The Big Boy

This is the Big Boy.

I like her very much.

So first, why- in the last year I’ve been real taken with skateboarding. I couldn’t imagine taking a winter off the board, but I still wanted to go bike touring. So I just needed to figure out a way to carry my skateboard on the bike.

A bolt on rack was out- I’ve fixed so many broken racks in our little bike shak that I have no interest in ever using one. And those were all busted on a fairly smooth rail trail.

Full size cargo bikes like the Surly Big Dummy (32.6″ chain stay) and Big Fat Dummy (34.4″ chain stays! Holy cats! A back end a yard long!) were out- they’re way way too long. We had a Big Dummy at the shop I used to work at in Colorado, and it was barely rideable on trail- the front turns, and the back starts to swing around about an hour later. And forget about getting the front wheel off the ground. Or climbing something loose and steep, that back wheel is so far back that it just spins out.

Even the Salsa Blackborrow (25.5″ chainstays) seemed excessive. So no cargo bikes. Along with handling like turds, they don’t fit in a bike box, so they would be an extra big pain in the ass to fly with.

But I had ridden a bike a few years ago that seemed like it was just the ticket- the Kona Minute. Built in rack, 20″ chainstays. It was short enough to wheelie, and long enough to carry a ton of stuff, and a skateboard. Only problem was that it’s a hybrid with 700x40s, and that Kona doesn’t make it anymore.

There were a couple of custom bikes that looked pretty inspiring- Moot’s IMBA trail work bike, and Scott Felter of Porcelain Rocket’s Hunter fat bike.

I love my Waltworks, so I sent Walt an email. I told Colleen I needed the bike so I could carry more vegetables and stuff while we toured. I told myself it would be handy to have a bike that could carry a chainsaw to keep our home trails open. And that it’d be cool to be able to pick up a case of beer from Ramcat 12 miles away.

But really, I just wanted to tour with my skateboard.

Initially I asked Walt about doing a Pinion. They’re a really cool looking German contraption that replaces the bottom bracket with a gearbox. It’s totally sealed, never needs adjusted, and unlike a Rohloff, the weight is centered between the wheels and low for better handling. And the pricing is pretty good- I think the six speed version was only going to be $600 (a Rohloff setup ends up somewhere around $1400)

The downside is that the frame needs to be built around the gearbox, and they aren’t user serviceable. If the Pinion did fail, I’d be stuck until found a way to get a new one shipped in.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I’d probably be sad if I couldn’t ride the bike single speed. So I asked Walt to build it with Paragon Rocker dropouts and Rohloff routing.

I don’t currently own a Rohloff, so, single speed it was. I was a little unsure about touring on a cargo bike without gears, but I figured I’d get used to it. There’s always room to get stronger.

Walt nailed the fit on my last bike, so I asked him to keep all that stuff there same. It has a longer head tube to get the bars at the same height with the non suspension corrected fork, and a longer seat tube so that I end up with a bigger frame bag.

The details:

  • 68 degree head tube
  • 71 degree seat tube
  • 20″ chainstays
  • Rohloff guides, dynamo guides on the fork
  • 135QR rear, 100×15 thru-axle front
  • 1 1/8 steerer
  • 73mm BSA BB
  • Big ole’ built in rack, with a 27″ long deck
  • Under the downtube bottle mount

And the build (ended up just over 30 pounds):

  • Moonmen Moonriser bars (2″ rise, 40 degree backsweep)
  • Hope Pro 4 single speed hub
  • SON28 Dynamo
  • Spank Trail 395+ rims (35mm internal)
  • DT Competition spokes
  • Surly Knard 29×3.0, 120tpi
  • Paul Klampers and Canti Levers (short pull)
  • 180F, 160R rotors
  • Setback Erikson Sweetpost
  • Chromag Trailmaster
  • Shimano Zee cranks (hand polished on a rainy day- actually over two rainy days)
  • 32×20 gearing
  • DMR V12 pedals
  • Wheels Mfg Angular Contact bearing bb
  • Profile Mark Mulville stem 50mm
  • Cane Creek 110 headset
  • Salsa Fliplock clamp

..

Walt finished the frame a couple weeks before we flew over to New Zealand, so that meant I had a week to paint it, build it, and sew all the bags. It was a busy few days.

I did the paint with Rust-Oleum 2X coverage rattle cans, and for a $20 paint job it’s holding up pretty well. I prepped more carefully than I usually do, but still, it’s the best rattle paint I’ve used. The clear didn’t orange peel at all, even though I was spraying when it was about 45 degrees outside. I’ll most likely get a powder coat in the spring.

The bags are all 1000d Cordura- which is serious overkill. When we get home, I’ll probably redo them in coated X-PAC- that should save a pound or two, and make them more water resistant.

Overall I’m pretty happy with how they came out. I used a huge #10 zipper (and not a waterproof one, those always bust) on the framebag, and metal cam straps for the handlebar bag and paniers. Those are my favorite- they never ever slip (the harder they’re loaded, the harder the cam grips), are easy to tighten, and are indestructible.

The panniers are narrow, so they don’t get in the way on a hike-a-bike, and follow the angle of the rack in the rear so that heavy stuff will always sink down and forward (weight behind the rear axle is bad). I sewed a plastic sheet onto the inside panel so that nothing bulges into the wheel. When they’re cinched down, they’re completely quiet, and completely stable.

The handlebar has a couple side pockets (one for a cache battery and shades, the other for a Bluetooth speaker) and a hat mounting point.

But the secret sauce- a tab to tie the bag to the fork crown.

I’m so stoked with how well this works- the cam straps yank the bag up against this tab, and boom. No more shaky bar bag, I mean no movement at all. Weighs nothing, costs nothing, a good solution.

I made a tent pole bag out of 500d Cordura, and a skate sack out of the same.

So, that Big Boy, how’s she ride?

Big. Floaty. Smooooth. But mostly like a bike.

Everything worked out pretty much like I hoped it would. It doesn’t ride anything like a Big Dummy- it’s just a slightly longer mountain bike. I can still wheelie it, ride it up stairs, make a tight switchback. The long wheelbase is super comfortable on rough stuff, washboard pretty much disappears, and out of the saddle traction hasn’t been an issue.

But the best thing is that it rides pretty much the same with a load as it does unloaded. On other bikepacking set ups I’ve had, the weight starts to get really noticeable when you get two or three days worth of food on the bike. There’s just no way to keep an overloaded seatbag from bouncing around.

But the Big Boy, she just rides like a big boy all the time. The weight is lower, strapped down tighter. Doesn’t bounce move or shake. It’s better.

All that said, I wouldn’t want this to be my only mountain bike. For unloaded riding, my other Waltworks with 16.3″ chain stays is a thousand times more playful.

Fortunately, I’m a fat cat bike mechanic and bike tour guide, living in a van down by the river and saving almost all of that sweet $18,000 a year salary I pull down. So I can afford two nice bikes (although my other bike is half disassembled now, so maybe 1.5 nice bikes).

I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a giant seatbag for a long trip. These panniers have been so great. We can buy whatever food we want now- yams, loaves of bread, couple cans of beer, carrots, sausages, jars of olives, dozen eggs. Sky’s the limit baby.

So what’s the downside? Well, the Big Boy is hefty, about 60 pounds dry, pushing 75 with a full load of water, stove fuel and sausages.

And slightly over-geared. Had I read my own blog, I would have learned that I usually tour on a 34×22. And that’s with SPDs. I just threw on a 32×20 because I thought it seemed fine.

So now I’m riding flat pedals in a floppy pair of Vans, pushing a harder gear, and carrying extra crap. The first couple weeks were extremely tiring, but I’ve started to adjust to it.

But like I said, this was really all for the skating. I am a total turd on a board, but I love it man. I can’t wait for the day I can make it all the way up to the coping.

9 thoughts on “The Big Boy

    1. I definitely like single speeding better, but yeah I would use a Rohloff again, that’s why I got this bike with guides for one. They do suck on single track (I could never get over the weight and the slow engagement in some gears). But I think they’re great for a long trip that has the potential to be real muddy or dirty. At the same time, derailleur drivetrains are pretty awesome now. Anyway, I sold my Rolhoff because it was black and I wanted a shiny silver one

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