Tour de Lab September 1st

Review: Surly’s ‘Big Easy’ smooths out family biking and cargo-hauling

Posted by on March 26th, 2019 at 8:32 am

I usually dread posing for professional photos, but Jonathan insisted… and it was actually fun!
(Photos: Peter Newlands/PHN Photography)

After sharing my initial impressions two weeks ago, I’m ready to share a full review of Surly’s new Big Easy electric cargo bike (retail price $5,000).

I rode the bike for two and a half weeks and found myself enamored with it. Read on as I delve into the wonders of the e-assist, the useful accessories, what I’d add to make it perfect, and what I like to change.

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

First of all, a quick word on e-bikes: I don’t expect to change any firm opinions that differ from mine, but e-bikes aren’t “cheating” and with a “class 1” e-bike like the Big Easy, you still get plenty of exercise. It’s common for new e-bikers to use the assist sparingly; but the system is design so you always have some level of assist engaged at all times. In other words; you can turn it off, but there’s no reason to.

That said, I didn’t have the key to the battery (to remove it from the bike and charge it) for the first two days. I left the e-assist turned off to stretch out what juice I had. I learned the 1×11 gearing is great and the e-assist is so strong and light that even the lowest “Eco” mode more than compensates for the weight of the motor and battery. People sometimes complain about the noise generated by e-assists, but after riding without the hum of the motor I found it to be music to my ears! Also, it’s a very soft hum to begin with so even if you’re not forced to ride it like an analog bike initially, you won’t find the hum noticeable.

Parts and accessories

E-assist, tires, cargo bags, Kid Corral — there’s a lot of awesome that comes standard from Surly and Bosch (maker of the electric motor) and that can be added to the bike.

Frame
I borrowed a medium Big Easy. I’m 5’5″ and my Surly Big Dummy (the non-electric version of this bike) is a small, but the redesigned Big Easy frame fits all riders using just three sizes (S, M, L) to the Big Dummy’s four (S, M, L, XL). If I were to buy a Big Easy, I’d get a small, but the medium worked just fine.

Longtail cargo bikes tend to feel like regular bikes, and this one especially so. On my Big Dummy, I feel a bit of flex if I max out the load weight. The Big Easy however, is solid. I felt no flex, even carrying kids and their bikes. I hear this is partially due to the fact that the mid-drive motor situated in bottom bracket takes up a lot of space so the down tube, seat tube, and boom tube (the one parallel to the ground behind the pedals) are shorter than on my Big Dummy.

Bosch Performance CX drive unit

Have you ever heard the term “It flattens out the hills?” It does, and then some! I can finally talk while riding uphill, I can even answer math questions on hills, breaking my old “No asking mommy to solve math equations on hills!” rule.

The Performance Line CX assist has five modes: Eco, Tour, eMTB, Turbo, and Walk. Since I’m used to being a slow-poke, I spent a lot of my time in Eco mode, especially at the beginning. In Eco mode I found myself traveling 10 mph without even trying. In Tour mode I easily traveled 15 mph, and when I was carrying zero or one kid it felt like the bike was pulling me along. I’m not much of a mountain biker so I didn’t test eMTB mode which sounds fascinating (it automatically switches between Tour and Turbo modes depending on the terrain). And Turbo mode is incredibly fun! Especially when carrying a kid or two up a big hill. It’s easy to go 20 mph (the max) in Turbo mode. All modes require pushing the pedals and don’t do all the work for the rider, but they certainly make it easier and more fun.

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Speaking of pushing pedals, I often forgot to downshift when approaching a red light or stop sign. That can make getting started — especially with a load — tricky. With the Big Easy, I could feel the power right away (even if I was in a hard gear). I never felt in danger of tipping over or being unable to propel the bike forward.

The walk-assistance mode is very cool! Traveling at very low speeds and walking with a loaded cargo bike can be tough. It’s the most common time for many of us family bikers to tip over or drop our bikes. E-assist in general takes care of the former and walk assistance mode takes care of the latter. Walk assistance takes a couple seconds to kick in which makes it really hard not to giggle with glee when the bike rolls forward of its own volition. Walking the bike with small loads is easy unassisted, but I like to carry heavy loads — like bookshelves and camping gear — and the walk mode makes it a breeze.

Bosch PowerPack 500 battery
The bike comes with one battery that carried plenty of charge for me to use throughout the day. My regular day is about 20-30 miles. With 10 of those miles carrying a 90-pound kid in Tour mode, I could do two days in a row on one charge.

The Bosch eBike range assistant is a wonderful tool, though it only goes up to 331 pounds for rider weight + bike weight + cargo weight. Bike weights are kept shrouded in mystery, but I’m going to guess the Big Easy with Dummy bags, Kid Corral, and my basket weights 65 pounds since it felt a bit lighter than my Big Dummy which is a beefy 75 pounds. I also don’t know how much I weigh, but I’m going to guess 150. My kids weigh 90 and 65, and our little dog is 9 pounds. That makes us 379 pounds, not too much over to the 331 pound max of the range assistant tool. The tool says I can go 37.8 miles carrying the whole family in Tour mode and 28.7 in Turbo. That’s some range!

I’d budget for a second battery because the bike comes ready to hold two batteries and it’d be lovely to never have range anxiety. I’d also buy a second charger to keep at work or keep with me as suggested by one of the commenters on my previous post.

Kid Corral

Surly Kid Corral configurations. Screen shot from Kid Corral & Deck Bar Instructions PDF, Surly.

I installed a Deck Bar, Kid Corral (with one side open and one side closed), and two deck pads on the Big Easy.

It’s incredibly sturdy, attaching to the sides of the deck, and it looks slick in matte black with rubber grips. My kids are 11 and 9 years old so the Kid Corral was a little small when they both rode on board. I needed to keep one side in the open orientation so they could both climb on, but that positioned the side bar where it bumped my rear kid’s leg. Once we added a cushion at the back of the bike he was able to slide all the way back and felt much more comfortable.

Dummy bags

The big cargo bags, called Dummy bags are versatile with two sets of buckles to keep small or big loads snug, plus extender straps to carry even bulkier loads. The rain flaps are terrific, though I had trouble anchoring the little hooks with cold fingers. I’d probably just keep the rain covers down at all times, both to not need to deal with the anchors and because my kids complained of the exposed Velcro catching on their wool socks — though it’s the loop of the hook-and-loop on the exterior of the bags so it probably doesn’t catch most clothing.

Tires
The 26″ x 2.5″ ExtraTerrestrial tires are the widest tires I’ve ever biked with. And I liked them! Wide tires are happy at low tire pressures and hold that air for a long time, which makes them very low-maintenance. And no, I don’t know what psi I was running — the bike seemed at a fine pressure on delivery and I didn’t think to check or add air during our time together.

While I didn’t test the tires on any bumpy trails, we did a lot of gravel riding on the “unimproved roadways” in our neighborhood and they were great for that.

Dropper post
The Big Easy can accommodate a dropper post — a system to lower your saddle (and then raise back to the original height) with the push of button. This is cool for two reasons: you can easily share your bike with someone a different height, and you can lower your seat at stop lights to get your feet all the way to the ground easily for less worry at keeping a heavy bike steady.

Note: this means the seat post isn’t the typical size that works well for adding a stem and handlebars to create stoker bars for a deck passenger. That’s why you’ll want the Deck Bar part of the Kid Corral.

Kickstand
For a one-legged kickstand, I found it to be very sturdy. It held the bike and non-human cargo upright just fine. However, for carrying human cargo and heavy loads, I just love having a centerstand (a.k.a. “dualie”). I had to straddle the bike while my kids climbed aboard, and for smaller kids I would have to very carefully lean the bike against a wall to insert the kids.

On this front there’s very good news from Seattle: Haulin’ Colin, current maker of the Rolling Jackass centerstand (as well as maker of my two-bike fork-mount tow hitch that generated some interest in my previous post) is working on a new RJ to fit the Big Easy. The current RJ will fit if you leave the second battery mount off. I’ve seen a lot of Big Dummies and some Big Easies with the stock kickstand, but as a person without a lot of upper body strength who likes to carry heavy things I need to load slowly and messily, a centerstand is a necessity.

Trailer hitch and trailer
This is not only a car or minivan replacement, it’s also a truck replacement! Get a Dummy Hitch and you can haul 300 more pounds with a 5 foot x 2 foot Bill Trailer or shorter Ted Trailer. I’ve always thought my Big Dummy was plenty long and dislike pulling a trailer with it, but having an e-assist makes me rethink that.

Add these things

This ain’t Amsterdam. American bikes usually don’t come stock with lights, locks, drink cages, and fenders. You should immediately add all that stuff.

Lights: You can do way better than cheapie blinkies with this bike: the Bosch unit has the capability to wire in always-on front and rear lights. Get those! I love having dynamo (pedal-powered) lights on my Big Dummy because they’re easy, theft-resistant, and bright.

Locks: The battery key can be matched to an Abus bike lock key. One key to rule them all!

Drink cages:The Big Easy has two spots for water bottle cages on the frame, but they’re not easy to reach while riding. As a comparison, my Big Dummy doesn’t need to accommodate a battery and holds four. This is your minivan, so attach water bottle cages in those two spots and also get an easy-to-reach cage — either on your handlebars or hanging down beneath the top tube, or both! There are cages that screw or bolt around handlebars as well as cages that Velcro anywhere (like hanging beneath top tubes).

Fenders: Fenders protect your clothing and your bike’s drive train. Get front and rear fenders for your bike and extend the life of your chain and rear cassette. The deck will keep you from getting dirty so your legs will only appreciate that front fender, but your bike wants you to get both.

Who’s this bike for?

This bike is really for everyone. Moms like me will like it for carrying kids of all ages up to the 400-pound total bike/rider/cargo weight limit. I mostly carried my 90-pound middle schooler around and I figure he’s the equivalent of one four-year old and one six-year old — a very common age for replacing car trips with cargo bike trips. It was incredibly easy to carry him around, even in Eco mode. Non-human cargo enthusiasts will love the bike alone or with a trailer. I like to say there are a lot of right answers in family biking and not a lot of wrong answers, and this bike will really make a lot of riders happy.

What would I change?

I’m a bit spoiled because I’ve spent 50 dog years with the accessories on my Big Dummy and I’d want to have those on a Big Easy:

– Rolling Jackass centerstand is the most important part of the bike in my book.
– Xtracycle Hooptie (I have the LT1) accommodates my big kids better than the Kid Corral. This would probably mean I’d need to build my bike with an Xtracycle deck.
– Surly Open Bars because while the stock bars make the bike feel like a fun mountain bike, I’m more of a laid-back errand runner and I like my swept-back handlebars.
– Basket for my dog and other stuff was easy to add because the fork has all those unsightly barnacles or warts (aka brazons) for attaching lots of stuff.
– Foot rails are helpful for loading kids, providing a foot resting spot while playing passenger, and for perching heavy cargo atop. The LT1 U-tubes from my older model Xtracycle Hooptie worked great on the Big Easy, but if I couldn’t find new old stock tubes, I’d look into having some fabricated.

“I bet you kept the bike!”

Thanks for the numerous messages predicting I’d keep the bike! I had a terrific two and a half weeks with the Big Easy and I know if I had one of my own, I’d love it to pieces. Except I already have a pretty similar bike I love (side note: this is a common affliction, if you love a Surly Big Dummy or Surly Big Fat Dummy and are on Facebook, there’s an unofficial group called “I love my Surly Big (&Fat) Dummy” whose name will surely change soon to accommodate our new cousin). I’d like to reiterate that I love e-bikes even though I don’t have one and I think everyone who wants an e-bike should get one. E-bikes will surely change the world. I’ve gone through no small effort to create a car-free life for myself and my kids that works very well with my slow analog bike. But if I were replacing a car, I would indeed have moved house, changed my identity, and kept the bike.

Thanks for reading!

— 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

17 Comments
  • Avatar
    Mike Quigley March 26, 2019 at 8:56 am

    What’s the price tag?

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    Dan March 26, 2019 at 9:38 am

    Generally speaking, what is the battery lifespan on this or similar e-bikes? What is the cost of replacement?

    Recommended Thumb up 1

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    CaptainKarma March 26, 2019 at 1:47 pm

    Wish I could afford something like that, but I’ve been averaging my bikes being stolen every 1.5 yrs since 2008. I don’t even give them names anymore.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

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      B. Carfree March 27, 2019 at 10:11 pm

      That sounds brutal.

      I feel so lucky to have broken more frames beyond repair than I’ve had stolen. Maybe my bikes aren’t good enough to steal.

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    Maria March 26, 2019 at 2:41 pm

    Great review, Madi! I really like the term analog bicycle, hadn’t heard that before!

    Recommended Thumb up 3

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    BC March 26, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    That bike looks awesome, a real workhorse. It looks like it would be a great car replacement!

    Recommended Thumb up 3

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    Johnny Bye Carter March 26, 2019 at 4:40 pm

    “I’d budget for a second battery”

    I wanted to do that, but then I found out that a spare battery was $900.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • Avatar
      Dan March 28, 2019 at 2:17 pm

      Hmm. I could easily buy a spare bike for $900.

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    Todd Boulanger March 26, 2019 at 5:58 pm

    Any idea if they are considering utilizing a belt drive in the future? (The long chain run seems to be the one design area that looks to need work on.)

    This bike is making me think of all the possibilities of bike touring with family members who either cannot carry their load OR to get them through “boring” long distance terrane (Kansas, Middle Canada, etc.) quicker than not.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Avatar
    BikeRound March 26, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    This article sounds like an ad.

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  • Avatar
    DC March 26, 2019 at 7:46 pm

    As always, great article in this series/column from Madi! Thanks, and thanks to Jonathan for his contributions.

    I assume this bike was loaned specifically for the review. Was the loan from Surly direct, or a local shop?

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    pdxhobbitmom March 27, 2019 at 9:01 am

    I love your articles. So funny, encouraging, and helpful.

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    B. Carfree March 27, 2019 at 10:16 pm

    E-bikes are flat-out fun and I hope they change the world. Consider that the average speed of a car in the US over its lifetime is 24 mph. If we actually built our roads to prioritize people on bikes, e-bikes could get very close to that. (Change the law and they could exceed it.) There goes the primary argument used for staying car-bound.

    I also don’t own one, but I do expect to get one some day far in the future. I guess I’m old and cranky since I can acknowledge that e-bikes are better than analog, but I just can’t make the switch yet.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

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    matchupancakes March 27, 2019 at 10:18 pm

    Thank you for the review! I have been very interested in this particular bike ever since the Surley email hit my inbox weeks ago.

    There were a few questions I had after reading the review. 1) How many charge cycles are the Bosch batteries rated for? 2) What is the disposable process for batteries at the end of their usability cycle?

    I found an interview from Bosch in 2016. I’ll paste it here for others’ convenience but would welcome any updated information that may exist.

    1) “Even after 500 full charges the battery will still retain a high capacity—60 to 70% of the original capacity will then still be available. In an ADAC test carried out in autumn 2015 a Bosch eBike battery was fully discharged and recharged 1,515 times before it retained only 30% of its original capacity and was no longer of any real use. This means that the battery would have been sufficient for up to 35,400 miles (57,000 km) – or one-and-a-half times around the globe.”

    2) “The dealer will ensure that a Bosch PowerPack is disposed of in an environmentally sound way free of charge. Disposal in the United States is handled by CALL2RECYCLE at (877) 723-1297.”

    We know how the overheard for physical bike shops makes it difficult to compete with online retailers. This raises concerns about the statement, “The dealer will ensure that a Bosch PowerPack is disposed of in an environmentally sound way free of charge.” It’s a risk we take with any warranty or guarantee; however, I wish Bosch offered a service themselves to consumers or created contracts that *any* vendor of Bosch- equipped motors would take depleted batteries irregardless of point of sale.

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      Anne April 4, 2019 at 10:56 pm

      I believe batteries are considered hazardous waste and so have federal laws surrounding their disposal that affects who can receive them at the end of their life span.

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