Building a Beater Bike

A review from one of our team riders, for more please visit

So you’re thinking that the cycling season is just too short and you don’t want to expose your expensive bike to the mud, salt, snow and ice of fall, winter and early spring. There is a solution my friend, build a beater.

Building a beater not only allows you to extend your cycling to year round in most areas, but it also challenges you to build a bike. Isn’t it expensive you ask? Not at all. If you’re smart and know where to look a beater can cost less than $200.00. My two beater bikes cost me less than 200 and I ride them year round on trails and as commuter bikes. You say you’re less than mechanically inclined? Ask a friend to drop by, make a night of putting together a bike. It doesn’t really take that long with all the parts. Make sure to throw in some beverages, maybe a mountain bike movie and you’ve got a cheap night of entertainment with the end product being a working bike.

Here are the six steps I take in building my beater bike:

1. Take stock of what you have:
Go through your old parts. Remember this is a beater bike. It’s going to be ridden in bad conditions, or a be commuter so it may even get stolen. Any working part will do. Rigid fork, thumbshifters, biopace crankset, cantilever brakes? As long as they work. After you’ve figured out what you have you can figure out what you need.

Be cautious of the cost of building a bike. It can get expensive if you’re not careful. Sometimes it makes more sense to purchase a complete used or low end bike, trash the components and replace them when they fail.

2. Figure out what you want:
After you’ve looked at your stock, it’s time to sit down and envision what you want to be riding. This is a beater so you’re not looking to put a lot of money into it. A high end frame is probably not a reality unless you have one lying around in your basement. Figure out if you want disk brakes, suspension etc. This will dictate the bottom line when you’re done.

3. New or Used?
I prefer buying used when it comes to a beater bike. I have enough bikes that a slightly bent derailleur that will still work is good enough for me in this application. It wont sit well on my high end all mountain bike, but on my beater, why not?

There may be some pieces you may want to splurge on. Perhaps disk brakes are on your necessity list, or a solid wheelset, regardless you need to check prices. I usually check online to see what is going to fit into my budget. Where you buy your parts is completely up to you. I’ve purchased many items from the ECMTB buy and sell forum, as well as local bike shops that sell used bikes i.e. Sportwheels in Sackville. Often times bike shops in general will have used or warranty frames / forks that they are very willing to sell for a good price. Friends are a great source as well. I’ve given away more bike parts than I can remember.

4. Go shopping:
Buy all your parts. This may take a while. Don’t expect to get all your parts at one place or from one person. Buy your bike piece by piece, put the pieces in your storage room / closet / garage and when you get all the parts, have that bike building party… even if you’re on your own!

5. Assembly:
This is the best part. You’re finally putting all the work of finding your parts, figuring out the small details and getting your new to you bike together. I feel I’m saving old frames or parts from the trash bin by putting together a beater. You’ll be surprised at the level of ease and the enjoyment of putting a bike together when you’re not on a time schedule.

Invite your friends over, it’s a great way to spend an evening. We all have advice to give when it comes to assembling or maintaining a bike, and love to give it away for free! (I’m available most Saturday evenings, just make sure I don’t get thirsty.)

6. Ride (To work out the kinks!)
When you mix parts you’ll have issues. It may take a little while to get everything dialed in the way you like. You might find that seatpost you were going to use needs to be longer, or maybe your handlebars were bent. Regardless, you’ll figure it all out in the first few rides. Think of it like a high school chemistry experiment, you may have to revisit previous steps a couple of times.

So now you have your beater bike. Ride the hell out of it! This bike is not meant to be a lifetime commitment. I often change my beater bikes every year or two. I change parts often as I’m constantly modifying my higher end bikes so I have plenty of parts to choose from. A beater bike is also great to experiment with as well. Try putting on a suspension fork, maybe a 29” front wheel, go singlespeed, whatever idea gets stuck in your head you now have the basic resources to try. You’ll find how exciting it is to do it yourself and what works and what doesn’t.

Enough reading, go build a beater and have some fun with it!

Mike Elliott
Mike Elliott