The lure of the beater bike

By Eric Freedman

Beater Bike with Freedman

Eric Freedman with Nishki Beater Bike, Photo Credit Ian Freedman

I love my blue Trek road bike. It’s light and fast. It’s taken me thousands of miles over the years.

But my Trek hasn’t been out of the basement for the past two years.

I like the black Nishiki beater bike that I recently bought at the Michigan State University Surplus Store’s annual spring bike sale. It was one of the 1,200 – 1,500 abandoned bikes the Surplus Store sells each year.

I paid $95 and spent another $70 or so to replace frayed cables, adjust the derailleur, tighten the rear hub and lube the chain.

My beater bike is sturdy — maybe heavy is a more precise word. It’s got some rust and some scratches and some dings. It doesn’t shift as smoothly as I’d like. A piece of one plastic pedal is missing.

I’m using my beater bike in Colorado this summer, mostly tooling along bike paths. Because it’s a beater bike, I don’t worry much about it getting wet or muddy or hitting potholes — yes, Michigan isn’t the only state with pothole problems.

Beater Bike

Beater Bike, Photo Credit Ian Freedman

There’s been a transition in my bikes over the decades. I remember a little about the first bike that I got in about 3rd grade. It was red, and I didn’t get to use it outdoors for several months because we lived in a second-floor apartment in Boston. In truth, I didn’t know yet how to ride a two-wheeler but spent time sitting on it and looking out the window. When the weather got good enough, my father took me to a park to learn how to ride without training wheels.

As children we don’t think in terms of beater bikes. Bikes are for fun, plain and simple. Puddles are to be ridden through. Curbs are to be ridden over. Races with our friends are expected. We deliberately skid to lay rubber on the street. We deliberately slog through the mud to leave tread tracks.

We dress them up with bells and streamers on the handlebars, We stick on a basket — although maybe that’s not cool any more — and a back rack.

If it rains, it’s OK if the bike gets wet. If we stop, it’s OK to drop the bike onto the ground, even if it has a kickstand. Scrapes and dents are par for the course and nothing to fret about. We never think about lubing the chain or toweling off the rain drops or puddle spray.

I don’t remember the next successor bikes of my junior high and high school days, but when I was in college I used my father’s old one-speed Italian bike that he’d used as an amateur racer in the 1940s — until he was sidelined after a serious crash — and then as bike tourer in New England. Its single speed made it challenging for me on the hilly streets of Ithaca, New York, but it served its purpose as a beater bike, exposed to the snow and rain characteristic of the Finger Lakes region.

I still have the frame hanging in my shed, but my good intentions to restore it to working condition are no longer on the table.

When I got into serious riding and bike touring, I bought a new road bike. I loved it, but my teenage nephew irreparably bent the frame when he crashed while riding down some stairs on the Lake Superior State University campus during our multi-day bike tour of the eastern Upper Peninsula. When we returned home, I bought the blue Trek that’s now hanging in my basement.

As for the Nishiki beater bike, it’s well-appreciated, rust, dings and all.

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