Not new bikes, but new bike projects. In the past week I’ve picked up two used bikes (thanks Craigslist & random thrift shop!). The first is a lovely 52cm French made Gitane Criterium which was upgraded (some time in the 90′s) with a full Shimano 600 group. My sister is looking for a more road-worthy bike so this one is going to her. The second is a lucky find at a thrift shop in Glendale. I never venture far from the East valley, but I needed to submit paperwork to the City of Glendale so we can get our pedicabs licensed there. I picked up a Japanese made Raleigh Gran Sport Mixte made somewhere between 1982 and 1984. I didn’t know this, but Huffy purchased U.S. naming rights for Raleigh and had bikes made in Japan to be branded as Raleigh bikes, this one was made by Bridgestone. It’s 100% original in great shape with all parts intact. The frame has some scratches, but they add to the character. It has beautiful chrome tipped fork blades, and stylish components including a cast & machined aluminum three piece crank, a derailer design which allows the chain to be freed completely from the pulleys, high flange aluminum Suzue hubs and friction shifting on the stem. This bike is 20+ years old and it will easily last another 20 years, try getting that sort of quality from a wallyworld bike!
As someone who has helped many folks buy bicycles both used and new, I’m surprised I haven’t shared this information on the blog sooner. There are Bikes and then there are Bike Shaped Objects. I use the term “Bikes” to mean bicycles purchased at bike shops or bike shop bicycles purchased used on Craigslist or other used outlets. “Bike Shaped Objects”, or BSO for short, are generally bought at mass merchant / department / big box stores. What’s the difference? In one word, QUALITY. A bike shaped object may look like a bicycle and function like a bicycle, but it will have an average service life of about 2 years (if you’re lucky). A bicycle purchased from a bike shop generally has an average service life of about 15 years. I’m not making this up, this statistic comes from Consumer Reports.
If you want a GOOD new bicycle, you really should expect to spend no less than $300 at a bike shop. The shop I work at sells new, quality bicycles starting at $299. These are REAL bikes, not bike shaped objects. They will be much higher quality overall, have higher end components, standardized equipment, better ride quality, more efficient power transfer, etc. They’re also repairable and serviceable with standardized parts, unlike bike shaped objects for which you often won’t be able to find parts. Sure, you could spend $179 at a big box store for a new bike shaped object, but you’d be much better served taking that $179 and putting a real bike on layaway or buying a real used bike on Craigslist.
For informational purposes I’m going to list bike shaped object brands which you’ll generally always want to avoid both new and used. Please note this is from my experience and in my opinion, yours may be different and we’re both entitled to them, respectively. Learn to avoid these!
- ANY bike sold under a car mfg name (Honda, Hummer, GMC, Lamborghini, JEEP, etc)
- Genesis (the U.S. brand)
* The three brands above marked with an asterisk should be avoided at department stores. Try to find a Schwinn model sold at Target on Schwinn’s website, you can’t, because it’s not a real Schwinn. It’s a cheap imported piece of junk and Schwinn just licenses their name to the manufacturer. Same goes for Mongoose and Diamondback. Also, be wary of these on Craigslist if they’re newer. A vintage Diamondback or Schwinn is great, but if it’s newer ask where the bike was purchased so you can be sure it’s a Bike Shop model not a department store model. Ask the seller if they have a receipt.
+Takara and Nishiki were once good brands from the 70′s/80′s. The Takara name is being slapped on bike shaped objects sold online and elsewhere. The Nishiki name is now being used on sporting goods store bicycles (still sub-par quality compared to a bike shop bike).
I should add, it’s not that you should never buy a bike shaped object, but rather buy a bike suited to your needs. If you are going to ride it 2 miles once a week, a bike shaped object might be ok. If you’re going to use it regularly for transportation, recreation or exercise, you really should consider a real bike. There has been quite a bit of debate on the subject. Just Google “department store bikes” and you’ll find many viewpoints from both sides of the debate, mostly in line with my opinions. When in doubt, talk to a someone at a bike shop, if nothing else they can help you figure out what is right for you and help you weigh pros and cons you may not have considered.
Lastly, when you buy a bike at a bike shop, you will get bike shop service. You’ll get proper fit, expert advice and you can bring the bike back for repairs if you have a problem. Generally the shop will take care of you, for free within a certain time period, often including a free tuneup or even lifetime free tuneups. Try getting that kind of service at a department store, you won’t, your only option is to hope the bike is within the return period and return the whole thing if there’s a problem.