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Are all budget frames similar in build quality?

Old 05-10-13, 11:31 AM
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f33dback
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Are all budget frames similar in build quality?

Hi guys,

I've researched this topic and most discussions mirror cyclists' views, and not those of mechanics.

I'm currently on the market for a budget entry-level road bike. I'm also really confused about something - frame quality. I'm under the impression that most budget bicycles and bicycle frames (under 400-USD) are of similar build quality. It just makes sense - I don't really see any major differences as far as weight and frame geometry are concerned when I compare these various bikes' specs.

I would love some pros to chime in on the frame build quality, as that's my major concern at this point. I'm specifically looking at budget aluminum road frames. Are the only major drawbacks to these frames weight and fork material? Are higher-end generic branded bikes better quality than the cheapos we see all around us? Economies of scale dictate that large chain retailers can sell bicycles at cheaper prices than independent retailers. It makes sense that frames from small independent retailers are sold for the same price as a fully assembled bicycle from a large retailer. But there's a part of me that wonders if there's more to this.

Most of the discussions I found online demonize these budget bikes as being overpriced due to the low-quality components requiring replacement, such as tires, shifters, and brakes; but is that all there is to it? How well would these cheapo Amazon and department store frames fare if they were stripped of their original components and upgraded with higher quality components?

I was initially planning on purchasing a higher-end generic bike frame on eBay, but now I see I can buy department store-grade bicycles for the same price, if not less. Financially this seems to make sense - especially since I'm in Europe and need to stretch out my budget. I haven't found any evidence proving department store bike frames to be of a lesser quality than the frames found on eBay, only that they come with really crappy components on them.

Even though department store bikes receive more negative reviews than the more expensive, albeit generic, bike frames; I believe this is due to the reviewers being different types of customers. The majority of department store customers expect a bicycle to function correctly - something that is largely dictated by the components and the assembly skill - not frame quality. The generic frames receive less negative reviews, but I believe that's due to the customer, not the manufacturer, dictating which components get installed.

What am I missing? Is a Nashbar/Dolan Bikes frame really better in quality than a fully assembled bicycle from Target, Walmart, Amazon, or Tesco?
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Old 05-10-13, 11:54 AM
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When you're talking about budget generic frames, what price limit are you really setting for the comparison? Are you comparing $400 frames to dept. store bikes? ($400 is the only price mentioned in your post). Nashbar frames are often under $100. Is that actually the comparison you want to make?

There is also a lot of variation in dept. store bikes. The ones I've seen that are less than $100 can have truly horrible frames. One that sells for $250 *might* have a frame a more demanding user could live with. I'm not a pro, though, just a cyclist.

Edit: I'll add the following, and this doesn't really answer you're question, but might be helpful:

Last year I bought a Fantom CXX from BD for $800, which I think is fully as good as a Surly Cross Check that retails for $1,100 - $1,200 at LBS. I had a Bianchi Volpe at the time, which is also something that sells in the same ballpark as the Cross Check. At about the same time I also bought a Fantom CX frame for $200 from Bike Island, which is affiliated with BD. The Fantom CX sells for about $550 as a complete bike, IIRC. Note that the CX and CXX frames are completely different.

I don't think The cheaper CX frame is as nice as either the CXX or Volpe frames, but I still think it's a fine frame. It certainly doesn't feel like a piece of crap that was stuck together with bubble gum, and it's reasonably light (even with chromoly fork). Yet the complete bike sells for less than half of other bikes that are functionally similar. My point? In this case, probably most of the difference in price is explained by the components.

The same thing may be true lower on the price scale. However, I think there will be a price point below which the frame of a complete dept store bike has to be junky, like all the components on the bike. I don't know where that point lies.

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Old 05-10-13, 12:25 PM
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F33db; re: "What am I missing? Is a Nashbar/Dolan Bikes frame really better in quality than a fully assembled bicycle from Target, Walmart, Amazon, or Tesco?"

What you missed is the entire boat, all the tuna, most of the shrimp, and you are now floating face down in the water! Geez, gotta watch that first step; its a big one!

So ok; The Nashbar frames are rather good quality, high volume frames made in top quality Chinese factories of good materials and competent welding. They are about the same grade of frame you might find in a $700-$900 production bike. You will never find a bike with a frame of that quality at any Target, Walmart, etc. Those stores sell bikes are basically hi-tensile steel consumer grade bikes with the only goal of keeping them under a specific price point, typically very low. A $100 bike is a $100 bike, nothing more.

The method to the Nashbar madness in selling a nice frame (road, MTB, Cyclo or touring) for $99 is that they still make a few bucks on the frame itself (probably $10 each). But the real seller's magic is that most buyers will start buying most of the parts from them to make a frame into a bike. I did this recently just for the fun of it. As expected, I found that basically a $99 frame is going to total about $750 to $1,000 finished to a competent level. But you get to hand select and bargin shop for every part and for all the bits. If you shop well you can basically assemble a $1,200+ bike for about $800 complete. PM me if you want a copy of the spreadsheet that shows all the priced out parts or photos. I will get around to putting up a finished story to the thread I started earlier on "build a Nashbar tourer" topic. But bottom line is that it builts a rather nice bike and I am very happy with it and how it rides.
/K
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Old 05-10-13, 12:28 PM
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Have you considered buying a used road bike? You can find some very nice bikes, with better than entry level frames, for well under that $400 price point, especially if you are ok with downtube shifters. Brifters can be found in that range, though they will come in toward the upper end of it.
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Old 05-10-13, 12:37 PM
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Originally Posted by ksisler View Post
But you get to hand select and bargin shop for every part and for all the bits. If you shop well you can basically assemble a $1,200+ bike for about $800 complete.
You can often do better. This frame was $45 from a Craigslist ad, and (not including the Brooks saddle) I have about $450 in it. Probably equivalent to a bike that goes for around $1k new, maybe a little more, considering my choice of components are not all bargain basement choices.

'92 Schwinn Crosscut by Yo Spiff, on Flickr

This was a $40 find. The frame is good, though not as nice as the Crosscut above. I fixed this up for my daughter and have about $250 in it.

'87 Nishiki Sport by Yo Spiff, on Flickr
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Old 05-10-13, 01:04 PM
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Frames are funny. As an experiment I did the following. At the bike co-op that I work at, we got in a standard Scwhinn wally world bike. Probably 199 or so new at wally world. It was a mountain bike. This was the frame looked like:



I tore it apart and parted it out. Took off the fork and all the external bits in our parts bins. The shop manager was going to toss the frame to the recycle bin but I said no, I will take it.

I then put good freehub 700c wheels/tires on it, a rigid 700c front steel fork from a Scwhinn hybrid, an adapter to move the canti posts up to work with the 700c rims, and nice components on it. Fancy XTR front and rear derailleurs, nice cassette, Deore XT crankset with aluminum rings, good Deore LX front and rear shifters, Deore brake levers, good Tektro v-brakes, good aluminum handlebars, etc.

Once it was all said and done, the bike rode nice and shifted as nice as any decent LBS bike but realize that it used good components and was put together by someone that cared. The only real cheap thing about the frame is the rear derailleur hanger wasn't a bolt on, it was intergrated into the frame itself so if it ever got broken, frame was done. THe bare frame weighed a little more than 4 pounds if I remember correctly. Not the prettiest thing but it works. The only thing I really didn't like was the fairly heavy threadless steel front fork. Probably hi-ten. If I threw an aluminum fork or carbon on there, ti would be that much lighter.

I rode it for a while and enjoyed it. Still have the bike but don't use it anymore. My opinion is that frames is frames and unless you really want a fancy frame, there isn't anything wrong with the 100 dollar nashbar frames in the least. I imagine that all frames for bikes costing under 1000 dollars are pretty much of similar quality and made by the same companies. So a nicer 200 dollar or more Wally world bike might have a bare frame of similar quality as a 800 lbs bike. The big difference is the quality of the bike build and the quality of the components used on it. Maybe the quality of paint would be better on a more expensive bike as well, I dunno. Originally my Schwinn had cheaper lower end Acera quality parts which are serviceable enough but after upgrading the parts, it turned into a rather nice bike.
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Old 05-10-13, 01:10 PM
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All is a big word, but your right in thinking that similarly priced entry and mid level bikes will have similar quality frames. At least to the extent that the intended customer would know or care.

However there might be differences in geometry or details like fender eyes and tire clearance that might affect the suitability of a bike for your purposes. In your price range, focus on suitability for your needs, and specific value features such as specifications, component choices that will address your specific needs.
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Old 05-10-13, 02:54 PM
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Old 05-10-13, 04:54 PM
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Originally Posted by bobotech View Post
Frames are funny. As an experiment I did the following. At the bike co-op that I work at, we got in a standard Scwhinn wally world bike. Probably 199 or so new at wally world. It was a mountain bike. This was the frame looked like:



I tore it apart and parted it out. Took off the fork and all the external bits in our parts bins. The shop manager was going to toss the frame to the recycle bin but I said no, I will take it.

I then put good freehub 700c wheels/tires on it, a rigid 700c front steel fork from a Scwhinn hybrid, an adapter to move the canti posts up to work with the 700c rims, and nice components on it. Fancy XTR front and rear derailleurs, nice cassette, Deore XT crankset with aluminum rings, good Deore LX front and rear shifters, Deore brake levers, good Tektro v-brakes, good aluminum handlebars, etc.

Once it was all said and done, the bike rode nice and shifted as nice as any decent LBS bike but realize that it used good components and was put together by someone that cared. The only real cheap thing about the frame is the rear derailleur hanger wasn't a bolt on, it was intergrated into the frame itself so if it ever got broken, frame was done. THe bare frame weighed a little more than 4 pounds if I remember correctly. Not the prettiest thing but it works. The only thing I really didn't like was the fairly heavy threadless steel front fork. Probably hi-ten. If I threw an aluminum fork or carbon on there, ti would be that much lighter.

I rode it for a while and enjoyed it. Still have the bike but don't use it anymore. My opinion is that frames is frames and unless you really want a fancy frame, there isn't anything wrong with the 100 dollar nashbar frames in the least. I imagine that all frames for bikes costing under 1000 dollars are pretty much of similar quality and made by the same companies. So a nicer 200 dollar or more Wally world bike might have a bare frame of similar quality as a 800 lbs bike. The big difference is the quality of the bike build and the quality of the components used on it. Maybe the quality of paint would be better on a more expensive bike as well, I dunno. Originally my Schwinn had cheaper lower end Acera quality parts which are serviceable enough but after upgrading the parts, it turned into a rather nice bike.
Got an "After" pic?
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Old 05-10-13, 06:12 PM
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Originally Posted by JiveTurkey View Post
Got an "After" pic?
I robbed the nice rear derailleur for another project (a drop bar mountain bike) so I just stuck a Deore rear derailleur back on it. Haven't bothered putting a chain on it yet either since the robbing occurred. The brake levers are Tektro, not Deore like I thought.




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Old 05-10-13, 06:32 PM
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Question for the OP: Are you interested in Frame "quality" in terms of fit and finish? Or Features? Or are you looking for durability?

Because it depends on what you're looking for. At the low-end, I think most frames are generally of the same durability. I think the super cheap frames found on Dept. Store BSOs is even more rugged than LBS entry-level bikes. And that's because I think the manufacturers don't want to deal with warranty claims on frames. But do the frames have the requisite braze-ons for cable guides? racks? derailleurs? water bottles? And are the dropouts thick forged metal? or are they stamped? and I think at the low-end Dept. Store BSOs, the frames don't have many extra accessory braze-on mounts, and they are not durable in regards to the dropouts. I think also, the geometry of many of these bikes simply sucks. I don't understand why they can't make a cheap frame with decent geometry, because clearly some low-cost frame retailers (e.g. Nashbar) do offer decent frames with features.

But the question is whether or not the frame has quality "fit" or "finish." And here's where Nashbar may not be so great. Their low-end Hounder or Arguly SS/Fixie bikes often have rear triangles that are clearly offset from center. Rather than wasting effort on a low end bike to cold set the frame (whcih can't be done with Aluminum), I just re-dished the rear wheel slightly, gave up the flip-flop feature sort of to get the wheel to line up just behind the seat tube and front fork. Now it's more straight riding no-hands rather than auto-piloting out into traffic like before and giving me the heeby-jeebies when I cornered hard left but not on the right. Otherwise, the welds look decent on many of the nashbar frames.

That is the exception however. Many BSOs have terrible welds and massive globs of stick filler, and in the case of TIG welds on aluminum, it worries me that the weld beads aren't uniform. That's true of many LBS entry-level bikes. And for all we know, there could be a lot of filler at the BB, but the amount of actual metal welded to form the joint could be a lot less and it could be mostly void underneath that weld (which I've seen before on a cracked aluminum frame near the BB).

What I would do is to look at Used bikes and to be patient and wait for a good bike at a good price that will be far cheaper than upgrading from a low-end frame, and potentially get you a great classic frame that will last decades, and some decent components to ride now. Years from now, the frame is still likely to worthy of upgrading. Most of my bikes have frames over 20 years old. Some nearly 30 years old. I still upgrade them because they're worth it.
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Old 05-10-13, 06:33 PM
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Hi,

I recently bought a budget road bike, a "half price" special from a
supermarket site, which was was fair enough as I found the most
competitive on price LBS selling very near the same bike at double.

The bits that were a bit better were still crap and as I changed them all
it didn't make much difference. New saddle, alloy pedals and toe clips,
flipped an chopped the bars to bullhorns, new bigger nicer tyres,
added some SKS trekking syle mudguards / fenders.

The worst aspect of the bike was the cranks, styled to look like alloy
but made of steel so ridiculously heavy and far too strong for the job,
the scrawny steel cranks on my folder were far more sporty.

So I fitted an alloy Italian crankset for £20, which I didn't see coming
but other than that I've got a really good bike for really not much.

The aluminium frame and steel forks are rock solid strong.

I've fitted a near slick 30mm tyre rear and 32mm more
treaded front. The tyres and tyre pressures affect the
feel of the bike so much its pointless talking about my
frame and forks. They work, and it goes round corners
very well with loads of grip compared to skinnier tyres.

FWIW I think at the budget end the right set up for
you is more important. Aluminium frames in all cases
will be stiffer than you'll ever need, and your real choice
is tyre type, size and the pressure you run for bike feel.

rgds, sreten.

FWIW for £125 I got lots of nice bits, the ali frame,
steel forks, threadless headset, cartridge BB, decent
brakes, Shimano gear stuff.

The 28mm tyres were fine, the only thing I didn't like was
the very adolescent saddle and the artifice of the cranks.

Last edited by sreten; 05-14-13 at 10:50 AM.
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Old 05-11-13, 05:48 AM
  #13  
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In the mid-price range (350-800), all frames are of pretty similar build quality. The materials may improve with price, eg butted tubing, but the quality of the joins and mitreing is all of a muchness since they are all built in the same 5 massive Taiwanese factories (or their Chinese offshoots) and all have industrial quality control systems in place.
In the low budget frames there is a much greater variation in joining, aligning and finishing (facing/tapping) a frame. Alignment in low budget frames is generally appaling.
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Old 05-11-13, 06:03 AM
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You can buy a department store bike for $150 or $1,500. The frame quality varies accordingly - same at your LBS.
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Old 05-11-13, 06:14 AM
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Originally Posted by ksisler View Post

The method to the Nashbar madness in selling a nice frame (road, MTB, Cyclo or touring) for $99 is that they still make a few bucks on the frame itself (probably $10 each). But the real seller's magic is that most buyers will start buying most of the parts from them to make a frame into a bike. I did this recently just for the fun of it. As expected, I found that basically a $99 frame is going to total about $750 to $1,000 finished to a competent level. But you get to hand select and bargin shop for every part and for all the bits. If you shop well you can basically assemble a $1,200+ bike for about $800 complete. PM me if you want a copy of the spreadsheet that shows all the priced out parts or photos. I will get around to putting up a finished story to the thread I started earlier on "build a Nashbar tourer" topic. But bottom line is that it builts a rather nice bike and I am very happy with it and how it rides.
/K
They may even lose money on the frame. This the loss leader concept where company sells one thing at a loss because all the profit is in the follow up sales. An example would be razor blades. Gilette sell the razor handle (profiled, eg) for next to nothing because they make all the profit on the blades.
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Old 05-12-13, 05:26 AM
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Without reading the other replies, I'll just say that as far as budget ally frames go, I'm inclined to think anything with hydroformed tubes is likely to be a good bet. Hydroforming is something that only makes sense on a large scale because of the expense of the tooling, but the per-unit cost couldn't be much at all, since you see hydroformed tubes on some pretty cheap bikes. AFAIK a hydroformed tube has basically been cold-forged, which should mean it's stronger than normal and shouldn't need as much wall thickness as a plain tube, at least in its finished form.

I'd guess it's possible to design an ally frame to be lighter, cheaper, and stronger than one with butted tubing (not sure if anyone puts butted tubes in a hydroformer, but I gather most of em are straight gauge).

Whether that's the rule or the exception and you actually score a good one, that's another matter.

But IMO if you're after a bargain you're crazy not to be shopping for a second-hand steal. With a bit of patience (depending on your location, from a few weeks to 2-3 months' worth, maybe) you can find bikes for 2-300 bucks worth three, four, or even five times as much.
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Old 05-12-13, 05:46 AM
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And after reading the other replies, here's what matters for performance on a bike:

1. The fit.
2. The build and tune.
3. Quality of brake and gear systems.
4. Quality of the wheels.
5. Quality of the frame.
6. Quality of pretty much everything else.

You have to be a bit of a connoisseur to care much about the difference a frame makes, geometry aside... unless you're talking carbon. A good carbon frame is like magic.
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Old 05-12-13, 07:31 AM
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Pretty much generic frames are quite serviceable. The better ones come from Taiwan. The rougher ones come from China, and these tend to be really heavy.

A generic frame from Taiwan needs to be checked for the the tubing used. If it is chromoly it should be quite serviceable even if it doesnt have some eliteist name on it. Most are probably welded up by robots, and that means the welds will be consistent and serviceable.
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Old 05-13-13, 04:37 AM
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Thanks for all of the replies. Some rambling.

I would like to add this: I'm pretty mechanically inclined when it comes to bikes. But I need to factor in the cost of tools for upgrades or raw installs (which will run me around $40 - same what I would pay in labor)

I guess i need to specify this: im interested in two types of bikes - road and mountain. Im also referring to aluminum frames, not steel. Im still in Europe so used and new prices are typically around 40% more than what they are back home. Here's where my reasoning lies: I can pick up a generic/rebadged new road frame and fork for around 200 usd on eBay, but the components would run me nearly the same (tiagra crank, stem, handlebars, brakes, brake levers, and pedals). So 400 for a heavy aluminum DIY bike. I can buy a well reviewed Decathlon Triban 3 assembled machine for around 500 which weighs 24 lbs/11kg. However, the crank is pretty basic... Sports Direct has some cheapo road bikes for around 250 USD, which would give me access to a machine immediately while allowing me to spread the cost of upgrades out over several months. The only things i would swap and upgrade are my 700c Mavic and Rigida wheels and upgrade the stem norder to avoid/insure myself against any broken collar bones. I just wonder whether these cheapo bike frames are worth the benefit, or if I should just spring for the better bike and get it over with. I'm just guessing here that the majority of generic and rebadged bikes are more or less similar. The Triban bikes are made in Italy by Deddachia - so we're not talking about just "made in" marketing speak.

Mountain bike wise, I'm looking for something to stomp around in mostly in cities and for some limited trail riding in Europe, especially Norway. I can save a lot of time and cover more ground this way. I see various generic frames, as well as a few Fuji frame and fork combos for around 150 USd, however, I'm not gonna throw 700c wheels on there, so aside from the cassette, derailleur, and seat, I'm looking at throwing about $200 worth of components on there, and that's mid-grade components at best.

The more that I think while writing this, I get the impression that a used Trek or Giant mountain bike is the way to go.

im more interested in investing properly in a road bike. Used road bikes here are, at best 30-40% off retail. Probably because they take road cycling more seriously here.

Im all for saving money where I can, but I want it to be a smart cost saving move, if that makes any sense.


Im also really divided on what to do. Is 11kg worth paying 500 for, or would I be better off waiting a little longer and saving up for something like a Giant Defy? I'm also just getting started, so it's hard to tell if ill stick with this or if its just a phase. I am trying to quit smoking, so the bike is an added incentive in that department. It seems like there are as many reasons to buy now vs holding off on the perfect road bike. Kinda like with Canon and Nikon DSLRs.

On a side note, Decathlon, which is like a Sports Authority but without the Walmart culture, has another bike of interest: a 26 inch steel mountain bike/hybrid for about 190 USD. The components are okay, but it's hideous and made of steel. They warranty their frames for 5 years and the labor for two.

Im going to read through all of these posts and put on my thinking cap. Thanks everyone. If I don't smoke for one year that 500$ bike has paid for itself.
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Old 05-13-13, 04:43 AM
  #20  
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Originally Posted by f33dback View Post
I am trying to quit smoking, so the bike is an added incentive in that department.
So decide you want a sweet road bike instead of a half-decent one, and spend some of the bucks you'll be saving from not buying smokes. Go for the maximum bang-for-buck point, somewhere north of a grand. Have you ridden any of the carbon frames they're making these days? It's awesome stuff.

Or, do what I did and find a co-op to volunteer at and score cheap parts. I have a reasonably flash 9s ally road bike with all the mod cons and a 16/20h wheelset that owes me less than $100.

Life is too short to ride a crap pushie.

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Old 05-13-13, 04:45 AM
  #21  
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BD : Bikes Direct?
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Old 05-13-13, 04:51 AM
  #22  
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Never tested a carbon bike. Sounds like overkill for a first bike. You have a point with the crap pushy. Unfortunately I don't have anything to compare it to, other than my two Giant bikes that were stolen. Seems like I'm looking at about 100-150 to purchase two quality locks.
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Old 05-13-13, 07:31 PM
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Hi,

You don't want a knobbly tyred mountain bike for mainly
riding around in the city. You'd be much better off buying
one decent hybrid with racks mudguards lights etc for all
round use including occasional off road tracks and touring.

Then decide if you need a real road or offroad bike or both
as well. Neither are very practical as a day to day bike.

rgds, sreten.

I have a 20" folder with with all the bits, very practical.
Recently got a road bike I urbanised a little (detailed
above) for doing longer trips in a day. 15 miles is about
the limit of the folder, done so far 30 on the road bike.

Last edited by sreten; 05-13-13 at 07:43 PM.
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Old 05-15-13, 01:10 AM
  #24  
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Thanks Sreten. I'm still weighing the hybrid bike option. I'll make a decision by Friday.
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