Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Cheap bikes - another view.

Regular readers will know I have a bit of a soft spot for cheap bikes.
I don't bother with cheap bikes with suspension - front or rear, as they are just a waste of money.
They weigh even more than a "no-suspension" cheap bike, and make moving loads a lot more complicated - the racks available for "suspension" bikes either have a lower weight rating, or are MUCH more expensive, or both.
Suspension has a place for "off-road" bikes, but for regular, daily, use in urban environments it is a fashion statement, not an upgrade! (the same goes for higher-priced bies as well).

My beloved (and recently broken!) Cinzia folding bike, that I have had owned for about 20 years was just a cheap, heavy, bike, with variable build quality and some wierd-ly sized parts (like the 25mm seatpost and the 36mm bottom bracket).
My wife rides a cheap flat-pack bike, and is very happy with it.
I've just fixed her the "spare" bike - my wife's previous cheap flat-pack bike.

A cheap, flat-pack, bike, with aftermarket side stand and front basket and rack.
It beats a "no-racks" "fancy" bike every time as a load-hauler
Suspension is best avoided on a "working" bike, as it complicates
fitting racks, and either lowers the overall load rating or
dramatically increases the cost, or both.

Yes, cheap bikes can have some issues:

  • the side-caliper brakes on my Cinzia were always a bit rubbish, especially the back one, even when it was new
  • The frame on my Cinzia was far too heavy for a bike of that size, and it weighed about the same as a "regular" cheap bike
  • My wife's two flat-pack bikes are heavy
  • The flat-pack bikes have brakes, that although powerful, are prone to squeaking, and are difficukt and time-consuming to adjust because the calipers are made from thin pressed steel, and can easily be bent by hand
  • The pedals with flat-pack bikes are "cheap and cheerful" - a broken pedal was the first fault that the first flat-pack developed, so we got a new set of pedals, and they were transferred to the second flat-pack bike when that became the "number 1" bike.
  • The wheel bearings are cones with loose balls, or cones with cages (even worse, because there is less ball area!), and after 1000 miles or so can start to have issues. (no fancy sealed cartridge bearings on a flat-pack)
  • The bottom bracket bearings are similarly "basic", and show wear after about 1000 miles
  • The finish of the paint isn't very good
  • The transfers (decals) were badly applied on one our our two flat-packs
  • The wheels were "reasonably" straight "out of the box" on both our flat-packs, but have been improved with a bit of truing
  • The saddle of one of the two flat-pack bikes (both being women's bikes, with "women's" frames) is quite decent, and a woman's saddle, but the other saddle looks like a man's saddle. No doubt the manufacturer would claim it is "unisex", but, trust me, I'm a guy, it's a man's saddle. That saddle got swapped on to the "spare" bike, and the "good" saddle from the "spare" got put on Anna's main bike.
  • The front derailleur on one of the flat-packs started having issues after about a year, and finally packed up after about three, so I just took in off, and left the chain on the middle cog. Who really needs 18 gears for nipping into the supermarket anyway?
But it's not all bad
  • Cheap bearing are easy enough to replace
  • Cheap bikes aren't attractive to professional thieves
  • Cheap bikes can be ridden in the winter without worrying about salt from the roads tarnishing expensive parts
  • Brakes can be improved reasonably cheaply with a new set
  • You can learn to live with many of the faults, and fix or work around the others
  • Cheap bikes give you plenty of practice at being a home bike mechanic, and if you scratch the paint, or make a real mess of a job, then hey, better on a cheap bike than a fancy one!
  • I used to ride a "professional quality" single-speed bike for my employer - give me a cheap bike with 3 speeds (or more) any time, over a "proper" bike with just one speed!
  • "Fancy" bikes often don't have luggage racks and/or baskets and are poor value as load haulers - we were able to spend some of the money we saved by having cheap bikes by kitting them out properly with decent panniers and decent front baskets/racks
  • Most importantly, despite all their faults, cheap bikes, with a bit of extra maintenance, get you from A to B, which is the point of a bike (for me, at least!) in the first place
  • I ride my "cheap" bike to work EVERY working day (barring the very occasional punctures and mechanical failure, when I walk). My wife does almost all our food shopping on a "cheap" bike, suitably equipped with a rack, basket, and panniers, of course. The MOST important thing about a bike is that it is ridden. If I want to see an overvalued museum piece, well-preserved, but rarely or never ridden, I will go to ... a museum. No point having a ""fancy" bike if you are afraid to ride it in the rain, or in the winter etc. etc., unless, of course, you have a "fancy" bike AND a "cheap" bike - the "fancy" bike for posing, and the "cheap" bike for actually doing stuff!
That's my view, but in the interests of balance, here is another view, and an interesting set of reader comments.
Feel free to add your comments below - all comments that are "decent, clean, and honest" will be published, even if you completely disagree with me!

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