If all you want is a cheep bike to ride around for fun and fitness.... go to Walmart.
OK, now that every one has had their strokes, let me finish. For a hundred bucks you can get yourself a nice little one speed or three speed cruiser bike. It will have a comfortable seat and a comfortable riding position. You can ride any MUP in the universe on one as well as nearly every cull-de-sack and side street. There are no parts of any significant nature to go wrong. If you like to tinker and want to get a couple of tools you might want to make sure the headset, crank and wheel bearings are greased up enough. I wouldn't bother, quite frankly because if you ride it frequently at all, you'll be upgrading in a year or two and that's all the (heavy) use you should expect to get out of a hundred dollar bike from Walmart. For Heaven's sake, do NOT buy a bike with gears or any kind of suspension at all from Wallmart!!
If you HAVE TO HAVE gears:
Get a bike's direct bike if you are comfortable putting it together.
Get a Diamond Back from Dicks.
If you have time to burn on the internet look up the components on DB vs. other brands "Entry level" bikes. They are the same, but the bike itself is a couple hundred bucks cheeper. The frames MIGHT be heavier of not as well made, but the vast majority of all the aluminum bike frames in the world come from the same few factories. As an example, it is a known "fact" that the Bikes Direct bikes are Fuji bikes that are unassemebeled and have different stickers on them.
Get rim breaks. The disk breaks available at this price point are crap. Get no shock at al of a simple fork if you have to have one. Do NOT get a fork with a "lock out" the higher-end ones are fine but the cheep ones are notoriuos for freezing up and never un-locking. DO NOT GET A BIKE WITH FULL SUSPENSION, for a lot of reasons.
I have a Trek 820. It is the bottom of the line. I don't think that they sell an adult bike for less money than an 820. It has serve me with 100% reliability for years now. It's a tank to be sure and it has bottom of the line (by bike shop standards) components. It's awesome.
"I'm built like a marine mammal. I love the cold! "-Cosmoline"MTBing is cheap compared to any motorsport I've done. It's very expensive compared to jogging."-ColinLRides:
1999-ish Diamondback Sorrento (I'm not Dead Yet! I feal happy. I think I'll go for a walk!)
1980ish Raleigh Marathon (Vintage Steel)
2007 Gary Fisher Advance (giving the Sorrento a break)
2006 Trek 820 (Captain Amazing)
2010 Specialized Tricross (Back in Black)
My little bike blog.
mrodgers, seems like you have a choice. From your posts, I'd say you seem mechanically adept and able to do things to keep a car running, which is more than I can do. So I'm going to suggest the Bikes Direct/Bike Island/Performance/Nashbar route.
A-From what I've seen, better componentry in all respects, especially repairability and weight.
B-A better, lighter frame than X-mart
C-Better fit and finish on the bike in general. GMC Denali, case in point.
I think there is also a wider range of bikes from a lot of mail order, or buying used. Lots of stuff on the web about bikes, lots of stuff right here that can teach you alot about evaluating and repairing a used bike other may think has seen better days.
Honestly, I see the used bike market as the best place to get more bang for your buck. Craigslist you gotta be careful, run the serial at stolenbikes.org, and really inspect the bike well for wear and damage. A lot of the time you can find a really decent deal on a entry level good brand name bike from someone who decided that it was just not for them. Local bike shops that deal in used can be another good option because they usually go over the bike and tune it up before putting it out for sale. I bought a Klein a few years back from a shop used for $325! Best bike I ever owned. Just research what you see with google, look up reviews before buying. Do not buy if you haven't looked in to what you see for sale, that is just setting yourself up for disappointment. I have always bought used bikes, because I can't afford new, and for the most part have made out pretty well. With the exception of one Raleigh mountain bike that was just put together poorly.
I feel for your friend. I guess $350 is considered a cheap bike these day
if you're buying new. Some sales people care for nothing but their commission.
One can usually get more personal consideration from a small local bikeshop
than a big Chain store. Their people are cyclists and far better qualified to
fit one with a proper bike. I'm sorry to say, but a tried & true used bike
lovingly tuned would always be my first choice.
For $30 I got an '89 Raleigh technium mb. It's light,(aircraft alu tubes):
it's strong,(chromoly fork,headset,stays & bb), and fits me perfectly.
Sure, I had to put a few bucks into it and a bit of labor. So, after
tires, packing the bearings and brake pads. I had a bike that performs
as well or better than anything you can buy today under $400.
I've been riding it almost every day for the last 5 years; its still as good
as it was then. Price has nothing to do with quality. So many bikes
today get by on hype & snob appeal without really bringing the goods.