Wrapping up the university-proof bike

When I started at the University of Waterloo five years ago, I bought a cheap Supercycle Tempo to use for daily commuting, given that I didn’t want to leave my expensive bicycle parked on campus all day.  I have extensively modified it over the years, aiming to create the perfect university bicycle.  I have now finished my studies, so here is a look back on the life of my primary vehicle over the last five years.

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The final product.  Latest changes include new handlebars, front basket, and a replaced front fender

Utility

As my primary vehicle, this bike has endured all that Canadian weather has to offer, from scorching summers to icy blizzards.  And a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that the has bike covered over 2,500km in commuting alone – not even including other trips such as grocery shopping, visiting friends or exploring the city.  After all my modifications, it has become a practical machine, routinely carrying upwards of 18 kilograms (40 lbs) of groceries.

The first goal of the bicycle was to not get stolen on campus, so I gave it a unique paint job to make it stand out.  And while many of my friends’ bicycles were indeed stolen on campus during my five-year university career, this bicycle is still in my possession – making it fundamentally a success.

One of my favourite additions was the front basket, which added a whole new level of convenience to the vehicle.  It meant that I could always conveniently carry miscellaneous items, even when I didn’t happen to have panniers or a backpack.  And if I started feeling warm while riding, I could toss a jacket or gloves in the front without needing to pull over.

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There are countless uses for the front basket.

The main utility problem I have had with the bicycle is its lack of chain guard.  There is a large plastic ring around the front cog which keeps pants away from the chain, but occasionally I still find grease on the bottom of my pants.  Sure, I could tuck them in my socks before riding, but that adds up to a lot of effort given the number of short trips the bike does.  I’d rather my bike conform to me, rather than me having to adapt to it.

 

Cost

I bought the bike because of its irresistibly low price – $150 at 50% off ($300 normal price). But in the end, that turned out not to be a great economic decision.  Over the lifetime of the bike, I had to replace virtually every single part, either because the original was such poor quality that it was a major nuisance, or because it was so poor quality that it failed from routine use.  And as-purchased, the bicycle lacked essential items such as fenders, racks, a bell, lights and a basket.

Fortunately I had access to several free parts, otherwise the Supercycle would have turned out to be an disturbingly expensive purchase.  Here’s a quick overview of how much it might have cost if I had paid for all the changes I made.  Numbers in brackets are estimates for parts I actually got for free:

  • ($40): replace the horribly uncomfortable seat
  • $70: add front and rear lights
  • ($40): add front and rear fenders
  • ($30): add rear rack
  • $20: eliminate faulty derailleur and convert to single speed (I got a new single-speed freewheel for free)
  • $50: replace handlebar with a more ergonomic one
  • $30: replace broken bottom bracket
  • ($20): replace broken front fender
  • $50: add front basket
  • $150: replace wheels

(Prices do not include HST)

So what appeared a $150 bicycle actually turned out to cost more like $600 considering the lack of quality or standard features.  Then there are routine maintenance costs such as replacing worn brake pads and punctured inner tubes, which probably added another $50 per year, or expected purchases like panniers and winter tires which would add anywhere from $150 to $300.  That’s a lot of money to spend on a bike which has the bumpiest ride quality I’ve ever experienced.

The future: Fix or nix?

Today the bicycle sits in several pieces in my garage – I have not ridden it since moving out of my student house in Waterloo.  The rear fender is broken and there are several broken parts in the brake system.  So the question now is whether to replace those parts, or to end the constant cycle of repairs by buying a proper quality bicycle.  I’m leaning toward the latter, because as much as I’m proud of all the effort that I and others have put into the Supercycle, I’d rather a bicycle that doesn’t require all that effort in the first place.

4 thoughts on “Wrapping up the university-proof bike

  1. When we traveled to the Netherlands, we were able to buy used bikes in Amsterdam. They were fully equipped city bikes, fenders, racks, hub dyno powered lights, full chain-case, shimano roller brakes, 7 speed nexus hub, solid, durable, did 1000 km on our tour without so much as a puncture. And we got them for about 165 Euro, its pretty sad we aren’t able to get such deals here.

  2. dan, you can, at Recycle Cycles in Kitchener. Well, they wouldn’t be fully equipped from there, but the starting price would be like $40.

  3. In March, I bought an actual omafiets, you know, the kind that the Dutch ride. And I can only see a few occassional chain replacements over it’s lifetime as required maintenance. The tires are Schwalbe, the frame is metal. It’s all nice and handy. I have yet to find a ring lock for it though, but no matter. It has coaster brakes and a V brake on the front. It would last far longer than your bike did, with less maintenance, and for about 650 dollars, including tax. You should really get one of those, you have a whole lifetime ahead of you.

    1. If I could find a quality omafiets for $650, I would buy it in a second. Unfortunately the shops around here (i.e. Southern Ontario) stopped carrying Gazelles a couple years ago due to a supplier dispute or something. They still carry Achielles, but those are much more expensive due to being handbuilt. And omafietsen haven’t been available in North America long enough that there’s many used ones for sale.

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