Monday 1 September 2014

The complete guide to beater bikes

Summary: A beater bike (aka "pub bike") is a cheap, robust, undesirable bike you use when the risk of theft, vandalism and weather damage is highest - typically for shorter trips where you'll need to park your bike outdoors in a high risk area. Not everyone needs a beater bike, some people's primary bike is inexpensive, is locked securely and doesn't have much to damage. This post explains in what circumstances a dedicated beater bike is most useful, how to acquire and equip one, and how to get the most out of one.

Flickr CC by 2.0 - Chris Metcalf

Related Posts:
> See the buying a bike and gear category of this blog.

1. Getting an additional beater bike vs Using a primary/secondary bike that is inexpensive, simple, robust and is always locked securely
- Before getting a typical beater bike - an undesirable, sub-optimal bike that you won't care if you lose and don't enjoy riding as much - you should consider whether there are better solutions to your problems. By optimising your primary transport bike or acquiring the most suitable secondary bike you may be able to avoid having to use a beater bike for some trips.

- I don't have a beater bike. I only use a single bike for all of my transport trips around Melbourne including all of the trips that beater bikes are usually used for (going out at night, parking for extended periods in high risk areas). That's because my primary bike is a simple, inexpensive, robust, single speed which I always lock up properly with a U lock (plus a second lock if at high risk of theft). It also helps that bikes in Melbourne aren't at an extreme risk of theft or vandalism (like bikes in most American cities, London, some cities in Europe).

- Below are some alternate solutions to getting a beater bike. Even a secondary bike doesn't have to be a "beater", it can be inexpensive and still optimised for usefulness for the trips you need it.

Beater bike reasonAlternate solution
High risk of bike theft- Use a U lock and extra chain lock if necessary. Make sure your bike can easily carry the U lock and a secondary lock
How to prevent your bike being stolen
- Find a more secure area to park. E.g. Underground car parks often have bike racks and are free to use.
Where to park if commuting to Melbourne CBD
High risk of equipment theft- Use inexpensive, undesirable equipment (e.g. stock saddle not Brooks saddle)
- Use easily detachable equipment you can remove before high risk trips (e.g. bike computer)
- For other equipment you need (e.g. lights) detach it and take it with you
Some components are unsecured- Don't use quick release wheels or components. Or use special lockable skewers/bolts. E.g. Pinhead locks, Pitlock
- Secondary locks (particularly chains) can also be used to secure the second wheel or additional components.
Expense of bike and equipment- Inexpensive, quality single speed bikes can be had for $350 new and $100 second hand.
- There are inexpensive versions of all equipment needed
- Use less desirable components if feasible. E.g. Rim brakes not disc brakes.
Actual cycling expenditures prove how cheap cycling can be
Vandalism risk when parked- Minimise easily-damaged components like derailleurs. Use single speeds or internal hub gears if possible
- Park away from areas with high foot traffic but which are visible from busier areas
Weather damage- Use a quality bike with rust-protecting treatment on its frame and components. Take other protective actions listed below.
Protecting your bike from the weather and dirt

Pinhead locks

- My primary transport bike (single speed Fuji Declaration) has all of the possible advantages of a beater bike (simple, robust, reliable, low cost, hard to damage, weather resistant, detachable equipment, not too desirable) but is also nice to ride, efficient and optimised for utility. For example, I haven't got a Brooks saddle but I do have Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres which have never punctured. In a high risk city (e.g. New York), the main change I'd make to my normal usage would be to use a strong chain lock in addition to the U lock so that both wheels were secured with two different types of quality locks.

Actual cycling expenditures prove how cheap cycling can be

2. Circumstances when a beater bike is most useful
- In the below circumstances, a beater bike may be the most suitable option:

(a) Can't afford to buy a suitable secondary bike and are acquiring a beater bike for very little cost.
(b) Trip circumstances mean your primary bike can't be made less prone to theft and damage risks without significant costs or loss of utility (e.g. primary trips involve hills or significant distances).
(c) Theft and vandalism risks are exceptionally high for the trips you plan to use the beater bike.
(d) You can't afford to replace your primary bike and so a beater bike for the highest risk trips is preferable to any significant risk to your primary bike.
(e) There is no major loss of utility in using a beater bike for certain trips (e.g. very short, no safety issues, still enjoyable).
(f) You have plenty of storage space for an extra beater bike.

> NY Times: Beater Bikes, the Cheap Workhorses of Cycling
People For Bikes: Of rust, errands and love: An ode to the beater bike

3. Tips on acquiring, equipping and using the most suitable beater bike
- An ideal beater bike is acquired for very little cost (if any), is extremely undesirable to thieves, does not attract vandalism and is very reliable. Some useful tips include:

(a) Choose a bike type that is very common and has very little resale value. In Australia, North America and the U.K., cheap mountain bikes are very common, very cheap and extremely undesirable to bike thieves. Alternatively, if bike weight is not an issue (e.g. hills), consider getting a second hand Dutch-style bike which are made for durability and low maintenance. See: The Urban Country: Anatomy of a Dutch Bicycle

(b) In Australia, GumtreeeBay and Bike Exchange are useful sources of cheap, second hand bikes. Cheap mountain bikes are also often given away on freecycling websites like Streetbank, TuShare, or Melbourne Freecycle.

(c) Mountain bike (or similar) tyres are better than road bike tyres as you can get better puncture protection from very cheap mountain bike tyres. Cheap road bike tyres will have little puncture protection. If your tyres are puncture-prone, invest in some puncture-proof tyres like Schwalbe Marathon Plus. See: Puncture-proof tyres are the key to reliable transport

(d) You should still use a decent lock - U lock or chain lock. A cheap U lock or chain lock can be had for $20, a quality one for $45. Cable locks are completely useless and can be cut with scissors in 5 seconds. Also see the other anti-theft measures listed below.
What type of bike lock should I buy?
How to prevent your bike being stolen

(e) Lock your bike in a way such that amateur leverage attacks on the lock won't damage your bike (e.g. spokes, rims). In high risk areas, thieves or vandals may try and twist your bike around whatever you have it locked to.

(f) If you have some money to spend, focus on components that add to the reliability and smoothness of the ride and minimise maintenance but which don't stand out.

(g) If the beater bike is of decent quality, dress it down to minimise its appeal to thieves and vandals. Unattractive colours, stickers, tape and ugly, makeshift attachments can disguise a decent frame, drivetrain and wheels - which are what really count for utility and enjoyment. A cheap, ugly basket or rack also works to make bikes less of a target. Use tape over parts which have reputable brand names.

(h) Rust and obvious wear on some components (like the frame) is often not a bad thing. Again, the key is to make the bike less appealing to thieves without sacrificing the quality of the ride or the reliability and durability of the bike.

(i) Wider rims (e.g. mountain bikes) are better than narrower rims as they will buckle less easily if kicked or attacked by vandals.

(j) Get a steel frame or at least a decent aluminium frame. Frames that won't stand up to the bike being knocked over or attempted thefts (e.g. leverage attacks) are not preferable.

(k) If you need to fix up a second hand bike or modify it to make it a reliable beater bike, you can do so cheaply through a local bike shed (bike kitchen). You can access the necessary tools and get advice in return for a small payment or volunteering some time or assistance yourself. Cheap second hand parts are often available too. You can also obtain bike tools through a neighbourhood sharing site like Streetbank.
See: Melbourne bike fix, skill-sharing and bike-related social enterprises

Flickr CC by 2.0 - Lee Brimelow

> Bike Forums - Beater bikes

Further Info:
People For Bikes: Of rust, errands and love: An ode to the beater bike

Chicago Mag: The Anatomy of the $162 Beater Bike Most People Ride Around Chicago

NY Times
The Bicycle Thieves Among Us

Stack Exchange: Bicycles - Theft deterrents (in addition to locking up a bike)

Hub Pages: How to Keep Your Bike from Getting Stolen

Bike Hacks - Posts tagged with "security"

Bike Portland
The battle against bike theft in Portland has begun
The simple way to end bike theft: Externalize the costs

BTA Oregon: Don’t Get Your Bike Stolen

A Bicycle's Point Of View: A Guide to Understanding a Bike Shed

The Urban Country: Anatomy of a Dutch Bicycle