I live in this apartment complex that is predominately occupied by married college students. They eat mac & cheese at night, they clip coupons before going out to eat, and they occasionally walk or ride a bike to save on gas expenditures. Because I don’t always get out of my parking lot without being seen in my spandex bike shorts, most of my neighbors think of me as a "serious" cyclist. So naturally, I get a lot of questions about "What bike should I buy?" or "Where’s a good place to mt bike around here?" or "How will it affect my self esteem to be caught wearing a bike helmet in public?" Okay, not so much of that last one. But I often get asked about what bike to buy. And just for a moment, I want to let all of you economically-jaded folk out there know something about bike purchases:
Wal-Mart is not a good place to buy bicycles
I mean it. I go to Wal-Mart for lots of items: Clif Bars, Gatorade, deoderant, etc. But I would never allow one of my family members to purchase a Wal-Mart bike. "Why not?" you ask naively. Allow me to list off just a couple of reasons:
1. While Wal-Mart bikes may be cheap (I spotted a deal on "mountain" bikes for $58 the other day), they’re actually really, well, cheap. When purchasing a bike for less than $300, I don’t even think you get what you pay for. It seems to me (and believe me, I rode a Murray for most of my teen years) that buying a 30-pound hunk-o-junker will actually result in severe dissatisfaction–which will be realized long before you expect it.
I have a neighbor who purchased a Wal-Mart bike just last year, and has since reported that it’s already falling apart. It won’t be long before it’s virtually unusable at the rate it’s going. I finally talked him into looking seriously at a Trek 4500–a very economical bike choice.
2. The people who put those things together have less experience in working with bikes than even you do, regardless of who you are, I’m sure. No really, my buddy Bry, who’s a bike shop owner, says that the vast majority of his service jobs are for recently purchased Wal-Mart bikes that were simply assembled incorrectly before they left the big blue building. He’s actually pretty tired of hearing, "I just bought this at Wal-Mart, but it’s already making this weird noise …" especially when he has some pretty reasonably priced and far superior bikes, that were all assembled correctly I might add, sitting in his shop waiting for a loving owner to pick them up. Never mind that he offers a free tune-up within a reasonable period of time when you purchase one of his.
3. If you want to upgrade from there, you have to buy a new bike. If you purchase a $450 aluminum hardtail, that frame will last you for years, and likely still be in rideable condition when you go on vacation and actually find time to ride it. Cheapo bikes have nothing worth keeping on them and won’t last through the four seasons. Kids in third-world countries would likely mount them for only a few moments before proclaiming, "I may be poor, but I’m not that poor!"
Like I said, feel free to chime in here, all you of the greater cycling world. And, at the risk of diving headfirst into cliche, remember, "Friends don’t let friends buy trashy bikes."