Most of my bikes have been through some sort of evolution throughout their lives. That is the nature of having a thing… you start off with it, then, over the course of time, you change things, add or remove bits, modifying it to make it suit your needs. My bikes… some start off serving a specific role, but maybe that role changes. Or they start off with one set of components, then get a completely different set. Sometimes, even whole new frames.
The question could be asked “Is it still the same bike if none of the parts are the same? I say… it depends. When I name a bike, I’m naming an idea, the personality, the soul that develops around the bike. Sometimes, the name is tied to the hardware that the bike is made out of. Sometimes… it is tied to something deeper, more personal.
Out of all my bikes, no bike has changed over time as much as Henry the Packmule.
Henry has existed across three bike frames and countless changes in parts. I think the only original part is the kickstand. Henry even has a history that starts before there was a bicycle named Henry, but you’ll have to ask my sister about that, she knows the story better than I. Suffice to say, she named him.
Henry the Packmule started out as a Trek 820 frame, built up with road components from another bike, and a Surly 1×1 fork. I built my own front and rear racks, because why not? I was on a budget, and it was cheaper to build them from scratch myself.
Eventually, Henry got moved to an aluminium Giant Boulder SE frame when I noticed that the steel Trek frame had a slight bend.
Then, one day, my dream frame went on sale.
I had long drooled over the Surly Big Dummy, but man they were pricey. Worth every penny, but it took a lot of pennies to buy one. So, when Surly updated the design of the Big Dummy frame, they put the previous model on firesale. I still really didn’t have the money, but I crossed my fingers and bought it anyways.
I think it was one of my better choices.
I built the Big Dummy frame up with mountain bike parts, used the old wheels and brakes, and built my own rack for the back. Xtracycle was having a sale on their bags, so I picked up a set of those for cheap. Many adventures were had.
Eventually, I built my own wheels, installed disc brakes, put a 29 inch wheel on the front, set Henry up with the Surly Dummy Cargo Kit, and have gone back and forth endlessly with front racks and baskets.
I’ve hauled a few hundred pounds of wood home with Henry, carried other bikes, some light bike touring and camping, gone mountain biking, ridden in parades, towed (pushed) a car, and had it in the air. I’ve even brought home groceries.
Even more impressive are the bike moves with the trailer I built.
Currently, Henry is the bike that gets the most miles, partly because the platform pedals let me ride in sandals, but mostly because, for the most part, Henry is set up just about perfect for me. With a 29 inch front wheel (helps smooth out bumps, and stabilizes the bike) a 26 inch rear wheel built around a Rohloff Speedhub 500/14 internally geared hub, (the Big Dummy frame was designed with this hub in mind.) Hydraulic disc brakes keep the speed in check. (Haha!) The Dummy Cargo Kit with a few mods is the ideal setup for my needs, the bags swallow whatever I throw at them, and a homemade wide loader bar helps me cary anything big or heavy. All this rolls around on Schwalbe Big Apple tires.
And I almost forgot… Henry has the coolest horn.
Henry looks big and unwieldy, but for a packmule, he’s surprisingly quick and nimble. Sure he’s heavy, but he rolls fast and smooth, even with a load. Once you’re moving, you don’t feel the weight. And once you get used to the long wheelbase, he’s a surprisingly capable mountain bike, too.
I feel like this is turning into a long term review…
So, what’s left to change on Henry? Well… not a whole lot. I like Henry, even after all these years, as he rolls now, Henry is still my dream bike. Getting on Henry is like putting on your favorite old jacket.
I guess that’s another part of having a thing. You make changes to it over time, and if you stick with it, eventually, you make it perfect for you.
I hope you enjoyed reading about Henry the Packmule. This took a while to write, as Henry has the most history behind him, even though he’s not the oldest bike in the garage. I know I had fun remembering, going back and reading and looking for old pictures, and re-living some of the old memories with Henry.
Take it easy.
That thing electric? ~ The majority of people who come up to me as I’m strapping down an impressive load to Henry