics abandoned their work and came outside to ride the beast. Everyone was uber stoked. I've never seen a reaction like that to one of my bikes before.