Looking for your first bike? Replacing a bike you already have?
You should read this. My sole intention here is that you, the discerning, age-of-the-internet consumer make an informed decision about your bike purchase. Hopefully after reading, you will have a much clearer idea of the criteria to bear in mind when looking for a bike. As a result, you should have a smile on your face for many years of riding having bought the right one.
So what exactly is a bike?
Not just a simple toy that your dad taught you to ride as you were growing up. Bikes are wonderful machines, promising freedom, fun and fast, efficient transportation. Bikes are made of hundreds of components which work in harmony to get the rider to their destination as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
The main parts of the bike are: Frame, fork, wheels, tyres, brakes, deraileurs, saddle, seatpost, stem, handlebar, shifters, brake levers, cables ,bottom bracket, chainset, cassette, chain etc etc…In turn these are all made of different components. The wheels for example are made of a rim, hub, spokes, nipples, washers and rim tape. The hub is made of a hub body, bearings, axle, washers, cones, cups, dustcaps, locknuts, etc
It is crucial that each part of the bike is built, assembled and set-up correctly for the smooth running of the machine as a whole. Taking the wheel as an example again, the spokes must be tensioned correctly such that the rim spins perfectly round without deviating left, right, up or down. Before this can be done, the hub must be set up such that the axle turns freely, without and “play” or wobble. For this, the bearings must be very round and the surfaces they run on clean, smooth and well lubricated with the correct grease.
Ok, so there are lots of bits on a bike, and they are all quite important.
So why not go for the £99 special that Asda or Morrison’s have in their bargain corner? Aren’t bike shops ripping you off charging £300 for a bike that you reckon you could get down at Sports Direct for £150?
Not quite. In the professional bike trade, these supermarket specials are called bike-shaped-objects. BSO’s for short.
What is the difference between one of these cheap supermarket bikes and a quality product bought from a local bike shop?
Well, you don’t need to mortgage your children’s kidneys on the black market to buy the latest wind tunnel tested carbon rims with titanium hubs and ceramic bearings with spider-silk like spokes to have a reliable, high quality wheel. What you need is something that has been assembled by experts, with decent components. Some of the many problems I have experienced with the BSO:
- Warped, untrue wheels with poorly adjusted hubs
- Loose stems, loose handlebars, loose grips, loose brake levers, loose saddles, loose everything.
- Rust. Everywhere.
- Back to front forks, back to front seat clamps, back to front nuts and bolts.
- Flimsy plastic components which really should be metal. Brake levers, gear shifters, brake cantilevers. How are you supposed to stop when the brake lever bends when you squeeze it?
- Poorly routed cables, too long, too short, wrapped around the handlebar, wrapped around the stem.
- Flexible deraileur cages, too flimsy to move the chain.
- Non-replaceable deraileur hangers – writing off a frame after a minor accident.
- Misthreaded, loose cranks.
- De-threaded cranks with pedals falling off.
- NOTHING IS EVER SET UP CORRECTLY OUT OF THE BOX
The list goes on. In fact I’m grimacing as each example comes to me. How do these kind of bikes feel to ride? Well, the truth is, terrible. The gear shifting is like playing the lottery. The brakes are unresponsive, uneven and unreliable, the steering feels like a losing battle, the bike is heavy, clunky, makes all the wrong noises and this one is a pet hate of mine, the whole thing smells like a fishing dock due to the cheap rubber used in the tyres. It is a lingering smell that is simply repulsive.
How can the BSO be priced so low?
The retailer selling it to you has to make a profit. The manufacturer selling it to the retailer has to make a profit too. This means on a £99 bike, the manufacturing cost was likely to be around £20 if not less. How can you make hundreds of components and assemble them into a safe, ridable bike for £20? By using the lowest grade materials, the cheapest manufacturing methods and the cheapest labour you can find. You stick the whole thing into a cardboard box and save a little bit more by not employing qualified bicycle mechanics to assemble, inspect and test them prior to delivery to the cyclist-to-be.
You really do get what you pay for, and if you pay £20 for a heap of parts put together into something that is shaped like a bike, well you’ve got a BSO right there. How long will it last? Maybe a year if you are lucky. More likely a couple of rides, before you
- Break it
- Hate it
- Decide you need help making it work properly and visit a proper bike shop
Ok so I convinced you that there is a lack of quality in a cheaper bike.
What about the environmental impact?
That BSO was made in China, transported over in a shipping container and ended up in its new home with you. When it inevitably breaks beyond economical repair, it will go into landfill – and you might buy another. This is madness.
A decent quality bike, though perhaps made in China or the Far East, could last forever with regular maintenance. It really pains me when customers come into my shop and say “I could buy a new bike for the price of repairing this one”. Yes, you probably could, and yes you’d have a shiny new bike for a short period of time. But will it be as good as the bike you already have? More importantly why undo all the good you are doing by being on a bike by discarding a perfectly good bicycle for landfill just because you can buy a BSO for the same money as annual maintenance. What kind of era do we live in where the bicycle, the greenest, most efficient form of transport ever conceived has become a disposable commodity which is a source of pollution?
How much does a good quality bike cost?
At the time of writing the most affordable bike I sell is £270. This is a great quality aluminum frame with decent components. With regular maintenance this bike can last for life. It has a lifetime warranty on the frame, and is relatively lightweight and a pleasure to ride. How much does this cost in real terms? Well the living weekly wage outside London is £298, or £342 in London which means the bike costs much less than the typical living wage. A BSO might cost you £100 and last a year. This bike could easily last 10 years, costing you £27 a year. Ok it’s maybe it is £170 more expensive to purchase at first than the BSO at your local supermarket, but comes ready built by an expert bike mechanic, from a shop staffed by friendly experts which you can easily go to if you have any problems (unlike with internet purchases), it has a free one-week tune up and a six-week service and you’ll be guided and informed on how it works and how to keep it working sweet. Funnily enough, the shop you buy it from will make a profit, and so will the manufacturer. But the person profiting most will be you. You’ll have a bought a bike that saves you hundreds of pounds a year in transportation costs, gym memberships and most importantly, gets you out of the traffic and makes you part of a greener, cleaner, healthier future for all of us. Pat yourself on the back, because if you choose to buy a good quality bike, you’ll be doing a wonderful thing. One last point. Please don’t buy ANYTHING with suspension or full-suspension under £300. I could write a whole new article about why this is a bad idea. Happy riding!
Love and mayhem,