HOBBIES: Any spokesperson will tell you, you can’t beat a beater

Notorious film director John Waters was once asked why, with his reputation for making movies described as everything from offbeat to obscene, he drove such an ordinary car as an Oldsmobile. His answer was that if he ever committed a crime, he didn’t want to be driving anything that witnesses might remember. And the odds of this ever happening?

“Anyone can have a bad night,” he said dryly.

Not everyone in Edmonton worries about standing out at a crime scene. But not every hip cyclist dreams of riding the newest, fastest, or even the cleanest bike, either. Often it’s that they’ve become attached to a particular old bicycle and feel like showing the world that not everything needs to be flashy or new.

Anti-style style, so to speak. In a city with plenty of reasons to ride bikes, everyone from the daily commuter to the weekend warrior could benefit from their approach when it comes to saving your wallet on wheels.

To be clear, these riders ar ren’t pedalling restored classics. They’ve got rust where the paint has been scratched and the handlebar tape, if there is any, hangs rag-like in some places. They’re not hipster bikes: they’re just old. But with a little TLC, they work just fine.

“I’m all about reusing bikes instead of buying new ones. Old bikes like these have a lot of character. Anyone can go to a department store and get a new bike,” says Mike Benusic, 23.

Beusic is a year-round bicycle commuter and says he’s never paid more than $5 for a bicycle. His current ride, a yellow 1970s “Sprinter” 10-speed with steel wheels, was free at a waste roundup in Sherwood Park. Technically, he doesn’t even consider it his beater bike. That title goes to a brown Sears Free Spirit that was found in a barn, but he doesn’t ride it much now because the crank arm hasn’t fit tightly on the bottom bracket axle since he took it on a tour of Ontario.

Even Benusic’s nickname for his Sprinter is meant to be inconspicuous. He calles it “Michael” — the same as his name and his grandfather’s.

“I wanted to be as original as my parents were,” he jokes.

Jane Driedger’s beater bike stands out a bit more than the average clunker, but not because of any desire to attract attention. The 30-year-old’s Fuji road bike, which she bought at a community yard sale for $10 when she lived in Winnipeg, has a yellow milk crate attached to the rear rack for carrying groceries.

Milk crates are more common on bikes in Winnipeg, Driedger explains, and she says she doesn’t see any point in spending money on panniers to replace a system that she says works perfectly well. She admits, though, that the crate is a bit harder to swing her leg over when she mounts the bike.

The Fuji has also been personalized a bit — there’s a bumper sticker that says “Cowgirl” and a battery-powered airhorn. It’s ecclectic, like Driedger, who is known for wearing rainbow-patterned socks when she rides.

The Fuji is actually several inches in size too large for Driedger. But even though she commutes on it every day, she brushes off suggestions she should replace it with another.

“I guess I’m pretty modest with my belongings. I don’t go and buy my furniture new. I’ve never bought a brand new bike,” she says. “I’m not too concerned if [this one] gets scratched or if the bar tape gets ripped.”

“I’ve never been able to afford a fancy bike. I’m sure they would be nice to ride … But I don’t want to get something nice and get it stolen.”

And that’s a key advantage to riding a beater bicycle — they are unappealing to thieves. Some riders have beaters that are so junky they don’t even lock them, although cyclists who do this run the risk that their rides will be accidentally thrown in the back of a passing garbage truck.

The beater bike owner sees beauty in a bike’s utility.

Maintenance on beater bikes isn’t usually a high-priority, and repairs and cleaning are often put off until absolutely necessary. But a strange thing happens to the owners of old bikes over time. They grow attached to their ugly ducklings.

Cyclists with expensive bikes grow attached to their rides, too, but it’s different. They know someone will always love their bike because of its value. Beater owners love their bikes because they know they probably saved them from a landfill. They know they are the only ones who love their bikes.

Benusic says he’s already growing fond of the Sprinter even though he’s barely owned it a year. And he says he wants to preserve his Free Spirit, busted crank and all, as a memento of the tour he used it on. Driedger, meanwhile, has nicknamed her bike “The Silver Bullet.”

She says that when she loaded up her car and moved to Edmonton several years back, bringing her Fuji with the milk crate was a high priority.

“I gave away all my furniture and half my clothes but that thing was coming with me,” Driedger says.

“I wouldn’t have been concerned if somebody stole my car but I’ve actually had dreams of someone stealing my bike and me beating them to a bloody pulp.”