Hall of Shame continues to grow

Recent new additions to the Hall of Shame from Argos and Tesco. Take a look here

If you spot a Bicycle Shaped Object get some good photos and then let us know and we can add it to the Hall of Shame.

 

 

January 3, 2012 at 5:21 pm Leave a comment

Watchdog: Flat-pack bikes

So did you see the Watchdog feature on flat-pack bikes?  Take a look if you missed it

Some comments from those “average people” who built and then rode the bikes:

  • “Instructions not clear”
  • “Building it tests your patience”
  • “I’m worried about the brakes”
  • “I’m not sure I trust my ability to put this thing together”
  • “Brakes not as sharp as I expected”
  • “Ride was smooth but only after the experts made some adjustments and the gears are still a bit cagey”
  • “I have ridden it for a short time and bits are falling off and the left crank has come loose”

And what did the experts discover?

  • All 5 people had made crucial mistakes which made their bikes unsafe and which had faults only an experienced eye could spot
  • Two bikes definitely look dangerous on completion of assembly
  • Handlebars move independently of the front wheel
  • On two of the bikes the front wheel nuts were not tight enough and came undone very easily
  • The right pedal fell off one of the bikes
  • Two bikes had major buckles in the front wheel
  • Problems with their gears and brakes
  • The Tesco bike had a buckled rear wheel and the gears jammed
  • The Argos bike also had gear problems

Take a look at the comments from the companies involved on the  Watchdog website

This classic from Asda: “The real experts here are our customers.”

expert [ˈɛkspɜːt] n a person who has extensive skill or knowledge in a particular field. Adj

1. skilful or knowledgeable
2.
of, involving, or done by an expert

Supermarket customers might be experts at getting low prices but I’m confident that the majority – and certainly not all 50,000 who have bought a bike from Asda since June – are not expert bike mechanics.
Here’s what Paul Topham, who featured in the show, had to say following the broadcast:

“Taking part on the day and then watching the piece is a real eye opener for me as too the power of the ‘edit’ for TV. We did a whole days filming for that piece and so it’s incredibly selective as to what actually makes it in and how it’s presented to the viewer.

I’m amazed by the lengths of rebuttal some of the companies and their distributors have gone to as published on the BBC website. (Actually I’m not amazed – that’s what they have to do I suppose)

Apparently – “A loose crank is a rare manufacturing fault” – Really? Why do we see so many BSO’s in the workshop with this fault then?

MooreLarge in particular is very comprehensive in their rebuttal. I wonder how many of their staff ride BSO’s?

At the end of the day I know through years of experience of seeing hundreds of these bikes come through the workshop of the problems that consumers face with them.  Both trying to build them and even more so how quickly they go out of tune and fall apart after limited use.

Big businesses like Tesco, Halfords, Argos etc. can spend time and money trying to persuade the public that these budget bikes are a good buy – but the real truth will be available to see here in our workshop every week of the year. In the four years since I wrote my article on the pitfalls with BSO’s I’ve had some great feedback from people who said it put them off buying one. I’m under no illusions that these businesses are going to change what they sell – but if my small contribution can make a difference to some people then that’s a step in the right direction.

ASDA are proud that they have sold 50’000 of there £70 bikes so far. Excellent. Perhaps in a year or two they should try and track down where these bikes are, how many of them are still in use and the levels of long term satisfaction the purchasers of them have had?

Maybe one of these retailers could break ranks and state that there are problems with these really cheap bikes and that they were going to use their buying power to spec and sell a range of simple, well made, reliable bikes using reasonable components in the £150 range? It could work in their favour but due to the number of calls we take along the lines of  “what’s you cheapest bike mate” (even though we don’t sell bikes) I think it would be a brave company that would take such a move.

I could go on but I have to balance my time spent working against BSO’s – with running a business that cares about peoples satisfaction with how their bikes work week in, week out..”



November 6, 2009 at 1:06 pm 3 comments

BBC Watchdog to feature bicycle shaped objects

This Thursday 5th November, 8pm – 9pm, the BBC 1 consumer affairs programme will broadcast a feature on flat-pack bikes in boxes. Otherwise known on this blog as Bicycle Shaped Objects.bbcwatchdog

Five “average cyclists” were asked to build bikes from:

  • Asda
  • Argos
  • Halfords
  • Toys R Us
  • Tesco

The feature is hosted by Radio 4′s John Humphries with expert opinion from John Stevenson of Future Publishing and Paul Topham from Brighton based bike maintenance company Southcoast Bikes.

Yours truly was contacted by BBC researchers but they felt that in my role as Director of the Association of Cycle Traders I represented a vested interest which could be seen as bias against those companies featured. Essentially the programme makers feared I would say flat pack bikes are rubbish and local bike shops are the best place to go. Not far from the truth I guess.

I have asked the BBC if it is possible to get a link from the Watchdog website to this blog but they are still concerned over this “vested interest” issue so are seeking advice. The Watchdog website gets tens of thousands of visits after each show so its a great opportunity to offer a little advice and education to viewers.

Tune in on Thursday and let me know what you think.

Mark

UPDATE – 4th November – John Stevenson has just published his thoughts over at the BikeRadar website. John’s article includes a video of Watchdog’s last feature on bicycle shaped objects, from back in the early 1990′s. Take a look here (Love the ponytail John!)

November 3, 2009 at 1:06 pm 1 comment

The Hall of Shame

Our Hall of Shame – an ongoing list of badly assembled bikes – continues to grow with submissions from different people and sources.

So far we have evidence of badly assembled adult and children’s bikes from:

  • Halfords
  • Argos
  • Asda
  • Toys R Us
  • Dunlop
  • Silverfox

Take a look for yourself

August 11, 2009 at 11:01 am 8 comments

Getting support

BikeRadar – part of Future Publishing – have published an article about cheap bikes and included comments from yours truly. They also refer to their own test of a Tesco bike (£40!!!!) and include comments from two members of the public who bought “bargain bikes” on eBay.

Future Publishing tell me that What Mountain Bike magazine my also run a feature.

The folks at Road.cc have also added their support to the cause and run a good feature on their site including some of my videos.

I also hope to have some coverage in City Cycling magazine have produced a great article in their website of the month feature.

I know getting support from cycling websites and magazines is kind of preaching to the converted but I think its all useful to help spread the word and galvanize opinion.

Read the BikeRadar article

Read the Road.cc article

What I really need now is some mainstream media to lend their support and really give this message some profile.  Anyone?

August 6, 2009 at 10:12 am Leave a comment

The first ride

Below is a short video (or here) of my very first impressions of riding Britain’s cheapest bicycle. Then follows some thoughts…

About the bike

It’s a British Eagle “Tulsa” adult mountain bike with 18 gears.  It has a fully rigid (no suspension) steel frame and is a large size. It cost £70 from Asda.  More details here

Everything works

I was secretly hoping that there would be untold problems but the truth is that so far – and we are only talking one ride – everything that needs to work properly has done so. Some readers are probably disappointed I haven’t made it sound worse but I think a balanced view is important, and anyhow wait til you hear about the ride…

Brakes are fine, although the plastic brake levers leave much to be desired. More below. The gears are working as they should.  Handlebars, stem headset are all ok. And of course the front forks are facing the right way.

Well nearly everything works. It would appear that the thread for the right pedal has not been set correctly in the crank arm, which means the pedal is not perfectly flat. See the video for a better explanation.

I suspect the main reason everything is ok (so far) is because the bike was assembled by a professional mechanic who had the skills, experience and right tools to do the job. Some bike mechanics argue these bikes are impossible to set-up properly. I guess that depends which bike in question as not all Bicycle Shaped Objects are made equal.

I have only been riding the Tulsa for a day or two so we have no idea if everything will continue to work ok as it gets more use.

Frame and components

There has already been some coverage of the issues with the bike and its components and here are my thoughts and responses.

  • Hi-Tensile Steel Frame – this is marketing speak which has not been used in modern bicycle production for a few years, I think. Its code for having a frame made from very low grade steel which offers absolutely no flex and therefore comfort.  The bike is heavy but not overly so. Given this is an MTB which some owners may well take off road its going to be a hard ride. See below for my comments on the ride quality. Plus the sizing and angles of the frame are very strange. More below.
  • Quill stem – ok so quill stems are a little old fashioned in the fast-developing world of bicycle technology but they work just fine and are on many bikes. The stem on this bike is ok, although there was no grease in the steerer tube when we got the bike which could mean the stem seizes in the steerer tube over time without any maintenance.
  • “Power Gears & Shifters” – this is a low end brand made to look like Shimano (the No 1 brand for those who didn’t know). Working just fine at the moment  and relatively easy for our mechanic to set-up- although see below for issues with gripshift gear shifters – however still needs to stand the test of time. Could be upgraded but would you seriously spend anything extra on such a cheap bike?
  • Plastic pedals - these are real bargain bin and the right pedal is not properly flat. See video below. There is very poor grip on the pedals and I don’t see them lasting too long.
  • Wheels not true – Both front and rear wheels are not straight. The front wheel has quite a bit of movement which means I have had to adjust the brakes so they do not rub on the wheel rim. Unfortunately some new owners might not know to do this – or have the correct screwdriver as it is not supplied with the bike – therefore they could find braking more difficult and the rubbing of the brake blocks on the rims annoying.
  • Seatpost – this is way too short for a large size bike aimed at riders well over 6ft tall. Plus the minimum insertion mark is so low down the seatpost that there is probably not enough of it inside the frame. This could cause problems to the frame or seatpost but we shall see.
  • V Brakes – they work fine at the moment however the plastic levers are very poor and do not inspire confidence when braking due to the fact that they flex and bend so much when applying any pressure. The front brake cable routing also appears broken. See Part One of our assembly video.

The ride

I don’t think I have ever ridden a bicycle which made me want to cycle less often. The ride quality and feel of this bike is terrible.

However, how a bike “feels” when you ride it can be a very subjective personal thing so let me start with a few facts.

  • Not enough hand room causes phantom gear changes – See the video below for the best explanation but basically the handlebar grips are so narrow and because they are integrated with the gripshift style gear shifters you find yourself changing gear, without either realising or wanting to. This is particularly noticeable on the front gears and is truly frustrating, especially when going up hill.
  • Uncomfortable handlebar grips – these grips are solid and hard with absolutely no give whatsoever. They are so hard I thought at first they were plastic but they do appear to be rubber. For a rigid MTB the grips offer no shock absorption at all and very little actual grip.
  • Pedal not flat – see the video below but I hope this makes sense: it would seem that the thread in the right hand crank arm is at a slight angle which means the pedal is not totally flat. Therefore your foot is at a slight angle on the pedal which feels very strange.
  • What’s up with the frame sizing? – According to the box – remember you can’t ask a member of staff or test ride it before you buy it – this is a large 20″ frame for riders with an inside leg measurement of 29″-35″. I have an inside leg of 33″ and am 6ft 2″. It looks and feels very small. It rides like it should be much smaller which means a very cramped experience where it is impossible to stretch your legs to a comfortable position. Taller riders would seriously struggle in my opinion.
  • Which leads me on to the saddle – there are two points related to the saddle. The first is that it is uncomfortable. It appears to have quite a bit of cushioning however it has no flex whatsoever. The second point is that because the bike is / feels too small I find myself sitting further back on the saddle which makes the saddle – and the ride quality – feel even more uncomfortable.

So those are the facts as it were.  Now for the personal opinion:

I believe one of the driving forces behind getting more people cycling is not price but experience. When I cycle I want to look and feel great, I also generally want to feel safe but that’s a bigger discussion for a different blog. I don’t want to feel totally uncomfortable on a bike which feels like its too small for me and which has components which rather than adding to the experience, ie, making it feel better, actually detract from it by making the riding of the bike feel even worse.

Looks matter. I don’t care what you say, we buy with our eyes and this bike looks terrible.

I don’t ride this bike with my head held high as the proud owner of a great looking bicycle which I love to ride. I feel a little ashamed that people think I’m cheap. That sounds really vain but its the truth. I believe for the vast majority of people riding a bike is an extension of their personal style and a statement – like the car, the house, the shoes, the bag, the coat, the hair, the newspaper, the etc – of who they are. I might buy my weekly food shopping at the supermarket but I don’t want to take the supermarket with me everywhere I go.

But I (and possibly you) are not the arbitrators of style and quality.

I think this might be at the heart of the issue. The problem with cheap bikes – if we put aside that pesky safety issue – is that they don’t make cycling an enjoyable longterm experience. They could be putting people off cycling altogether or limiting their cycle usage.

If cheap bikes are short term they undermine all the good stuff cycling can achieve. Bicycle production is not environmentally friendly.But cycling is. The problem with cheap bikes is they become just another disposable environment damaging item for landfill, sheds or dumping in those woods you think nobody else goes to. Almost certainly cheap bikes are less likely to have a long useful life to be re-used and re-cycled by others.

Of course a counter argument could be that if cheap bikes gets some use and lead to some people cycling more often, and in turn changing their habits and possibly getting a “proper bike” in time then surely they have a part to play and at the end of the day not everyone wants – or can afford – to spend more on a bicycle.

July 30, 2009 at 10:54 am 12 comments

Assembling the bike

I recorded the entire build and assembly of the bike on video which you can see below. Following these are some additional points and thoughts.

The first video below is a short 5 minute version and then I have split the longer version into two parts, which you can also view below

Below is the short version, which can also been seen here

Below is part one of the longer version. If can’t view below try here

And here is part two. If you can’t view part two below try here

What did we find when we assembled the bike?

  • The front forks come out of the box facing the wrong way and there is nothing in the instructions to tell you to turn them. In my view this is the main reason why so many flat-pack bikes are fully assembled with the forks still facing backwards. If you happened to go into a store and the display bike also had its forks facing backwards – and perhaps you also saw the same thing in a catalogue, on a website or TV advert – why would you think any different?
  • The headset was rusty straight out of the box.  You can see this in part one. Lewis suspects the headset was already rusting when it was painted and then fitted to the bike. As you can see in part two of the video the paint flakes off very easily. This is not good, regardless of how much you spend.
  • The supplied spanner was made of cheese.  As you can see in part one of the video Lewis applies very little pressure to the spanner whilst fitting the front wheel, yet the spanner bent and became useless. We used a professional torque wrench to tighten the front wheel to the correct setting as supplied in the instruction book. There is very little chance that you could get the wheel bolts sufficiently tight enough using the supplied spanner. This clearly represents a safety issue.
  • The seat post is not long enough. This bike is designed for riders with an inside leg measurement up to 35 inches, yet the seat post is clearly not long enough to give taller riders a decent amount of leg room. Secondly, because the seat post is so short there is very little of it inserted into the frame, especially when it is set at maximum height. This will place additional forces on both the frame and seat post which could cause either of these to bend, crack or snap. Again this is a potential safety issue.
  • The tyres were only partly inflated. The front tyre had 10psi and the rear 15psi.  The tyres should be inflated to 40 – 65psi. This is usual practice for new bikes delivered to retailers, however most bike shops will assemble the bike for sale and this will include inflating the tyres. Clearly if you buy the bike flat-pack without it ever being touched by the retailer and you don’t own a pump or know anything about bikes, you are going to assume these tyres are ok to ride. Low pressure tyres will have an impact on ride quality, steering and braking. Next time you are in the street see how many people are riding with tyres at very low pressures. Is this choice or ignorance?

July 29, 2009 at 12:38 pm Leave a comment

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