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 I blame the outdated tariff on imported cheap bikes; Canada no longer has a domestic industry to protect (someone, please prove me wrong).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.

I think I’ve found it …

Batavus Personal Bike

I was at the Dutch Bike festival last weekend, and I think I found the Sensible Bicycle. Curbside were showing the Batavus Personal Bike. It’s lovely. At $1400 for the 3-speed, though, I’m not just about to trade in the old Stumpjumper.

I’m not wild about the squidgy roller brakes, and the dynamo really should’ve been built into the hub, but these are very minor things. Wonder if the company would let me expense this instead of getting a transit pass?

his & hers superbes

Two Raleigh Superbes, on Yonge St

The small image doesn’t do them justice, but I saw two Raleigh Superbes locked together near Dundas on Yonge.  These were the deluxe ones with the locking steering column and the front dynohub. Lovely bikes, definitely sensible.

sensible != boring

Gazelle Chamonix roadster
(I nicked this image from Cycle Heaven‘s website, so I should probably give them credit.)

See, lookit — a bicycle that meets all the requirements of being sensible, without being dull. This is from Gazelle, one of the Netherlands’ oldest manufacturers.

Stewart’s Quest for the Sensible Bicycle

A trip to the Toronto Islands yesterday got me thinking about the perfect bicycle for me — and why nobody makes it.

In Scotland I had nearly the perfect bike. It was a ridiculously solid Pashley delivery bike. It had huge heavy steel wheels, full-length mudguards, hub brakes, hub gears, and a dynamo (generator) lighting set. It took minimal maintenance, and didn’t require special clothes to ride it.

The mountain bike, though promising so much to utility cycling at its birth 20 years ago, is failing to deliver. Complex suspension systems and derailleur gears make maintenance difficult, and so users seldom do. The complete lack of chainguards and mudguards mean that riders have to wear different clothes just to be on the bike. Can you image a car trying to sell itself by requiring special clothes just to travel in it?

So this is what I want from a bike:

  • Fully enclosed chain — I don’t want my drivetrain anywhere near road grit. Neither do I want my trousers to meet chain grease.
  • Full mudguards — I don’t get mucky, riders behind me don’t get mucky. We all win.
  • Hub gears — once you’ve used them, you’ll never consider anything else for utility cycling.
  • Dynamo lights — with a standlight, for preference. I don’t like getting stranded without lights.
  • Proper carriers — riding wearing a rucksack is bad and wrong.
  • Anything but rim brakes — why do we still use these relics? Hub brakes work in all weathers, and seldom, if ever, need maintenance.

You’ll notice the conspicuous absence of suspension. Good tyres, at the right pressure, are great suspension. They are also light and very puncture proof, if you know how and where to ride.

We’re not all athletes. Some of us would just like to incorporate exercise and sustainable local transit in our daily routine, with the minimum of hassle.

So who comes close to making these bikes? Pashley still do, but they’re murderously expensive in Canada. Workbike manufacturers Worksman and Mohawk almost do, but they’re short on mudguards and chainguards. Kronan is nearly there, but why they only have one brake (a rear coaster, which is terribly inefficient) is beyond me. Maybe I’ll find an importer of Dutch bikes. My search continues …