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The Need for Basic Bikes

Old 03-24-21, 10:19 AM
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UniChris
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The Need for Basic Bikes

Streetsblog surprised me today by having an article which highlights a real issue without bending it all out of shape: How the ‘Budget-Bike Trap’ Creates Inequality

To some extent, this is a rant against department store bike-shaped-objects, but it's also a recognition of the lack of affordable alternatives, and as such, it's food for thought.

There should exist a budget bike built for utility, not bogus marketing features. No shocks, perhaps not single speed but maybe only a rear derailleur. Probably rim brakes for simplicity and easy of maintenance. Standard size interchangeable components. It probably already even exists in the developing world, it's just not what is imagined to appeal to, and shipped for sale to, throwaway culture consumers.

And the big box stores should carry it. It might not look fancy on the floor, but word would get around that it was a good choice - maybe not for the child gift market, but at least for the adult utility one.

Assembly should be local - sure, import containers of components, but putting them together in an organized fashion locally would make sense, and from pallets of like parts, not individually boxed "kits" mis-assembled by someone isolated in the back room of the store for a few bucks per "bike" as these stores currently do. Think what the bike coops do, but feed them with sound components rather than be rescuing basket cases. Would make a good jobs program.

There should be a camp where you build your own - there's a huge market for both adult "experiences" and summer programs to fill kids time, and nothing creates self-reliant ownership like knowing how all the parts went together. And while the prebuild has machine assembled wheels, for the camp on day one you're handed the front rim, hub and spokes and walk through lacing it as group, day two you do the dished rear...

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Old 03-24-21, 10:23 AM
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A "volks-bike" so to speak. Viva la bike!
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Old 03-24-21, 10:44 AM
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If the homeless dude can haul scrap metal on his BSO you can probably ride the POS to work.
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Old 03-24-21, 11:05 AM
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I thought State Bicycle has that vibe? Basic steel single speeds for not a lot of $.
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Old 03-24-21, 11:06 AM
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They are called Buffalo Bikes and they have distributed over 500,000 mostly in Africa. Would be great if they were distributed in the Western World with every bike purchased a donation is made towards World Bicycle Relief. A charity I have supported and believe in. https://worldbicyclerelief.org/the-bike/
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Old 03-24-21, 11:07 AM
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Originally Posted by sloppy12 View Post
If the homeless dude can haul scrap metal on his BSO you can probably ride the POS to work.
My own experience with department store bikes has indeed not been bad - the one I had in college in after, and the used one I picked up recently for a relative.

But I don't discount the reports of trouble from others, or that the components are often flimsy and non-standard. Stopped on a trail once to try to help someone put her front brake back together and was a bit frustrated how finicky and flexy the parts were.

And there is a general reality that coincident with the switch to importing just about everything, we've seen a switch from solid basics to silly features. I can remember in some other contexts as a teenager being frustrated that the "name brands" only offered extras I coveted in the mid to high tier models, while some of the lesser known imports that were coming on the market offered them by default in their magazine adds. It was only when I finally saw some of those products in person that it became clear how crummy they were in terms of their capability to fill the basic need. And I've seen that again and again - the established brand comes with 3 attachments 1 of which might actually be useful, the budget new arrival has 20 attachments all odd and all likely to break on the first or second attempt at use.
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Old 03-24-21, 11:10 AM
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The problem is the profit motive. Capital should seek the highest return that it can with reasonably risk. Where are the margins that would justify selling at that price point with U.S. labor to boot? Sounds like unobtanium to me.

But, good analysis, UniChris. You got it spot on.

My solution would be 1970s Sears Free Spirits for everybody. Scanning Craigslist...
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Old 03-24-21, 11:18 AM
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Originally Posted by UniChris View Post
Streetsblog surprised me today by having an article which highlights a real issue without bending it all out of shape: How the ‘Budget-Bike Trap’ Creates Inequality

To some extent, this is a rant against department store bike-shaped-objects, but it's also a recognition of the lack of affordable alternatives, and as such, it's food for thought.

There should exist a budget bike built for utility, not bogus marketing features. No shocks, perhaps not single speed but maybe only a rear derailleur. Probably rim brakes for simplicity and easy of maintenance. Standard size interchangeable components. It probably already even exists in the developing world, it's just not what is imagined to appeal to, and shipped for sale to, throwaway culture consumers.

And the big box stores should carry it. It might not look fancy on the floor, but word would get around that it was a good choice - maybe not for the child gift market, but at least for the adult utility one.

Assembly should be local - sure, import containers of components, but putting them together locally would make sense, and from pallets of like parts, not individually boxed "kits". Think what the bike coops do, but feed them with sound components rather than be rescuing basket cases. Would make a good jobs program.

There should be a camp where you build your own - there's a huge market for both adult "experiences" and summer programs to fill kids time, and nothing creates self-reliant ownership like knowing how all the parts went together. Day one you're handed the front rim, hub and spokes and walk through lacing it as group, day two you do the dished rear...
It all sounds great, but how does your idea of local assembly from pallets of components and build your own camps square with the idea of selling the bikes at big box stores? I like the idea of a good budget bike, and from time to time, the market actually responds with a decent bike at a reasonable price. Then the bike companies move onward and upward.
For example. Around 2014/2015, Giant made a line of budget hybrids that were a real value. The Escape 3 was under $400, the 8 speed Escape 2 just over $400, and the Escape 1 was around $600, and you got 9 speed, and carbon fork. These days, the Escape 3 disc is $550, the Escape 2 Disc is almost $700, while the Escape 1 Disc is $850. Other than Disc brakes they seem to be almost the same bikes.
Sad, that the price of entry into getting an entry level bike has gone up, but that is the way it is, I guess.
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Old 03-24-21, 11:21 AM
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There are plenty of good, basic commuter/utility bikes out there. Here's one, and here's an even better one. Why would the OP act as if these bikes don't exist, when they do?

I don't know why the OP wants big box stores to sell them. Consumers are much better off buying from bike shops, which can do competent assembly and offer useful accessories, safety equipment, and maintenance. And then the assembly would be local, as the author prefers.

(Edited to correct my initial error: I thought the OP was quoting or paraphrasing the article, but his/her post actually advocates things not in the article...Which means that I disagree with both the article's author and the OP: there are good affordable bikes, and bike coops are not a panacea.)

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Old 03-24-21, 11:26 AM
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Originally Posted by UniChris View Post
My own experience with department store bikes has indeed not been bad - the one I had in college in after, and the used one I picked up recently for a relative.

But I don't discount the reports of trouble from others, or that the components are often flimsy and non-standard. Stopped on a trail once to try to help someone put her front brake back together and was a bit frustrated how finicky and flexy the parts were.

And there is a general reality that coincident with the switch to importing just about everything, we've seen a switch from solid basics to silly features. I can remember in some other contexts as a teenager being frustrated that the "name brands" only offered extras I coveted in the mid to high tier models, while some of the lesser known imports that were coming on the market offered them by default in their magazine adds. It was only when I finally saw some of those products in person that it became clear how crummy they were in terms of their capability to fill the basic need. And I've seen that again and again - the established brand comes with 3 attachments 1 of which might actually be useful, the budget new arrival has 20 attachments all odd and all likely to break on the first or second attempt at use.
My experience mimics yours. I have owned a BSO Technically I still do a huffy single speed whatever cruiser. it works its fine.

and I agree with you the parts on most of them are bottom end, thats what comes on literally everything budget.

agree its a budget bike, its what you get when thats all you can afford. its more likely to be a poor clone than a quality original with usable ideas.

Heck like 5 seconds on walmart bike section shows a bunch of bikes that are literally what the OP describes, single speed, 1x7, rim brakes. the big problem is education and skill set. No bike can sell for under 300 and have a pro build included. there is just no room for that in the price. So if you cant built it or at least tune on it you have a pile of junk you cant ride.
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Old 03-24-21, 11:28 AM
  #11  
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More folks should learn to pick up a tool.
And learn to use it.
Then dump the false premise = new is better than used.

Mountain bikes of the rigid variety work well as utility bikes.
Even if almost butt-ugly.


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Old 03-24-21, 11:30 AM
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Originally Posted by Koyote View Post
There are plenty of good, basic commuter/utility bikes out there. Here's one, and here's an even better one. Why would the writer act as if these bikes don't exist, when they do?
Those are vastly above the budgets relevant to the article.
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Old 03-24-21, 11:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Koyote View Post
There are plenty of good, basic commuter/utility bikes out there. Here's one, and here's an even better one. Why would the writer act as if these bikes don't exist, when they do?

I don't know why the article's author wants big box stores to sell them. Consumers are much better off buying from bike shops, which can do competent assembly and offer useful accessories, safety equipment, and maintenance. And then the assembly would be local, as the author prefers.
so sell that loft to someone working at mcdonalds who just wants to ride to work not be a bike nerd. its a single speed with rim brakes for $600, walmart has the "same" bike for $100. anyone looking at buying a new budget bike that is actually on a budget wont consider the loft.

im not saying those are not decent entry level bikes, but they are not low income budget bikes.
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Old 03-24-21, 11:40 AM
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Why is it people who turn everything into some sort of "inequality" or racial issue are so far removed from reality?

So he wants a new, NOT used, inexpensive bike, with high quality parts, made in the USA and NOT sold through a place that reduces distribution costs (i.e. department stores).

Silly article.
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Old 03-24-21, 11:44 AM
  #15  
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Walmart tried this some years back. They inventoried a sturdy upright bike with fenders&rack and a genuine Sturmey-Archer three-speed, painted in a tasteful medium brown all for $200.

They couldn't give them away.
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Old 03-24-21, 11:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Koyote View Post
There are plenty of good, basic commuter/utility bikes out there. Here's one, and here's an even better one. Why would the writer act as if these bikes don't exist, when they do?

I don't know why the article's author wants big box stores to sell them. Consumers are much better off buying from bike shops, which can do competent assembly and offer useful accessories, safety equipment, and maintenance. And then the assembly would be local, as the author prefers.
Those look like great bikes, and spread out over time, a good value. The problem is for a lot of lower income folks, it is just too much money. Not too much if this is your only transportation for the next few years. But too much if you are struggling to make ends meet and thought you might want to try out cycling.

Let me give you a for example. I know someone, approached me a year ago during the start of the lockdowns here in the US. She is a student, going back to school for a degree in education, and her husband was recently laid off. Thought she and her husband might get a little "free" exercise and leisure by taking up cycling, only her first trip to the local bike shop gave her a bad case of sticker shock, as she realized that buying two new bikes would set her back well over $1,000, maybe closer to $1,200 when you take into account sales tax, accessories like helmet, lock, spare tubes, tire levers, etc...And that is the bare minimum, entry level quality bike. Not something nicer, which would push the cost up to closer to $2,000.

Fortunately, it turns out she actually had access to an old Trek 8xx at her mother's house, and I talked her through what to get to get it up and running, which was really not much more than new tires, new tubes, and a few basic tools. The total cost of those items was maybe $60 or $70. The rest of the bike was in good shape including, surprisingly, the chain and freewheel. I recommended new brake pads but she held off last year, said she would do it this year. and I gave her a some never crashed helmets to save her there, though I told her she really should get some new helmets when funds allow as the ones I gave her are maybe 7 or 8 years old. Then she shopped around and bought her husband a bike on sale for around $500 everything included, so she didn't do too badly. But this is a woman who was willing to do basic bike maintenance herself, which is a little unusual.
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Old 03-24-21, 11:53 AM
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Originally Posted by Koyote View Post
There are plenty of good, basic commuter/utility bikes out there. Here's one, and here's an even better one. Why would the writer act as if these bikes don't exist, when they do?

I don't know why the article's author wants big box stores to sell them. Consumers are much better off buying from bike shops, which can do competent assembly and offer useful accessories, safety equipment, and maintenance. And then the assembly would be local, as the author prefers.
Originally Posted by HTupolev View Post
Those are vastly above the budgets relevant to the article.
I get where you and sloppy12 are coming from. I had started to write one more sentence on my post, but skipped it. I was going to write that "The real problem isn't that these bikes don't exist; it's that people aren't willing or able to pay the price for a decent, reliable utility bike."

I went through this about a decade ago, when I was helping to create a bike rental program on a college campus. We were looking for good, sturdy, low-maintenance commuter bikes to rent out for nine months at a time, and we were buying three dozen of them to start out -- so, we were price sensitive. We figured out at that time (2011, I believe) that a $500-$600 retail price point was where we could get something that wasn't going to be a box of trouble. Today, with some inflation, tariffs, and Covid, it's a bit higher.
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Old 03-24-21, 11:54 AM
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Originally Posted by Phil_gretz View Post
The problem is the profit motive. Capital should seek the highest return that it can with reasonably risk. Where are the margins that would justify selling at that price point with U.S. labor to boot? Sounds like unobtanium to me.
The costs and profit may not actually work out that different. One of the reasons those department store floor bikes are often mis-assembled (classically the fork backwards, etc) is that they ship to the store in a box and then are put together in the back room by someone payed a few dollars per bike.

By shipping them as pallets of components instead, you save some costs in kitting and packaging, and you make it easier to deal with individual bad componets rather than dumpstering the whole thing. Then, you don't actually build them in the back room of the store, but partner with a community organization to build them, while providing practical training and honorable employment to teens or disadvantaged adults struggling to find work. You could hang a builder bio card about how someone is turning their life around from the handelbar when its done - social virtue is a real product selling point. Essentially you combine the store's experience in getting things manufactured and shipped over, with the community organization's experience in getting assembly and adjustment right, propagating skills, and generate good press and feelings. The idea is to get away from the current problem, which is the stores importing and mis-assembling crap, and then the coops having to work with that as their starting point since there's no feed of sound budget components to work with.

build your own camps


This would be an alternate sales and assembly channel fed by the same supply chain. The key is that it doesn't have to work on product economics, because mostly you're selling an experience (or using community grants to provide one to disadvantaged kids). One of the additional upsides is that you not only get sound assembly, and knowledgeable owners who've had the experience of learning a skill, unlike with the machine built wheel of the buy-it-assembled option, you also get robust, stress-relieved, hand-built wheels that aren't going to have the break-in problems of machine built ones. Building good wheels isn't hard, all it really needs is enough supervision to overcome the frustration at the points where adjustments start to interact, and to validate that the final tension is reasonable - the actual supervision almost isn't even needed, as much as the confidence that it would be there when one gets stuck, but a a teacher demoing and then walking around provides both.

I know someone who has a beautiful wooden rowboat in their garage; it hasn't been used much (if ever) but it was a father/son project decades ago where they went to a place and built it in an "experience" class. Now imagine doing that with something more usable like a bike - and maybe it comes with an option to donate if someone doesn't need one, or outgrows it.

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Old 03-24-21, 11:55 AM
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You can get a basic bike for $500, free shipping, mostly assembled.

https://www.bikesdirect.com/products/...atbar-road.htm
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Old 03-24-21, 12:06 PM
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Originally Posted by Koyote View Post
I was going to write that "The real problem isn't that these bikes don't exist; it's that people aren't willing or able to pay the price for a decent, reliable utility bike."
Is your criticism directed at the OP, or to the article? The article is completely about what options exist at a given price point, and isn't even really specifically about "commuting"-style bikes.

Originally Posted by Pop N Wood View Post
Why is it people who turn everything into some sort of "inequality" or racial issue are so far removed from reality?

So he wants a new, NOT used, inexpensive bike, with high quality parts, made in the USA and NOT sold through a place that reduces distribution costs (i.e. department stores).

Silly article.
???

What the writer advocates is for communities to build resources to help people find and maintain functioning bicycles, particularly coops. Not magical cheap high-end American-made LBS bicycles.
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Old 03-24-21, 12:06 PM
  #21  
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Originally Posted by Koyote View Post
I went through this about a decade ago, when I was helping to create a bike rental program on a college campus. We were looking for good, sturdy, low-maintenance commuter bikes to rent out for nine months at a time, and we were buying three dozen of them to start out -- so, we were price sensitive. We figured out at that time (2011, I believe) that a $500-$600 retail price point was where we could get something that wasn't going to be a box of trouble. Today, with some inflation, tariffs, and Covid, it's a bit higher.
When a BSO goes for around $200, I refuse to believe that a simpler sound bike for a private owner needs to cost three times that.

I'm not denying that today they do, but I see that more as the result of a mutually delusional vendor/customer loop, than an "only way things could be".

So take that buffalo bike; give it a rear derailleur for a little more capability across terrain, but leave out the silly shocks the stores push. Design for maintainability and ease of assembly. Manufacture and import them in BSO volume.

(I did say private owner above; bikeshare bikes tend to be heavier and costly to withstand abuse. A basic bike doesn't need to be atypically durable and it doesn't need exotic materials it just needs to be ordinary. While not designed to be throwaway, price point needs to include possibility of having to replace after theft, but in terms of damage parts commonality would help with major repairs)
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Old 03-24-21, 12:15 PM
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Originally Posted by Wildwood View Post
More folks should learn to pick up a tool.
And learn to use it.
Then dump the false premise = new is better than used.
I mostly agree; the problem is that the "supply chain" of used bikes is inconsistent and a time sink to navigate - that's why I'm arguing for a feed of good basic componets, rather than a feed of flimsy feature-itis bikes.

Mountain bikes of the rigid variety work well as utility bikes.
Supremely. And there's less that can go wrong than with the ones with the silly shocks on them.

I'm thinking something on the spectrum between a 1990's rigid MTB (probably with mild tread city tires of similar width) and the buffalo bike mentioned up the thread, but probably closer to the MTB than to the buffalo.

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Old 03-24-21, 12:23 PM
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Originally Posted by tyrion View Post
You can get a basic bike for $500, free shipping, mostly assembled.

https://www.bikesdirect.com/products/...atbar-road.htm
Right kind of idea and probably something more middle-class consumers should consider.

But better still if it was out there in volume, used simpler brakes, $300 or under, and available for cash to the unbanked to who need to ride something home from the store that day so that they can get to work in the morning if not later that night.

It's about getting the clueless consumers and the critical economic transport need purchases away from the unfortunate BSO's and towards a slightly simpler version of that, which would need to be made comparable available. The difference between $200 and $300 is bad enough, the difference between there and $500 plus needing a credit card, stable address, and ability to wait is huge.

Last edited by UniChris; 03-24-21 at 12:27 PM.
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Old 03-24-21, 12:32 PM
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sloppy12
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Originally Posted by UniChris View Post
Right kind of idea and probably something more middle-class consumers should consider.

But better still if it was out there in volume, used simpler brakes, $300 or under, and available for cash to the unbanked to who need to ride something home from the store that day so that they can get to work in the morning if not later that night.

It's about getting the clueless consumers and the critical economic transport need purchases away from the unfortunate BSO's and towards a slightly simpler version of that, which would need to be made comparable available. The difference between $200 and $300 is bad enough, the difference between there and $500 plus needing a credit card, stable address, and ability to wait is huge.
There ya go problem solved. https://www.target.com/p/huffy-men-3...E&gclsrc=aw.ds
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Old 03-24-21, 12:41 PM
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Originally Posted by sloppy12 View Post
Seriously? That looks pretty bad.
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