[My friend Rob Evans of Intown Bikes was kind enough to send along his thoughts on department store bikes versus bike shop bikes, which is an addendum to my thoughts on the subject, posted yesterday (The Meaning of Bikes). He’s got a lot more experience in riding and in working on bikes than I do, but he is not as vain as I am.
As such, he’s yet to start his own blog, so I am posting his thoughts here. Check it out! –Jim]
The question of whether someone who wants to get into riding will be turned off riding by getting a department store bike, having it fall apart, be uncomfortable and generally dangerous isn’t really that tough a question to answer. I agree completely. Yes, they will.
But someone buying a department store bike doesn’t really want to get into bike riding.
I blame the Middle Class. Wally World and Tar-jay sell bikes that families with their .65 acres and a picket fence want. They want something that looks like its fancy, but costs less than buying a nice pair of shoes. You know “Caviar taste at catfish prices…” These are people who will spend a lot on shoes, but not see the value in spending more than $20 on a helmet (“So let me get this straight, your feet are worth $120 but your noggin isn’t?”)
What the middle class doesn’t want are practical bikes. It’s not going to make them look like Juan Pelota. They aren’t going to ride them anywhere useful. They’re still going to drive their cars everywhere due to fear, lack of infrastructure and general ignorance/stupidity. The bike to them is viewed as a toy and treated as such. This is why you will find these bikes next to the toy section in department stores.
The bicycle industry CAN build good dependable bicycles that work well and sell them at those prices. But you can’t sell something the public doesn’t want. So you get dual suspension mountain bikes, and heavy awkward riding road bikes, neither of which you can build cheaply and have work well. Also, there’s not a qualified mechanic building them at the stores.
The guy who put it together has probably also helped customers scoop Flipper out of the goldfish tank, put frijoles on the shelf and rearranged Travis Tritt’s Greatest Hits in the CD section before getting around to building said bike. This is a huge problem. If the bike were properly assembled, it might actually work halfway decently.
What happens after years of non-use is these bikes get donated to charities which end up at thrift stores or given away at Christmas time and so urban areas get flooded with impractical, improperly built bikes.
I eventually see these bikes.
I groan at these bikes. In fact Intown Bikes is probably the only shop in town that will work on them. But, I choose to view this as a noble act.
Don’t roll your eyes, I firmly believe the bicycle can be the first step in upward mobility. When someone needs to get to work and MARTA sucks as much as it does, or there isn’t bus service (Good Job Clayton County) how else can these people get to work if they can’t afford a car. I’ve fixed a GMC Denali Road bike ($269) a million times that a guy uses to ride 16 miles each way to his warehouse job everyday. 32 miles a day!!!!! The bike is falling apart everywhere, and he eyes the $625 dollar entry level Jamis road bike every time, saying he’s gonna save up enough money to buy it. But at $8.25 an hour with rent, groceries, sick days… Well, It takes a while.
He knows his bike is crap. But he also rides his current bike like a dog too, dropping off curbs, riding on sidewalks. So to a point of bike shop bikes being a higher quality and more durable, I also see bike shop bikes that have obviously been stolen, sold off a dozen times or so and then end up needing to be fixed. My favorite is a Breezer mountain bike with Chris King Hubs/Headset and Shimano XTR. Well, it did have XTR. Basically, the guy has abused it so much that the only thing still original to the bike is the headset and frame which is looking rough itself. Basically, every time something needed to be fixed on it, it had to be a GIGANTIC step down from what he had. Substituting a Tourney derailleur ($18) for the XTR($350) Over time with busted wheels, broken derailleurs, everything, the bike now works about as well as a department store bike.
So if the bike is going to be ridden poorly, down sidewalks, over curbs, tossed around, ridden with flat tires and ridden with a general lack of finesse, a higher quality bike means it costs more to fix when it does break. For some folks, they just need to get where they’re going. For that, the donated middle class, cast-off, department store junker is the best value going.
[For more Rob style awesomeness, follow him on twitter (@robtherocket).]