Watchdog: Flat-pack bikes

November 6, 2009 at 1:06 pm 3 comments

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
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..”


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Peter  |  October 17, 2010 at 11:31 am

    The bikes are fine, its just that these days people are too stupid top put them together properly.

  • 2. Steve A  |  April 3, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    Seriously, this expert thing is overblown, though the only flat pack bike I ever bought, I later gave away after the LH pedal threads in the crank stripped and I concluded it wan’t worth even the price of used replacement components. Bike stuff is pretty easy to figure out. Junk is junk and is easy to fix – it just isn’t WORTH fixing.

  • 3. watchdog: bicycle shaped objects | rain miles count double  |  November 9, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    […] on the BBC Watchdog site and read the comments. You should also check out the reaction from the Bicycle Shaped Object […]


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