Wednesday, April 7, 2010

BSNYC Product Review: Walmart's Mongoose Cachet "Fixed-Speed" Bicycle

In New York City during springtime, the the only thing blooming more colorfully than the flowers are the cyclists. Fair weather, hormones and soaring pollen levels conspire to send people into an excitable state, and to travel the streets during this time is to bear witness to an exuberant display of bicycles, clothing, and riding styles. Consider this fetching pink blossom:

In New York City, where the streets are often congested, narrow bars can help you make your way through traffic jams. However, there is a point at which bars become too narrow, and that is when they are narrower than you. So, unless the owner of this bicycle is actually hiding behind that pole (or unless this is a remote control bicycle and it often travels riderless), then these bars are pointless and the rider may as well dispense with them altogether. Sure, on a certain level it's unfair to judge, since what works for one rider may not work for another, but I maintain that when your bars are narrower than your "Q-factor" you need to reevaluate your setup. The only legitimate reason for these bars that I can come up with this that the Fixedgeargallery has gotten overcrowded and is switching to an ultra-narrow photo format (as in the photo above), and so this will soon be the only way to get your bike on there.

Similarly puzzling is springtime intersection behavior, when "shoaling" and "circling" grow rampant. "Circling" occurs when a rider simply rides around in circles at an intersection, and while it's usually tentative, it can also be aggressive. Here's one rider I witnessed yesterday who was actually circling the crosswalk at high speeds and while in the drops:

Notice that the rider (who may or may not be actor Giovanni Ribisi) has paused briefly to tug anxiously at the sleeve of his stripey "hoodie" and peer menacingly at me through his amber "Bar Mitzvah sunglasses:"

A fraction of a second later, though, he was off like a bullet made of turquoise:

Note the look of intense concentration and the fact that the force of his acceleration has caused his amber glasses to slip down his nose:

I don't know what race he was participating in, but whatever it was I'm sure he won.

But spring is not only about demonstrative riding; it's also a time in which those who do not have bicycles at all contemplate purchasing one. Inevitably, at least some of these prospective riders will be drawn to the purported simplicity, multiple "colorways," and supposed "cool factor" of the fixed-gear bicycle. Furthermore, as we all know, the fixed-gear bicycle (or at least the look of the 21st century "urban" fixed-gear bicycle) has officially attained complete pop-cultural absorption with the advent of the $150 Mongoose Cachet "fixed-speed" bicycle, now available at Walmart.

As I mentioned in a prior post, I was happy to learn about the Cachet, since I believe anything that makes it more difficult for people to convince themselves that they are "special" or "cool" is a good thing. (Indeed, a reader informs me that, so complete is the mainstreamification of the fixed-gear aesthetic, even Gawker is commenting on it.) Additionally, I believe that accessibility (both in terms of widespread availability and low price) is also a good thing, and that these sorts of bicycles should not be the exclusive domain of monied 20- and 30-somethings with access to trendy boutiques. Ultimately, my sincere hope upon learning about it was that the Cachet would help wrest the whole "fixie" thing from the grip of the "hipsters" and place it in the hands of America's teenagers where it belongs. However, to put it simply, all of this egalitarianism is no good if the bike is a total piece of crap. So I filled out the necessary paperwork and ordered a Cachet from the Walmart website to see what it is that these prospective cyclists will be getting.

The bike arrived five days later. Here it is, the end of your precious "culture" packed neatly in a box:

(The "Pandora's Box" of the fixed-gear "culture.")

Eagerly, I opened it, and moments later the Mongoose out of the box and the clichéed cat was out of the bag:

(Packing material or free top-tube pad? Depends on how you look at it.)

I should mention at this point that when I ordered the bike the website did not give me the option of selecting a size, so I can only assume Walmart only offers one. Additionally, I could find no information on the site as to what size that single size actually was (nor could I find the Cachet on the Mongoose website), and the only dimensions seemed to refer to the size of the box. Measuring the bike, I determined that it was what most manufacturers would probably call a 55cm or perhaps a "medium"--which, as it happens, fits me fine.

But enough of all this technical "sizing" jargon. I know what you're really wondering at this point, and the answer is, "Yes, it does have an integrated chainguard tab:"

("All You Haters Cuff My Pants.")

Next, like a child on Christmas morning, I began to liberate the Cachet from its packing materials. (Not an excited child, mind you; more like a really depressed child who suspects his alcoholic parents may have given him a single used sneaker again this year.) Once it was free, the first thing I noticed was that the headset cups had been pressed in at a decidedly jaunty angle (either that or the headtube was misshapen), both top:

And bottom:

The next thing I noticed was that the headset was so tight that I could barely move the fork. Clearly, this was unrideable, and I would have to loosen the lock nut and adjust it. Using the appropriate tool, I endeavored to do so, but it was on so tight that the nut actually started to round off before I eventually managed to free it:

Note the abundant metal shavings:

Once I had disassembled the headset, I considered removing and reinstalling the cups. However, I was worried that the headtube or the cups might not survive, and so instead I simply adjusted the headset and reassembled it. It didn't look pretty, but the fork turned fine.

Now that fork could move, it was ready for a front wheel:

The stamped fork dropouts were also a bit crooked, but I was able to install the wheel. Incidentally, you may have also noticed by now that the Cachet features 48-spoke wheels, front and rear. Clearly Walmart is being cautious here, and they are also reaffirming international stereotypes about obese American "big-box store" customers in the process. Still, too many spokes is always better than too few, and the wheels were adequately true.

Next, I removed and reinstalled the rear wheel. (The chain was so highly tensioned I could have fired an arrow from it.) Note the name-brand freewheel:

Everybody knows "Long Yih Industry" is the White Industries of China.

Incidentally, many people have correctly speculated that the term "fixed-speed" is Walmart-ese for "singlespeed." Others (like Gawker) have also incorrectly pointed out that Walmart is selling fixed-gear bicycles. Technically, they are not, although the Quando rear hub is fixed-gear-ready:

The Fixed-Gear Apocalypse is indeed upon us. When the 666th person installs a fixed cog on his or her Cachet, the world as we know it will come to an end, serial retrogrouch and uber-curmudgeon Jobst Brandt will rise from his grave (even though he's currently alive and well), and we will all meet our fates at the mesh cycling gloved hands of the Four Recumbent Riders of the Apocalypse.

Oh, and if that's not apocalyptic enough for you, with 113mm rear spacing I'm pretty sure the Mongoose Cachet is "NJS:"

Then again, my tape measure may just be a "POS." Either way, though, we're all doomed, which is probably why Walmart doesn't want you to ride your Mongoose Cachet at night:

With the cockpit and wheels both able to turn freely, I shifted my attention to the "calipur" brakes, which were relatively flimsy-looking single-pivot models. The front brake in particular was quite loose and wiggled in the fork, making it impossible to center. So I went to tighten the fixing nut:

As I continued to turn it, I realized nothing was happening. Figuring it must be stripped, I then attempted to remove it, but nothing happened then either. Instead, it kept spinning and spinning while mysteriously staying in place no matter which way I turned it:

Vexed by this hypnotically-spinning nut and unable to either remove or tighten the brake, I then took it apart, which only served to underscore how generally out of alignment the front end of the bicycle was:

Ultimately, I concluded, it would need to be removed destructively and replaced, but in the meantime I simply reassembled it and moved on to making sure the crankarms were on tight:

They were. Then, I installed the conveniently color-coded pedals:

Finally, I installed the seatpost and saddle, topped off the tires, and hit the streets. Here's the view from the "cockpit:"

I headed immediately to the bike path on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. Apart from the odd "hipster" making an ironic fixed-gear schlep to Coney Island, the bicycle traffic there consists almost entirely of department store bikes. Really, it's to Magnas and Huffys what Daytona Beach is to motorcycles, so I figured it was a perfect place for a test ride. Not only was the front end generally off-kilter, but the pedals also squirmed slightly under my feet, indicating that perhaps the bottom bracket spindle was bent. Also, when I coasted, instead of the click-click-click of pawls there was an odd vinyl "whooshing" sound. Still, it worked. Here it is, leaning seductively on its kickstand:

Frankly, I had mixed feelings at this point. Sure, $150 was cheap, and sure the bicycle worked, but the mangled headset and front brake in particular were troublesome to me, and it seemed that even $300 could buy you a much better bicycle from a different vendor. Then again, while I like to think I prize utility over extravagance, the fact is that in many ways I'm perhaps too far removed from the Mongoose Cachet demographic to judge it properly, and maybe the fact that it rolls is enough. As I said earlier, my hope was that the Cachet might serve as sort of a "gateway drug" for the American teenager, and clearly I needed a teenager's point of view. So, I turned the bike over to my ironic intern, Spencer Madsen for further testing. As you can see, he looks pleased yet apprehensive:

Once the "Youth of America" test results are in, I will share them with you at a later date. In the meantime, if you go to Walmart, you may want to stick to the sheds.


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Terrence Flendersen said...

have also experience the same thing. Some people don't care if they damage the product you ordered. Thank you for sharing your experience. Great blog.
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Anonymous said...

Would love to see a long term review now that the Mongoose has likely seen dream extensive use in a variety of terrain. But this was a good introductory review, Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Too many comments already for me to participate.

Doğru Saç Ekimi said...

Bike rides great out of th box. I did remove the stickers and now it is just a sleek black and white. I will also add drop bars and a fixed cog as soon as they arrive and I will be a happy fixie rider for now. Saç ekimi, plastik ve estetik cerrahi hakkında ayrıntılı bilgi alıp paylaşımda bulunabileceğiniz makale ve forum sitesi. Saç Ekimi

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