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  1. #1
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    Beater Bikes (budget minded commuting)

    I see alot of people make posts about commuting for a miniml ammount of money. Some of them aren't sure if commuting is for them, some of them are just plain down and out when it comes to funding for a new bicycle. But all of them have one thing in common; They want to start commuting to save money and maybe start leading a healthier lifestyle with a minimum impact on their wallets/purses.
    Now alot of people on here mention "beater bikes" and the likes and almost everyone says to avoid the department store bikes and either head to a Local Bike Store or pawn shop. Just for giggles I visited 4 pawn shops this weekend to see what they had. I am not in the market for a beater bike but I was just curious about their wares. Two of the shops had no bikes nor anything that resembled a bike. The other two had a couple each, both were department store bikes and their prices ranged from $20.00 to $65.00 and were all in fairly decent shape. I can already see the reaction from those of you who live in places where bicycle commuting is more the norm and well built bikes at pawnshops are abundant. This is fine, but I feel I represent the majority of people in this aspect as far as where I live; the metro area of a larger city where bicycle commuters are few and far between. So having said this, what is inheritantly wrong with someone picking up a decent $20.00 department store bike and making a few minor modifications to make it more trustworthy as an everyday commuter?
    My winter bike is a Huffy I picked up at a yard sale for $15.00. It came with low end SRAM equipment and 36 spoke wheels. I had the rear wheel rebuilt and converted it into a single speed by shortening the chain and removing the derailure. I tossed on a set of Kendra Kross Plus tires, a rear rack with basket, and a cheap saddle bag I got for free. This bike has lasted me 2 winters thus far and is still going strong underneath my 300lbs of body on a 20 mile per day commute. It helped me to lose almost 40lbs total and has a total cost to me of $60 - $70. My only issue is with the grease and oils hardening up during the cold Michigan winters, which I'll work out that problem this year. Now this is my idea of a budget minded beater bike.
    Can anyone else toss in a few more ideas to help out those in search of this sort of bike? I feel there is no better bike than a well maintained high-end bike that was built for it's specific purpose. But I also believe that the cheaper ones have their place as well, especially among the commuting few.
    Please don't turn this thread into a baseless fact filled thread of hatred towards cheaper bikes. I'm hoping that in the long run it will help others to get out of their car and on a bike more, and after all, the money they save by not driving will allow them to save up for a future purchase which might include a nicer bike.

  2. #2
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    EDIT
    What I am looking for here is other examples of beaters in the sub $150.00 range as well as ideas for newcomers. What prompted this thread was a conversation I had with a fellow employee who came on this board and made a post. The replys he got were enough to turn him off to biking all together. Mainly people telling him he couldn't do it for less than $400.00 and it's going to take me a while to convince him otherwise.

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    I have a huffy from Target (I think). It served me fine for a sub 10 mile commute.
    You can pretty much commute on anything you want. It's all a matter of what you find acceptable as far as features go.
    I'm just a bit of a nut when it comes to bikes and cycling gear\clothing.

  4. #4
    Prefers Cicero cooker's Avatar
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    I generally buy used bikes from an LBS for around $200. I have not been able to find stuff (that I wanted) much cheaper. However, for that price I get recognized brands like Trek, Norco or Raleigh, usually 10-15 years old, and if I commute one season on them they pay for themselves. I've actually given a couple of rigid mountain bikes to charity after a year or two of use, but my 80's Panasonic road bike I commuted on from 1993 to 2005 and it's hardly the worse for wear.

  5. #5
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    I wouldn't call my bike a beater, but its FAR from a high end bike to. I have been commuting for the last few weeks on an old Schwinn, I converted to a single speed. I put on some straight bars with bar ends and just went for it. The first few trips were ok, but I was breaking the old spokes on my wheel every ride. So I had my rear wheel rebuilt with some new dt ss spokes. So far, I haven't broken anything and I have accidentally hit a few pot holes I really should have avoided. I am lucky enough to have made friends with the shop owner, so I got away with the rebuild pretty cheap. In all, I have spent maybe $100 total on my bike. And the majority of the wrench work was done by me too, so I saved some cash there as well. Commuting can be cheap, you just have to find the right deal. I just recently found a $10.00 Fuji Royale in craigslist, which will be my next project. Probably going fixed gear on it. Well good luck to your friend, I'm sure that whatever bike he goes with, he will have fun on it as long as its reliable.

  6. #6
    Urban Biker jimmuter's Avatar
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    I don't see a huge problem with entering into commuting with a cheapo bike. My main concern would be if the bike was such a pain to ride/maintain that it wasn't enjoyable, that's not encouraging people to look at long term commuting alternatives either. However, if they try it and end up enjoying it, they will likely decide to buy a better bike in the future anyway as they increase time in the saddle and a better bike makes a noticeable difference.

    I've said it before and I stand by my statement that someone who decides to bike commute simply because they want to save money is generally not going to stay in it for the long haul. Cycling, despite what some members of this forum will tell you, is not for everyone. Some people just do not enjoy it. That's hard for those of us who think it's loads of fun to understand, but it's true. By all means, buy a cheap bike. See if you enjoy cycling at all. If you don't, you are not out hundreds of dollars. If you really do, buy a nicer bike later when you've saved money by all that bike commuting that will make it even more enjoyable. I bike commute because I love it. I think it's fun. The other benefits are just gravy.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by CrosseyedCrickt
    EDIT
    What I am looking for here is other examples of beaters in the sub $150.00 range as well as ideas for newcomers. What prompted this thread was a conversation I had with a fellow employee who came on this board and made a post. The replys he got were enough to turn him off to biking all together. Mainly people telling him he couldn't do it for less than $400.00 and it's going to take me a while to convince him otherwise.
    Better stay away from the General Discussion list. The LBS claque is riding high in the saddle disparaging the usefulness/safety of any bike without LBS provenance. Or at least until such lowly bikes are blessed by an LBS service department.

  8. #8
    Senior Member godspiral's Avatar
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    I'm still very happy with a $cdn99 retail mtb I got from zellers that fits me well, and I put road tires on.

    I've also gotten some old but mid-high end road bikes for about the same price since, and the dept store bike is better for short rides because of handling and brakes. Maybe brand new wheels and bb makes a difference. It seems there's little problems with every bike, but they are easier to diagnose and fix on new ones. I like my road bikes too.

    For a beginner (probably close to where I started this year), wide flatbar will have easier handling and riding regardless of where you intend to ride. If you are looking for cheap, new and xmart is great if it fits.
    Last edited by godspiral; 07-10-06 at 10:21 AM.

  9. #9
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    I view a "beater bike" as a second bike. One has a good bike and a beater bike like one has church clothes and play clothes. What's nice about a beater bike is one is free from worrying it. It's hard to ride a new bike on winter salted roads. It's hard to take apart the bottom bracket of a new bike just to see how it works. But with a beater bike one is free to do just those things. So I don't consider a beater just an inexpensive bike, although they usually are.

    For a low budget bike all I can think to tell you is this one sign I saw years ago. It said: "Pick two of the three below... Time, Money, Quality" One can never get all three. So with a low budget bike price is chosen, leaving time or quality. If you want it now, then you go to Walmart and get a lower quality bike. If you want quality, then you will have to be patient and search and wait for a good used one, which may take years to find. Just ain't no other way.

  10. #10
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    "Department store bike" is a very broad category. Some of these bikes are fine, but I have seen some that I just don't think are worth the money (pretty much all of them). Some of them don't seem safe. My LBS takes a lot of repair work for these bikes and most of the problems that I have seen are broken brakes, bent wheels, and really poor setup (backwards forks/seatposts, brake not adjusted properly, etc.) The parts on many of these bikes are really crappy, and while they may work fine for years, I just wouln't want to bet my life on it.

    If someone who knows a thing or two about bikes buys one and keeps it maintained and checked, it could be fine and last for years. If they have the skill and access to tools and advice, I believe they are usually better off fixing up a quality used bike for the same price.

    What it boils down to is this: If someone reading this forum wants to buy a D.S. bike, fine. However, they may want to first look for a quality used bike. If they don't know that much about bikes, this is the perfect place to ask questions. The regulars here can tell them what to check to make sure the bike is okay and what fixing it may cost or where to get it done and so on. If a BF regular has a friend who wants to get into cycling, man up! Help 'em out! Go look at bikes with them and set them up with a bike they can afford that they will enjoy riding and be safe on. Teach them how to check for loose nuts. Show them how to adjust the brakes and change a tire.

    As for people who aren't reading this forum or don't know someone who is, there no point in discussing them. As far as they are concerned, this conversation never happened.
    Call me Joe. That's my name

  11. #11
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    P.S.

    If you just want a department store bike, I would get the one with no suspension at all. In my experience, the suspension forks and springs on these bikes don't last very long (think pogo sticks). Also, they are a lot cheaper and lighter.
    Call me Joe. That's my name

  12. #12
    Crankenstein bmclaughlin807's Avatar
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    Commuting on a budget is very possible, you just have to tune out all the noise, and concentrate on the essentials.

    The bike you want will depend mainly on how far you're going, and what the road conditions are.

    For a short (<5 mile) trip you can ride most anything, for a longer trip you want to make very sure the bike fits properly, both size and riding style.

    Also, on short trips, a backpack may be acceptable for carrying stuff (If you need to carry anything at all)... for a longer trip you'll want a rack and trunkbag or panniers.

    Between my two bikes, tools, gear to go on the bike, and gear for me to wear, I've put $350 in... And saved more than $1000 on what I used to spend driving my truck everywhere.

    I have a '72 Schwinn Super Sport I picked up at a thrift store for $20... Put on new tires, cables and seat, for a working bike under $80

    My other bike is a mid-80's (so I'm told) Raleigh Technium I picked up for $50 off of Craigslist. The only thing it needed to run was a pair of pedals (I went cheap... $5)... Since then I've replaced both tires ($25), added a rear rack ($30) and panniers ($35), plus a cheap light for like $10 for the few times I venture out after dark.

    You'll also want, at a minimum, a pump and patch kit (can be had for as low as about $10, as well)

    I've also bought a few tools for working on my bikes, to keep them in shape, multi-tool costs about $20, spoke wrench for truing the wheels is about $5 or so...

    The ONLY serious problem I've had with my bike is the rear wheel, and that was from getting hit by a motorist, not anything wrong with the bike itself.

    Also, if the commute is going to be longer, you should look into some clothing for it... It does make life much more pleasant.

    I bought a couple under-armor type shirts from Walmart ($10 ea) that I wear under a normal shirt if it's cool, or by itself if it's hot out. They do help a lot!

    The only other thing I really need for commuting is a good light, and I won't really NEED that till this fall, for commuting when it's not so light out.

    Bottom line is that you DON'T have to spend a fortune to enjoy a bicycle, whether it be for commuting, excercise, pure enjoyment, or a mix of all three!
    "There is no greater wonder than the way the face and character of a woman fit so perfectly in a man's mind, and stay there, and he could never tell you why. It just seems it was the thing he most wanted." Robert Louis Stevenson

  13. #13
    Packfodding 3 caloso's Avatar
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    So having said this, what is inheritantly wrong with someone picking up a decent $20.00 department store bike and making a few minor modifications to make it more trustworthy as an everyday commuter?
    No. Nothing at all wrong. The problem is that many new commuters don't know enough about bike mechanics to spot a potential problem or to make the modifications to make it trustworthy.

    What I am looking for here is other examples of beaters in the sub $150.00 range as well as ideas for newcomers.
    I would recommend checking the yard sales (might be worth it to take a trip out to the suburbs) and your local craigslist for an older (late 80s) steel mountain bike from a reputable brand (Giant/Specialized/GT/Trek/etc.). They often have 6 or 7 speed cassettes, Biopace (!), bombproof 36 or 40 spoke wheels, friction or early-generation indexed shifting, rigid steel forks, traditional horizontal toptubes, and attachment points for racks and fenders. These make ideal commuters, grocery-getters, trailer-haulers, etc.

    I happened to find an early Specialized Hard Rock at a neighborhood garage sale for $40 (less than I recently spent on a single tire for my race bike, but that's the subject of another thread). The best bang-for-the buck bike purchase I've made all year.
    Cyclists of the world, unite! You have nothing to lube but your chains!

  14. #14
    No-Pants Island bbonnn's Avatar
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    Edit: JoeUser posted the same thing while I was posting this drivelly version. Ignore the below.



    I was thinking about this over the weekend at Target, where I saw some $99 bikes that had rear suspensions and shocks. My thought would be, if you're gonna get a department store bike, don't go for the gizmo-loaded mountain bike. They have cheapo extra parts (springs, fancy tubes, etc.) that I suspect would break easily. I'd go for the simplest frame, without the springs and gizmos.

    I'm talking about a fancy-schmancy-looking bike like this:

    http://www.target.com/gp/detail.html...sin=B000EG9Q64
    (lots of moving parts, add-ons, flashy stuff)

    versus this, which I would probably buy:

    http://www.target.com/gp/detail.html...sin=B000EGBTLY
    (simple frame, no funny stuph)

    But that's just my instinct. I could be completely wrong.

    I do think a "buying guide" for department store bikes would be in order. There are people who (for their own reasons) don't want to trust a pawn shop bike, want a new bike, and want one under $150.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by CrosseyedCrickt
    Can anyone else toss in a few more ideas to help out those in search of this sort of bike?
    The places I'd look for are the department store, yard sales, flea markets, and people's trash/dumpsters (seriously).

    As a boy/young man in middle school I got my first mountain bike from a department store. It was one of those cheap $120 (1993) bikes I bought with money I earned at a part-time job. The bike opened up new areas to explore that got me to my friends, YMCA, beach, store, work, etc. As I got older I had a car, then a nice mountain bike, $700 (1998). I moved around a lot and I kept the old mountain bike at my parents place. Whenever I visit them I pull out the old bike and I ride. After owning the newer bike I appreciate better quality parts but the old bike met my needs. The only problem I had was one shifter lever broke off due to poor quality, which I later replaced. Also, I think my mileage was lower back then compared to now so if had ridden more the bike may have had more problems.

    With that said I say go find anything you can. Find an ugly bike? Spray paint it! Flat tires or broken rims? Find another beater and swap the tires! If your beater transportation cost you $50 and does the job then be happy you got a good deal.

    If you are a multi-modal transportation user then I'd consider looking at something in a higher class, preferably a light folder. Who knows, you may get lucky and find an abandoned one.
    Last edited by tjh_bike; 07-10-06 at 11:05 AM.

  16. #16
    No-Pants Island bbonnn's Avatar
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    Consumer Reports does recommend the $280 Mongoose Switchback Sport in their Jule 2006 bike ratings, but that's the very cheapest one they listed in their ratings. The highest rated hybrid was the Schwinn Sierra GS ($340), which was interesting because they included more expensive Jamis and Specialized bikes in the list. They did caution users against sub-$200 new bikes for all but the most casual use, for the reasons others have stated above.

    Another question, then: if you're going to get a used bike for under $150, what should you look for in terms of avoiding irreparably damaged bikes? Like, if the chain is completely rusted out, does that mean you simply have to replace the chain, or does it bode ill for the gears, shifters and other components? What's a 10-minute assessment of bike condition for a new rider who doesn't know an toeclip from a water bottle cage?

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by caloso
    I would recommend checking the yard sales (might be worth it to take a trip out to the suburbs) and your local craigslist for an older (late 80s) steel mountain bike from a reputable brand (Giant/Specialized/GT/Trek/etc.). They often have 6 or 7 speed cassettes, Biopace (!), bombproof 36 or 40 spoke wheels, friction or early-generation indexed shifting, rigid steel forks, traditional horizontal toptubes, and attachment points for racks and fenders. These make ideal commuters, grocery-getters, trailer-haulers, etc.
    +1 The nice thing about living somewhere like metro Detroit where there aren't that many cyclists out there on weekdays is that lots of people buy decent midprice bikes ($400-600 range), use them once or twice, then in the garage they stay for 4 or 5 years when they decide to have a yard sale or get rid of stuff on Craigslist. Many people just price the bikes to get out of their garages quickly. For that matter, you could try posting a "bike wanted" ad on Craigslist. That may net you the really lazy people who decide they want to clear out their garage after reading your ad. I know someone who got a Brooks saddle in great condition for $20 that way.

  18. #18
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    My first bike was a dept. store reject that I bought or $30. It served me well for a few months. By then I knew enough about bikes and cycling to get my current bike--a Specialized MTB that I got in a pawn shop for $100. I'm still loving it 4 years later.

    To give you an idea, here's a sample of what's currently available at my pawn shop:

    • A nice Giant MTB in cherry condition--$130, 30 day warranty.
    • A MTB in fair shape with flat paint job, runs good. $60, 30 day wty.
    • A true beater, $35, "As Is."


    "Think Outside the Cage"

  19. #19
    Packfodding 3 caloso's Avatar
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    Cyclists of the world, unite! You have nothing to lube but your chains!

  20. #20
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    I agree going used quality, and put some TLC into it and it will last MUCH longer than a dept. store bike. Old Schwinn and Ralleighs are always around in either craigslist, yard sales, swap meets. If the bike has a solid frame, straight wheels, and the crank turns the wheel, you can do safety upgrades for pennies...break pads and cables...check the tubes and tires. Go single speed if the derailers dont work, and if they do, do some basic online research, replace cables and adjust them. Take a wire brush to the rust spots, usually on the components. Seriously, if you look hard enough and are willing to put what you put into your gas tank for repairs initially, you can have a bike that will last for at least 3 or 4 years with minimal maintenance. All this and it could be cheaper than a new dept store bike, and you'll probabally have to do these repairs to almost any used bike in the "beater" category anyways.

  21. #21
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    I think garage sales are a good source of used bikes. They take alot of time, though. I haven't had the patience to chase these bikes down. I did buy a $15 1980's Raleigh 12 speed bike from an individual. It almost qualifies as a garage sale. I was in his garage when I bought it.

    My best luck has been buying bikes at bike stores that sell used bikes. I paid a premium for the convenience of not having to track the bikes down myself. There is one LBS here that takes trad-ins and resells those bikes. I find a bigger selection at bike stores near college campuses.

    Paid $150 for 1980's Specialized Hardrock rigid steel MTB at LBS in early 1990's. Was a rental bike.
    Paid $100 for used Specialized Hardrock rigid steel MTB at bike store near a college in 2005.
    Paid $185 for 1990's really nice Rocky Mountain steel hardtail MTB at bike store near a college in 2005.
    Paid $15 for 1980's Raleigh 12 speed road bike advertised in credit union ads.
    Paid $250 for 1995 Bianchi Premio at LBS in 2006. Was a trade-in bike.

  22. #22
    Crankenstein bmclaughlin807's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by caloso
    *drools* Damn. I wish I had a fraction of those.... I certainly wouldn't be worrying about how much a new hub for my rear wheel was gonna cost me.
    "There is no greater wonder than the way the face and character of a woman fit so perfectly in a man's mind, and stay there, and he could never tell you why. It just seems it was the thing he most wanted." Robert Louis Stevenson

  23. #23
    Crankenstein bmclaughlin807's Avatar
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    Hey... just as an aside, I just found out that the Salvation Army here in Denver has a bicycle auction every weekday morning, where you can get bikes and groups of bikes for as low as $5.... I'm gonna go check it out.

    Maybe they have something like that in your area.

    I figure they must get a TON of bikes to do this 5 times a week... there's got to be some good ones in there!
    "There is no greater wonder than the way the face and character of a woman fit so perfectly in a man's mind, and stay there, and he could never tell you why. It just seems it was the thing he most wanted." Robert Louis Stevenson

  24. #24
    domestique squeakywheel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bmclaughlin807
    Hey... just as an aside, I just found out that the Salvation Army here in Denver has a bicycle auction every weekday morning, where you can get bikes and groups of bikes for as low as $5.... I'm gonna go check it out.

    Maybe they have something like that in your area.

    I figure they must get a TON of bikes to do this 5 times a week... there's got to be some good ones in there!
    Our salvation army usually has 3 or 4 bikes. Allways $25 each. Never found one I wanted, though. Kind of like garage sales. You have to be willing to stop in often trolling for the one you want.

  25. #25
    domestique squeakywheel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bbonnn
    I was thinking about this over the weekend at Target, where I saw some $99 bikes that had rear suspensions and shocks. My thought would be, if you're gonna get a department store bike, don't go for the gizmo-loaded mountain bike. They have cheapo extra parts (springs, fancy tubes, etc.) that I suspect would break easily. I'd go for the simplest frame, without the springs and gizmos.
    I think the same is true at real bike stores. The low end models these days just have cheap components that look like the expensive models. A new $350 MTB should be a rigid frame. Not a look-a-like for the $800 bike with toy shock absorbers that won't last.

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