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Family Biking: First impressions of the Surly Big Easy electric cargo bike

Posted by on March 12th, 2019 at 11:40 am

Pretty sure this is the first time I’ve smiled at the thought of carrying two kids and an extra bike up a hill.
(Photos: Madi Carlson)

I’m borrowing a Surly Big Easy, the brand new e-assist version of my beloved Surly Big Dummy longtail cargo bike. It’s been with me for a week now and we’ve been having a lot of fun with it. I’ll keep it another week or two before giving it back to Surly and writing a full review.

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

Before my full review, I’d like to offer some quick first impressions. Even more importantly, do you have any Portland-specific tests I should make a point of running? I’m thinking of things like:

➤ Biking up to the Zoo carrying a kid?
➤ Time 100 laps around Ladd Circle in Turbo mode?
➤ Carry 200 doughnuts from VooDoo to VooDoo 2 and see if they’re still warm upon arrival?

What are your ideas?

E-assist
The Big Easy intro page and video are full of information on the bike so you can see it’s much more than just an off-white (or “tan cargo shorts”) version of my pink bike with a motor added. However, that motor — a Bosch Performance CX — with a PowerPack 500 battery is certainly one of the biggest differences. It’s amazingly powerful and I love that it kicks in immediately, not at half-a-mile-per-hour as do some older e-assists. I’ve been easing into using it and kept it on “Eco” mode (the lowest) the first couple days, which made the big, heavy bike feel like a regular bike. I thought this was sufficient for pedaling alongside my kids, but they pointed out I’ve always been the slowest of our trio (I had no idea!) and even Eco mode doesn’t make me fast enough. So now I’m in “Tour” mode, which feels like it’s pulling me along! Note: this is all pedal-assist, so I’m still pedaling and working. Beyond Tour mode is a fascinating mode called “eMTB” which I will play with at Powell Butte soon. And finally “Turbo” mode which allows me to propel the bike with two kids and a dog up big hills without stopping and while maintaining a calm conversation.

Kid accessories
As fun as the e-assist is, it’s not the most exciting part of this bike. The new Kid Corral (not in stores yet, but will be soon) consists of two comfy Deck Pads, a front Deck Bar for the front passenger, and sturdy back and side rails that can be attached in different positions. At 11 and nine years old it’s a little hard to accommodate both my kids in the Kid Corral, so this is something we’ll give extra attention to in the week ahead. I want to treat this bike like a real car-replacement for our family and go places far and hilly that we’d otherwise use the bus for, but I’m going to have to find a way to make my nine-year old feel more comfortable in the Kid Corral. And if you’re curious, the Kid Corral will fit all the Surly cargo bike decks: Big Easy, Big Dummy, and Big Fat Dummy.

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My add-ons
The bike came with stock accessories. The tires, 26” x 2.5” ExtraTerrestrials, are the widest I’ve ever had and I really like them! They feel grippy yet fast, even if I forget to put the assist on. I quickly added my Big Dummy’s Brooks B68s saddle, a basket so Pixie can ride along, two drink cages, two bells, and my after-market two-bike tow hitch. Surly makes a Big Dummy/Big Easy hitch for Surly trailers and while I don’t like pulling a trailer of stuff with my Big Dummy as I feel it’s long and heavy enough as it is, I can picture turning a Big Easy into a truck replacement by hauling around a Surly Bill Trailer.

Just for fun I hauled my Big Dummy around with the Big Easy:

And of course then I hauled the Big Easy around with the Big Dummy…which wasn’t as easy. I have a lot of stuff added to my Big Dummy (dynamo hub, fenders, basket, centerstand, etc etc) so it weighs more than the Big Easy, but the Big Easy carries its weight so differently that it’s taking some getting used to for me to lift it up curbs and tow it by bike.

Stay tuned for my full review and a photo gallery (from Jonathan!) of this bike.

Have you got a fun e-cargo bike test for me to run? Or do you have an e-bike and have any tips for me?

Remember, we’re always looking for people to profile. Get in touch if it sounds like fun to you. I’d especially like to feature families of color so please get in touch or ask friends of color who bike with their kids if they’re interested in sharing their stories. And as always, feel free ask questions in the comments below or email me your story ideas and insights at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com.

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

Browse past Family Biking posts here.

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

34 Comments
  • Avatar
    Tony Thayer March 12, 2019 at 11:54 am

    This looks like a lot of fun!
    Madi – You inspired me to get a Big Dummy! Splendid is building it up now and I can’t wait to find more reasons to cart my kids around.

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    Andrea Capp March 12, 2019 at 11:57 am

    How will it handle 30 miles round trip with two kids in tow? And is it easy to switch from a 5’7″ rider to a 6’3″ rider?
    I’ve been thinking about getting an assist, the biggest thing holding me back is the last mile of travel from Carver to my parents house. I’d like it to replace those car trips on occasion but couldn’t do it without serious safety improvements to HWY 224 (which should happen anyway because Madrone Wall would be a great cycling destination).

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    • Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist)
      Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist) March 12, 2019 at 7:07 pm

      Check out the eBike range assistant on the Bosch website! The bike comes in three sizes (whereas my Big Dummy was split into four sizes) so each has more range. I’m 5’5″ and have a small Big Dummy and if I got my own Big Easy, would get a small. However, this demo bike is a medium and works fine for me! I’m not sure if you two would be more comfortable on a medium or a large, but I’d reckon you could easily share. New with this bike is optional dropper post which makes it very easy to change saddle heights–plus if you end up with a large bike and want to quickly lower your saddle at each stop, you could do that!

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    Alex Reedin, now in Albuquerque, NM March 12, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    I love the “bike to the zoo with a kid” idea; I think that’s a very relatable test/showcase for an ebike. Though, I suppose haters could say it’s MAX-able. Another West Hills kid-destination with more challenging transit could be Tryon Creek (via the cemetery & Palatine Hill Rd. for comfort/safety?)

    An indoor distant kid-destination might be the North Clackamas Aquatic Park.

    Have fun! I loved my e-bike-enabled parent life in Portland!

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      9watts March 13, 2019 at 7:47 am

      “I suppose haters could say it’s MAX-able.”

      Haters?

      MAX is public electric , elevator is public electric, e-bike is private electric. I think these are perfectly reasonable comparisons, conversations to have. Starting out preemptively labeling those who might wish to talk about these things as haters seems needlessly divisive.

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        Alex Reedin March 13, 2019 at 8:10 am

        Sorry, the Internet doesn’t capture tone or wry smiles. I intended “hater” to come out ironically, with the subtext that anyone who labels their critics as “haters” is not to be taken seriously. (However, given the word’s origins in hip-hop culture, that was probably a racist/classist subtext – apologies!)

        Anyway, I think MAX presence is indeed a flaw (though not a completely disqualifying one) with using a trip to the Zoo as an e-bike showcase. That’s why I suggested Tryon Creek, which, if I’m not mistaken, is harder to get to via transit.

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    Johnny Bye Carter March 12, 2019 at 12:30 pm

    My hill test is usually Mt Tabor. Plenty of quiet bike streets to get there, no cars while you climb the top part of the hill, great 360° views, a playground, and the wildlife you see gets to roam free.

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    pdx2wheeler March 12, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    I ride an FLX e-bike on a daily basis from West Linn to South Waterfront. I’d recommend getting the largest capacity battery available. Stick with a mid-drive motor with torque and cadence sensors, run with the tires a bit low to reduce shock and vibration, get a good bell, don’t fully discharge your battery, integrate lights into the electrical system, ensure the parts you put on the bike are e-bike rated, get a good helmet with MIPS technology.

    I’d also recommend getting 2 battery chargers. One for work and one for home. That way you don’t have to pack the charger back and forth. Trust me, you’ll eventually forget it and get stuck with no charge…

    Other than that congratulations and have fun! You’ve unlocked the golden life hack, an e-bike!

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    • Avatar
      nony March 12, 2019 at 1:55 pm

      Excellent suggestions, pdx2wheeler! Thanks for sharing.

      Agreed with 2nd charger. I always travel with an extra charger. Some of my stops are long enough I can get and extra 20% charge back into battery.

      Look for e-bike rated parts OR mid range to lower end parts with steel bits instead of alum will do just fine. Or look for parts that are designed for strength rather than weight reduction.

      Exception are disc brakes, get the best you can afford. 4 pistons are ideal but often not stock? Upgrade your disc rotors to at least 180mm front. 200/180mm rotors are ideal.

      Carry 2 locks with ebikes because weight isn’t an issue, but a stolen ebike is.

      Cold weather is fine with ebike batteries. Definitely a little less range, but again, carry a second charger.

      Stock tires tend to work BETTER on an ebike (IMHO) as there is more weight to hold down that tire = more traction=shorter stopping distance.

      Agreed, larger volume tires are better at lower PSI. Tires are sometimes your only source of suspension.

      If you are looking at hauling or a cargo ebike, I recommend looking at assists with larger torque specs. I recommend at least 90Nm. 60Nm will do, just takes longer to get up to speed. However, higher torque = less range?

      Thank you Johnathan and Mandi for the write up. Keep it up. Key to e-bike adoption is education.

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        pdx2wheeler March 12, 2019 at 2:43 pm

        Regarding locks and e-bike theft… I was able to obtain an insurance policy for my e-bike from State Farm. It’s a little over $100 / year and completely covers my e-bike and gear with a $50 deductible. I got the policy because I wanted to use my e-bike around town without the fear of theft. If the bike is stolen, or damaged in a collision, then I’m only out 50 bucks…

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        • Avatar
          nony March 12, 2019 at 4:18 pm

          Thanks! I will definitely look into that!

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    Frankwt March 12, 2019 at 1:18 pm

    Well I guess it’s a bit too late to ask, but did you get to ride it in colder days, like when it’s around 30s? How was the battery life? And did the stock tires work with light snow or frosty surface?

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    • Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist)
      Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist) March 12, 2019 at 6:43 pm

      I had it for the slush last Wednesday evening and the tires felt great! The documentation and articles I’ve read say batteries are impacted in cold temps, but I have ridden it enough to tell…plus I’m not sure 30s are considered cold enough in that context (though it’s plenty cold enough for me!)

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      • Avatar
        Frankwt March 13, 2019 at 10:12 am

        Thanks, I guess PNW/Portland-cold is not a big concern for e-bike batteries. I am often annoyed by my iPhone battery which would go straight from more than 50% to dead right in front of my eyes (i.e. I’m using it) during a ride below 40F.

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    Jim Lee March 12, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    Once I rented a bakfiets and shlepped 80 pounds of sound gear up to the Wednesday races at Mount Tabor.

    Actually, I pushed it most of the way.

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    Chris I March 12, 2019 at 1:38 pm

    I own a BionX Big Dummy built by Splendid, and I absolutely love it. I’m sure the Bosch mid-drive is even better. Even with the e-assist, the Big Dummy is fantastic, because it handles like a normal bike. It is very versatile, and having a true “large” frame size is a must for me (6’5″). Glad to see I have a replacement option if the BionX system bites the dust in the future.

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      Phil Richman March 12, 2019 at 2:22 pm

      In the same boat as you Chris! Dreading the day my BionX dies, but it’s been great for 5+ years. Admiring the newer technology and love seeing the power of electricity getting more people to accomplish more things at greater distances on bikes.

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    jeff bernards March 12, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    tips? Don’t return it, keep it. My first e-bike changed my life, that’s what a biking game changer an e-bike is. Around town it was faster and easier to park than my car.

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    Steve March 12, 2019 at 2:20 pm

    5,000.00 MSRP?, no way.

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      Michael Ingrassia March 12, 2019 at 2:23 pm

      Minivan costs way more, and costs the environment more too, and does do all THAT much more.

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    • Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist)
      Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist) March 12, 2019 at 6:44 pm

      I’ve spent years following e-cargo-bike prices and this is completely reasonable–I’d call it a really good deal, in fact! 🙂

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      2Na March 16, 2019 at 12:15 pm

      Agreed. That’s just too much. The money in the assist bike market is all in the battery, and the Bosch they use is $940 for a 36v 13 amp hour pack. Painfully overpriced. Yes, they have the name, but the batteries inside are still just 18650 Panasonics or Samsungs.

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    Michael Ingrassia March 12, 2019 at 2:23 pm

    Yep, he does not enjoying the kid corral.

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      BrianC March 14, 2019 at 8:42 am

      Putting on my Dad hat… Or maybe it’s the typical kid reaction – Oh Geez I have to sit here for another stupid photo… Can’t we just GO! lol <<<< Attempt at humor (Sometimes humor doesn't translate well online. ::sadface::)

      Sounds pretty cool to try out.

      Thanks for bringing your writing to bikeportland! I enjoy reading your take on things.

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    Not Easy on Wallet March 12, 2019 at 8:22 pm

    “Do you have any Portland-specific tests I should make a point of running?” Try working and paying rent in Portland at minimum wage to see how long it would take to save up the $5,000 purchase price. It is cheaper and cleaner than a new minivan, but more than double the cost of a non-motorized Surly cargo bike and more than 10 times the price of a kid trailer.

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    • Avatar
      PS March 13, 2019 at 11:13 am

      Would this test be interesting on a MacBook Pro, a Coach bag, a BMW, or any other luxury item? Even though this is a Surly, it is certainly a luxury item, so finding out that someone on minimum wage would have to save at 10% of gross pay for 2 years to buy one brand new is just and pointless as finding out they would have to save for 20 years to buy a brand new $50k Lexus.

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    Mike Quigley March 13, 2019 at 5:36 am

    Remember back just a few years when electric bikes were the anathema? Any mention of them would bring outrage from hard-bike purists. Then, hipsters discovered them. How fast things changed.

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    BikeRound March 13, 2019 at 8:30 am

    It does not make sense to purchase any higher-priced item new. Sadly, most people are highly susceptible to marketing pitches, and consumers purchase vast quantities of junk which they end up using only sporadically or almost none at all. I am sure the $5000 ebike will become the $1200 ebike on craigslist very quickly, especially as the “upgraded” model will come out.

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      PS March 13, 2019 at 10:57 am

      It does not make sense to explain to normal people how depreciation works. Nobody is buying a $5,000 ebike and ending up surprised it is not worth the same amount 2 years later when they go to sell it. Thankfully other people do buy new items, rewarding companies for research and development, so they go improve the product. I can’t think of a product in existence that hasn’t been improved by this economic model.

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        BikeRound March 13, 2019 at 5:11 pm

        It sounds like you are suggesting that people buy new items out of a selfless desire to reward innovative companies. In that case, marketers must be wasting the $45 billion that they spend on cable advertising alone since apparently people would be making those purchases anyway. As Mr. Money Mustache–who should be everyone’s one and only financial adviser–has pointed out, corporations are betting that their $45 billion is well spent.

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    Chip Martens June 26, 2019 at 8:21 am

    Hey Madi!

    I’m really interested in one of these in the future. Can you explain the setup you used for towing the red bike in the first picture?

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      Nate August 13, 2019 at 9:18 am

      I’d like to second that question!

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        Alex Reedin August 13, 2019 at 9:54 am

        As I understand it, this is something that’s easy to do with the default bags on most longtails. People call it “Bag and drag” – put the front wheel in the bag, tighten a strap around it, and you’re off! I don’t have a longtail though, so I don’t have personal experience.

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