Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bicycle Myths #1 Bikes Are Supposed To Be Cheap.

Bikes are cheap.

Well, yes . . . but no, at least not in the way most of us tend to think of bikes being "cheap".  Which is to say that they aren't free.

Riding a bicycle you already own on a day-to-day basis is pretty cheap. Not just because you don't have to buy gas and throw money into the pocket of some Saudi Prince in whereverthehellistan, but also because you're not paying for insurance, you're not paying for a gym membership, and you're saving money by limiting the wear and tear on the truly expensive car that is likely parked at home as you pedal about.  These are all things that are worth remembering when you pay a bike shop to tune and/or renovate your beloved bicycle.

You will spend money on your bicycle if you ride it at all.

Tires, brake pads, grips - these are all made of rubber.  They wear down.  If they don't get used often enough to wear down, they dry out and when they do, the replacements cost money. Your bicycle has dozens of moving parts.  Moving parts can - and will - wear with use.  The more you ride, the more these things are going to stack up and you're just going to need to replace certain parts of your bike once in a while.

F.Y.I. - If you're spending $100 per year on bike maintenance, you're riding for as cheap as you ever will with a quality bike. It's worth remembering that if we put that kind of use into our cars, we're spending $9,000 per year, according to AAA.

"My cheap bike is just as good as the expensive ones, it just weighs more."

People will frequently tell you that the main difference between cheap bikes and expensive bikes is the weight.  This is a lie we tell ourselves as cheapskates when we want to rationalize a bad purchase (Never trust the opinion of a self-proclaimed bicycle expert who claims to have never made a purchase at an actual bike shop).
This is also one of my favorite myths in all of bikedom.  Bicycles cost money for all kinds of reasons.  If you've owned and ridden multiple bicycles, you've likely experienced a difference.

Bikes from these places are typically offered in only one size, which pretty much guarantees that whatever you buy won't fit.  Even beyond that, there are lots of reasons that people say that department store bikes are junk.  Poor assembly is at the top of the list.  When a bicycle is shipped out of a factory, it isn't rideable.  It is packed into the smallest box the manufacturer can squeeze a bike into in order to keep shipping costs to a minimum.  Wherever you buy a new bike, it pretty much had to be built in that building. 

If your bike comes from a place that is not a bike shop, it was probably not assembled by a meticulous and experienced mechanic.  No self-respecting bike mechanic will take a job at a department store.  If that shows up on his resume', he will have a great deal of difficulty finding work in a real bike shop when Target lays him off.  No, the bike from Target was built by whomever assembles their barbecues and patio furniture.

If Wal-Mart doesn't care that the fork is backwards, what else do they not care about?:
To a bike shop employee, this is a picture of job security.
There are numerous accounts of critical parts of these bikes coming loose, leading to crashes and injuries.  When a business's reputation does not rely on the quality of its product in order to succeed, it does nothing to control the quality of its product and carries on anyway.

A bicycle, as a machine that has to safely carry 8 to 12 times its own weight in a safe and controllable manner, is far more complicated than a lawn chair.  There are numerous moving parts that require numerous adjustments and proper alignment in order for the bike to work as well on the 47th ride as it did on the first.

Even beyond that, it's worth thinking about the fact that one of these bicycle-shaped objects will cost just a few bucks more than the labor charges for a single tune-up from any mechanic worth paying.  How do you build a reliable machine with the remaining $50?  You don't.

Manufacturers of these bikes frequently acknowledge that the quality of their product is sub-par.  "Not to be ridden off road," or some scrambled version of that statement is a warning label found on many "mountain bikes" found at your typical big-box retailer.

Awesome.  This is right up there with "Keep toaster away from heat source," and "Warranty void if boat used in water."

If you're on a budget, you may be surprised to find that even an independent bike shop will have affordable bikes on their sales floor.  If Wal-Mart has a great "deal" on a bike for $200, your local bike shop has one for $300.  One that was built by a mechanic, one that the bike shop hangs its reputation on,  and one that comes in multiple sizes so that it will actually fit you.

Long story short: Your bike can be as inexpensive as you'll allow it to be, but there does come a point near the bottom rung of the dollar ladder where quality drops faster than the number on the price tag.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The High Cost of Used

Being cheap can be expensive.  

The situation was really quite simple.  Jimmy had posted a bicycle frame for sale.  The frame itself was considered high-end at the time and had never been built or ridden - it was essentially brand new.  This frame would require the addition of a press-in bottom bracket, but other than that, it was ready to build. 

Enter the buyer, Scott, who decided that this frame would do nicely for his needs in a bicycle.  He contacted Jimmy and the two met, exchanged payment, and parted ways.

Months later, Jimmy was contacted by Scott, who said that the frame had broken after less than 200 miles of riding.  Scott requested either cash for the work required to repair the frame, or a return of his payment in full.

From an industry professional point of view, the frame itself likely had a defect.  When a bike is purchased through an authorized dealer, an issue like this is usually subject to a manufacturer warranty.  This frame would have likely been replaced at a minimal cost or free of charge, had it been purchased from a dealer.

Scott's frame was not purchased from a dealer.  Jimmy could not be held responsible as he did not develop, build, or design the frame.  The breakage wasn't really Scott's fault because he was using the frame the way it was intended.  However, as the legal owner of a bike with zero warranty, Scott was solely liable and it was his responsibility to replace or repair his own frame.

There lies one of the many risks of buying second-hand.

Scott and Jimmy's issue is an example of how buying your equipment second-hand catches up with you.  We all love to save a buck.  I realize that we all want to ride nice bikes without breaking the bank.  I have bought and sold many used parts and such throughout my life.

With that said, bicycle dealers exist for many reasons.  Warranties are one of them.  Frames break.  Wheels crack.  Shifters can fail prematurely.  Sometimes hub flanges crack.  Bike shops take care of things like that for cheap or free on bikes that are under warranty.  They also tend to only sell product that they can back, which is something that no private party can be expected to do.

I know that bikes, frames, wheels, and various other parts can be found on the black market Craigslist and Ebay.  Buyer beware: the seller is usually not the industry professional that you'd talk to at a decent bike shop.  The seller usually isn't fully aware of the condition of their own equipment.  They're often clueless and have no idea if what they're selling to you is "like new" or on the brink of failure.

It's in "great shape."
You betcha!  It's always in "great shape".  Tune-ups come to my shop all the time, fresh off of Craigslist, in "great shape" with cracked rims, ovalized headtubes, wheels up to 6mm off-dish, and even broken frames that the previous owner simply didn't know about.  It's usually not the fault of the seller or the buyer - its a blind-leading-the-blind situation.  Bikes aren't their line of work, so they can't be expected to spot every detail.  As the buyer, you have to expect to correct the potentially hazardous issues that the previous owner of a used bike has overlooked.

The Seller is not "upgrading". 
Who wouldn't sell their full Dura-Ace Cervelo for an 80% loss before the year is out? 

Get a clue.

Nobody sells complete bike that was a top-of-the-line anything after just 6 months of use - Maybe if they work for the dealer (maybe).  When a cyclist invests $5k or more in a bike, it is meant to be a long-term'er.  A seemingly-new used bike that is offered for less than half the purchase price?  We in the bike business generally know that bike as "Stolen".  If you know anything about Craigslist and Ebay, you know that neither site requires a seller to provide a serial number for any listings containing stolen used bicycles and/or frames.

Maybe you're okay with feeding the stolen bike trade, but I am not and never will I be.  As long as I've been in the bike business, I've actively avoided working for bike shops that deal in used equipment for exactly that reason.

The Warranty is non-transferable.

This applies to pretty much everything that comes with a warranty.  If I call a manufacturer about a broken whatever on a bike a customer has brought to me for a repair, I have to be prepared to provide evidence that the item is still in the possession of the original owner.

Without that proof of purchase - from a legitimate dealer and that rules out Ebay, mind you - sometimes I can talk the warranty department into a crash replacement "deal".  Usually they just laugh at me and then I get to have a difficult conversation with the cheap-skate who insists his 10-year-old carbon whatever should've lasted forever because he "bought it from a Pro" after haggling the poor guy down to almost nothing.

There is no "free" replacement for a broken frame without proof that you respect the manufacturer enough to buy a bike from their dealer.

Considering all of this, I realize you're going to buy whatever you want from whomever you feel like.  And you should.  Just get a tune-up before your first ride.