We replaced the bottom bracket bearings in this bike last week. A lot of the components are wearing out but she keeps going, she’s still got adventures to take and stories to tell. The strange thing is that this is a cheap bike, a free bike in fact, that was given away to entice new riders onto the Great Victorian Bike Ride a few years back. I remember when this happened, I was working in another bike shop and the general consensus was that these were a bad idea, a way to put a bad taste in peoples’ mouths, a lawsuit waiting to happen. They were apparently taking away from bike sales and ruining the market. It same thing is happening these days with the infamous Reid Bikes. Cheap, Chinese import bicycle sold directly to the consumer at a price most bike shops can’t come close to matching. So, are they ruining the market? Are they destroying the bike culture? Should you buy one?
The owner of the bike pictured above, Graeme, was a charismatic bloke who is well known in the area and was excited to help share the stories of his trusty stead. Even though Graeme has a lot of more expensive bikes, his everyday ride is the free one. He said, “I’ve probably ridden 30,000 kilometres on this bike. A few Great Vic rides and my every day riding certainly adds up.” While the bike is showing significant wear, it’s nothing a few parts and an hour or so won’t fix so it begs the question, are cheap bikes really that bad?
The way I see it is, no. Getting a cheap bike is not a bad idea. Not entirely, anyway. Thing is, right, sometimes it’s hard to justify spending a lot on a bike, something you’re not 100% sure you’re going to get into. You’ve heard about this great thing called cycling and you want to try it out. You may have hired a bike and loved the first little ride but you just don’t have a spare $2000 lying around to splash on some new wheels. Go get a cheap new bike. Sign up and commit to some group rides and give yourself the chance to get a proper taste of what it’s about. Some people simply don’t have the funds to buy the latest bike gear or are unsure if they’ll ‘get into it’ and so investing a small amount seems reasonable. What we’ve witnessed is people who would otherwise not see riding bikes as an option, now getting a cheap bike, getting hooked and after some servicing, upgrading, further upgrading and then more upgrading, these people are seeing the benefits of cycling and investing in new, more suitable bikes. We’re now seeing, as cheaper bikes are getting better, more people are getting psyched on riding bikes and entering our game. More people are also seeing cycling as an alternative to driving cars or catching public transport; surely there’s only positives to that, right?
Ok, so why would you bother spending more on a bike? Good question, my friends, good question! While the cheap bikes may get you into cycling, the experience is limited. You can only do so much with a little budget and while the cheap bikes make sure all the logos you want to see are there, it’s often the pieces of the bike you don’t notice that lag behind. The seats are uncomfortable, the bearings aren’t as smooth, the metals are sub-par, and the overall feel of the ride isn’t quite there. A better quality bike will typically be lighter, the wheels roll further with less effort, more thought goes into the saddle and even the position you ride in is going to be better suited for the ride. What you find is a bike that is a pleasure to ride, a bike that is a delight to look at and something you want to put on display in your lounge room. Ok, maybe that’s a stretch but it’s kinda what happened when I got my wife a flash new bike. Spending more on a bicycle means there’s more motivation to use it, too. You’ve invested in yourself by getting a new, higher quality, bike-shop-built bike and you know you’re only going to get out of it what you put in.
What about the department store bikes? Are they any good? No. They suck. What we see with these bikes from the likes of Big W, Kmart and Aldi is horrible experiences, dangerously assembled ‘bicycles’ that every corner has been cut, and people wasting their hard earned money. Typically, you have to assemble them yourself, if not and the department store offers assembly, it’s some bloke who has no real idea of what a bike is, let alone how to put one together safely and overall, it’s a bad time for everyone involved. More often than not, we see the people ride those bikes once or twice then throw them out or forgetting about them assuming all bikes will be the same.
Ok, enough babble, what does it all mean?
– If it’s all you can afford, buy the cheap bike. Steer clear of the department stores, but get a cheap bike from a bike shop or bike brand. Have it professionally assembled and no, that doesn’t mean by an engineer or motor mechanic. Have it assembled by a man or woman who works on bikes every day and has all the right tools and lubricants.
– If you really want to get a great experience and see riding bikes as the ‘way of the future’, spend a little more and get yourself a bike shop quality bike, ready to ride. Discuss your options with your local store, explain what you want to do, where you want to ride. Build a relationship with your local bike shop and soon they’ll be inviting you on rides, information nights, giving you high-fives and really making sure you feel welcome in the new cycling world you’ve entered.
– Stay away from department store bikes. Please.