Beater Bikes: review (and requiem?)

I’ve heard people complain (still) that “… a good bike shouldn’t cost more than $100”. When I heard the news that Dave Chant was closing up  Beater Bikes and liquidating his remaining stock of bikes for $100 each, I thought I’d give it a try.

Through no fault of Dave’s, Beater Bikes never quite got the traction in Canada they should have done. I blame the outdated tariff on imported cheap bikes; Canada no longer has a domestic industry to protect (someone, please prove me wrong). We still have the tariff to shore up those long-gone jobs at CCM/Supercycle, though, so importing bikes into Canada was too expensive a proposition.

The bike still cost me a bike more than $100, though: $100, plus $120 shipping, plus $58 UPS brokerage ‘tax’ (grar), so a total of $278. Still cheaper than almost anything you can get from Canadian Tire, and as the original retail was around $450, still decent.

beater bikes, beat-up boxSo here’s the box it came in; beaten up and retaped, sure, but with an appropriate logo. Inside, apart from a few loose parts, there was this:

how it's packedAlthough well wrapped, the bike had been dropped at one point, and there was a colossal ding on the back mudguard that stopped the wheel turning. I managed to flatten it out enough that the wheel ran free, but it’s still visible under the carrier.

After a couple of hours of fiddling and tightening, I ended up with this handsome steed:

assembled!The basket is an old Wald I had lying around, attached with enough Ty-Raps to add a significant cost to the bike. The only bits missing were most of the screws to mount the rear reflector. One screw plus duct tape did the job.

Ashtabula crank, nifty propstandThe bike has a particularly nice kickstand. Coupled with the steering stabilizer, it’s a bike that’ll lean against a wall without falling in a heap. It’s also my first bike with a one-piece/Ashtabula crank, which is more a matter of where I grew up — only BMXs had them in the UK.

It’s quite a handsome bike, despite the Beater concept of a bike that won’t get noticed or stolen. It’s very basic, but solid. I don’t know how long the chainstay-mounted Beater Bikes nameplate will last on mine (it came partially unglued on my first ride) so maybe the bike will be an anoymous beater sooner than expected.

beater at the moviesIt rides well, though I have to say that riding a bike with only a coaster brake is a little off-putting.  I haven’t mixed with real traffic on it, and our shed has developed a bruise from where I shot up the driveway, completely forgot how to stop, and collided with the shed. Only pride hurt.

Starting with a coaster brake is also weird, as you can’t haul the pedals back to a good starting place. I’m resolutely right-footed, and I’ve had several nopenopenope start offs from junctions. Until I heard about the rolling the bike backwards trick, I was pretty stuck.

bikeshadowCompared to my cushy and sprung Batavus, the Beater has a harsher ride. Its low gear is higher than I’m used to, so I start off slowly. I’d definitely agree with Velouria‘s assessment that it needs a front brake. I’m much slower without one.

It is, however, a very decent bike for the money I paid. I hope that Dave got something positive from his foray into bike sales, as it’s a fine concept, and better executed than flops like the Kronan. The one thing it does do far better than any of my other bikes? The Sturmey-Archer rear hub still makes that lazy tic tic tac tac noise in top gear, which can only be the sound of summer freedom on the open road.

Smart TL271 Rear Bike Light Battery Replacement

Perhaps the only disadvantage of riding a Dutch bike like my Batavus is that it uses so many parts that are unknown outside Europe. Simple things like replacing the batteries in the rear light are much harder than they need to be. There are no manuals in English for these parts, and since Batavus’s guidelines start and end at “Take it to your bike shop”, it’s not much help.

The low battery light on my rear LED had just started to glow, so I had to replace the batteries. With no discernible way in, this was tricky. You have to unscrew the two Phillips screws on the reflector, and kind of slide the reflector and batteries straight back and off:

It would be a lot easier to leave the light on the carrier, as it would give you a tonne more leverage. There’s a thumbnail indentation at the bottom of the light to help with this removal, but I had to use a small plastic drift from my electronics toolkit. (Please excuse my manky nails in the picture; I’d been gardening.)

My light says it’s a “Smart Co., Ltd TL271R//RC” on the back, and may be sold under other brands. It’s suspiciously similar to the Move Shaphire 271 rear light. I’m not really complaining — this is the first new set of batteries I’ve had to fit since I bought the bike in February 2009.

Update: hey, who knew? Even folks from the Netherlands are searching for this blog entry. That’s if my site stats for “move fietslicht batterij vervangen” are to be believed …

My very standard bicycle is not a standard bicycle to the city

I have had a nice BASIL basket on the back of my bike:

With that, it has had all three of Syd’s requirements. But there’s a problem; with the basket on, it doesn’t fit into my bike locker:

These Cycle-Safe lockers taper down to a narrow point, so basically anything other than a stripped-down bike won’t fit. The city says of the lockers:

Locker dimensions
The space inside of a locker is approximately: 1.2m (4 feet) high x 1.9m (6 feet, 5 inches) deep x 0.9m (3 feet) wide at the door and narrows toward the back of the locker. Most standard bicycles will fit inside. Longer bicycles such as tandem bikes or some recumbent bikes will not fit into the lockers.

“Most standard bicycles will fit inside”? Grah. If there’s something more standard that a Dutch bike with a basket on the back, I don’t know what it is. I have to go back to my makeshift solution — a too-tall basket lashed on with bungees — and deal with it biting my bum as I ride. Sigh.

nice bike facilities

I’d seen that the city had been working on the path over the train tracks at Lord Roberts Wood, but hadn’t seen the completed project. What was formerly a real slog to lift a bike (and especially a sensible bike) up these steps now can be ridden without dismounting. Yay Toronto!

(apologies for picture quality. My Blackberry is in perma soft-focus)

If you want to see how they looked last year, there are some automatic photos from my Canada Day post: sd790-20100701-161516, sd790-20100701-161535, and sd790-20100701-161614. A great improvement has been made.

If I must kvetch (and I must: cyclo, ergo kvetch), the turns in the ramp are just a little too narrow to navigate a bike round. I can make most of them if I crawl round it, but I usually have to dab a foot down.

There’s also no lighting. I’m not sure how welcoming this facility would be to use at night. Also, some of the handrails look as if they should either be welded or bolted in place, but are neither. Some have half-hearted tack welds, but they look as if they were done straight onto the zinc galvanizing so were destined to end badly.

Still, much better than it was.

all the bikes I’ve ever owned

I came to cycling quite late, and it must be about the 30th anniversary of me learning to ride. Therefore, in approximately the right order, here are all the bikes I’ve ever owned:

Horrid red mail-order folding bike — bought for my sister and myself. Effectively no brakes, but I did learn to ride on this on the gently sloping pavement of Beech Avenue. Used to drive my mum nuts by riding it round the outside of the house and dinging the bell every time I passed the back door.

Black Craig McMartin 10-speed — gas-pipe clunker disguised as a 10-speed. I went everywhere on this, and did my paper run around Broomburn Drive on it. From what I hear, McMartin’s is still in business.

Saracen Blizzard MTB — could anything scream 1989 more than a Biopace chainset, chain-stay mounted u-brake, and a white paint job on a mud bike? The first bike that I bought with my own money. Any pictures of it would be ill-advised.

Gary Fisher Nirvana — 1997 model. Petrol blue. Light TruTemper steel frame and high gearing. This bike made me an urban cyclist. Still going strong in Glasgow, I hear.

Raleigh Royal tourer — bought for a trivial sum of money from a fellow member of urbancyclist-uk. Once fixed up, ran a treat. Its 531 frame was a little big, causing a few owowowOW stops at lights. Had the truly wonderful Sanyo BB dynamo, which would never slip, even in the worst sog.

Moulton Deluxe 4-speed — a powder-blue Series II transitional (which means it had huge girders for rear forks) that I fixed up with drop bars. Insanely fast. I used to smoke roadies on it, which they didn’t like when they saw the basket on the back passing them. Purportedly living in Florida now. I would get another of these in a heartbeat, though I’m a bit much of a clydesdale for the Series I.

Speedliner BlueGlide recumbent — perhaps not my best purchase, but certainly the fastest. Mostly held together with TyRaps and the ingenuity of Ben Cooper. A bit like riding a rocket on the flat or downhill. The people of Kirkintilloch were not ready for it. Took me two weeks to learn to ride. responsible for the worst spill of any bike when the front tyre blew out at speed on the A803. I lost a lot of skin that day.

Brompton — bought used for £250. Nifty five speed thing. Brought it to Canada, where it lived in our front room, much to some visitors’ consternation. Wasn’t getting much use, so sold it to someone who is happily tootling about the west end of Toronto on it now.

Pashley Post Office bike — bought from a supermarket sales/wants ad. Huge. Heavy. Slow but steady. Giant steel Sturmey-Archer hub brakes could stop in any weather. Was rather disappointed to learn that, sometime in its career, this bike had been stolen, as the Post Office destroyed used delivery bikes.

CCM Evox recumbent — I actually review this for Velo Vision magazine. Had the Evox been a smidge lighter and a bunch higher geared (it ran standard MTB gearing into a 24″ back wheel) it would have been utterly lovely. As was, it was quite pedestrian. Rode it to work many days in the summer of 2002. Got very dehydrated riding from Markham to the Beaches one day; water bottle was actually hot to drink from. I don’t know what has happened to CCM/Procycle; there’s no website, and this product has disappeared. It would go lovely as an about-town bike with roller brakes and a hub gear.

Specialized Stumpjumper Sport — you have no idea how much that I, as a short spotty overweight paperboy, wanted a Stumpjumper in 1983. I read about them in Bicycle magazine, so they had to be good. Shortly after coming to Toronto, I saw a card in Urbane Cyclist advertising an old SJ converted to singlespeed. I had to have it. Though somewhat beaten up (more so after I painted it in grey primer and added stickers) it ran like a dream on its original Maillard hubs. It languished unridden for a few years, then I gave it away. This was the only bike I’ve ever owned that I could ride no hands for almost any distance.

Dawes Super Galaxy tourer — I have a remarkable fondness for 531, and bought this used bike at an east end dealer. Like the Raleigh, it was a bit big, and getting good tyres for the 27″ rims was a problem. Despite its loveliness, eventually craigslisted.

Batavus Crescendo Deluxe —the bike I use every day. Meets all the requirements of my sensible bicycle ideal. A thing of beauty and remarkable speed.

Non-owned, but bikes fondly remembered:

  • Peter Cormack’s Gresham Flyer — actually, it was Peter’s sister Dot’s bike, this tiny little kid’s thing. I used to zoom down the embankments on it in Crookfur Park before I could ride a bike.
  • Peter Cormack’s dad’s “Safe Way” roadster — a single speed of uncommon stateliness, whose claim to utter radness was that the back brake caliper was so flexible that it would lock itself under the frame and cause the most amazing skiiiiiiiiiiiids on the Crookfur Park cinder track. Best fun ever.
  • Ken Campbell’s brown Raleigh roadster — Ken, having long been in London being a synth programmer, had left his old roadster in the basement. When my 10-speed wasn’t up to it (usually broken spokes – sometimes even accidental) I’d borrow this bike and glide around the neighbourhood. It had a dynohub that put out a faint but reassuring light.

pressing bixi question

Should the bells face down?

Or should they face up?

When Bixi Toronto was launched, all the bells were down, but most of them are up now. Even though it’s less ergonomic, it’s what people are used to.

My 30 Days of Biking

Here’s my record of 30 Days of Biking:

April 2011
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
          1
it begins!
2
just popped down the shops for some milk
3
is by the lake
4
knows it's a good day for mudguards
5
Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to ...
6
has been earlier than this
7
needs lights on this foggy soggy morning
8
knows where the cheesewagons sleep
9
had a sunny ride with Catherine to a Tim's lunch
10
is on Pharmacy's endangered bike lane
11
Is back from the ham radio club
12
used the secret tunnel
13
sees world's nastiest snowpile
14
sees ya later, elevator
15
is half way there
16
is only doing this because of #30daysofbiking
17
beholds the majestic Taylor-Massey creek
18
has the enormous laptop today
19
ting!
20
light
21
sees blue skies over the handlebars
22
is voting
23
sees the tree of religious tolerance
24
sees a transformer house
25
sees mini-fairground
26
is grateful for mudguards
27
2getha 4eva
28
wishes you could see the wind
29
says, 'thanks, toronto'
30
the end ... Or is it?

ready to roll

Creme Delta Cruisers? Check. Conti tubes with presta valves and adaptors? Check. B&M CycleStar mirror? Check. Frankly unnecessary but very very pretty Sögreni brass bell? Check (ding!). The Batavus is ready for riding (and more importantly 30 Days of Biking).

While the ingenious Batavus chain-guard comes off quickly once you know the trick (it’s all held together by the section over the hub; pop that open, and everything else comes apart in a simple manner), removing and replacing the rear wheel was one of the fiddliest things I’ve ever done. The Shimano Nexus 8-speed hub with roller brake (model SG-8R31, if you care) makes things difficult enough by having a brake reaction arm and a gear cable to remove, but Batavus’s own dropout adjuster/wheel keepers are a pain.

I suspect these little stainless steel clasps  (not pictured, as to see them would have me swearing at them again) are in fact impossible to reinstall with the bike in a stand. With the bike upside down, the weight of the wheel seems to spring them open a bit, placing the axle into the dropout smooth like buttah.

(I blame Lovely Bicycle! for the cream-coloured tyres obsession.)

The Cleland rides again!

Geoff Apps dropped a comment in an earlier post to say that he’s updated the Aventura for the 21st century. I’m going to have a hard time justifying not buying this bike.

I wonder what the good people of MetaFilter will think?

Clive’s C5 for the 2010s

It’s got one fewer wheels than the C5 (which, stap me, appeared a quarter century ago) but it does look like a proper recumbent:

While the Sinclair Research X-1 does look quite nifty, I worry about the “Reserve now for £100, pay the rest on delivery next year” terms. It’ll probably turn up at the end of 2012 with a wobbly RAM expansion, and needing a firmware upgrade before it can turn left.

Test-riding the Bixi

BIXI Toronto had a demo station outside MEC today. They had a few slightly beat-up (I suspect, ex Montreal) bikes on display at a station and for test riding.

I checked out one the bikes for a ten minute test ride. For such a solid bike, I was impressed with its swiftness. You won’t find yourself hopping curbs, but the big smooth tyres roll fast.

The bike’s pretty sensible, with a fully guarded chain, guards, dynamo lights and a front carrier.

A clever bash guard protects the hub gear settings

The pointy nose at the front locks into the Bixi station:

All the controls are where you’d expect them:

And a graduated seatpost for us tall forgetful types:

The one thing I was disappointed with was the brakes. My bike has similar Shimano units. They’re a bit gentle, but they do stop you. The ones on the loaner bike brought back memories of trying to stop in the rain on my steel-rimmed paperboy bike.

Still, I’m really looking forward to Bixi arriving in the city next year.