Abused commuter bikes

Yesterday we talked about hot road bikes for the commute. Lightweight road bikes, though, can be a little finicky, and many of us like to keep the sporting equipment in pristine condition.

In a comment, Steve asked the question: “What constitutes ‘commuter bike abuse’?” A few things come to mind for me; I’m sure CBB readers can contribute plenty more!

23 bikes on the bike car
  • Public transportation. I regularly take Caltrain in the San Francisco Bay Area. Bikes are stacked against each other, resulting in scratched and chipped frames, bent derailleur hangers, and other abuse. I hesitate to bring my nice bike into this mosh pit. The treatment of bikes on transit systems like this, in fact, is a good argument for getting a cheap discount store bike.
  • Weather. Rain, snow, ice, and slush! All of these reduce the life and increase the maintenance costs of pricey components on high end bikes. Compare the cost of a 10 speed chain ($50) against a singlespeed chain ($10), and think also that tolerances on utility bikes typically aren’t so tight that you need to replace the chain and cogs every few thousand miles.
  • Road conditions. On recreational road rides, you can pick and choose your route. Roadies typically like long, smooth, clean stretches of open road uninterrupted by stop signs and traffic signals. My commute this last week took me through two construction zones, including an asphalt job that left globs of black gunk on my downtube. I’ve traveled through mud left after bike path flooding, gravel, sand and other grit that reduces the life of bike components. I’d prefer this damage on the cheap beater bike than on my nice sport bike.
  • Shortcuts. Yes, I can hop curbs with my road bike, but I’d prefer not to.
    Roadside Recycler
  • Traffic mishaps. My commute takes me through very heavy urban traffic. Last year, I was right hooked and I hit the car at about 15 mph. The steel bike I rode required only a slight handlebar adjustment. While my Roubaix is a little more stout than the typical lightweight racer, I’m not sure a carbon fork and low spoke count wheel would have survived that encounter.
  • Loads, lights and fenders. Most people don’t worry too much about carrying piles of groceries on a beater bike, but somehow it just doesn’t look quite right on a sport bicycle ๐Ÿ™‚

What other abuse might you heap on a bike during your commute?

Photos Credit: Richard Masoner.

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0 thoughts on “Abused commuter bikes”

  1. How about the ol’ twisting broken spokes around other spokes so you can just get home already “trick” [even though it’ll just mess up your rim even more].

    Can’t imagine anyone doing that to a $1000+ bike.


  2. All good reasons to use an internal hub, steel frame, and fenders for your commuter ๐Ÿ™‚ Getting rid of the derailleur system simplifies the “weather” and “caltrain” aspect enormously when there’s nothing to break off and no thin chain to wear out.

  3. Paul in Minneapolis says:

    I abuse both my bikes… breaks my heart, but they do the trick…Riding in the rain: after crashing my Surly LHT, I replaced the hoods and tape only to find the handlebars were corroded through. That is when I figured out why all the old bikes with drop bars have no tape, easier to dry after rain.

  4. BTW, I’m not sure I’d call “Rain, Snow, and Slush” abuse, and I’m borderline on “Road Conditions”. To me, this is just plain _use_, especially if you live somewhere with less than perfect roads and weather.

  5. SteveS says:

    Nice post. I think it clears up some things I don’t experience on my commute. I’m moving to a new area soon, however, and may need to rethink my commuter bike strategy depending on a few of these considerations. Thanks, everyone!

  6. Two words: “Getting stolen”

    My nice road bike never gets left anywhere other than in her kennel at home. I know that anything with drop handlebars is far less likely to get stolen (see quickrelease.tv’s anti-theft tactic #2), but I still don’t leave her out & about for anyone to get tempted.

    And my bike-around-town bikes are:
    o A fast, but worthless (in looks and real.ร‚ยฃvalue) looking hybrid – a.k.a. A Sturdy Commuting Bike
    o A fast, but quirky fixie
    o A DIY cargo bike.

    Resale value of any of these three? So low as to render them not worth your average bike-thieving scumbag to bother pinching.

  7. Juan says:

    Due to a tweaked back a few weeks ago, my girlfriend and I took the bus home. The racks on the front were taken so you can probably guess where our bikes ended up….on top of each other in the cargo area below. If I had my road bike, I would have ridden it home instead of sticking it in there.

  8. tadster says:

    bike rack blues:
    my 925 has several scratches along the top tube, inflicted by hasty cyclists smashing their bikes against it while it was locked to a bike rack.

    It’s not so much abuse as it is par for the course though. You can’t expect to lock a bike outside and not see it occasionally take some superficial damage. If I had a nice road bike, I would more than likely not commute with it, nor would I lock it outside if I could help it.

    I figure some bike ugliness builds character.

  9. XchokeX says:

    It all sounds like normal everyday stuff to me. Abuse would be throwing it down the stairs or letting your buddy borrow it for the weekend. Bikes aren’t going to last forever.

  10. ethan says:

    On my ride home last night I thought about how I abuse my commuter bike. By not maintaining it. It’s nice to have a bike that doesn’t need to be lubed or tuned all the time. I can let it be dirty. I can let it chirp and rattle. It still goes. (Yes, I plan on doing a little maintenance tonight.)

  11. Nicole says:

    I’m with ethan — I like that my old commuter doesn’t ask for much. Also, having a dedicated commuter means I don’t have to worry about carrying a messenger bag or swapping fenders, racks, etc in and out. The road bike is always ready for a recreational ride, and the commuter is always ready for a commute or errand run about town.

  12. Ed W says:

    Over a couple of weeks, spilled Gatorade accumulated around the bottom bracket on my Bianchi. I thought it was just overspray from the aerosol chainlube…until it started to attract bees. I had to gently shoo them away before I could ride home.

  13. burnsey says:

    A dedicated commuter bike is the answer. Who cares if some tired, overworked, just got yelled at by a cager, ties his bike too close to yours on the rack. Rain? Oh well. Lube? Tomorrow. Dirt? Adds character. When I see expensive specialty bikes used for transportation, I wonder, what are they thinking? Yeah, I lock mine, but I don’t worry too much, as I don’t have a lot of money invested it it.

  14. LoneRider says:

    I would say have a bike to commute on as well as a “fun bike”. Sometimes they can be both, however. I find for the commuter I attach things like light mounts etc. and can leave them there, whereas on my road bike I’m tempted to remove them when finished which is no help the nextmorning.

    Besides, the commute bike is still faster than the commute car in traffic. Who needs ten speed chains? In my day we did it with five gears in the back and a downtube flipper…

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