Having lived with it for a few months now I promised Ash I would write a few words on the Surly Big Fat Dummy for the blog. Having made the decision to buy it, after much procrastination, it has been something of a revelation for me. Initially I had been thinking about it purely from the point of view of whether I really did enough hauling of stuff to need such a bicycle; at first glance the Dummy might not meet expectations of an everyday bicycle but really it is when you think of what it can do from taking kids to school (the rear deck will take seats and is rated for loads of something like 250lbs) to picking up groceries, shifting furniture, farm work, taking a kayak to the beach….
It has long made no sense to me at all that something as fun as time in the surf has to b bookended by something as soul-destroying as dealing with summer holiday traffic and parking charges. My surf kayak straps easily to the side of the bike with an inflatable spacer dropped into a pannier to make sure it clears my legs.
I've found it to be a very fun bike to ride whether I need to carry a lot of crap or not, and as well as finding unexpected reasons to use it I find myself making excuses to take it rather than a normal bike on occasions when I don’t need to carry much stuff at all. Those big tyres mean I can choose to take the path less travelled regardless of load, and it has proven to be a really quite capable tool for singletrack; the sheer momentum it carries gives a wonderful flowing feel to off-road adventures. The frame is very stiff so even with a load on board the handling is excellent, and really just feels like a normal bike. I've not found weight to be any issue at all, and it does come equipped with suitably low gearing for hauling a lot of stuff up Cornish hills; it is most certainly not a chore to ride.
Carrying another bike for whatever reason is no issue at all... the bags it comes with are enormously versatile and accommodate a 700c/29er wheel very nicely indeed!
The only change I've made from the stock build is to swap out the heavily dirt-oriented tyres it came with to something a little more allround for mixed road and dirt use. I've found the Vee Tire Mission Command rubber I substituted rolls easily on asphalt while still having plenty of traction for the sort of dirt one finds in Cornwall. I'm keeping the original tyres for some off-road touring adventures, something for which I think it has heaps of potential, despite its bulk.
On my way to collect a chainsaw... the nature of the bike meant I could travl via a more interesting route than the road.
Importantly, well.. to me anyhow, is that it is also a terrific machine for challenging people’s preconceptions of what is possible by bicycle. Drivers mostly seem to think it’s a stupid idea judging by the looks on their faces, something I find perfectly ironic, while other folk seem utterly baffled by it and either want to know where the engine is or what the point of a tandem without a second seat is… or simply can’t wrap their heads around it at all. I already hardly use my car at all, essentially only for when I have to carry a lot of stuff, and this bike has reduced my car dependence even further while simulatneously adding a great deal of fun to the equation. That can only be a good thing.
It is a capable bike on singletrack...
The Dummy in these pictures is an older model year that came with 26" wheels and 5" rubber. The latest iteration from Surly retains the clearances for that sort of rubber but comes stock fitted with 29" x 3" plus-sized rather than fat wheels. A change that should broaden the appeal I think as I would expect those to roll a little faster and increases options for tyre choice to faster rolling, more road-oriented designs like the Surly Extraterrestrial.
Visit https://surlybikes.com/bikes/big_fat_dummy for more information or get in touch with us if you'd like to discuss this bike or anything else Surly-related.
I need to get on and write the last instalment from the Andes now I'm back in the UK (it's Mike writing) but first a long overdue quick round up from the shop.
Merida Big Trail
We're rather liking the look of this 27.5+ hard tail trail bike from Merida that's in store now. It's a fresh ground-up design that we think will be a lot of fun and definitely worth looking at if you're in the market for a new trail bike. There's a great review over on pinkbike.com here (opens in new tab). We have the 600 (Merida web page) in stock with others in the range available to order.
Brick Lane Bikes
Probably more familiar to the fixed wheel crowd but applicable to geared bikes too, Brick Lane Bikes have a range of lovely steel frames and very nicely made own-branded components and accessories (bamboo mudguards anyone?), as well as acting as agents for a number of interesting brands such as Nitto, and Paul Components. We now have an account and can get you anything you might want from their catalogue. If you'd like a look we put together a very pretty bike around their steel single-speed road frame with a selection of their own-brand componentry (and some interesting parts of our own). It's in the store if you'd like to have a look.
Haibike are leaders in the electric bike business and if you wanted a reminder of just how capable electric bikes have become.. not only are there high performance road and mountain models, you can now have an e-fatbike for the full monster-truck experience... in both hard tail or full-sus incarnations. On the workstand is this one we supplied recently back in for a service. We thought it would be fun to show it off. It's a beast... and by all accounts a big stack of fun.
Some Interesting Numbers
I was fiddling around with some numbers earlier in the week, just out of interest, and the results were really very interesting and an insight into just how much difference riding a bike rather than jumping in the car can make to your life.
Now, in the last 15 years I've ridden ~160,000km. Not as much as some folk I know but still a fair total. If I had travelled all of those miles in a car, in this case a small-medium car like a Ford Focus, then check out just what that would mean:
Money spent on fuel - £14,000 (approx at today's prices, & you could probably add at least £2K more for tyres & servicing)
Kilograms of CO2 generated - approx 32,000kg
Of course exact figures depend on driving style but that's based on my own typical mpg, and figures from Exeter University on CO2 emissions. It has also kept me pretty happy, not to mention fit. So if you ever thought riding a bike instead of jumping in the car wasn't going to make a great deal of difference.. then there's some proof to the contrary. It is also of course far more beneficial for your mental state than driving. There are 37 million registered vehicles on Britain's roads. Just imagine how much change for the better takes place when people ride instead of drive.
Oh, and by the way.. you don't need a flash bike to enjoy the miles. Of the bikes I currently have the one with the most miles on it, at nearly 17,000, is an simple steel fixed wheel I put together for not much more than £300.
There. I'll get off my soapbox now.
When I last wrote I was expecting to spend just few days recovering from a chest infection in Chivay. It turned out to be a little more serious than that involving making use of Peru’s rural medical services, somewhat chaotic initially but very helpful, and a course of intravenous antibiotics. Despite the obvious impact to riding plans it is not always an entirely negative experience being unwell in such places. It is when one needs help that is reinforced the knowledge that no matter where you are in the world people will do their best to assist. It can be quite heartwarming. I collected dengue fever in northwest Sumatra many years ago. The fever was shit but my experiences with the little Islamic hospital that helped me remain a cheerful memory.
Bridge over the Rio Colca near Sibayo. In Sibayo, I was invited to stay with a local family here. I spent a lovely evening tucking into a hearty alpaca stew with Benita, her husband Caesar, and ten year old son Ciamillo. The following morning Benita sent me packing up into the rarefied air towards 5000m with a hearty breakfast of quinoa porridge, eggs, bread, coffee.
So ultimately my bike collected dust in Chivay for more than two weeks, and while I would rather have been riding in the mountains it meant I had time to build some meaningful friendships in the village which helped enormously with the frustration. As I write I am back on the road but my ongoing plans have been somewhat curtailed due to the lasting effects of the infection. Aside from a persistent, chesty cough I find I am not recovering as well as I need to from hard days in the saddle so rather than a long, linear journey north with long, committing stretches I’ve decided to make a loop, ultimately returning to Arequipa, with more options for rest and recovery and with no stretches of more than 4 days away from towns and villages where I can stop if need be. It does mean however that I must return to Peru next year.. unfinished business and all that.
From Sibayo it is straight into a dirt road climb to 4700m
Leaving Chivay, as I cruised uphill along the banks of the Rio Colca I met an old gent on a Chinese-made bone-shaker bicycle heading in the opposite direction. As cyclists so often do we stopped to exchange greetings. I mentioned where I was headed to which he sucked his teeth, rubbed the finger and thumb of one hand together and jabbed me in the chest with another pair of fingers, twisting them as he did so. The implication being that travelling solo in such places I was sure to be robbed and killed. I have found it to be the same the whole world over; cycle through a valley and the people there, otherwise very welcoming, will often tell you that by travelling into the next valley you are sure to be robbed, or worse, because that valley is full of bad people. Arrive in the next valley and the people will express shock that you were able to travel through the previous valley without being robbed or killed, because, of course, that valley is full of bad people. The reality I have discovered is that the more remote the places travelled the stronger the communities and the more friendly the people.
At around 4700m the scenery opens out. Stunningly beautiful
A few remote and tiny pueblitos dot the highlands. The people are invariably friendly and keen to chat.
Views are stupendous. The riding is hard, especially in the afternoons when the winds howl and rain and snow flurries often sweep in.
This is Caylloma, a remote outpost on the puna at about 4300m. It feels desolate, especially in the afternoons when dust devils rule the streets in the icy winds and the harsh, high altitude sun bleaches the colour from the landscape. It is a handy stop over however for some rest and resupply.
From Caylloma the track climbs straight to 5000m...
It is a steep, switchbacked climb on rough dirt. It took 3 1/2hrs. Makes those European passes in the Alps and Pyrenees looks a bit silly...
Above 5000m is a desolate prospect. A thin, icy cold gale with snow flurries...
... but if you don't mind some hardship and isolation it is a sublime place to go riding.
I was able to hook into into a remote goat track for an afternoon, overnight and morning to get me towards Espinar. It was a hard climb back up to above 4700m. Soft, boggy, rocky and technical in spots.
Remote, bitterly cold, and with darkness just an hour away it was a case of descending a couple of hundred metres to find a camp spot. The Surly ECR is brilliant in such terrain, very sure footed when its rider is particularly shagged from a hard day in the saddle.
As always with the loss of daylight the temperature plummeted to negative double digits.
Sunshine to thaw things out in the morning. I was 'discovered' by these two chaps while cooking breakfast. They said they were camped nearby, prospecting for gold.
Descending to meet the dirt road to Espinar. This track was very sloppy in places...
Mucky bike. I am really very fond of my Surly ECR, it has taken me to some fantastic places.
Back down at a somewhat more hospital 4200m or so. some fine riding enroute to Espinar.
If interested in reading more there are stacks of words and pictures over at my personal blog, http://www.seasurfdirt.com.
I promised Ash I'd post a few updates from the road in Peru over the next few months. I've been meaning to come back here for a while now to explore the vast network of dirt roads and trails, many unmapped, that criss-cross this part of the Andes. Purely by chance I was able to link up with an old riding buddy here for a few days which was super.
Climbing out of the 'burbs of Arequipa in southern Peru. The city sits at an altitude of 2300m, this track is just the beginning of one of many relentless 'mega-climbs' all the way to a somewhat breathless 4500m.
Arequipa: New tyres look rubbish... too clean. i'm riding my Surly ECR (on the right) which is a simply awesome dirt road touring bike but with 29+ wheels it's a big bike which can make travel with it on airlines and buses a little awkward at times. I use it at home for trail riding but with a low BB and essentially touring geometry it's a compromise. My friend, Cass, brought his Surly Ogre. It's a bit more versatile and can be used with standard 29er wheels or set up, as here, with 27.5+ wheels. The smaller wheelsize makes packing it easier but still with the benefits of plus-size tyres. As with the ECR it's bristling with braze-ons for carrying stuff. It is also a handy trail bike. (by the way, Ash can get Surly stuff in the shop :-)
There is a terrific global community around 'adventure cycling'. I met Cass all the way back in 2003 riding through Ladakh. Check out bikepacking.com for more inspiration from his keyboard and his awesome cycling flavoured instagram at https://www.instagram.com/whileoutriding/
It's a long, hard climb gaining some 2000m in altitude around the flanks of Nevado Chachani (6057m) with fine views of Volcan El Misti (5822m).
A bitterly cold, windswept campspot high on the puna at around 4500m altitude. It's getting dark around 6pm here at the moment. By 8pm everything is pretty much frozen solid...
.. it is hard work but when the terrain looks like this so very worth the effort...!
Anyway, that's enough for this evening, hopefully a little bit of inspiration to get out and do more on your bike than the usual 'local loop'. More soon! In the meantime there are more words and pics over on my own blog here.
P.s. Just as an aside... as far as route finding goes Google Earth is a terrific resource for finding 'interesting' lesser travelled routes to explore. ridewithgps.com is another superb resource. Wifi is readily available in most towns around the world these days. It makes life very much easier when researching roads to travel although in mny respects I do rather miss the sense of adventure that comes with the 'suck it and see' approach, navigating village to village based on directions from the locals.
Wintertime with short days and often rubbish weather can make it difficult to find inspiration for new rides and two-wheeled adventures. With spring apparently now in full bloom however, and a perfect weather forecast for riding pointing our wheels somewhere new seemed like a good idea. We figured our favourite coastal places would be busy with tourist traffic, what with it being Easter .. and sunny, so instead we put together a rather wonderful day out up to the 'roof of Cornwall', if you like, at Brown Willy combining a mixture of tracks, trails and virtually traffic free backroads. As far as route planning and finding goes we were lucky to be blessed with a riding buddy with a phenomenal knowledge of the backroads of mid-Cornwall. That combined with a bit of map-based pre-planning took us on a wonderful day out of 85 miles taking in all the best that inland Cornwall has to offer from sheltered wooded valleys, flower-studded trails, and chilly, windswept open moorland. Because I'm an idiot I forgot to have my GPS record the route so I'm unable to share a track for you to download, however should you want to ride this way then the route options are endless so all you really need to do is get an OS map out and draw yourself a likely looking route and go for it.
For our ride fatter-tyred touring bikes were perfect, tyres around 40-45c roll well on asphalt but offer tons and grip and comfort on the dirt sections. I rode my Surly Cross Check, Ash was riding a lovely 'vintage' (i guess 35+ years old qualifies) Concorde touring bike with a highly covetable 8spd Mk1 XTR drivetrain fitted, and Mark was riding his Surly Straggler.. the disc braked cousin to my Cross Check.
Some pictures follow by way of inspiration for you. Hopefully you've had an equally excellent Easter on two wheels!
Spring very much in evidence in the sheltered valleys. Warm sunshine too :-)
Approaching the moors the cloud thickened and the temperature dropped in the cool northwest wind. When I look at pictures like this I always find it incredible just what a green landscape Cornwall is blessed with. Having cycled through deserts all over the world returning to green and lush Cornwall is always a real treat.
Bodmin Moor isn't very high, only something like between 350-420m above sea level, it still feels like quite a climb up onto the moor however, and as with any ride in Cornwall it is very easy to accumulate thousands of metres of vertical ascent without even a mountain in sight. The hills are one of the things that makes riding here in the west special. Embrace rather than avoid them and they will reward :-)
Empty moorland singletrack roads, a perfect alternative to the holiday weekend coastal honeypots.
Approaching our goal for the day. Slightly fatter rubber just perfect for being able to explore pretty much anywhere.
It's been a long time since I cycled on the moor. Back in my racing days (not that long ago really) one of my favourite long training rides would take me all the way up the north coast to Boscastle before heading inland across the top of Bodmin Moor and then all the way back down the south coast. Well in excess of 200km I used to really enjoy it. Travelling a little more slowly on my touring bike with time to really soak up the countryside and a stove + packed lunch on board brings a very different flavour of satisfaction. One that doesn't involve feeling utterly destroyed by the end :-)
Brew on. I have a Carradice Pendle bag on my Cross Check. It's just the right size for a down jacket (it was chilly in the wind on the moor), packed lunch, a cake (of course), alcohol stove + pot, and my camera. It looks appropriately retro too and the Carradice canvas bags weather beautifully, in a way that modern synthetics simply cannot, they're waterproof too in case you were wondering... (we have some in the shop if you're interested.. ;-)
Leaving the moor, heading back south to the sunshine!
That vintage Concorde with a lovely Nitto 'cockpit'. Nitto stuff (bars, stems, seatposts, racks, and more) is very much a favourite of ours, pleasingly retro, highly functional and just a little bit unusual. It's available to order through the shop.
We love to hear your stories around bikes and cycling, occasionally with a view to featuring here. Recently one of our customers mentioned how he'd been on something of a journey with regards to his bike so we asked him if he would be happy to share his experiences. After all we live in a world now where cycling has developed niches within niches, and we're told by marketing departments that we need not only cyclocross bikes but gravel bikes, and adventure bikes, and it's not enough to have a road bike any more.. we need, apparently, race bikes, and endurance bikes, and sportive bikes. You may or may not know the accepted formula for determining the correct number of bicycles (x, say) to own.. i.e x = n + 1 where n is the current number of cycles in your fleet. What follows is a rather nice piece from someone looking to go the other way, i.e. following a path defined by x = (n+1) - n ...
My first new bike was a steel purple BSA drop bar with 3 speed sturmy archer gears. I used to ride this to school. At weekends I would cycle to the shops and the beach with friends and to far flung fishing spots on the cliffs, with my rod strapped to the crossbar and bait and sandwiches slung over my shoulder in a bag. A single bike to do lots of things.
As I got older I got into racing and saved money to buy a lovely steel 531 Mercian road frame set. This bike was only used for racing or Sunday cycling club rides. I bought a second hand clunker for cycling to work. My stable had grown to two steeds. One for commuting, one for racing and training. As I got into time-trialling , I felt the need to improve my chances in events so purchased a Pat Rohan steel low pro and built it up. It went really well and I even entered an RTTC National 25 mile event on it. Three bikes now. One for training, one for racing and one for work.As family life and work became more important, my cycling activities slipped away for a good few years. The bikes were sold and my Mercian frame stored but not used.
Later in life my interest in cycling was reignited. I do not think it ever went away really, just into stasis for a few years. Things in cycling had changed in the intervening years. Most notably the use of aluminium and carbon fibre in frame construction and big developments in aero kit for time-trialling. My new phase of bike buying again followed a similar trend. Initially a new aluminium road bike which I used for commuting ,weekend rides and time trials. This was followed by a mountain bike for off-road and then a carbon road bike and finally a more traditional hand built steel 653 time trial bike with aero bars and deep section wheels.
Suddenly I had four bikes each of which did a single thing. The N+1 (number of bikes you need where N is the number of bikes you have) phenomenon had taken a grip.
I had a few years where I trained and raced hard for time-trials. I did some personal bests at a range of distances but eventually I stopped racing as it was becoming a bit obsessive. I was also riding my carbon road bike less and less and the same with my mountain bike. One weekend I looked at my collection of bikes and thought, what is the point of all these bikes that generally all do one thing and I am not riding most of them? I was still an active cyclist but I really only needed a decent bike that did lots of things, a generalist not a specialist. I sold up my stable and pooled the proceeds for reinvesting.
My cycling focus had also changed. Racing was now history as was thrashing myself silly around the Cornish lanes on my carbon road bike with some bizzare desire to keep my average speed up - for what ? Commuting and weekend rides were still on the agenda for fun, social/cafe rides and fitness. The idea of riding dirt tracks and touring and bikepacking was also becoming more appealing. Self contained camping under your own steam traversing road and off road routes. Was there a bike that could do all of these things? The concept of the 'One' bike had landed, but where to start, did it exist and what exactly did I want?
A friend of mine, also into cycling, mentioned that he had a bike called a Surly Cross Check which was quite versatile. I had never heard of this bike or what it looked like or could do. I made some enquiries on the Surly website and went to check out the Cross Check. It was an understated road bike, steel Cro-Mo frame and with lots of braze-ons. Quite heavy compared to a carbon bike, but clearly well made and very durable and with clearance for bigger tyres than normal road bikes. My friend who is an experienced cycle traveller showed me photos of where he had taken the Cross Check in touring mode. Hmmmm.
I started to think about the specification for my new bike. Carbon is stiff and of course light but hard to repair if it gets knocked or damaged in transit. I was not overly concerned with frame weight anymore, especially when bike-packing, so light weight was not a must have. Aluminium is a great frame material but harsh on longer rides. Back to steel then. All my early bikes had been steel. Durable, repairable, great ride quality and plenty of strength for load-lugging and off road riding.
Braking systems were also in evolution. Disc brakes only seen previously on mountain bikes had now migrated across to road bikes. No more worn rims, super stopping power and longer lasting brake pads. Fatter road tyres were also growing in popularity. In my early time trialling days, thin was king and I used 18mm hutchinson tyres on my Pat Rohan low pro. These new gravel bikes had tyres up to 45c and bigger on the 'monster cross' , road bikes. My One bike kit list was growing.
I looked again at the Surly website. As well as the Cross Check model, Surly had also produced a disc brake version called the 'Straggler'. This frame had One Bike potential. Steel road frame and forks, relaxed angles, multiple braze-on points for bottles and panniers, disc brakes, wide tyre clearance (up to 45c) and competivitve price. I also liked the Surly brand philosophy - quirky and sort of non-conformist. Another tick in the box.I had found my frame.
Surly Straggler... useful!
I went down to Hayle Cycles to see if they could order me a Surly Straggler frame set. I explained what I wanted and why and the order was placed. I knew that Ash was also a dab hand at wheel building, so discussed with him the parts suitable to make a bomb-proof all purpose wheelset. The Straggler is a 700c wheelsize, but interestingly could take a range of wheel hub widths up to and including mtb hubs. Lots of options which is a good thing. I settled on some shimano XT hubs with 32 spokes, triple crossed and matched to Ryde Taurus 19mm rims. A bombproof wheelset and able to take big tyres.
While I was waiting for the frame to arrive, I collected all the other bike components ready for the new build. Building your bike from the frame up used to be a common way for cyclists to construct their new machines. You learnt a lot about how bikes work doing this. Sadly this has now largely been overtaken by the purchase of complete, ready to ride bikes and a lot of cyclists these days do not know how to fix even simple things.
Gearing for my One Bike also needed some careful consideration. The One Bike needed to be simple and functional. Avoidance of complexity was desireable. A lot of the new gravel bikes were using single small tooth chainrings (no front shifter mechanism) matched to big rear cassettes to give huge gear ranges. I liked this idea and decided on a 40 tooth front ring matched with a 11-36 rear cassette. For loaded bikepacking I would swop the 40t ring for a 34t front ring. Taking an idea from cyclo-cross, I decided to add an indexed bar end shifter to the drop bars as only shifting for the rear mechanism would be required. Simple, effective, nothing to go wrong and cheap.
After a few weeks Ash contacted me to say that the frame had arrived and that the wheels were ready. Build on! The frame was gloss black with white Surly logos. It looked great. All of the components I had sourced were also black, including the bar tape, so this One Bike was going to look stealthy. After a weekend locked in my man-cave, the One Bike was finished. Pristine with not a speck of dirt, although this would not last long.
Surly Straggler in lightweight weekend away camping/touring/bikepacking mode.
My first test ride was planned for the following weekend. The bike was heavy as it was steel and aluminium, not a speck of carbon in sight, but with the gearing range and 40c tyres it floated over rough lane surfaces and tracks and even the steep Cornish hills were quite tolerable as long as you chose the right gear and right pace. This was not a bike for racing up hills!
I have owned and ridden this bike for over 6 months now and each time I take it out I have fun. It is a great commuter bike, very sure footed and comfortable and brilliant on tracks and dirt. Weekend rides of 50-100km are regular features and as spring and summer arrive the One Bike will become a lightly packed overnighter for mini adventures into the Cornish countryside and coast and in due course some longer bike-packing camping trips to destinations further afield.
Truly a One Bike for lots of things, lots of miles and plenty of smiles.
Incidentally.. the Surly Cross Check mentioned is perhaps the 'original' adventure bike. It's been around for a number of years and like its more recent sibling the Straggler is a fantastic do it all bike. I have one... I have used it as a road winter trainer with 25mm slicks on, I've raced cyclocross on it with 35c knobbies on, I've enjoyed big offroad days out on it with 45C knobby tyres fitted, and made long trans-continental mixed terrain journeys on it with fat tyres, racks and panniers on. Really if you want one bike that can do everything it would be hard to go wrong with either. Pop into the shop and have a chat if you'd like to know more.
Surly Cross Check, perhaps the original do it all 'adventure' bicycle...