So Iíve lurked here many times and benefitted from the collective wisdom of avid forum members/posters, and now I finally have some knowledge I think others might find helpfulói.e. the pros and cons of a budget commuter bike from good olí bikesdirect.com.
First off, Iíll preface this by saying that I had no intention of buying a dirt cheap commuter; prior to itís untimely departure (it was stolen), my 2007 Gary Fisher Tassjara hardtail had been doing the job just fine with a rear rack and semi-slicks for my jaunts to class and downtown. Sadly, it was apparently just nice enough to make it worth some thiefís while, and after he/she had pried the fence it was locked to apart and cut the cable, it was off into the aether of parts and stolen bike sales.
So, I brooded over the winter, telling myself how life is unfair, and eventually decided that, if I were to buy another bike, it would make more sense to get a road bike (I havenít done much trail riding at all the past few years) and said road bike should be as cheap as possible to help out my wallet without sacrificing overall ride quality too much (I still have standards, after all). With these traits in mind, I finally settled on the Mercier Galaxy SC1óthe proverbial "bottom of the bucket" kit at bikesdirect.com.
Bike specs (out of the box):
To start, I wasnít expecting perfection, which was good, because I didnít get it. The basic rundown looks like this: 6061 aluminum frame with CroMoly fork, generic caliper breaks, generic crankset and chainrings (52/39t), generic quill stem, handlebars, and black/anodized break levers, generic alloy double wall rims and aluminum hubs, generic saddle, Shimano Tourney front and rear derailleurs (2 x 7), Shimano stem shifters (2 x 7, rear indexed), and a 14-28t rear cluster. Needless to say, these arenít high-end specs; 7-speed is dated to say the least, Tourney is pretty low on the Shimano components hierarchy, and 52/39 is a bit high for most people, at least when paired with a 14-28 cassette. But for 259.95 with shipping and no tax, could be worse. (The table with the entire specs list is at the bottom of the page here: Save Up to 60% Off New Road Bikes, Roadbikes - Mercier Galaxy AL SC1 Road bikes
Iím not the best bicycle mechanic, but Iíve been a DIY guy for about as long as Iíve been riding bikes, so assembly didnít bother me too much and it really wasn't too challenging. The bike comes mostly assembled, so the only real tasks are attaching the stem shifters to the stem, attaching the headset, attaching break cables to the calipers, and adjustments. I had it all together inside of an hour. That said, fine-tuning took a bit longer, as the rear derailleur was a real pain to get shifting smoothly. Likewise, the RD never really had enough tension to keep the jockey pulley an adequate distance from the largest cassette cog regardless of B-screw adjustment and cable tensioning, so there was always some extra noise that I couldnít get to go away (infuriating, at least for me). Nonetheless, it was put together and ready to go in about 2.5 hours overall and I took it out for a spin.
Ride/build quality (out of the box):
First things first, the brakes. Simply put, they suck. Like, bad. And I wish I could say it was just the pads (and they werenít anything to write home about, trust me), but honestly the entire caliper (both front and rear) was pretty abysmal; in addition to not providing much stopping power at all, I could watch the front caliper visibly flex and pull forward a bit when I applied enough force to actually bring the bike to a not-so-quick stop. I would dare say that those brakes were border line dangerous. So, new calipers and pads were added to the list of upgrades. Ultimately, I found a pair of gently used Tektro R510dís on eBay for $35 and life was good.
Second, the chainring/rear cluster combo. From the start I had a feeling I wouldnít like the 52/39 x 14-28 combo because Iím no racer, and, sure enough, I wanted a little more speed at certain times and a little more torque for climbing at others. However, I do live in Chicago, so the hills are limited, and thus I decided that slightly more range from the rear cassette would do the trick. So, with a quick trip to Amazon, I found a SRAM 7-speed 12-32t cassette for about $18. ďAdd to cart.Ē
Third, the pedals. Theyíre big and clunky and I didnít like them. Also, they lacked toe clips of any kind. I wasnít out to switch them to clipless because this bikeís purpose is to serve as a commuter and normal shoes are a must, so I decided to swap them out for some run of the mill toe clips. Luckily, there was an extra set squirreled away in a box (take that, spring cleaning!), so they were an easy addition to the upgrade list.
Finally, the saddle. Despite looking "okay" in the photos, the seat that shipped with the bike was bulky, cheap, and pretty uncomfortable. So, back to Amazon, and a decent Origin8 pleather job (which I actually quite like) was purchased for another $20-ish.
All told, the standard OEM components for this kit made for a rather subpar ride. While the frameset is decent and performs reasonably well, the cost-saving measures exacted on the rest of the bike make themselves known. So, while ride-able, the bike left me wanting. And, since this is the bike I plan on riding basically every day, I decided it was worth the time, effort, and money (all three of which are scarce for grad students at the University of ChicagoÖ) to spruce it up and make it ďdecent.Ē
Of course, replacing brakes, cassettes, and derailleurs requires a certain amount of confidence/mechanical know-how, so the DIY upgrade route isnít for everyone. However, I could rebuild it, I had the technology; I could make it better than it was beforeóbetter, stronger, faster.
Upgrading/post-upgrade ride quality:
So, Iím happy to say that with the minor upgrades, the bike is overall quite a joy to ride now. Ultimately, I decided to replace the troublesome rear derailleur as well with something that was more responsive and had a bit more fine adjustment. I settled on a Shimano Acera 7/8-speed and it works wonderfully, and without undue noise/grinding. I think this is due in part to its longer cage, so itís possible that removing a link or two from the chain could achieve similar results, though it would leave the shifting performance unaltered.
Yet, with all the good news there must also be some bad, in this case the rear cassette. In fact, the bike doesnít have a cassette mounted to a freehub at all. Rather, the rear cluster is a very old-school freewheel unit, so my would-be upgrade there was a no go. Naturally, one could save him/herself the trouble here and check these sorts of things before attempting to replace a cassette, but I (naively) assumed that this bike would use modern components (since, as Iím told, freewheels havenít been common since the 1980ís, and Iíd never come across one on a modern bike before). Then again, and as weíve seen above, the cost-saving measures come in somewhere.
Nonetheless, the new brakes are mounted (though I had to drill out the holes to fit what I previously considered to be standard mounting hardware, but which the cheap-o generic calipers did not use), the new seat is on, the toe clip pedals are in place, and a rear rack has been added, making this bike very functional, comfortable, and fairly peppy down the bike lanes to boot.
The bottom line:
While this bike is now not half bad, worth noting is the cost of making it this way. All told (and after I returned the SRAM cassette), I spent an additional $82 getting things up to snuff, which brings this bike up from $260 to about $340. Itís possible that some of the other kits on bikesdirect that retail for that price might have this sort of quality built in, as it were, but after perusing the specs sheets for their $350-sih bikes I kind of doubt it. Additionally, this adjusted price assumes that you have access to all the tools you need (which I do, thanks to a decent personal collection and access to a friendís as well).
Even more, Iíd say that, if I had more money and time, it would be worth upgrading the wheelset to something a bit better/lighter with an 8/10-speed capable freehub (another $150 at least), a decent and better ratio/lighter crankset (between $60-100), and some integrated shift/brake levers (somewhere in the neighborhood of $70-130 for something compatible with 7-speed, from what I can tell). So, in truth, this is a project bike, at least for those of you out there who are interested in squeezing out the best performance the frameset is capable of for the least amount of money. For those of you who are just wondering if this bike is going to be good enough to get around on, Iíd say thatíd youíd do just as well to go to a bike shop that specializes in refurbing older bikes, or to buy something from bikesdirect in the neighborhood of $450 (and taking it to the local shop for solid assembly, wheel truing, adjustment, etc. if you're not mech savvy yourself, which will probably set you back another $100-150). Still, all said and done, this far-East made aluminum frame and ChroMoly fork set is pretty solid with a little sweat poured in, and it looks fairly sharp, too (pictures belowóafter upgrades were installed).
Hopefully this review/overview is helpful, and Iíd love to hear other people weigh in on their experiences, thoughts, questions, or whatever regarding the ďdealsĒ available on bikesdirect.com.