The first ride

July 30, 2009 at 10:54 am 12 comments

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.


Entry filed under: Riding the bike, The problem with cheap bikes, Videos.

Assembling the bike Getting support

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. John Bruce  |  April 6, 2012 at 11:30 am

    I’ve had one for a couple of years now and couldn’t be happier. I actually paid £30 for mine from Asda. I found it simple to assemble, despite never having previously assembled a bike. There was a link to an online video supplied with the instructions for extra help if required. I ride mine on roads, tracks and machair on The Isle of Lewis, and everything is still fine. I don’t think mine said ‘mountain bike,’ on the box when I bought it, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t cope especially well with the world’s highest and toughest peaks. Luckily enough, I’m happy enjoying the bike no matter what others may think of the brand, colour scheme or low price tag. Actually I’m rather proud of it.

  • 2. Cheap Bikes from Asda etc… « So Tyred  |  May 10, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    […] Cheap Bikes from Asda etc… …or bike shaped objects (BSO) as they are better known. With the increased interest in cycling, the number of cheap bikes on the market has also increased. But are they worth buying? According to the following blog, the £70 bike from Asda is definitely not. Asda bike – the first ride […]

  • 3. Helen Scholes  |  October 28, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    I’m doing some research for the BBC about build-it-yourself bikes sold bought for less than £100. If anyone has personal experience of these bikes it would be great to hear from you. My number is: 020 8008 3500.

  • 4. David  |  October 17, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    Btw, Asda is false advertising when they say it’s Britain’s cheapest bike, it’s not! Toys ‘R’ Us and Tesco both do them cheaper.

  • 5. David  |  October 17, 2009 at 12:32 am

    I bought a Fusion mountain bike for £45 in a Woolworths sale around 3 or 4 years ago. Obviously, it wasn’t designed for daily use being a cheap bike – but that’s what I used it for – and I put the miles in too! It lasted over a year and over 1000 miles. But that’s not the end, the rear wheel is the only thing that needs replacing, but I won approx £200 on a horse on Decmber 27th 2008, so I bought a new “BSO” for £90 (Kinetic Sabre): full suspension mountain bike from Toys ‘R’ Us.

    The wrong wheel was in the box, a totally uncompatable one, but as me and a mate were putting the bike up outside the store in the carpark, we simply went back in and staff replaced the wheel from another box.
    It was the WORST bike I have EVER owned! It was heavy, didn’tgo up hills easily, I was always knackered and my average speed was low. I couldn’t do the journey distances I’d once done so easily! ANY ride, no matter how short was a struggle!
    I was relieved when it broke after just 7 or 8 months. The forks just bent (I’m not overweight and way below the maximum weight stated on the tyres)and the back wheel is completely buckled. It can be fixed, but it gave me an excuse to fix up my old Peugeot Carbolite bike (not a great bike for some, but great for me), so that’s what I did. The bike rides fast, it’s easy getting up hills, I’m no longer knackered, I can travel much much further on this bike than the Sabre. Ok, so not many people like it, but the entire parts (other than a brake cable and brake pads: all of which have now been replaced) are original and have lasted 27 years with no signs of anything needing replacing: the previous owner musn’t have ridden it much as apart from being a bit dirty, I basically got a bike in almost brand new condition, so it has years left in it yet. Not bad for a tenner!

  • 6. Richard  |  September 4, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    I find this whole site quite funny. I had no idea that bikes like this have only become recently available in the UK. In Canada this kind of thing is the norm, but with prices significantly lower than 70 pounds. We can buy bikes like this for around 45 pounds and kid’s bikes around 15 pounds. They’re all junk of course but for most people who ride once a week at most, they’re fine. Hard to believe from the country that makes Cervelo and Rocky Mountain bikes I know!

    My only issue is that enthusiasts like myself are always being asked by neighbours and friends to fix/adjust these pieces of junk.

    My overall opinion is that despite the drawbacks, having bikes at these price points is actually a good thing and that it does get more people into cycling. Whenever you start a hobby you tend to start out small and work your way up right?

  • 7. Doko E  |  August 14, 2009 at 1:00 am

    Very interesting review. In defence of these shoddy vehicles, I got back into cycling as an adult after buying a friend’s cheap bike (he’d accidentally jousted a homeless man the day he bought it and ended up over the handlebars).

    The blue steel framed monster lasted about 6 months before breaking – and to be fair to it, it was clearly not designed to be ridden daily. Even small inclines were turned into a serious effort but it got me to work.

    It got me hooked. I bought a Ridgeback hybrid and have now cycle commuted for 6 years. Cheap bikes can be a useful gateway drug. But I wouldn’t buy another…

  • 8. Chris Davies  |  August 8, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    Very interesting blog, thanks for riding it.
    I am an enthusiast bike owner, and I have been trying to get my dad riding his bike. He’s had a couple of bikes, and they’ve been rubbish, generally.
    About six months ago, I built him a bike using a mixture of good quality, but old parts. His exact words were “Son, I love riding now, it isn’t hard anymore!”.
    Nowadays, he rides every day if it isn’t raining.

  • 9. Cheap Bikes | Cycling UK  |  August 7, 2009 at 9:19 am

    […] a good blog – bicycle shaped object which reviews some of these ultra cheap […]

  • 10. markb25  |  August 6, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    Charles, thanks for your comments and I appreciate your point that not everyone can afford a good bike.

    Problem is that buying cheap is very often a false economy because ultimately you may have to spend again (and perhaps again) on more new cheap bikes or servicing to keep them running.

    Did you consider buying second hand?

  • 11. Charles Gibson  |  August 6, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    I’d love to buy and ride a “good” bike but cannot afford to spend hundreds of pounds on one. My economy purchase (not the ASDA bike) will have to suffice. Thanks Halfords.

  • 12. Tim  |  August 3, 2009 at 10:28 am

    I think you hit the nail on the head. If you aren’t an experienced bike mech – then how the heck can you possibly build a bike safely or that is going to work long term.

    I think it would have been interesting to pick 10 random members of the public, give them each a bike + let them build.


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