Big Dummy


Alex is a seasonal salmon fisherman and a musician; a painter, a steel sculptor and a cyclist.  He and I rode from Tacoma, WA to San Francisco, CA in October 2009.  On that ride, we scouted a great route through the Lost Coast of California, pedaled for a week with the globetrotting English cyclist Matt Blake, and encountered not a moment of trouble in three weeks of travel.  Alex’s Mavic MA40 rim cracked dramatically at an eyelet, raccoons stole our food at least once, and the tent we were sharing was a little too short for his 6′ 4″ figure.  Alex rode a 1989 Trek 520, and I rode my 1995 520.  It couldn’t have been any better.

After another season of fishing in Alaska and much planning, Alex has set out to continue the ride south.  This time he has crafted a bike for the Bikapocalypse, with space for many liters of water, a camera, computer, and a guitar.  His Surly Big Dummy is built with a Rohloff hub, custom drilled by Aaron’s Bike Repair in West Seattle for 48 spokes.  A Shimano dynamo hub is wired to Supernova E3 lights front and rear.  Of note, the saddle is one of the most luxurious models that Brooks offers– the sprung triple-railed B33.  The saddle weighs 3.5 lbs.

Alex hopped the train south to San Francisco from Tacoma, and met a friend for the first few days down the coast.  They mixed pavement and dirt tracks over the mountains from SF to Santa Cruz.  Along the Pacific Coast Highway, Big Sur and the south-central coastline are an exceptional ride– one that never gets old.  Further south, Alex pointed his tires up into the Santa Monica Mountains before descending into Los Angeles.  Now, another friend has flown into San Diego for a few weeks of riding in Baja California.  Alex and I plotted some routes on the peninsula in search of quiet roads and remote beaches.  Working from memory and the same National Geographic series maps that I used several winters ago, they should be on their way from the Pacific Coast across a low mountain range to the Sea of Cortez.  As this Big Dummy continues south, I hope to share more photos and stories from the road.

The guitar is encased in a waterproof tarp on the back.  The tires are 26×2.35″ Schwalbe Fat Franks.  The rims are Halo SAS, 36h front and 48h rear.  The handlebar is an aluminum Jones Loop H-bar.










Photography: Alex Dunn, captured with a Sony Nex-5R with 18-55mm lens.

15 thoughts on “Big Dummy

  1. I used my Xtracycle converted TREK for some camping like this last year,it’s awesome! A Dummy would be the ultimate 😀
    The DC
    PS: Have a very merry and excessively happy,my friend 🙂

  2. If you talk to your friend Alex let him know the dirt road along the coast from san Juan de los planes to los barrilles in the baja is a grand ride, I just did it two days ago. Also from LA bay to san ignacio is a wild trek through the hills and theres some cave paintings along the way.

    • I’ll let him know. I didn’t ride the road from Los Planos to Barriles; we passed through El Triunfo, then south to Santiago and Agua Caliente. Hiking in the Sierra de la Laguna is highly recommended. There is (was) a younger guy near Agua Caliente named Edgardo that might be of some help. He guides some hiking and biking trips in the area. We met him locally, but he might have some suggestions for trips in the area. Also, he is a very nice guy building a small eco-community.

      LA Bay to San Ignacio looks great. Rough stuff? Any route suggestions, or is it apparent when you get there?

      • Just head south out of LA Bay with 12 litros of and and as many avocados as you want. I got a map last night with a rancho road route from san bartolo through the mountains to todosantos.

  3. That certainly looks like a capable machine. Alex, I mean. Those “Ride the Spine” guys pulled it off but one of them was named Goat, if I remember right. I would like to know the total weight of that rig. The B.D. would seem to be the logical bike for long-range touring, but they seem rare on the touring scene. With a Stoke Monkey…never mind.


    • TJ

      A BD does very nicely for all-terrain long range touring, though it probably suffers from being too capacious :-). We finished a trip not dissimilar to the RidingTheSpine boys earlier this year – and I significantly under utilised the Dummy’s capacity – especially later on once I’d worked out what I didn’t need. It does perform well under load – the main disadvantages being that if you can’t ride something, pushing’s pretty difficult and picking it up to jump fences isn’t fun 😉

      • Tom, I just spent an hour perusing your fantastic site, mostly Sarah’s Jordan musings and your Big Dummy review. My thinking on the BD was that the overall size of the thing would make for smooth riding, fully aware of the overloading caveat…hence ( I say hence a lot) my comment about the Stoke Monkey. I was embarrased to bring it up until I saw the comment by Cass that his BD had at one time been electric. But power assist by definition and weight added seems to create its own reason for being.

        It seems that we cyclists will forever be in pursuit of the elusive “One Bike.” But in my aged status a secret boost of solar-fed energy would be a welcome thing, if it could be had in some non-intrusive fashion. (Apart from eating my vegetables). If bicycles are to ever again rule the world, I fear that power-assist will be a necessary part of the movement. And I realize that I have strayed off-topic, (sorry, Nicholas) but once you get to know me, you will get used to it.


        • TJ – thank you for visiting 🙂

          I definitely agree about the comfort/smooth factor with the longer wheelbase. Prior to the Americas trip I had an Xtracycle/Spec. Rockhopper; and swapped up to a Big Dummy as I was worried about the linkage points between the Xtracycle and the main frame with the riding we had planned. I found that the Xtracycle had more ‘twist’ and lateral flex than I was comfortable with when ridden off-road, whereas the BD has less – only a gentle vertical flex which didn’t cause any handling problems at all.

          A friend here has a Stoke Monkey-style assist – and would certainly aid things. You probably just have to find gates in the fences or be less inclined to camp on the other side of them 😉

          My BD will be used lots for carting our new addition locally and further afield. The BD has the advantage of load-ability at the same time as passenger carrying. I think I’d be tempted to tour ‘fat’ in the future in the absence of ‘Sprog’.

          PS – if you want to have a look at more of Sarah’s musings have a read of her ‘The Hardest Part’ post.


          (Nick – thankyou for allowing our topic transgressions!)

  4. Wow, Alex. I am so in awe of your travels! You never cease to amaze me with your adventurous spirit. Makes me wish I were a bike rider so I could join you for a few days. Best wishes to you, my friend. I will look forward to more tales and photos, and to maybe seeing you again sometime in the future. Happy trails!

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