Well, I found myself a “beater bike”.

Originally I was looking for a folding bike. That evolved into being pretty sure I wanted/needed a Brompton.

The reason? For rolling the flat 1 km or so from the house to the railway station on the one day or two a week that I don’t ride all the way to the CBD on the recumbent. A folder seemed logical to enable taking the bike on the train with me. An added benefit, I thought, would be that on days where large storms knock out public transport, I could just unfold my Brompton and still get home.

Anyway, after trying a folding bike and looking into them a bit, I became pretty convinced the only folding bike to bother with is Brompton. One of the main reasons was foldability. If I was going to take it on and off busy trains, it had to be really easy to fold, and compact and light when folded. No other bike comes close to Brompton in this regard.

I looked into pricing. A Brompton, in my desired configuration, would set me back about $2600. I have paid that amount for bikes before, but that was the electric Gazelle, a bike I used every day. A bike that replaced me catching public transport, and also replaced a great proportion of the trips I did in my car.

I haven’t been riding the electric Gazelle that much lately though.

My main bike has been the recumbent for the past year. It’s ideal for my 30km, mostly flat commute from Sandgate to the CBD. So with me riding the recumbent in most days, and only tootling a couple of kays every other day on the Brompton, perhaps I wouldn’t really use a Brompton enough to justify the huge price tag.

I was mulling this over in bed one night, and just as I was falling asleep, I had a great idea.

I didn’t need a Brompton. I just needed a solid bike that I could ride to the station, in my office clothes, and leave at the bike racks all day. My neighbour has an office job in the CBD too and rides a beater MTB to and from the station every day. It’s perfect. That would save me stuffing around with folding a bike at either end, and lugging it up to my desk. The walk from my CBD station to my work is only 5 mins.

But hang on – shouldn’t I have a few beater bikes lying around I could just use?

It’s weird. Without realising it I’d gradually transitioned from only ever riding shit bikes, to somehow getting rid of all those and having only really nice bikes that I always keep locked up in the shed and am not game to leave out in the open for any length of time. If I had a crappy bike I didn’t care about, I could just leave it at the station all the day like my neighbour does. Sandgate station is a little different to most other stations. There are a bunch of racks outside the station and they are well used by locals who commute to the CBD by train and use an old bike to connect in this way.

There are bike boxes at the station as well, but getting one organised and then opening and closing it every day is such a pain.

So I started looking for beater bikes. I was pretty keen on mudguards and a bomb-proof drive-train. A rear rack would be excellent too. It could end up being my shopping bike as well. For my ideal beater bike, I visualised one like the millions of fairly similar, fairly generic utility bikes lying around Amsterdam. Having had countless different owners, being left out in all weather all the time. Having fallen into a canal, being pulled back out, then ridden some more. I wanted something like that. I knew I probably wouldn’t find a Dutch beater bike.

A bit of searching led to me bidding on this Schwinn.

It was rusty and neglected, but didn’t actually look that old or well used. I like Schwinn bikes. This one had mudguards, a rack, and best of all, it already had a name! Willy! Not single speed, but a pretty simple, older school derailleur gear system. I thought it was pretty perfect and took the lead in bidding at $37.

Then I looked on Gumtree found something better. A lot better. But a bit dearer.

I thought about it for a day, and I just couldn't get this bike out of my head. I forgot about my $35 bid on Willy and started hassling the fella who’d posted the ad.

I messaged him saying I had his asking price in cash, and to just say the word and I would come and take the bike away.

A day passed and he didn’t respond to my Gumtree message. I couldn’t let it go so I called him. That went to that crappy voice to text service and I was sure he wouldn’t get the message. I thought he’d probably sold the bike.

In the mean time I got outbid by $1 on Willy. Cara and I had a look at the tip recycling shop at Geebung, and while it had a lot of great kids bikes, there was only one adult bike, a crappy old MTB.

And then as I was walking out of the Geebung tip shop, I got a text from the Gumtree guy! The bike is still available – he’d just been out of town. Come round this afternoon he said.

I set a time, withdrew the cash and got to his place right on the dot. He had a newborn baby and my dream beater bike and I didn’t want to stuff him around.

He answered the door and turned out to be the biggest champion ever. We had a whinge to each other about mandatory helmet laws. He told me he loved the bike, but didn’t use it in his new suburb as it’s single speed and his suburb has hills. And he filled me on the bike’s story and adventures up until now:

He purchased it from a pawn shop in South Africa when he was living there years ago. He rode it around heaps, mostly down to the beach and back. He’d just leave it out in the sun and rain but it was so bomb proof he’d just occasionally spray it down with the hose and that was enough to keep it in good nick. After a long time, the seat perished. He ended up getting some local taxi dudes to lend their skills reupholstering the seat with this hardcore, taxi-proof  vinyl stuff. They charged him an amount of Rand which equated to 2 Australian dollars at the time.

Eventually, the fella moved to Australia and couldn’t part with the bike, so brought it over with him. Alas, his new hilly suburb prevented him from riding it as much as he would have liked.

I could tell he had a little bit of remorse in selling his bike, but seemed happy at how enthusiastic I was about it, and conceded that at least it was going to a good home. After a good yarn I thought I better go before he changed his mind and handed my money back to me.

I racked the bike on the car took off home. I couldn’t wait to look at it closer and ride it.

Upon me arriving home the (other) neighbour saw me take the bike off the car and scurried over and asked me all about it. He demanded to know how much I paid, and when I wouldn’t tell him, he told me I should just buy a bike for $120 from Kmart. I bluntly informed him that such a bike would be “shit” and that I’ve been down that road and have no interest in such things. I then showed him everything that makes my new old bike cool. Bombproof, high quality Dutch steel frame. The smooth rolling, bottle dynamo light. The bomb-proof, simple single speed drive train with hub brake. The wheel lock. The custom upholstered South African taxi dude seat. This neighbour generally critiques everything I do, but even he conceded the bike is brilliant and I could tell he wanted to call it his own.

I pumped up the tyres and took it for a ride. I initially had the dynamo engaged and it seemed ridable enough. I disengaged the dynamo. My very first impression was how swiftly it accelerated when I stood up and pedalled. It’s not super light, not super heavy. Maybe it is the rigid steel frame, the direct and simple drive train, or smart, well engineered Dutch geometry. Probably a combination of all those factors.

I rolled the one block down to the Sandgate waterfront. I had no trouble pedalling, even into the 10 knot north easterly. Then I turned south, down wind, and man that is the best feeling.

A typical Sunday afternoon in these parts has people flock to the waterside. It’s kind of funny at low tide actually, when they’re all there, all set up, overlooking the smelly mud, but anyway. The wind pushed me a long and I barely had to do anything.

The bike is without a bell, but I found the position just lends itself to blending in and slipping past crowds of people, dogs, kids on scooters, etc. You turn the pedals over slowly and the whole world slows down. You just glide. No problem at all. The bike is not fast. You hop on, turn pedals, get places.

I got down the Shorncliffe, hopped out of the saddle and fanged it up the steep hill to get up on top of the cliffs, getting about half way before I had to hop down and push. No need for a granny gear when you have legs.

I got to the top and took off again, heading along the cliff tops, looking out, feeling rather delighted with myself and the day. This is one of my favourite spots to ride.

You basically sit on about 15 km/h on the bike. It’s easy. You just start turning the pedals, you’re instantly up to speed, then you just look around and watch the world and contemplate life. I completed my loop down through Kurlew Park and back into Sandgate again.

As I was waiting to cross Rainbow street, that guy with the Delorean came round the corner, and warbled up the road. Some young, quite drunk guy sitting at the nearby bus stop bellowed “Woooooo! Deeelooorreaaannn!”. As I was grinning at that, the walk signal turned green and I took off across the intersection. A woman waiting at the lights called to me through her open window, with the best look of confusion/excitement: “Was that a delorean?!”. I confirmed it to her as I passed.

I got home, clicked the wheel lock in and lent the bike against the fence in the back yard. It’s tough, leaving it out there, but I bought the bike to use it, and a true utility bike is always ready to go, not locked up in the shed.  

So after all that, I probably should briefly go over the specs.

It is an old Gazelle Impala. Not sure what year. Probably 80s, maybe 90s. Gazelle still sells this model, only the modern one has a 7-speed hub gearbox and some other modern features.

My old one has a steel diamond frame. Colour is kinda black/green (never been good at describing colours). It has a decent bottle dynamo and a nice, old school dynamo light on the front. The rear has the skeleton of a light that has been ripped off at some point. It has a kick stand that droops down a bit. It has a wheel lock (no chain though) and a key for it. It has the afore-mentioned, awesome taxi vinyl upholstered seat. The seat is comfy with good springs. The drive train is single speed with a back-peddle, hub brake. There is a very slight amount of play perhaps in the bottom bracket.

Things I will probably do to the bike, although in no hurry, because it’s my bomb-proof utility bike (not calling it a beater bike anymore): Will attach a sturdy dynamo-powered light to the back and wire it up. Will fix the kick stand – perhaps needs a new spring, adjustment, or just replacement. Will remove the chain cover and probably replace the chain, or at least give it a good degrease and lube. Will eventually try and service the bottom bracket and get it running sweet. Should probably invest in a really solid U-lock for when I leave it at the station all day. Will probably look at doing a Dutch Bike Bits order in the medium term for some of these items. And I’ll eventually google a bit and narrow down it’s year of manufacture.

As for Willy, it wasn’t to be. Someone else outbid me by $1 and got him for $38. I think that is a really good deal for that bike.

I think that’s it. Thanks for reading. 

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Comment by David on November 2, 2015 at 9:39pm

Re Paul & you ... He, he. I remember taking a friend on the back of my (large CC) motorcycle. He was quite a bit heavier than me. Through peak hour traffic. Let's say ... never again. That was some time ago now.

Aaron's bike is lovely. I really like the looks of upright bikes. They seem to encourage peace and calmness ... and a "let's enjoy this ride/interaction."

A great memory of our recent holiday in Finland was 3 male teenagers 16, 17 or something, riding 3 different uprights side-by-side on the footpath, laughing and talking to each other. The bikes were not the focus, they were just getting from point A to B. Then minutes later, 2 teenage girls were on an old upright single speed. One  started off and got a little speed, the other jumped on the rack and hung on.

No helmets to be seen of course.

The way things should be.

Comment by Dirk on November 2, 2015 at 8:57pm

Hey David, I have dinked Cara quite a few times on various bikes. She's a good passenger. I remember Paul Martin tried to dink me a few times and we could never get even a metre! The weight distribution was so off with 85 kg of Dirk on the back. Paul and I should have swapped.

I remember really liking the look of that Dutch Union bike Aaron. I look forward to seeing it in the wild again!

Comment by Aaron Ball on October 26, 2015 at 8:28am

Hey Dirk, your new Gazelle is a lot like the Dutch Union bike I have. Although mine's a 3 speed, it generally just rolls along at its preferred speed, not yours, but it does seem to just keep rolling along effortlessly. 

Comment by David on October 24, 2015 at 12:21am

I would be v impressed Dirk if I saw you and your gf like this at Sandgate/Shorncliffe getting fish'n chips ...

That's how I used to pick up my (now) wife after her work when we lived in Finland.

It's the way it should be!

Some more "how it should be pics from the 'net ... (not to hijack your thread)

Comment by Dirk on October 23, 2015 at 11:33pm

I thought I'd be lucky if anyone even read this, let alone leave such kind words. Thanks all.

Sheldon Brown sums it up well:

Riding a singlespeed can help bring back the unfettered joy you experienced riding your bike as a child. You don't realize how much mental energy you devote to shifting until you relinquish your derailers, and discover that a whole corner of your brain that was formerly wondering when to shift is now free to enjoy your surroundings and sensations.

Paradoxically, a singlespeed is, in another sense, more efficient than a multispeed bike! While the single gear ratio will not be the "perfect" gear ratio for all conditions, in the conditions which fit the single gear, it is considerably more efficient mechanically than the drivetrain of a derailer bike.

Thoughts over the week since I bought it:

It's so great to have a bike that's always just lying around ready to go. It's lead to me to a lot more short rides around my locale. Things like riding along the water with my gf to get fish and chips at a different shop to usual, etc.

I think I paid too much for the bike - it's pretty tired. But then again, how often do they come up? And I have spent $200 on way stupider things which I have enjoyed way less. I kind of have an urge to do it up a bit, or perhaps pay someone who's really good at that kind of stuff.

But I don't know. I wanted a beater bike! 

Going to buy a solid U-lock and start leaving it at the station next week. So far I have taken it with me on the train only.

The dynamo light is truly crap. But it looks so charming! And it allows me to be seen. It just doesn't allow me to see! Haha. One day I can replace it with a similar-looking but better performing one I suppose. Probably unnecessary.

I could go on.

Comment by David on October 22, 2015 at 1:39pm

I bluntly informed him that such a bike would be “shit”

Only found this report now Dirk.

A great bike but an even better read. Please keep us informed if you ever write a book! 5 stars from me.

Comment by Geoff Tewierik on October 20, 2015 at 9:22am

I think you've experienced the zen of riding a fixie, or in your case a SS.

Comment by Raymond on October 20, 2015 at 12:55am

Brilliant writing Dirk, and I'm glad you've sensibly resisted the Brompton route (for now) - there's one thing worse than not having a Brompton, and that is having one only to not ride it much! ;)

Comment by DavidC on October 19, 2015 at 10:52pm

Smile on my face Dirk. Brilliant.

Comment by Melvyn Yap on October 19, 2015 at 1:35pm

Awesome story Dirk! I don't have a bike like this but by chance I sometimes get to ride one (on holidays usually), and the first pedal stroke always send a shiver down my spine. Not sure what it is, but no other bikes give me this feeling. Perhaps it triggered my childhood memories of how excited I was when I first learn how to ride a bike.

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