What’s the value of cheap

July 28, 2009 at 11:09 am 3 comments

In June the UK’s second largest supermarket, Asda – part of WalMart – launched what it claimed was Britain’s cheapest bicycle. In fact there were 4 bicycles, one for all the family.  Kids bikes would be £50 and adults £70. Bargain!

The launch of these bikes is part of Asda’s Pedal Power initiative, which aims to get more people cycling through various different projects. This has the backing of Olympic champion and all-round cycling god Sir Chris Hoy no less. (I wonder if he got a free bike?) Asda said their new bikes would be sold not-for-profit, in order to make it easy (and cheap) for more people to take to the saddle.

On one level this is great news.  Cycling needs big support if we want to make the kind of structural, social and cultural changes which can deliver the benefits cycling has to offer.

The problem is that cheap bikes aren’t the way to do it.  Sure price is a barrier, however it can be overcome in  different ways. Whether this is by better promoting the benefits (financial / health / environmental etc) or by other means such as tax breaks. Asda is in a prime position to take a much more powerful stance which can deliver long term benefits. It appears to have gone for the easy option.

It is bicycle shaped, but is it a bicycle?

These new Asda bikes – like those sold by its competitors and in catalogues and online – are sold flat-pack in boxes. What did you expect for £70?

These types of bikes are known as “Bicycle Shaped Objects“. Sure its a very subjective term but there is a point where great value and cheap pass each other in a value curve, which means your supermarket bargain can come with some hidden costs.

There are 2 key issues:

  1. The objective = Is the bike safely assembled and correctly set-up
  2. The subjective = Can a bike which is so cheap offer an enjoyable long term cycling experience

As a trade association we believe all bikes – sold in store or in a box – should be properly checked and set-up by a professional (and preferably trained) bike mechanic. I believe this is a public responsibility. The more subjective point about the quality of the cycling experience is much harder to prove, and that’s part of the reason for launching this blog.

It is not for us to tell the public how much they should spend on a bicycle. We generally recommend not spending less than £200 but appreciate that for some these seems like a small fortune, and especially on the humble bicycle. However regardless of what you spend the bike you buy should be safely assembled and properly set-up in good working order.

Putting our money where our mouth is

Helen Pidd from The Guardian spent 4 weeks on one of Asda’s bikes and she was my inspiration to take a closer look at what buying, building and owning Britian’s cheapest bicycle actually means.

In the past we have attempted to address the issue of cheap flat-pack bikes in boxes. We have met with Trading Standards but nobody seems to think the issue justifies a change in the law or enforcing better practices. We have received anecdotal evidence and some photos from bike shops which highlight the issue.

The aim of this blog is to document buying, building and riding Britian’s cheapest bicycle.  It is an effort to raise all the issues – good and bad – which surround cheap bikes and cycling.


Entry filed under: The problem with cheap bikes.

Asda back pedals on TV advert

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Colin Edwards  |  May 13, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. I purchased a cheap Halfords bike which I had to put together myself having not cycled for about 20 years. It was uncomfortable (I would say unrideable) and, in my view, dangerous. I used it about 3 times over an 18 month period and eventually left it at a bicycle rack for someone else to take (it took 3 weeks for someone to steal it from a busy town centre).

    I then spent £400 on a reasonable hybrid from a specialist bike shop. From the moment I got on for a test ride, I loved it and for the last 18 months I have been cycling the 30 km round trip to work every day.

    These cheap rubbish flat-pack things are a complete waste of money and are putting people off cycling. My hybrid isn’t the best bike in the world but it does show that the cheap bike was the problem – not the rider – and I am loving cycling now (safely and in comfort).

    I would warn everyone not to pick up one of these rubbish things.

  • 2. Michael Jones  |  November 25, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Even if they are assembled in shops,

    How many use Cytech (bike mechanic certified) qualified staff?

    In Halfords nobody gets trained and the staff are always putting bikes together badly and unsafely.

    Asda are even worse while Tesco seem to have the odd Cytech qualified staff member.

    I would use the local bike shop and look for Cytech qualified staff to ensure safety.

  • 3. Jeff  |  July 29, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    I am in rabid agreement with your conclusions. Here in the US we have “huffy”. The president of the company once said “Our research shows that most of our bikes are only ridden 70 miles before they get abandoned. We now design accordingly”

    Of course there were bikes designed with reversed rake forks, for example, the “Derny’s” that were used for paced track racing before they had motorized options. You can also check out for one I built. Clearly the ASDA bikes weren’t members of this rather uncommon configuration. While too much trail is not the best thing for bike handling, too little trail is truly unrideable, imagine if the design relied on reverse rake, and installing it like a normal fork, put it into positive territory.


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