Surly Big Dummy – Suck it and see

Electric bikes: from ridicule to an open mind

I used to ridicule electric bikes..probably because I used to be an exercise snob. But then a few years ago I stopped feeling quite as competitive as I used to feel…probably because I couldn’t keep up with the fast group any more.


Whatever the reason, I swallowed a hefty dose of pride and my mind started opening.

Next thing I knew I was enjoying riding one of Giant’s electric bikes and, more to the point, enjoying getting to places ‘round town without arriving crimson faced and sweat-soaked. Sweaty rides are fine when you have some place to clean up at the end, not quite so good if you end up sitting steaming, stinking and/or shivering in the coffee shop.

Fast forward to the present day. Attempting to trim car use to just a couple of trips a month, I’ve recently been using Surly’s Big Dummy haulage bike for utilitarian trips. I love it. It’s the school run bike.. the ‘weekly shop’ bike.. the ‘trip to the tip’ bike.. the ‘anything you could ever imagine doing by pedal power’ bike. It was all that before I equipped it with a front hub motor and a rear rack battery. Now it’s a Dummy on steroids.

Officially electric bike speeds are limited to 15mph in the UK. But some, like the Alien kit I’ve fitted have an ‘off-road’ option with, er, shall we say, less limited speed. Actually, the legal scenario would appear to be slightly confused with eBikes. Most don’t come with a speedo to let you know how fast you’re actually going and, as with any other bike, you can go faster than 15mph by pedaling hard. So the speed limitation thing is done with a power limiter.

When I first converted the Big Dummy I fitted it with SRAM’s SPARC geared rear hub motor. It helped a bit but, to be honest, it hardly seemed to compensate for its extra heft. I couldn’t find out how to deregulate it (which, of course, isn’t officially allowed apart from for ‘off-road’ use), and eventually the battery charger packed up and I had an opportunity to fit the Alienbikes set up.

I’m happy now.

I sometimes forget I’m using the off-road setting around town, just as I sometimes forget that carrying passengers on the Dummy isn’t strictly legal. Am I wrong in hoping that the guardians of the law have more crucial activities to keep them occupied?

As to the question of using motor assisted bikes for off road, that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.

Playing devils advocate here, it could well be that if they start to become numerous to the point of being noticable off road they may well give the small but significant anti-MTB lobby some potent health and safety fodder that could eventually be used to disadvantage other mountain bikers.

I know from experience that manhandlling a battery and motor equipped heavyweight through rocky rooty singletrack doesn’t appeal to me as much as doing the same thing equipped with the nimblesse of a thoroughbred mountain bike. But I gave up a long time ago trying to project my own assumptions onto the average person in the street.


For more info see Cass Gilbert’s Cycling Plus review of the Alien.