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cheap department store bikes......

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cheap department store bikes......

Old 11-16-04, 07:32 AM
  #1  
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cheap department store bikes......

this question appears on the forums with regularity and has been the subject of some heated discussion (the most recent of which was so heated it had to be deleted). One school of thought is that cheap department store can be a good introduction into the world of cycling and that these forums are doing a disservice to the cycling community by bad-mouthing these basic but essentially road-worthy machines.

Then there is the other school of thought that says that cheap department store bikes are just badly assembled toys that are just a waste of money (and potentially dangerous).

Maybe it is time now to put this issue to bed and get some real evidence (rather than just opinions) so we can decide where the truth lies.

Has anyone actually got any real life experience of a cheap (say less than 200 US dollar bike) department store bike. How far did you ride it and how reliable was it?- did you get value for money or not?
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Old 11-16-04, 08:12 AM
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Originally Posted by royalflash
Has anyone actually got any real life experience of a cheap (say less than 200 US dollar bike) department store bike. How far did you ride it and how reliable was it?
I think many of us have had this experience. A lot of us did start out on these bikes as kids. And as a kid, I learned a lot of shadetree bicycle mechanics and repair just trying to keep my bike rolling. I rode everyday at least to school and back (~10 mile total commute) and I rode it everywhere else all the time because I was sort of a social outcast who did nothing but ride my bike all the time. Well, that's not true but as a kid I made a lot of use of my bike. On a weekly basis, I figured I put in somewhere around 80 miles or so. I was probably averaging somewhere between 3000 to 3500 miles yearly between the ages of 10 to 16.

Here are several observations I made while dealing with these bikes. Most of them were "ATB" style bikes.
  1. They were definitely the epitome of F.O.R.D. (Fix Or Repair Daily). I learned that if I didn't do constant adjustments on almost a daily basis, that my bike would not be ridable the next day.
  2. Only half the drivetrain components ever worked at any one time. It seemed I always had a choice to make whenever I took the bike out because all things just didn't work all the time...
    • Front brake or rear brake? They constantly went out of adjustment. Brake arms were also very flexy.
    • Big chainring or little chainring? Front derailleur would shift fine for the first few shifts but would then fail to make the full travel.
    • Upper half of the cogset or lower half of the cogset? Same problem as with the front derailleur.
  3. Rims were stamped and folded steel with shiny chrome finish. Wet weather stopping required a lot of forethought.
  4. Rims never stayed true.
  5. Tyres wore very rapidly and because I was just a poor kid on an allowance, I could only buy equally cheap tyres as replacements. Average life of tyres was around 1000 miles. Then again, I tended to skid around a lot as a kid.
  6. Bike was heavy... weighing in around 40lbs at least. The frame was usually made of straight guage hi-ten tubing and was actually quite stout. The frames themselves never failed.
  7. Replacement parts were not always easy to find simply because most bikeshops only stock parts that work with quality bike components. Cannibalising other cheap dept. store bikes was the cheapest easiest way to get replacement parts.
  8. Bike had to be replaced every 12 to 18 months for various reasons. I knew how to repair some things but others were either too difficult for me, I didn't have the right tools or it was more financially viable to just get a new bike.
  9. There's a reason why these same types of bikes now sport the sticker "not intended for offroad use" as the ones I had never had them even though they should have.


Originally Posted by royalflash
- did you get value for money or not?
Well, seeing as my parents always paid for these bikes, I guess I can't look a gift horse in the mouth so I'd have to say yes. I think however the best value item that came out of owning those bikes was the experience and the knowledge that allowed me to realise the value of high quality bikes so that when I had enough purchasing power of my own, I could make sound buying decisions. The first paycheck from my first summer job went directly to the purchase of a brand new 1987 Specialized HardRock Sport.
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Old 11-16-04, 08:35 AM
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I think what most people have to ask themselves are, did I buy headphones in an audiophile store? did I buy my food at a gourmet food market? did I buy my furniture custom made? did I buy my computer custom made or mass produced? etc.
For every person who says a $2500 bike is the only way to go, there's someone out there that says a $50,000 home audio/video system is the only way to go.

As for me, I started with a $79 pacific alu full suspension rig from toys r' us. Got into a minor accident and the rim was bent so much that I couldn't true it back out, so I junked that thing in a garbage can. Then I got a $69 murray steel hardtail that I rode around and commuted with for a month before my girlfriend bought me a specialized hardrock. I continued using the murray as my junker and kept that thing locked up on the street for about 4 months before it was stolen. I rode that thing through the winter, through rain, snow, slush, and sand and salt. It worked fine till someone stole it.

Like Khuon, my first real bike was also a specialized hardrock. It's probably the best bike I've ever had. Not that the Murray was that much worse, for what it's worth, the way I threw that $69 junker around for 4 months, it stood up pretty well.
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Old 11-16-04, 09:05 AM
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As most people know I have a wm mountain fury.by far not the best out there.I will be the first to say that.the shifters need adjustment.and now it needs new brakes.but for the most part I am very happy with it.
My oldest has a (diamondback now I believe)and he has got to work on it all the time.it is a bmx and he is hard on ALL his stuff.he really hates that I can just get on mine and ride and he has to work on his.course I don't ride like him either.my experiance so far has been a very good one.although I do want a new giant.till my 2 yr old gets to a trailabike I will make do with what I have.
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Old 11-16-04, 09:15 AM
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You can buy bikes for less than $200 at reputable bike shops. I bought my 11 year boy a mountain bike last year for $179. It was a new prior year Schwinn frontier on close out. The new models are about $225. It was assembled well and supported with free maintenacne for a year. It does a good job. In terms of price points this shop can't compete with department stores but they do support an under $200 kids market. They also sell Raleigh, GT, Bianchi, Litespeed and other lines.

I got my wife a department store Schwinn. It was the style she wanted ( Traditional ladies step through frame). It had good parts (SRAM shifters, Shimano Drive train, Alex wheels, Kenda tires, Mozo (RST?) fork etc...) and it cost as much as the boy's bike. I had to reassemble the bike. I am on my own in term of maintenance unless I want to pay for it. No big deal I guess.
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Old 11-16-04, 09:22 AM
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I think there has been a significant cultural shift over the years that effects these bikes. When I was a kid, my parents assembled our bikes for us, not the store. I was the oldest, over the years I got to assemble the Christmas bikes for my younger siblings. The gist of this being, we took our time and made sure everything was tight and assembled correctly. Today these bikes are assembled quickly, and likely without regard for the instructions (if there are any) or proper assembly techniques or procedures. I agree that the parts may not be up to the standards of the old days now that they are made cheaply in China. I think most parents attribute the breakage and wearing out of these bikes to the fact that their kids are "hard" on their toys. In this case the kids are getting a bum rap. I do think that if someone starts on one of these bikes, it is Russian Roulette as to whether they will love it or leave it. That's where we can have an effect. I think nurturing people to understand that better bikes and better assembly will make a more pleasurable experience is the goal. But...they have to start somewhere. There is a place for these bikes but people need to be educated to understand their place in the hierarchy of a life long sport. They are toys, and toys have a place in introducing us to the wider world of experiences. I wonder how many doctors and nurses had doctor kits as children. Be an ambassador for wellmade bikes and the real pleasures of riding they can provide. Don't dis the Freds -- educate and recruit them.
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Old 11-16-04, 09:37 AM
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Originally Posted by Kayakado
They are toys, and toys have a place in introducing us to the wider world of experiences.
I think that's a key statement. If you're buying the bike simply as a toy and if it breaks down then you've not lost much then a dept. store bike has little impact on your life. This of course assumes you're not out in the middle of nowhere or that you're not attempting some death-defying maneauver when the bike fails. However, even at a young age, you can see that some people consider them to be more than toys. When I was growing up, my bike was my transportation. I actually did need it to go to school and to get places. For me, it was not simply a toy and 3000 miles per year is still fairly serious mileage. In some respects, it is actually less important for me nowadays as an adult that my bike be reliable. However for many, who continue to depend on their bike for their livelihood, reliability is of utmost importance.
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Old 11-16-04, 10:14 AM
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I saw a cheap department bike having its crankarms separated from the crank spider. Yes, the lady was trying to pedal but the bike just won't go foward.
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Old 11-16-04, 10:17 AM
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When I was a kid, there were two places people bought bikes: the Schwinn store and Sears. Most bikes had one speed or three speeds and coaster brakes. Sears, at that time, took quality seriously, so many of their bikes were almost as nice as a Schwinn, and cost a third less.

The impact of Wal-Mart has been to force stores to sell the very cheapest stuff in the cheapest way. So, today, discount stores are full of bikes with 21 speeds and dual suspension. Poorly assembled. Unsafe to ride. Take them to a GOOD bike shop to replace broken parts and it turns out many of the parts are not standard parts.

Wal-Mart bikes, if assembled by a really good, experienced mechanic, would last about three months in the hands of a typical eight year old boy. And, that is what they are designed to do.

If that same eight year old boy is given a $200 single speed BMX bike from a good bike shop, he will be able to ride it for five years, then give to a younger brother who will ride it for five more years. On a "per mile" basis, a $200 bike shop bike costs about ten percent of the price of a $75 Wal-Mart bike.

If Wal-Mart was run by ethical, honest people, it would sell one speed bikes with coaster brakes. The factory could fully assemble and test the bike, and ship it to Wal-Mart with the front wheel off. Such a bike could be sold for $75 and be a safe, reliable, and long lasting bike.

The junk Wal-Mart sells is proof that they think the typical American consumer is a half-wit. A clue to how smart they think customer are: all Wal-Mart bikes with 26 inch tires are exactly the same size: Wal-Mart calls it "size 26" - as if some adults are NOT five foot one, and some are NOT six foot four.
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Old 11-16-04, 10:34 AM
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I've heard often that department store bikes are "badly assembled". Who actually assembles them, and what can go wrong? Are we talking loose brake bolts, stems, and spokes... or can something worse happen?
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Old 11-16-04, 10:39 AM
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Originally Posted by moxfyre
I've heard often that department store bikes are "badly assembled". Who actually assembles them, and what can go wrong? Are we talking loose brake bolts, stems, and spokes... or can something worse happen?
Go to a discount dept. store and observe the parking lot. The same kid who's collecting carts and shoving them back inside will in about 30 minutes be in the back room assembling bikes as fast as possible without regard for such things as proper torquing, stress reliving the wheels or even correct position of components. Sometimes they know what they're doing but more often than not they won't. Unfortunately as another poster just mentioned, they prey on the fact that most consumers don't either. I've seen people attempt to buy bikes with forks mounted backwards and enough of a gap in the brakes that the levers would bottom out before the pads engaged.
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Old 11-16-04, 10:40 AM
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well you can't buy roadbikes at walmart....
also marts don't fit you for the bike, they are one size fits all heh. also
there is no support at walmart for your bike, buy one from an lbs and you have support.
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Old 11-16-04, 10:43 AM
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Originally Posted by larue
well you can't buy roadbikes at walmart....
I haven't actually been in a Wal-Mart in a while but I do know that they're selling roadbikes at Costco. They're branded as Motiv and are Sora equipped. They weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of 30lbs. I remember once getting a Roadmaster 10-speed roadbike as a kid and it came from K-Mart.
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Old 11-16-04, 10:47 AM
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We visit Ocracoke Island, NC, about four weekends every summer. Since there are no rental cars there, we rent bikes. (Actually, unless you have a 4WD for the beach trails, a car is not that helpful on the island.)

Anyhow we rent generic cruiser bikes that I assume are from department stores. The last one I rented was labeled "Solar" These things receive minimal maintenance, and live in one of the worlds most corrosive environments -- a low, warm, humid, salty, sandy island. The ones we rent have a trailer attached, and they carry chairs, umbrellas, coolers, beach bag, and child. It is clearly heavy-duty use.

The things hold up fine! We see the same bikes, perhaps a bit rustier, year after year. My guess is that these are good, honest, Chinese utility bikes, stripped of their lights and fenders and given bright paint.

My conclusion is that the department store cruisers, at least, are good solid transportation. They are easy to assemble, and lack flimsy, low-end components to fail or be misadjusted.

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Old 11-16-04, 10:57 AM
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Originally Posted by khuon
Go to a discount dept. store and observe the parking lot. The same kid who's collecting carts and shoving them back inside will in about 30 minutes be in the back room assembling bikes as fast as possible without regard for such things as proper torquing, stress reliving the wheels or even correct position of components. Sometimes they know what they're doing but more often than not they won't. Unfortunately as another poster just mentioned, they prey on the fact that most consumers don't either. I've seen people attempt to buy bikes with forks mounted backwards and enough of a gap in the brakes that the levers would bottom out before the pads engaged.
Around here, many department stores hire out bike assembly to 'freelance' bike mechanics. They come in and assemble bikes for a day or two and get paid by the bike. The faster they can assemble, the more money they make.
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Old 11-16-04, 11:05 AM
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I personally would be a lot more convinced of the merits of cheap department store bikes if we had a few people report. for example that they commuted on them for 4 years and did 10,000 km with normal maintenance/servicing. We dont seem to have many of these type of posts that we could objectively evaluate. I have not seen anything that would convince me to buy a department store bike over the Trek 820 for 219 dollars that Seely mentioned in another thread (most of which got deleted).

I think that the more recent reports are the most significant as I get the impression that the cheap-bike industry may have changed since when we were kids (movement of manufacturing to the far east and so on). There seems to be more reliance on flim-flam (trick suspension and stuff) now than there was years ago.

It could also be that not all department store bikes are equal and that some are better than others.
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Old 11-16-04, 11:12 AM
  #17  
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My greatest concern is the quality of safety features... especially flimsy brakes. The bikes may look fine when they're shiny and new in the store, but the brakes seem to fail fairly quickly.

Most of the Wal-Mart type bikes I see at thrift store, pawn shops or auctions have dead brakes. Assuming that many fo the people who purchase these types of bike are only occasional riders, they are at risk in a brake failure.

Whenever we have a cycling death in our city, I always call my detective friends to get details about the crash. Inevitably, the victim was a service industry worker or a homeless person riding a cheapo bike.

I'm not necessarily saying that there is a direct correlation between bike quality and physical safety. Other factors such as victim intoxication and carelessness also apply. However, I would be interested in knowing how many of those bikes may have had some sort of mechanical failure.
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Old 11-16-04, 11:13 AM
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Originally Posted by royalflash
I personally would be a lot more convinced of the merits of cheap department store bikes if we had a few people report. for example that they commuted on them for 4 years and did 10,000 km with normal maintenance/servicing. ...
Wrong target market.

Last edited by Iron Chef; 11-16-04 at 12:31 PM.
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Old 11-16-04, 11:19 AM
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Originally Posted by PaulH
We visit Ocracoke Island, NC, about four weekends every summer. Since there are no rental cars there, we rent bikes. (Actually, unless you have a 4WD for the beach trails, a car is not that helpful on the island.)

Anyhow we rent generic cruiser bikes that I assume are from department stores. The last one I rented was labeled "Solar" These things receive minimal maintenance, and live in one of the worlds most corrosive environments -- a low, warm, humid, salty, sandy island. The ones we rent have a trailer attached, and they carry chairs, umbrellas, coolers, beach bag, and child. It is clearly heavy-duty use.

The things hold up fine! We see the same bikes, perhaps a bit rustier, year after year. My guess is that these are good, honest, Chinese utility bikes, stripped of their lights and fenders and given bright paint.

My conclusion is that the department store cruisers, at least, are good solid transportation. They are easy to assemble, and lack flimsy, low-end components to fail or be misadjusted.

Paul
A one speed beach cruiser IS a bike Wal-Mart could not screw up. But, last time I looked, they were not for sale at Wal-Mart. A bike shop in my neighborhood sells several beach cruisers for between $130 and $180 that are sturdy, reliable bikes. The downside is only one size is available. For just $70 or $100 more, Trek has a sturdy mountain bike that comes in sizes to fit virtually any adult.

But, to sell a dual suspension bike, with dual hand brakes and 21 speeds for $180, a lot of corners must get cut. Starting with brakes that actually work.
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Old 11-16-04, 12:06 PM
  #20  
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Originally Posted by royalflash
I personally would be a lot more convinced of the merits of cheap department store bikes if we had a few people report. for example that they commuted on them for 4 years and did 10,000 km with normal maintenance/servicing. We dont seem to have many of these type of posts that we could objectively evaluate. I have not seen anything that would convince me to buy a department store bike over the Trek 820 for 219 dollars that Seely mentioned in another thread (most of which got deleted).

I think that the more recent reports are the most significant as I get the impression that the cheap-bike industry may have changed since when we were kids (movement of manufacturing to the far east and so on). There seems to be more reliance on flim-flam (trick suspension and stuff) now than there was years ago.

It could also be that not all department store bikes are equal and that some are better than others.
Chinese delivery guy, works for the place next to the sushi place I used to go to every week, he's been riding the same toys r us hard tail from when I started college till I graduated and still does now, at least 3 years, delivering food for about 10 hours a day, rain, snow, you name it. Bout 2 years ago I was eating at the sushi place with my gf and we saw out the window that he was having problems trying to undo a nut on his brake calipers, I walked out and helped him with it, I think his brake cable snapped.
I don't think he shifts it anymore but he rides it, longer and in worse weather conditions than probably 75% of the people would even think of on this forum. He looks up at the 2nd floor window seats everyonce in a while and if we're there we'll wave at each other. He does race, doesn't do time trials, all he does is ride the thing, and if properly assembled or fixed up, those bikes will probably outlast most people's attention spans.
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Old 11-16-04, 12:14 PM
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Some are definitely better than others. When I decided to get back into cycling, I went to Wal-Mart and bought my Schwinn. It has all brand-name parts. Every single part on this bike is a brand name, with the exception of the crank (which, unfortunately isn't metal, it's some kind of plastic)...

But the drivetrain is all Shimano. The shifters are Sram, the rear cartridge is Shimano, the front and rear derailleurs are whatever Shimano's low end MTB derailleurs are.

In another case, my wife bought a Huffy (which she never rode, never had the interest), which did not have a brand name component on it.

It all depends, I guess...

I think it's a good point that just because it's bought in Wal-Mart doesn't mean it's automatically crap. It isn't high end, but it gets the job done. Besides, if I didn't get that bike, I never would've re-discovered cycling, and never would've upgraded to my first "real" road bike.

In many ways, that cheap bike served its purpose way beyond the $130 I spent on it.
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Old 11-16-04, 01:05 PM
  #22  
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Originally Posted by slvoid
Chinese delivery guy, works for the place next to the sushi place I used to go to every week, he's been riding the same toys r us hard tail from when I started college till I graduated and still does now, at least 3 years, delivering food for about 10 hours a day, rain, snow, you name it. Bout 2 years ago I was eating at the sushi place with my gf and we saw out the window that he was having problems trying to undo a nut on his brake calipers, I walked out and helped him with it, .
I haven't ridden my Pacific department store bike in over a month. It's still outside right now in New York City rusting away but no one wants to steal it. That bike weights a ton and can't seem to keep air in the tires. These Chinese guys who ride those bikes must be strong.
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Old 11-16-04, 05:37 PM
  #23  
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Originally Posted by royalflash
this question appears on the forums with regularity and has been the subject of some heated discussion (the most recent of which was so heated it had to be deleted). One school of thought is that cheap department store can be a good introduction into the world of cycling and that these forums are doing a disservice to the cycling community by bad-mouthing these basic but essentially road-worthy machines.

Then there is the other school of thought that says that cheap department store bikes are just badly assembled toys that are just a waste of money (and potentially dangerous).

Maybe it is time now to put this issue to bed and get some real evidence (rather than just opinions) so we can decide where the truth lies.

Has anyone actually got any real life experience of a cheap (say less than 200 US dollar bike) department store bike. How far did you ride it and how reliable was it?- did you get value for money or not?
First, I'd say there is a valid market for both cheap and luxury brand goods in virtually any category of merchandise including bicycles. I chose a $900 digital camera and my wife uses Kodak or Fuji disposables. Some of the choices are simply preferences. Pictures are adequate from both devices.

Many department store cycles are purchased for children. When my kids were still growing, I avoided purchasing them Armani suits and such since I considered it wasteful as they would outgrow them in months. Perhaps parents or youngsters feel the same way about bicycles.

I do indeed have a small bit of experience with a department store bike. I normally ride a Giant Sedona hybrid and a Giant OCR1 road bike both purchased new at an LBS. On a recent visit to the east coast my brother in law offered to let me ride his "new bike.'' Since I hadn't brought mine along on the trip and hadn't ridden in days, I accepted his offer.

At first glance, the bike looked good. I adjusted the seat height and lifted the bike to point it in the right direction. My second observation was that the bike was really heavy. He had platform pedals, so not having my shes was no issue. I swung my leg over the bike and took off. Third observation: It was a real drag to get it oving no matter which gear I used. Next observation was that the gears did not change smoothly, and not at all if there was any tnesion on the pedals. The last note was the mushy response of the brakes.

I slogged it out for about three miles and returned. I asked him where he bought the bike. His response: "Wal-Mart." He was obviously proud of the bike and quite satisfied with it. I thought it a bit strange since most of his purchases, trailer, boat, motercycle, power tools, tractor, etc., were all top end.

I thanked him for the use of the bike, put the seat back where I found it and said, "Nice bike."

The bike was functional, apparently safe and provided him with the exercise he desired.

The owner of my LBS likes department store bikes. They bring in a good bit of maintenance work and are a great sales tool for higher end bikes in his shop. He would never criticize one though and neither would I. Somewhere there is an owner of a $9000 bike who would sneer at my thoudand-dollar rig. Maybe not though. Perhaps they would simply look at me as another cyclist.
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Old 11-16-04, 06:54 PM
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My girlfriend likes her department store Schwinn hybrid. It is solid, but the frame is so heavy I don't know what they made it from. Only real problem is that all the bolts require socket wrenches rather than hex wrenches, which makes it a pain to work on with ordinary bike tools, especially where clearance is tight.
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Old 11-16-04, 10:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Dahon.Steve
I haven't ridden my Pacific department store bike in over a month. It's still outside right now in New York City rusting away but no one wants to steal it. That bike weights a ton and can't seem to keep air in the tires. These Chinese guys who ride those bikes must be strong.
Keep in mind they don't race and they don't care about efficiency or anything. Plus, it doesn't matter whether your hardtail's 20 lbs or 30 lbs when you load up 10 pounds of chinese food on the handle bars. Only a few fractions of a percent in this country care about bike weight or tire pressure or anything.
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