Replicative DNA helicases generally unwind DNA as a single hexamer that encircles and translocates along one strand of the duplex while excluding the complementary strand (known as steric exclusion). By contrast, large T antigen, the replicative DNA helicase of the simian virus 40 (SV40), is reported to function as a pair of stacked hexamers that pumps double-stranded DNA through its central channel while laterally extruding single-stranded DNA. Here we use single-molecule and ensemble assays to show that large T antigen assembled on the SV40 origin unwinds DNA efficiently as a single hexamer that translocates on single-stranded DNA in the 3′-to-5′ direction. Unexpectedly, large T antigen unwinds DNA past a DNA–protein crosslink on the translocation strand, suggesting that the large T antigen ring can open to bypass bulky adducts. Together, our data underscore the profound conservation among replicative helicase mechanisms, and reveal a new level of plasticity in the interactions of replicative helicases with DNA damage.