In Praise Of Beater Bikes

“Ronnie and I went for a spin this afternoon,” my friend explained over the long-distance wires. “We did some window shopping and went to the beach. Took the beater bikes, of course.”

As she filled in the details of their excursion, I pondered her choice of words. In high school, “beater” was a disparaging term we used when referring to the most ill repaired and oil-burning jalopies driven by our classmates. Used to describe her and her partner’s bikes, it was a stroke of endearment.

I knew the bikes she meant, of course. Heavy-framed and sporting fenders, rubber pedals, and perhaps even a wire basket, these were bicycles acquired at a yard sale for the specific purpose of noodling around town.

Speed is not an issue on a beater bike, and gears are seldom used to great advantage, so a few working ones will do. The tires are wide (but not knobby-chic), the tubes have Schraeder valves and are filled with thornproof goop and Mr. Tuffy strips, yet require a little air at every other filling station. You probably have a beater bike somewhere in the bowels of your garage, if pride or spring-cleaning hasn’t forced its sale. Before you throw it out, consider the benefits of keeping a couple of these old war horses around.

An Old War Horse
“Why on earth would I keep one of those?” you might be thinking. “I have a late model ultralight racing bike, a touring hybrid that only needs a minor tune-up, and two perfectly good mountain bikes . . . “

Why, indeed. Simple: it’s an investment in relationship with your non-cycling partner or friends.

If you are like me – and like my friend who made the phone call – you probably have every trick gizmo and goodie you can afford (and a few that you can’t) on each of those “good” bikes. You probably have an “extra” bike or two that you can loan out if you want to take a friend riding (why, oh, why do we subject our mountain bikes to that fate?), but that bike also has been customized with the “stuff” that makes it hip for you.

Think about the last time you loaned one of your bikes to a non-cycling friend? Did you cringe as you heard the scrape of your toe clips on the pavement with each revolution of the crankshaft? (Our non-cycling friends equate toe clips with medieval bondage; they invariably use the underside of the pedals and let the baskets or clips hang.) Did your stomach seize up when you heard the metal-against-metal sounds of improper gearing? (“This is so cool! How many gears does this thing have?”)

We love our parents, our children, our nieces and nephews, our former college roommates, all of our near and dear non-cycling buddies and kin. And when the sun is shining and the Great Outdoors beckons, it’s only natural to want to share some time with them rolling along on our favorite two-wheeled conveyance.

But we’re not doing them or ourselves any favors by setting them adrift on a high-tech machine that ends up intimidating them and making us nervous. After a time or two of picking up a bruised pal who caught his shoelaces in the chain ring, we remember why our beater bikes have chain guards. We notice that good old rubber pedals accommodate darn near ANY kind of footwear. In fact, I found myself buying one of those nostalgic vinyl-wrapped wire baskets for my beater bike’s handlebars. It’s a great place to carry a couple of subs and a bag of chips on the way to the park.

Come to think of it, I’ve become a real advocate of beater bikes. The kind of riding you’ll find yourself doing with your non-cycling family and friends may not give you a cardiovascular workout, but there’s no denying that it’s good for the heart.

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