Tuesday, January 1, 2013

If I Had A Dollar . . .

. . . for every time someone asked me:

What's the Best Bike? 
People ask this question as if there were a single answer for every single human who will ever throw a leg over a bicycle.  The best bike for who? 

 Arguably, the "best bike" is the one this guy is riding:

(You're probably not him.)
The Pinarello Dogma pictured above may very well be the "best bike" for the man riding it in the photo.  However, if you ride more like these two . . .
(Their helmets are missing and they're both going to die!)
. . . then the Pinarello begins to suck pretty hard.

The highly subjective "Best Bike" idea can be a trap. Walk into 10 different bike shops and ask about the best bike and you'll get 10 different answers.  None of those answers will lead you to the "best bike", because it simply doesn't exist in such a generic way.  However, if any of those bike shops are staffed by people who know their product, they can at least point you in a direction that will lead you to the Right Bike.  It may not be what you had originally pictured, but if it is indeed the right bike, it will be better than the "best bike", whatever the hell that is.
For a lot of people, the Right Bike looks more like this:
Scoff, if you like.  Ever try to ride a Pinarello in a skirt?

Do You Sell GianTrekAlized?
No.  Not anymore.  In terms of customer benefits, Giant, Trek, and Specialized jumped the shark years ago.  Maybe if one of these companies decides to clean up their act and re-focus on simple quality-to-dollar ratio, I'd think about it.  I have a list of bicycle labels I refuse to sell.  This limits my job options as a mechanic, but not as much as you'd think.  On the flipside, I get to sell bikes that don't break (or at the very least, RARELY break).

Manufacturers of this size make bikes that break.  I mean to say that they fail catastrophically.  I'm not making this up.  This is common knowledge in the bicycle industry.  Google "Bicycle Recall" and you'll see what I mean.

I've sold roughly 50 different bicycle brands over the years and I've never seen as many warranties as I did with these very large companies.  The fork failures, the cracked rims on their house-branded wheels, and broken frames were too frequent to ignore.  That's just the blatantly broken stuff.  There were also numerous alignment problems (read: the bikes were built crooked) from the $300 baseline all the way up to the $9,000 wonderbikes that Armstrong and company supposedly couldn't break.  Any one of these by itself would be a problem, but the combination of major issues indicates a severe quality control problem.

But **@@** is a good brand!
There is no such thing.  A brand is merely a word or symbol that can be written, painted, or otherwise attached to anything.  It's just a stamp.  Specialized can put an S on any two-wheeled object and it'll become a Specialized brand bicycle.  Trek can put their name on a ceramic turd and call it their product, if they like.  It would sell, too.

Look at it this way.

This is a Ford:
Not what you'd expect.  Nice, eh?

This is also a Ford:
If you don't have one, you know someone who does.

And that is the most recent version of this Ford:
(Free Pyrotechnics Kit included in every gas tank)
Hence, brand names account for nothing but the word painted on the side of your bicycle.

Believe it or not, there are plenty of bicycle manufacturers who have to produce a product that doesn't suck on order to survive on the income that the product creates.  The biggest companies don't worry about that.  They have marketing departments to make damn sure their bikes will sell regardless of their shortcomings.  Incidentally, when you buy a bike from such a company, you're paying for their marketing in addition to the bike itself.

But my friend says his bike is awesome!
I realize that you may know someone who bought a Trek after he saw Lance win yet another drug-addled Tour and he loves it and never had a problem and he rides much better than you.  It must be the name painted on the side of that bike, because it couldn't be that your buddy just rides way better than you.  

Your "friend who rides" knows precisely dick.  He's not helping you, he's just trying to validate his own delusions by convincing you that what he bought is what everyone should be riding.  Trust me on this.  Once you own a bike like his, he'll have a sudden need to "upgrade" to yet another "Best Bike" and proceed to tell you that yours is now junk by comparison.

Shouldn't I get a bike from a good bike shop?
Yes.  Absolutely.  The thing about shops that sell hyper-marketed bicycle brands is that their bikes sell far too easily.  When a bike shop has a product that customers sell themselves on before they ever walk in the door, they get complacent.  When a shop owner thinks that all he needs is a warm body to hold a wrench and talk about rear derailleurs, cheap and inexperienced people get hired to "help" you, the customer.

The last time I worked for a Trek dealer, I was the only guy in the building capable of performing routine maintenance on a Fox suspension fork or even identifying standard wear and tear on our customers' bikes.  I spent the majority of my days correcting the shoddy (and sometimes dangerous) work of the incompetent chimps the management kept hiring.  I've actually seen brand new carbon road bikes go out the door with the brake pads set to wear into the tire sidewall - and when you least expect it, you'll be on the brakes on a steep hill and . . . bang!!  A front tire blowout and maybe a trip to the nearest hospital.  Seen it happen.  Not pretty.

I want a bike that's made in America.
First of all, depending on how you want to define "made", all bikes sold in American bike shops could be considered to be "Made in USA".  Bicycles arrive at bicycle dealers in a disassembled state.  They are then built at the dealer by the Americans who work there.

However, if you insist on an official "Made in USA" label directly on the frame, you're actually asking for an American made FRAME.  That's all.  odds are that no other part of the bike was fabricated in the United States.  The parts are Japanese,  Taiwanese, Chinese, or in many cases American-engineered and Taiwanese-made.  Deal with it.

Moving on . . .

Specialized does not fabricate their frames.  Not a single one is U.S. made.

Giant is not even a U.S. company.  You will never find a Giant with a "Made in USA" label on it.

Trek makes some frames in the United States.  Some.  About a dozen models out of the 250 or so in the catalog are made in Wisconsin.  Of course, those are performance bikes that start around $3500.  If your budget is less, then your frame will be made in Taiwan or China, as they are for roughly 98% of all Trek owners.

Worse yet, at the Trek dealers I worked for it was common practice to peel the "Made in Taiwan" and "Made in China" labels off of the bikes during assembly.  In fact, at both dealers it was expected of all mechanics during initial assembly.  According to my supervisors at the time, if Joe Biker wanted to believe that his $400 budget bike was "Made in USA", who the hell was I to tell him otherwise?

It didn't sit well with me then and it pisses me off now.

Of course, as I explained earlier, the bike shop is responsible for the condition and function of the bike on the day you pay for it.  I suppose it won't matter that it was built by an incompetent mechanic employed by a warranty house for a bike brand that was made famous by the most successful and widespread doping program in human history.  Just as long as it was "Made in USA".

 . . . who else needs a drink?