Tuesday, August 27, 2019

New Outside Column!

Still not done with vacation.  Hard to form words.  I did make an Outside thing though and here it is:

There are no crappy bikes, just crappy people. 

Even so, I did not take a department store bike on my vacation.  Instead, after much deliberation, I decided to take my vintage new-to-me "forever bike" instead of the Jones:

Overall, I'm very pleased with my choice.  For one thing, I must confess I've grown to positively adore this (almost) 20 year-old hunk of titanium and I'm relishing riding it on a daily basis.  For another, this is a family vacation and realistically I wasn't going to be undertaking the sorts of all-day explorations for which the Jones is best suited anyway.  Instead I'm waking up early, undertaking short jaunts, and then spending the rest of the day swimming and grilling--and when you're carefully rationing your leisure time a road bike is the way to go.  (Indeed, carefully rationing your leisure time is the very essence of being a roadie, a default state that, for all my be-jorted ramblings, I seem unable to escape.)

Finally, speaking of the Jones, as I mentioned I will be giving away the SWB:

Rest assured I've been meditating on how best to do so during my vacation, and you can expect a formal announcement as to how you can put forth a claim on this bike in the coming days.

Okay, that's enough mental effort from me.  Getting hard to think and type.  Back to vacapaoierapais,,,,,,apdse


Petr said...

Any chance I could just call dibs on the bike, and save you the trouble? I can even come pick it up from NYC.

And I agree with your sentiment on cheap bikes. They may be heavy and the components may not last, but for someone who just wants to get from A to B, that's often enough.

Yourrealcousin said...


Anonymous said...


Clancy said...

You forgot the most important statistic regarding box-store bikes. They sell 75 percent of all bikes in the US, according to the National Bicycle Dealers Association.

Pist Off said...

A friend of Snob said it wasn’t about the bike. It’s true, unless said bike breaks in use. Otherwise riding is the important part- still I do my best to balance that with my love of mechanicking and swapping parts and frames and metals and angles and shapes and compounds and tread patterns and casings and fork offsets. It’s nerdy bullshit, but aren’t all hobbies?

Some guy from upstate said...

I'd be happy if the big-box stores would just sell bikes that didn't break so quickly. The Model T was cheap and plentiful but it was made from durable materials and you could beat the hell out of one. This approach worked for Schwinn for years. You can build a basic bike out of good steel and sell it at a profit for a reasonable price. You could even paint it flashy colors. But if you put it in the store next to a "mountain" bike made out of mush that costs 20 dollars more no one will buy it. It has full suspension! And 15 speeds! Two years later when the owner comes to the bike rescue I have to try and explain why I can't fix their bike because every single part is worn out or bent.

Ron said...

In addition to my world-wide blogging empire, I now also run a neighborhood bike shop. Department store bikes are simultaneously the reason I've been so busy AND the bane of my existence. While I'd like to be selling and working on better bikes, I have to accept that it's what most people buy nowadays. A lot of the work I do on those bikes is fix the fallout from the 'free' assembly that the store provides. Frankly, there are a number of local shops that won't touch those bikes with a ten foot pole. But I look at it this way... I'm getting kids riding again and I have the opportunity to educate parents about what makes a good value in a bike. And I can possibly upgrade their bikes somewhere down the road.

Russel said...

I want to go to the department store in the picture.

Anonymous said...

Good article. People need to get over themselves and their judgements on "shitty" bikes......and yes, a few hundred dollars more is a lot of money for many, many people.

Grump said...

Big Box Bikes are good if you hang them in your garage and take them down four times a summer, for a three mile ride. (if the tires aren't flat, or it's not too hot out)

cyclejerk said...

100 mile rides with Scouts down the Mississippi River Road. Most of them rode the bikes their parents could afford. We tuned them, and we made it. They learned the difference between cheap and shitty. A few hundred dollars means everything to people that have less than a hundred for food.

cyclejerk said...


cyclejerk said...

As a child, I had a cheap bike for my paper route. The local bike guy saw me one a week to fix my cheap bike. He showed me how to fix things myself. I learned the difference between cheap bikes and better. From that, I know not to judge others. We ride what works for the task.

wishiwasmerckx said...

To an extent, you have a point that any bike is better than no bike, just like dating an ugly girl is better than not dating at all.

That having been said, my first "real" bike was a mass-market Motobecane from the early 80's. I became quite adept at truing the wheels, adjusting the brakes, adjusting the headset, aligning the stem, repacking the hubs and so on because I had to perform these tasks constantly.

It wasn't until I upgraded to my first "pro" bike about a year later that I realized that the constant adjustments and repairs were due to the build and the quality of the componentry, and not an integral part of the cycling experience.

I am still amazed at how little routine maintenance is required of professional-grade equipment. Some tasks like repacking a bottom bracket now require brand-specific tools instead of a basic 15 mm spanner, but these are seldom needed and best left to the LBS.

Willie Voltaire said...

To me, the tragedy of the department store bike is that they're so often kids' bikes, and kids are a lot harder on them (both through use and neglect) than they're designed to withstand. Thus, the landscape and landfills become littered with un-ridable junk, and the kid ends up getting another bike just like it.

Unknown said...

You ended your article mentioning the commuter that rode 15 miles each way on a department store bike. This person sounds like they would be a good candidate for the SWB giveaway.

Anonymous said...

Sure Snobby, the Big-Box store's a great place to buy toys for the kids. Bikes get the same interest from the people who work there as that bucket of kitty litter. Just another f__king SKU. If the Sprawl-marts of the world really wanted to help adults with transportation they'd order up a shi_-load of bikes like (for example) a Bianchi Rubino Spillo and thanks to their superior volume and deal-making prowess, sell 'em for $200 a pop instead of the useless full-suspension MTB's they offer.

BikeSnobNYC said...

Anonymous 4:22am,

Not everyone has access to boutique pet stores and specialty bike shops. Yes, bikes and kitty litter are both SKUs but I think the fact that bikes are still as ubiquitous as pet supplies is, on balance, a good thing. Also, I looked up that Bianchi and don't see why it's any better than some of the Schwinns these stores sell, apart from the fact that the Bianchi name has more cachet.

Unknown 2:34am,

At no point in our conversation did he express a need for 3-inch tubeless tires, a bazillion mounting points, an extremely wide gear spread, or any of the other qualities the Jones has that would be of no use for a Manhattan commute. Also important to keep in mind replacement tires for a 27.5+ wheelset, even cheap ones, cost about as much as a new department store bike.


Good race stuff is definitely robust, but keep in mind the people that have this stuff also use it correctly and maintain a baseline of care. A decent road bike will last decades with minimal maintenance, but leave it on the front lawn for two weeks in the rain and snow and it will be just as unrideable as the Walmart Mongoose. (As for the girlfriend analogy...it's 2019, just saying.)

--Tan Tenovo

wishiwasmerckx said...

Sorry, just like dating an ugly boy is better than not dating at all...

Anonymous said...

The First Bike I bought as an adult; Following a trip to Cali. where "everyone" was riding beach cruisers, Was a Murry Cruiser from K-Mart. Truely' I DID know better, admittedly it was a bit of a gamble, but I was pretty handy with a wrench & I figured 'What the heck, if something breaks I can fix it" Well . . . Things did break! Within a week (of Non dramatic or torturous riding) the spokes started breaking with frightening regularity! The frame was squishy & heavy, BUT, I could propel it down the road!!!

The great thing about Dept. Store bikes is they satisfy almost immediately, go plunk down your money and throw it in your car! Most people buy them on a whim cruise around the neighborhood a few times and then it's a garage ornament. In this capacity it's perfect! Looks good hanging there!
On the other hand, as in my case it's basically a gateway drug. It is inadequate by nature and very soon a person who really needs or wants to actually ride will address it's shortcomings and fix them or buy another bike!
In my case 6 months later I bought a Schwinn Heavy Duty. That thing wouldn't break! I Clunkered it out with light weight rims, 3 piece cranks, BMX stem, Chromoly handlebars, Brooks saddle and I Still have it today (among many others)

Important distinction is today's Dept. Store bikes are worlds better than the one I bought; today the Typical Mongoose when assembled properly can do a fine job for many years!


huskerdont said...

Department store bikes can be gateway bikes. I suppose the disappointment of something not working correctly or lasting could go the other way for some though.

Re the snobbyness of some bike shops, I agree. I have this Trek with a stupid press-fit BB that's going so need to take in and am sorta not looking forward to it because of the damn mech there. The owner is awesome, but the mech seems so insecure that he needs to make himself feel superior to others. I can pretty much deal with it, knowing I'm a mediocre mechanic who won't bother with press fit himself, but last time, I heard him tell the woman before me who asked for a tune up, "In my experience, people who ask for tune ups don't care about their bikes." WTF.

Anonymous said...

I looked at Sprawl-mart's website and saw nothing even remotely like my EXAMPLE of the Bianchi, which was simply an EXAMPLE of a relatively cheap, full fendered, chainguarded, kickstanded, racked and lighted aluminum bike made-in-China. A bike perfect for shopping/transportation vs the boat-anchor, full-suspension "MTB" POS's you see folks too poor (or without driving licenses) to drive using for getting to/from their jobs. At the kind of volume Sprawl-mart would sell 'em in they could cost less than $200 by my estimate. Who knows, someone not too poor (or with a driving license) might find a bike like this fun and/or useful?

leroy said...

Dear Mr. BSNYC - Apparently, you are not the only one not so good at the words thing this week of.

My dog is complaining about burnout and wonders how you keep up the daily grind.

Herein his recent weather and commuting reports.

Monday - Tuesday.


Pist Off said...

Arrogant mechanics and shops don’t deserve my bike or business. Sometimes there isn’t a choice, true. Probably a third of the time their work isn’t done to the standard I expect anyway. Are there mobile bike mechanics in the NYC? Definitely a few in Front Range CO. I’m way too cheap to pay a mechanic if I can buy tools and learn a job instead. I blame growing up in the sticks with old cars.

huskerdont said...

masmojo and I had the same gateway thought. Mine was a Schwinn from a store they used to call Woolworths, if I remember. LBS guy told me to take that POS back where I bought it since he wasn't going to repair it. I could kinda understand how he felt.

Update on the BB; well, I was wrong. The crank broke on the lunch ride. Prolly still under warranty. I get to ride the fixie for a few days, or maybe the nice bike that Shall Not Go Out in the Rain. Perhaps it's time.

anonymous said...

"...black belt in retrogrouchery…"

Fourth degree. Welcome to the dojo. I would be honored to be your sensei.

Female Cat 1 said...

Had a few Schwinns when I was a kid and loved them - I didn't know any better and they got me around town and with my friends. And I remember playing "left right" with my friends as we rode our motley assortment of bikes here and there. I always say to any kid on a bike, "That is a cool bike," and in a serious way because I want to see them riding.

As for the bike shop mechanics and hangers-on: I, too, have been exposed to attitudes that make me wonder why anyone not familiar with cycling would ever want to set foot in a shop. It is utterly amazing to me and I just don't get it. I men, it's not as though these guys (and they always are guys btw) are working at the Tour de France - geez, give me a break!

NYCHighwheeler said...

Most of my experience with dept store bikes comes from my days as assembly monkey/wrench at the local bike shop in the mid 90's. Ironically, the shop began in the 70's selling Hot Rod parts, and later branched into motorcycles and tractors and heavy equipment. When I was wrenching, Schwinn and Mongoose we the hot shit, high end brands. I used to drool over Paramounts, and full sup Amplifiers. The junk stuff was the US made Huffys and Murrys. The good stuff was mostly Taiwanese, with a few high end bikes made in the US. I think everything except dept store bikes had Japanese made components from Suntour and Shimano. There was all manner of small manufacturers churning out lots of CNC'd, anno bits, even some from local sources (Gravity Research!)

I think a dept store bike was almost $200 and the shops cheapest bikes were about $300. The difference was huge however. Dept store bikes were heavier then seemed physically possible, and every single component was total garbage. Attaining functional braking and shifting required a masterful level of metal bending, and mechanical skill. Suspension (and later the Orange Country Choppers fad) made the dept store bikes just absolutely horrible, although they were starting to get some low end Shimano components. On the other hand, the bike shop bikes were amazing! Once assembled and tuned, they were basically slightly heavier versions of ~$1,000 bikes.

Around the year 2000, things began to change significantly. Before then, bikes had arrived in boxes, and required about an hour to build up. Brake pads, derailleurs, bearings, spokes, etc., all needed to be adjusted. Cannondales needed their cable housing cut and installed. All of a sudden, bikes could be pulled out of the box, and built in 15 minutes. Wheels were straight, limit screws were set correctly, and straddle cables had been replaced by V brakes even on cheap models. I think only one or two of the cheapest models were Chinese (Dyno?) and sold for a little over $200. I recall being shocked to hear that the big box stores were selling $99 dollar bikes, but these seemed to be much higher quality then any Huffy or Murry I had ever seen. Virtually all of the small shops putting out fancy CNCd stuff disappeared.

I haven't worked at a bike shop in well over ten years, nor have I wrenched on any of the newer cheap bikes. What is the state of a Dept store bike vs a cheap bike store bike? Are frames and components all Chinese? Are the weights reasonable? Are components adequate? I don't expect anything to stand up to real trail riding, but for basic transportation, what is the market like?

NYCHighwheeler said...

Happy 15th Anniversary to everyone who got arrested in the great RNC Critical Mass CrackDown of 2004!
Fuck Bloomberg, and Fuck the NYPD!

HDEB said...

Morning ride followed by swimming/grilling sounds about perfect.
It's not the bike, it's the rider : )

leroy said...

Dear Mr. BSNYC -

My dog informs me that today's installment oer on the Tranportation Alternatives site is his final weather and commuting report covering your absence.

We have to decamp to LA for the weekend. He's been name-dropping all the celebrities we'll be seeing, but I'm pretty sure he's just trying to sell me one of those maps with the locations of stars' homes.

Anyway, herein his final report.

George Krpan said...

I recently had a shitty experience at a local bike shop and I've been a cyclist for 30 years. I avoid them not only because of the attitude but also because of the ridiculous prices. I'm sure glad I know how to order parts on the Internet and fix it myself.

Anonymous said...

Completely off topic, but this should interest anyone who even slightly shares Snob's views on road use. It is a long, very detailed research paper, but even if you only read the abstract it is worth a look.


Or search "Should Law Subsidize Driving"

Dooth said...

I bought a Huffy at Alexander’s on Fordham Road in 1979. The bike was a multicolored mish mash of brown, tan, orange and whatnot. The handlebars were covered in a thick perforated brown sponge. Stem shifters. A beauty of a buy at $110.00. But I’m pretty sure it was on sale for $90. Rode that Huffy to Bear Mtn and back with no mechanical issues. That bike never broke down...don’t recall getting a flat. I rode it everywhere without a spare tube, patch kit and pump. That bike outlasted Alexander’s.

CrankyMan said...

Huffy is a now a dead brand. It's operated by the USA Federal government for the purposes of managing employee pensions.

There is much less of a difference between department store bikes and bike store bikes that people often imagine.

When it comes to manufacturing aluminum frames for bicycles it is a large industrial process. It requires robots to run the welders to do it consistently, large industrial machines to extrude the aluminum and do the hydro-forming process, and large ovens to equality the temperature of the aluminum and so on and so forth.

This is not something you can do in some small factory in China if you want to hope to make any money selling these bicycles.

Which means that the vast majority of bicycle frame manufacturing is has been concentrated down to a small number of major factories that manufacture bikes for other brands.

This means that asshats in bicycle stores that turn their nose up at 'Shitty' Schwinn bicycles and scoffs at people that ride them.. do so on a Trek bicycle that is manufactured on the same assembly line by the same people.

Another example:

Dorel Industries, which is conglomerate out of Canada manufactures...

* Mongoose
* GT
* Schwinn
* Cannondale

All bottom-barrel bicycle brands... oh maybe not?

Yes. The Cannondale bicycles are made by the same people that produce those nausea inducing Mongoose bikes you see kids, alcoholics, and immigrants riding all over the place.

What people need to understand is something called:

'Engineered to a Price Point'.

Most people have been fooled into imaging that the price something is sold has some relationship with how much it costs to manufacture. This is false in the majority of cases.

The reality is that marketing wanks and sales goons get their heads together and try to figure out how much they can convince you to spend, based on demographic and market segment.

Once they get a dollar amount together they go to the engineers and say:

We have decided we need a $150, $300, $700, $800, $1200, and $2400 bicycles for our brands and we want you to figure out how to make a bicycle for each market segment in a way that will maximize the amount of money we get.

If they can get you to spend 2400 dollars on a bicycle that costs 500 dollars to manufacture... you can sure as hell bet they'll build one and sell it to you.

When you analyze the market closely and compare dollar to value you get from buying bikes it's pretty easy to see that spending more then 600-700 dollars a bike is not really necessary. Anything above that you are really paying for a luxury item. Which isn't a bad thing. It just is a thing. It's up to you if it's a good value or not.

Griffith J. Griffith said...

"We have to decamp to LA for the weekend. He's been name-dropping all the celebrities we'll be seeing,..."

Spent most of last week in the same LA. Did not see any celebrities I recognized, nor did I see/hear any talking dogs. Did see a fair number of folks camping on the sidewalk, many more then I see in NYC. Judging from overhearing some conversations, talking dogs may be one of the lesser marvels some of the campers see.

Did marvel at the laid back, sedate, even polite LA drivers. A pedestrian steps off the curb at a crosswalk, the drivers stop. I get in the wrong lane and block traffic trying to get in the correct lane, and people just wait, without honking. LA is bizarro NYC in more ways than one.

Anonymous said...

CrankyMan - have you ever BEEN one of those ass-hats turning a wrench in a bicycle shop? Sure, the basic aluminum forming and welding might have been performed in the same giant Chinese factory whether the name on the frame is Mongoose or Cannondale BUT to assume everything else is the same as well is pure fantasy. Mongeese are usually built up with some rock-bottom quality parts vs their more expensive cousins which are quite often assembled by someone who cars a bit more about the thing actually working than just staying together inside the box. The old saying, "You can't make chicken soup out of chicken s--t" applies here whether you like it or not. But you make a good point that as you spend more and more the actual quality differences become less and less.