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  1. #1
    Bluegrass Atheist silverwolf's Avatar
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    Some General MTB Questions

    I have a few questions about mountain bikes/biking- I want to get more serious in terms of riding skill and training, and fitness so I can ride in the mountains while traveling/during winter and bad weather, and over randomly varying terrain.

    First, what are some general riding tips for medium to difficult trails?

    Second, what is your opinion on steel vs. aluminum? I won't be jumping all over the place, but the bike needs to handle some light jumps, hits and bangs, and a few accidental falls without flinching.

    Third, what about gears and gearing? How many ratios (note, ratios not just gears- I know the irrelevency of "15" or "24" speeds in terms of real-world riding) are needed for a decent road gear, a mid-level trail gear, a rockclimbing gear, etc.

    Forth, 26 or 29er? No haters please- 29ers are very appealing to me, I like the way they ride better- but they are very expensive and hard to find used (outside of outrageous prices).

    Fifth- and again no haters please- I saw a bike at Mallwart the other day that actually looked decent. It had F&R discs, a 7-speed Shimano cassette and derailer, and a 24-38-46 chainring in front. It came with bar-ends, front preload-adjustable shocks, and a rear air suspension unit. On sale at $149. What could be done to make it a bit better for cheap (tires, grips, seat, suggestions on lights and tool bags). Again, please don't just say "buy a better bike" I know the quality being dealt with here, ridden it before and I'll do it again.

    Thanks.

  2. #2
    I have senior moments... bikinfool's Avatar
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    First one depends on what you mean by medium to difficult...not everyone rides the same trails. If you want to do some reading on techniques you might check out Dave Lopes & Lee McCormack's Mastering Mountain Bike Skills. As to the fitness thing, mainly it's about putting in your time.

    Steel's fine for a hardtail, can't say I even know of a fs model any more. Ti is good, too. Not a big fan of carbon. Aluminum fs bikes work fine. It's more about the quality of the build and design than simply saying it's made from xxx material.

    Gears and gearing are all about what you need for the riding you do. Get creative...get rid of all but one of them or anywhere in between.

    650b, right in between 26ers and 29ers...sweet spot. Don't have a 29er myself, didn't want to invest in a different frame/fork, but I turned my most recent Heckler into a Beckler and like it quite a bit.

    You're on your own buying a bicycle shaped object from those people...but it ain't a mountain bike.
    suum quique
    Mountain bikes: Santa Cruz Hecklers (99, 02, 07), Santa Cruz Nomad, Moots YBB, Trek OCLV Pro Issue, American Breezer
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  3. #3
    World's slowest cyclist.
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    $150 full suspension mountain bikes at Walmart are over priced by about $150. Seriously those things are worthless. If you're going to shop Walmart for your bike get a fully rigid bike (if they have one) or a Hardtail. And if you get a hardtail plan on replacing the front fork with a cheap rigid front. Any "suspension" you'll get on a Walmart bike will just be a spring in a tube.

    You won't find a new bike at $150 that's worth the money. You can find used bikes at $150 that are worth the money, but they'll be full rigids or hardtails. You don't want any full suspension bike at that price. If you double the price point to $300 you may find some decent hardtails available new at a bike shop. At $150 though I'd look to used hardtails.

    None of these opinions will matter of course. Because everyone who comes here asking about the $150 Walmart full suspension bike eventually ignores what we say and buys the bike. Then we never hear from them again. I'd assume because they ride said bike and decide that they don't like mountain biking and give up on the whole idea.

  4. #4
    Senior Member JonathanGennick's Avatar
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    General riding tips: www.leelikesbikes.com

    Steel versus aluminum: Aluminum is the value choice. Good steel frames tend to cost a bit more. Either is fine.

    26er versus 29er: If you are really short, go 26er. If you're really tall, definitely go 29er. If you're in between, you can go either way and it's down to preference. I ride both, but prefer 29ers when I'm aiming to cover some distance.

    That $150 bike: Don't buy it. You're not even in the game with that "bike".

    FWIW, I am not against all x-mart bikes. The Target store near me has some decent-looking Schwinn hardtails suitable for bike-path and neighborhood riding that I believe to be decent values for the dollar. But that fully at Walmart? Just don't go there.

  5. #5
    Bluegrass Atheist silverwolf's Avatar
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    Thanks for the help all- I will check out that book at the library as well.

    I found a mountain bike with a front disc, full-suspension etc for $20 at an estate sale; I have no idea what it is but I will put a light and tool kit on it, give it a tune-up and have at some trails. If it breaks, so what it was a $20 investment and I can salvage the parts i put on it and some of the parts on the bike originally.

    Nothing will turn me away from mountain-biking however, I used to ride terrible (rocky and mountainous) terrain on a BMX bike so whatever happens, it won't turn me away from the sport.

    What about securing things like lights and tool bags for the stresses of off-roading? I have a light set with plastic clamps and rubber inserts that does fine on the road but seems like it wouldn't hold up to the stresses of bumpy, hilly terrain. Same with the underseat tool bag.

  6. #6
    I have senior moments... bikinfool's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by silverwolf View Post

    What about securing things like lights and tool bags for the stresses of off-roading? I have a light set with plastic clamps and rubber inserts that does fine on the road but seems like it wouldn't hold up to the stresses of bumpy, hilly terrain. Same with the underseat tool bag.
    What's the brand/model bike you picked up? Pics?

    Many cheap lights are barely suitable for road use, have seen a few of those explode in offroad use. What light set is it? There are those built specifically for the rigors of offroad use, I have several. It's not just the mount, but the unit itself, not only in terms of secure and durable mounting but the amount of light they provide...

    Under seat bags come in various formats, some secure very well, some don't. Personally I prefer a hydration pack on my back with nothing hanging on the bike.
    suum quique
    Mountain bikes: Santa Cruz Hecklers (99, 02, 07), Santa Cruz Nomad, Moots YBB, Trek OCLV Pro Issue, American Breezer
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  7. #7
    Bluegrass Atheist silverwolf's Avatar
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    Not sure on the brand and model; the frame geometry looks better, or at least different, than the generic walmart type. Looks to be a few years old, but it's pretty difficult because there are no stickers on it- someone pulled them all off I suppose. i would get pics but my camera died yesterday.

    I'm right with you on the bike luggage thing, all my stuff is in a backpack when I ride. the one thing that I keep on my bikes though is the toolkit, it just goes with the machine and my ocd comes back when it's anywhere else. Still the current (underseat) bag I have could work but it secures by velcro straps that feel somewhat filmsy.

    The lights are some "schwinn" light set, I think it's "Schwinn Illuminator" or something. The rear light (seatpost mounted) looks like it would do okay, but the headlight is a rectangular box and secures with 2/3 of the light hanging in front of the mount, not to mention it uses a rubber insert in the clamp-mount. Just seems like a hard knock on the front wheel would knock the light downward.

  8. #8
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    The burliest downhill bikes - ones with 8" of travel that look like motorcycles without engines - are aluminum. It's not the material as much as the engineering. That said, steel is more of a boutique thing, so you're going to get an aluminum bike. No worries.

    To carry stuff, put it in your backpack. Ideally, get a Camelbak or a knock-off - with a water bladder and straw. Tools clank around too much on the frame, water bottles get full of dirt (assuming they don't fall off on the trail), etc.

    At your price point you're frankly better off buying a BMX-like mountain bike - rigid, maybe even a 90's era mountain bike - and putting on the fattest tires you can fit. Shocks and suspensions at that price really suck, and 'oh it's OK if it breaks' may be easy to say on the internet, but hard to say when you're spitting up teeth. (I've fractured my skull, so I can say that. You don't want to do that.)

    29ers are great. They're ideal for people over 6'. That said, they have strengths and weaknesses, so you have to decide what's more fun - 'flickable agility' or 'just rolls over stuff'.

    I scored a 29er single speed - basically, a huge BMX bike - for $400 off Craigslist. It was $1k new. Be patient, deals are out there.
    Last edited by schnee; 06-06-10 at 12:39 AM.

  9. #9
    World's slowest cyclist.
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    Those velcro straps on the under seat bag should work fine. That's how most of my bags have mounted and I've never had one come loose on the trail. Forgetting to zipper it closed however...

    If you can post a pic or two of the bike we may be able to ID it. Do the components themselves have any markings on them? A pic of the components would also be helpful. You can get lucky and get some really good stuff for $20 at estate sales.

  10. #10
    RatedZ
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    Let me just repeat what the others are saying. I just got back into biking in the beginning of April and my wife was all about buying Walli-World mountain bikes. She had a conniption when I told her that if she wanted anything that was going to last, she was going to have to fork over a bit more scratch than $200.

    The first trail we had ever ridden was Greenbrier State Park in Maryland. It's considered and intermediate course, but for beginners like us, it was closer to advanced. As I had some previous BMX experience, I did okay, but still wound up walking a bit. I'll just say that if we had purchased $200 Walli-World Specials, we would have been walking 3/4 of the trail, because the bikes took a beating. I am confident a Walli-World Special would have snapped in half 4x's over by the end of our ride.

    We did not buy super-expensive bikes, but bikes we (I) felt would hold up. Since I'm more of the daredevil, I chose a 2010 GT Avalanche 1.0, and she chose a GT Avalanche 3.0. Even though from a component perspective my bicycle is superior to hers, they have taken a beating. We have fallen down hills, crashed into trees, jammed them in rock-beds, crashed and banged over fairly good-sized roots, logs, and whatever else. These bikes just keep on ticking, and we couldn't be happier with our purchases.

    IMO, if you plan on doing any mountain biking worthwhile, you're going to need to be looking at bikes that retail for at least $500-$600. You could probably get an $800 bike for about $600 at Performance Bike if you wait for a sale, and they always have sales. I got my $900 GT for $765, and my wife got her $550 GT for $380.

    IMO, look at Giant's XTC2, Cannondale's F5, GT's Avalanche 1.0-3.0, Specialed Rockhopper, and Fuji Tahoe. Out of the bunch, I can tell you right now that the Giant XTC is pretty light for a mountain bike. Had I been able to find one, I probably would have purchased it over my GT, but I gotta tell ya, after the beating my GT's taken, I'm not regretting my decision.

    Spring for a decent bike. You will save money in the long run, and you will thank yourself.

  11. #11
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    Like everyone else says, don't get a cheap mountain bike. There will be times when you are going downhill in an expensive bike and its bouncing around and you are wondering if it will hold up. I can't imagine going down one of those hills in a wally world bike. It's more of a safety issue. If it brakes you better hope that $20 was the only thing you wasted.

  12. #12
    I have senior moments... bikinfool's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by biophase View Post
    I can't imagine going down one of those hills in a wally world bike. It's more of a safety issue. If it brakes you better hope that $20 was the only thing you wasted.
    I'd sure hope it brakes, or going downhill is going to be painful.
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  13. #13
    World's slowest cyclist.
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    That $20 bike may in fact be a nice bike. Lots of times they just want to liquidate everything at an estate sale. It may be a really nice bike previously owned by an enthusiast like us who just doesn't like decals.

    I just hope he didn't remove the load bearing decal.

  14. #14
    RatedZ
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    Quote Originally Posted by biophase View Post
    Like everyone else says, don't get a cheap mountain bike. There will be times when you are going downhill in an expensive bike and its bouncing around and you are wondering if it will hold up. I can't imagine going down one of those hills in a wally world bike. It's more of a safety issue. If it brakes you better hope that $20 was the only thing you wasted.
    Couldn't be said better than this. After our first moutain biking trek, we weren't even off the trails yet and my wife said to me, "You were right, a Walmart bike would have cracked in half. I'm glad I just got a good bike."

    Anytime you can get your wife to agree with you that spending more money is better than spending less, I'd have to strike it up as a flawless victory.

  15. #15
    Bluegrass Atheist silverwolf's Avatar
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    Well you guys made me give more expensive bikes some thought so I went down to my local LBS today. Found something in budget called an "Impasse". It's a 29er, rigid, aluminum framed, 27-speed with grip shifters, shimano components, dual disc brakes, and quick release hubs and seat. The quality looked good in terms of frame, wheels, and everything else- tires aren't that great, nor is the seat but I have replacements for those. It's $200. It just looks and feels better than the Walmart ones, only weighs about 20lbs or so as well. Might pick it up over the week.

  16. #16
    I have senior moments... bikinfool's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by silverwolf View Post
    Well you guys made me give more expensive bikes some thought so I went down to my local LBS today. Found something in budget called an "Impasse". It's a 29er, rigid, aluminum framed, 27-speed with grip shifters, shimano components, dual disc brakes, and quick release hubs and seat. The quality looked good in terms of frame, wheels, and everything else- tires aren't that great, nor is the seat but I have replacements for those. It's $200. It just looks and feels better than the Walmart ones, only weighs about 20lbs or so as well. Might pick it up over the week.
    So your LBS sells it for the same price as Walmart does...hope its quality works out for you. At least it doesn't have a lame suspension fork on it.
    suum quique
    Mountain bikes: Santa Cruz Hecklers (99, 02, 07), Santa Cruz Nomad, Moots YBB, Trek OCLV Pro Issue, American Breezer
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  17. #17
    RatedZ
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    Quote Originally Posted by silverwolf View Post
    Well you guys made me give more expensive bikes some thought so I went down to my local LBS today. Found something in budget called an "Impasse". It's a 29er, rigid, aluminum framed, 27-speed with grip shifters, shimano components, dual disc brakes, and quick release hubs and seat. The quality looked good in terms of frame, wheels, and everything else- tires aren't that great, nor is the seat but I have replacements for those. It's $200. It just looks and feels better than the Walmart ones, only weighs about 20lbs or so as well. Might pick it up over the week.
    Pretty much ANYTHING is going to be better than a Wally-World Special. Even though I would never consider buying a Wally-World Special or a bike from a place like Dick's Sporting Goods, I always seem to find my way over to the bikes, just so I can "compare." It's amazing how weak a lot of the structures of those bikes look, and how unsturdy the componentry feels and looks. The frames are thin, the welds look weak, etc. Hell, 95% of them don't even have adjustable front forks; pathetic, for bikes that are claimed to be mountain bikes.

    I'm not going to sugarcoat it. Even for $500-$600 you're not going to get a great bike, but it will serve you well for weekend uses. If you plan on bashing mountains day in and day out on advanced trails, you're going to want something even better. With bikes, sometimes it's a "You get what you pay for" type thing, but I've seen instances of $3000 bikes break where my $900 bike has danced with no sweat.

    What types of trails are you planning on riding? If you're just planning on hitting a few bumps along the way and don't plan on doing any super-fast downhill runs where the bike is going to be taking a lot of force, a bike like a Cannondale F7 or the equivalent will serve you well.

    My suggestion for getting a great deal is to hit the local LBSes in the area and search for last-year models. These bikes can be had at significant savings. As an example, I just saw a 2009 Giant XTC1 on sale for $999. Retail on that bike for 2009 was around the $1300-$1400 range, I believe. IMO, that's one Hell of a deal. You could probably negotiate that deal even further.

    Let me put this thought in your head. Check out Performance Bike and search them for left-over models. They're a fairly good-sized chain and ALWAYS have sales on bikes. Let it also be known that ON TUESDAYS they have a LUNCHTIME DISCOUNT, which is an additional 10% off products between 12pm-2pm, I believe. I'm not sure if this pertains to bikes, but think about this; a discounted last-year model, plus a 20%-off sale, and then add another 10%-off for a lunchtime discount.

  18. #18
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    WallyWorld mountain bikes are OK for getting around the streets, tooling around on a MUP, maybe hopping the occasional curb. Most of them have stickers that literally say 'DO NOT RIDE OFFROAD.'

    I have pointed several people to the Specialized Hardrock. It's $390 MSRP, probably can be had for ~$300 if you look around. It'll last longer than 4 Wally World bikes. The frame is heavy, but solid and a great platform to start from and change stuff as you wear it out.

  19. #19
    Bluegrass Atheist silverwolf's Avatar
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    That's a walmart bike as well?? Jesus christ...

    Anyway, I won't be riding on severe terrain all the time. It's use will be about 70% commuting/training, 20% light trail riding, and 10% actual trail riding. I don't mind going a bit slow and being careful on extremely rough stuff, or even dismounting to avoid hard falls and the like.

    You're right though, at least it's a rigid. The 29 wheels are a big plus, as are the discs and the general feel is a cut above walmart bikes. Of course it doesn't have the "do not ride off-road" sticker on it either.

    I'll give it a shot because it appears better than anything I've seen at Walmart, has a 2-year service warranty, etc. I really cannot afford more than $200 on a bicycle now, period. I'll still be on the forums though, so if anything goes too badly wrong I can be beaten over the head for not buying something expensive .

  20. #20
    I have senior moments... bikinfool's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by silverwolf View Post
    That's a walmart bike as well?? Jesus christ...

    Anyway, I won't be riding on severe terrain all the time. It's use will be about 70% commuting/training, 20% light trail riding, and 10% actual trail riding. I don't mind going a bit slow and being careful on extremely rough stuff, or even dismounting to avoid hard falls and the like.

    You're right though, at least it's a rigid. The 29 wheels are a big plus, as are the discs and the general feel is a cut above walmart bikes. Of course it doesn't have the "do not ride off-road" sticker on it either.

    I'll give it a shot because it appears better than anything I've seen at Walmart, has a 2-year service warranty, etc. I really cannot afford more than $200 on a bicycle now, period. I'll still be on the forums though, so if anything goes too badly wrong I can be beaten over the head for not buying something expensive .
    It's basically a low end bike that I guess Mongoose is marketing at both levels (owned by Dorel Industries, a furniture company for the most part, who also brings you a range of different bike brands often found at the department store level, but also some LBS bikes). It may work for your purposes, while I'd like to see the component spec on the bike, a brief search didn't get me much more than your description (which doesn't say a lot when the spec isn't specific with model numbers, just having brand names like Shimano or SRAM doesn't mean a lot, or that it has alloy wheels); it's also not a great sign when the manufacturer doesn't even put the product on it's website. The benefit of buying at the LBS hopefully is that they've actually checked it out and performed final assembly better than Walmart employees usually do....but if I had $200 max I'd look for a used bike.
    suum quique
    Mountain bikes: Santa Cruz Hecklers (99, 02, 07), Santa Cruz Nomad, Moots YBB, Trek OCLV Pro Issue, American Breezer
    Road bikes: TST, Trek 2300 (Carbon/Alum)

  21. #21
    RatedZ
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikinfool View Post
    It's basically a low end bike that I guess Mongoose is marketing at both levels (owned by Dorel Industries, a furniture company for the most part, who also brings you a range of different bike brands often found at the department store level, but also some LBS bikes). It may work for your purposes, while I'd like to see the component spec on the bike, a brief search didn't get me much more than your description (which doesn't say a lot when the spec isn't specific with model numbers, just having brand names like Shimano or SRAM doesn't mean a lot, or that it has alloy wheels); it's also not a great sign when the manufacturer doesn't even put the product on it's website. The benefit of buying at the LBS hopefully is that they've actually checked it out and performed final assembly better than Walmart employees usually do....but if I had $200 max I'd look for a used bike.
    There is nothing wrong with a bicycle owned by Dorel Industries or Pacific. The people making baby furniture are not the same people making the bicycles. Some very reputable brands are owned by Dorel, including Cannondale, GT, Schwinn, and Mongoose. ALL of these companies make some very good bikes. I've never heard anyone complain about what a pile of garbage any of the above were.

    It's unfortunate Schwinn and Mongoose are frowned upon because some models are found at box stores, but go to Schwinn's or Mongoose's websites and you will not find any of those models found in box stores listed. Compare a "box store Schwinn" and a "real Schwinn" and there is no comparison. The same can be said about Mongoose. Schwinn and Mongoose both make some very high quality bikes.

  22. #22
    Bluegrass Atheist silverwolf's Avatar
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    That's good to hear, and sort of comfirms my suspicions- when I checked it out at the LBS the "Impasse" just felt, looked and seemed of better quality than what I saw at walmart.

  23. #23
    RatedZ
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    Quote Originally Posted by silverwolf View Post
    That's good to hear, and sort of comfirms my suspicions- when I checked it out at the LBS the "Impasse" just felt, looked and seemed of better quality than what I saw at walmart.
    I'm not familiar with the Impasse, but if a lot of info can't be found on it, then I'd be skeptical. While the Impasse may be a better bicycle than a Wally-World Special, at $200, I still wouldn't expect much.

    FWIW, I also thought I'd find a decent bike for $200, but I was in for a rude awakening after I started researching bicycles and found that a $200 mountain bike wasn't going to cut it. IMO, $200 is a fair bit of scratch. 21 years ago, $200 would have purchased a pretty decent rig, but these days, $200 just isn't going to get you much. 21 years ago, $200 was probably the equivalent to $400-$600. 22 years ago I pieced together a GT Pro Performer from scratch and it tallied up to about $400. By today's standards, I believe that is the equivalent to around $600-$700. Gotta account for inflation...

    Again, IMO, if you only have $200 to spend on a bicycle, continue to save your money, because in the end you will only wind up spending more. The first time you go out on any sort of trail other than a dirt path, you're going to wind up carrying that bike home in pieces.

    This is your bike and your money, so ultimately you're going to have to make the decision, but if you break it and then post about it, you're probably not going to get much sympathy. You're more or less going to get a lot of "I told you so" posts. I'm going to stick with recommendations of a Cannondale F7, GT Avalanche 3.0, Giant Rincon, Specialized Hard Rock, or other bikes in the price range.

    I'm starting to babble here, but let it be known that even if you spend $6000 on a bike, when it comes to mountain biking, things ARE going to break. Mountain biking is an expensive hobby. Be prepared to buy parts.

  24. #24
    I have senior moments... bikinfool's Avatar
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    While Dorel does own some decent brands, they're all fairly new acquisitions and the brands aren't always what they've been in the past, either. The very low end of their offerings have components at the lowest end...the frames are generally fine. But a bike for many newbs is defined mostly by the quality of the components and the assembly and support, so the same Impasse at Wallyworld for $200 isn't equivalent (hopefully) to one put up for sale by an LBS. The Impasse is sold by Wallyworld for $199, so hopefully the LBS's assembly and inspection is worth getting it from them.

    Dorel is new ownership for all the brands they offer. Some have higher end bikes only available in LBS type shops, too and are quite worthy. It's the low end offerings that often have poorly performing components, or even disposable components, or non-standard components (like a crank without replaceable chainrings)
    that I object to. $200 is a very low pricepoint and compromises have to be made to sell at that pricepoint. Just because they have disc brakes doesn't mean they're very good disc brakes....
    suum quique
    Mountain bikes: Santa Cruz Hecklers (99, 02, 07), Santa Cruz Nomad, Moots YBB, Trek OCLV Pro Issue, American Breezer
    Road bikes: TST, Trek 2300 (Carbon/Alum)

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikinfool View Post
    While Dorel does own some decent brands, they're all fairly new acquisitions and the brands aren't always what they've been in the past, either. The very low end of their offerings have components at the lowest end...the frames are generally fine. But a bike for many newbs is defined mostly by the quality of the components and the assembly and support, so the same Impasse at Wallyworld for $200 isn't equivalent (hopefully) to one put up for sale by an LBS. The Impasse is sold by Wallyworld for $199, so hopefully the LBS's assembly and inspection is worth getting it from them.

    Dorel is new ownership for all the brands they offer. Some have higher end bikes only available in LBS type shops, too and are quite worthy. It's the low end offerings that often have poorly performing components, or even disposable components, or non-standard components (like a crank without replaceable chainrings)
    that I object to. $200 is a very low pricepoint and compromises have to be made to sell at that pricepoint. Just because they have disc brakes doesn't mean they're very good disc brakes....
    I can remember a few years ago walking into like a Target or something and seeing a GT Mach One on the rack. I nearly had a heart attack. Back in the 80s, I rode a GT Pro Performer, and GT was like "the bike" to own. I can honestly say that not only was I disappointed to see a GT sitting in a box store, but I was also kind of angry.

    I don't know what happened, but apparently not long after GTs starting showing up in box stores, they were "yanked," and then once again only available through select dealers. Then, apparently, all of those cheaper "box store brand" bicycles were discontinued, which in turn left more money for development of the "good" bikes. Good thing for GT.

    No doubt compromises have to be made at $200, and they're normally components like you said, but the frames are also made of cheaper materials, and some of those frames just look downright unsturdy; thin metals and sloppy welds. Some of those bikes even just "look" cheap.

    Don't get me wrong, I still like some of the Schwinns, Mongooses, and Diamond Backs, but at the same time it's tough to think of those bikes without imagining them sitting in a Target or Walmart.

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