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
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.
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.