Surly released it's first cargo bike, the Big Dummy, in 2007. I have no memory for dates, so I have no idea when I bought one for myself. Let's call it somewhere between six and eight years ago. Since the day I rode it home, whatever day that was, the Dummy has been one of my favorite possessions.
Cargo bikes can sometimes inspire a kind of smugness that I want to avoid here, but to describe how invaluable the Dummy has been I want to catalog some of the things I've hauled with that bike: passengers, lumber, bikes, dogs, firewood, charcoal grills, mannequins, and gardening soil. I've raced cyclocross on the Dummy (with and without a passenger), bikecamped, and moved. I've made a game out of running errands without planning beforehand how I'm going to get everything onboard, and it's a game I've yet to lose.
Here are a few fond memories from unspecified years:
The Big Dummy is a bike that encourages a good time. Going somewhere fun? Take a Dummy and never regret it. Going somewhere that's not fun? Take a Dummy with a cooler on the back and suddenly Gumby is with you and you're having a good time.
I was pretty sure the Dummy was the one bike I'd have forever, but deciding to sell it was easy.
The release of Big Fat Dummy seemed cause to raise an eyebrow. Did Surly bring a product to market simply to satisfy an inspired name? I threw a leg over it and knew within minutes that I'd be trading my Big Dummy for the BFD.
It's stiffer, and thus it handles better. I've ridden the Dummy down many a staircase, and it's always been fun, but the BFD does it with, dare I say, grace. The smaller double crankset means you can drop the front end off a low-to-moderate retaining wall without bottoming out on the large chainring. That might not seem important, but one of the worst wrecks of my life was caused by just such a bottoming-out. It occurred during a birthday party (after a couple of beers) and I have no idea what year it was.
The BFD is relatively easy to bunny hop. I love this so so much.
The cargo deck is bigger. It's easier to balance wide loads and it's more comfortable for passengers. The deck is also higher, so you can inflate your rear tire or adjust your derailleur without fighting a cargo bag that's full of 87lbs of pancake mix (or whatever).
I never had a problem with the mechanical brakes on the Dummy, but the hydraulics make a notable difference.
Now, about those fat tires. Fatbikes have drawn ridicule from some riders, a few with experience and a few with mere aesthetic objections. Like any bicycle, however, fatbikes are really good at some things (climbing straight up a wall) and not so good at others (shedding grams). For hauling cargo, there seems to be no downside. I've hit curbs and potholes on a fully-loaded Big Dummy, and the forces involved made my cartilage hurt. A fully-loaded BFD (we're talking close to 400lbs) absorbs obstacles. Does it make the BFD slower than the Dummy? Who cares. Why are you in such a hurry to get your food-grade rain barrel or your crate of watermelons or your deflated bouncy castle across town anyway? Also, big tires mean you can stick some sweet wall rides on the South Platte Trail underpasses.
I've been meaning to do this to my Big Dummy for years, so I installed an axle mount to the rear of the BFD's cargo deck. This makes it easy to haul bikes. This may seem ridiculous (it certainly looks ridiculous), but I've already used this twice and am planning to use it again tomorrow, and I've only had this bike for four days. The axle mount accommodates a 15x100mm, but with a wooden dowel and a homemade spacer, a quick-release, boost, or fatbike hub will also fit.
Is that photo above absurd? Yup. Sometimes a person has to haul various things in various directions in a single day.
Some people might look at the Dummy and the BFD and think about how full their garage already is, and wonder whether they really need another bike. I can understand. Clutter stresses me out. Having too many possessions stresses me out. But here's the thing: a cargo bike allows you to leave your car in the driveway more often. For a number of years, the Big Dummy allowed me to live without a car. Those are very valuable things. If you're cargo-curious, get a cargo bike and use it to haul a couple of boxes from your garage to the thrift store. Park it in the space you've made, and I'll bet you find yourself using it more often than you imagined.
Durability. Versatility. Utility. Surly requires these things from all of their bikes, and the BFD is no exception. It's a strange, magnificent, all-terrain, mind-altering, work-horsing, fun machine. Don't believe me? Get a six-pack and hop on the back.