Why Buy a Bicycle from a Big Box Store?

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Why Buy a Bicycle from a Big Box Store?

Postby wa_desert_rat » Wed Apr 17, 2013 9:19 am

If you're thinking about buying a bicycle for yourself or someone else and have asked questions in other forums then you've undoubtedly heard the "it will fall apart in a week" story about Walmart bicycles or other bikes from the big box stores followed by advice to go buy a Trek, a Giant, or a Specialized. They often add the words "you get what you pay for".

Virtually all of the people who will tell you this have never ridden a bicycle from a big box store. Many have never even seen one. A few will even admit to never having gone into a Walmart or bought anything from Walmart but will still insist that they "know" that the products are crap. This is a political stance and has nothing to do with the products.

We are here to tell you that it's simply not true. Maybe it was true once, but it's not true any more. Bicycles from Kmart, Walmart, Target, Sears, Costco and others are no more likely to break than the lower-priced bicycles you'd find in a local bike shop (LBS). We are not here to tell you that bicycles from big box stores are perfect. They're not. Often they are assembled by inexperienced employees. Sometimes there are components that are not adjusted properly or even missing. This is not a catastrophic problem because you can usually just exchange the bike for a new one; or get your money back. If you don't like a bike from a big box store, take it back and get a refund. Try THAT at your local bike shop!

THE MYTH: Big box bicycles are all made in China using little girls as welders.

THE REALITY: Well... ya. Virtually ALL bicycles - or at least the frames - are built in China; or somewhere in Asia. Often the big box bike is built in the same factory as the LBS bike. The bicycle factories in Asia turn out some amazing frames (including some road frames sold as very expensive Italian models). They use automated welding techniques, modern hydroforming methods, and have excellent workmanship. Take a look at the bikes in your local bike shop and see how many are made in China.

Are there bicycles made in the USA. Absolutely! And they are often hand-made works of art and perfection. But they don't cost $200. They cost $4000 and up. By all means, buy one if you want one. But don't let anyone tell you that you must buy one to get a reliable bike. Or even a nice looking bike.

THE MYTH: A Walmart bicycle will fall apart in a year.

THE REALITY: Lots of us here have both expensive bicycles and bikes from a big box store. We ride them both. The components on a big box bicycle will not be Shimano Deore quality; but neither will the $500 LBS bicycle. A Walmart bicycle will not be suitable for the downhill trails at gondola-served areas like Whistler. Neither will the $500 LBS bike. But a big box bicycle sold as a mountain bike will be suitable for off road trail riding for most people. And if you want to, you can upgrade the frame of your big box bike to equal - or exceed - the quality of many very expensive LBS bikes by adding better components; wheels, handlebars, shifters, derailleurs, bottom brackets, cranks, pedals, suspension forks, rear shocks... all of these can be added to many big box bicycles over time and on a budget. Not all of them... but we're here to tell you which ones are upgradeable. That's because we've done it.

THE MYTH: A big box bicycle has a crappy warranty.

THE REALITY: Boy is this one just plan WRONG. Most of the time, if you buy a bike from your local bike shop the warranty is not covered by the bike shop but by the manufacturer or the distributor of the bicycle. You are going to have to deal with them. Often your LBS will not refund your money even if the bike you bought is broken into pieces. They seldom let you exchange a bike you have discovered does not fit you for another. And LBS sales people, contrary to popular wisdom, are often perfectly happy to sell you the bike they have in stock even if they know it won't fit you or the way you ride. After all, they know that if you are in the market for a bike you are not likely to just wait for the bike they think is perfect for you to arrive at the store. At Walmart and most big box stores you actually deal with them. Don't like the bike after a few days? Take it back and try another one. Or get your money back and go to another store. Something breaks right off the bat? Don't wait for them to fix it (they seldom have bike mechanics) just get another one. Or you can deal with the distributor (often Pacific Cycle) which will usually ship you the parts you need and the parts you didn't even know you need. Fix it yourself or take it to the LBS and pay them to fix it.

THE MYTH: If you buy a big box bike you're on your own. No bike shop can repair them because they are not standard and no one can buy parts.

THE REALITY: Some bikes - usually the very cheapest - from big box stores are not upgradeable. Either they have non-standard parts or out of date designs. For instance, 21-speed bikes from big box stores usually have freewheels on the rear while the modern method is to use a "cassette" which allows more gears (and speeds). It's not an easy upgrade to move from a freewheel to a cassette but it's possible; and can be expensive. Generally, you're better off just buying a better bike. But if you want to do it yourself you can. Having said that, the truth is that most big box bikes are repairable. Brakes, tires, inner tubes, chains, bottom brackets, cranks, pedals, derailleurs and shifters are usually easily upgraded. There are videos on YouTube to show you how to do it, even. And if you don't want to do it yourself, your local bike shop - if he's smart - will cheerfully do it for you. After all, repairs and adjustments are a big part of an LBS business plan and may get you back into his shop to buy the next bicycle you want. And if he won't or tries to tell you to just throw the bike away (when we've told you here that it's upgradable) then find another bike shop.

This is not to say that your local bike shop is out to cheat you. They're in business to sell bikes and components and service bicycles and usually have to align themselves with certain brands in order to be able to sell product to customers. Some brands demand that a shop be an exclusive dealer for their brand and no others but most offer a selection. That selection ranges from entry-level bicycles to very expensive and very well made professional-level bicycles. When you are ready to take on Whistler or Moab or a road race you will almost certainly want to at least shop around at your local bike shops to find a suitable bike. Because, while big box bikes are fine for daily commuters or weekend trail riding, they are not racing bikes and they are not pretending to be racing bikes. So don't hesitate to buy parts and accessories from you local bike shop. Supporting them is just good business.

One of the best things about big box bikes is that they let you explore a new niche in bike riding without investing a huge pile of money. Craigslist is full of ads for expensive brand-name LBS bikes that have been sitting in a garage for 5 years because the owners didn't really want to do what that bike excelled at. With a big box bike you can try out a 29er, a beach cruiser, or a bike for your town's paved bike paths without spending $1,000. If you want to pursue that niche further you can talk to your LBS. If not, you're only out a couple hundred bucks.

This forum is here to help you decide which way you want to go. We're not going to tell you to enter your Mongoose Ledge in the next Red Bull Challenge. But most of us own and ride big box bikes as well as expensive - even carbon fiber - bikes. Some of us have ridden bicycles for decades and remember models and components you might encounter on craigslist or eBay. Our members ride road bikes with sew-up (tubular) tires and mountain bikes with tubeless tires. We'll try hard not to steer you wrong.

And if you want to modify and upgrade a bike, we have members who do that, too. With ideas about how to find parts or who might even have the parts and be willing to sell them to you.

We want you to get into - or BACK into - bicycling; just as many of us have. No matter how old you are, how out of shape you think you are, or how much money you have. We think bicycling is fun... and just as fun on a $200 big box bike as a $4,000 bike.

Or at least almost as much fun as a $4,000 bike. :mrgreen:
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