Wednesday, September 14, 2016

On Maximising the "Retention Factor" of Budget Bicycles



When someone new to transportation cycling asks me for advice on what bicycle to buy, my reply is influenced by two factors. Firstly, their budget. Once that is established, I will suggest a bicycle within their price range. This bike may not so much be "the best" by some set of technical or aesthetic industry criteria, but it will be one I believe is most likely to make a good impression on that person, and, most importantly, to keep them cycling. Because, really, the important thing is not just that the bicycle is purchased, but that it is ridden. And that it turns the new owner into a cyclist!

This idea of judging (or producing) a bike on this merit is one that seems to surprise manufacturers, whenever I have occasion to mention it to them. But really, it shouldn't.

Consider, for instance, how many people who try transportation cycling stick with it, and how many do not. For those who do not, what is the reason? While environmental factors - such as distance, terrain, and the availability of cycling infrastucture - certainly influence the cycling experience, the bicycle itself plays a crucial role as well.

It goes without saying that the bicycle should be comfortable, be designed with suitable geometry and accessories for transport, depending on the customer's requirements. But the thing I am talking about here is, in a way, more basic. Think of a person's first bicycle as a sort of ambassador for the cycling experience. The bicycle needs to convince its new owner that cycling for transport is convenient and easy, not troublesome or problematic.

So in honour of the upcoming Interbike, I would like to share some thoughts on what manufacturers of transport bicycles can do, to maximise their product's "retention factor." In particular, here are 3 crucial things in this regard which I feel are often overlooked:

1. Equip bicycles with puncture-proof tyres and quality tubes.

Whenever I mention the importance of this to a manufacturer, there is almost always resistance.

"Oh come on. Customers aren't stupid. Flats are so easy to fix! If they want puncture-proof tyres, they can upgrade themselves."

Well, I didn’t say customers were stupid. But you are thinking like a cyclist. And first-time buyers aren't cyclists. Bicycles are new to them. They don’t necessarily find flats "easy" to fix. They don’t necessarily know that tyres can be upgraded to puncture-proof ones ("You mean they are puncture-prone by default?" asks a friend, scandalised, when I attempt to explain this. "Why?!").

On a bike with low quality tyres, it is not uncommon for the first flat to happen within just a few weeks of ownership - an extremely vulnerable period during which the bond between owner and bike is still in the process of forming.

It is my impression, that a fairly high percentage of would-be transport cyclists give up if they get their first flat at this early stage. They do not necessarily mean to give up. In the first instance, they might declare the bicycle "broken" and set it aside in the garage until they can figure out how to fix it, or have time to drive/walk it over to the bike shop. However, life gets hectic, and all too often such a day never comes.

It may seem too trite to be true, but I guarantee this is how a considerable percentage of potential transportation cyclists are lost. Flats! Something so easily avoided by speccing a bicycle with puncture-proof tyres.

2. Ensure that retailers understand your bikes, and know how to set them up. 

When it comes to transport bikes in the budget category, they are likely to be retailed not at specialty shops, but at mainstream bike shops and even non-cycling related venues (for example, clothing boutiques) - where the staff might not be adequately trained in setting them up. This often translates to the bicycle not being adjusted properly when it is handed to the customer - in every respect, from drivetrain setup, to the attachment of components and accessories.

It is a very, very bad idea to sell a bicycle to a newbie in this manner. And not just for safety reasons - although there is that, too... I still recall with horror, that time, when the rear wheel fell off a bike I was test riding (a floor model in a Boston bike shop) just as I was half way through an intersection!

But in addition to safety, it is again about the impression the customer gets of cycling based on the bike. Those who decide to try cycling for transportation are not necessarily ready to open a home mechanic's station. After all, they were never expected to fix their own car as soon as they drove it home from the dealer! And cycling is supposed to be easier, more convenient, remember?

If a brand new bicycle does not work properly - chain falls off, gears won't shift, fenders rattle - it is going to result in an impression of cycling as high-maintenance, finicky, fragile, unreliable mode of transport. Any retailer chosen by the manufacturer to carry their products must be trained to ensure this does not happen.

3. Make accessories functional, or don't bother.

In reviews I often praise transportation bicycles for being "fully equipped" - that is, fitted with mudguards, racks, and lighting.

However, an important caveat here is that these items need to be functional in order to be useful. Otherwise, they are just dead weight and an unnecessary expenditure on the manufacturer's part that could have been allocated elsewhere (on puncture-proof tyres, for instance).

The worst example of this I see lately, is lighting. Some manufacturers will equip their transport bikes with an enormous and quite heavy, but ridiculously dim, halogen headlight. The actual light output on this sort of unit will be so low, that the headlight is really mostly decorative. And the bicycle's owner will still have to buy supplementary lighting ... but probably only after trusting the original lights their brand new bicycle came equipped with, and experiencing terrifying disappointment!

Again, at this stage some fledgling cyclists might simply decide that a bicycle's lighting isn't sufficient to get around safely at night and give up; it might genuinely not occur to them that they can get brighter lights aftermarket.

But that extreme possibility aside, functionality is simply not the place to cut corners on a bike that is intended to be used. If a bicycle comes equipped with a rack, this rack needs to be actually rated to carry weight. If it comes with fenders, they need to have adequate coverage.

None of this is to say that there isn't room to scrimp and save and cut corners when it comes to budget bicycle production. Only that every corner-cutting measure should be undertaken bearing in mind its impact on the "retention factor."

After all, making a bicycle affordable is all about increasing accessibility. It's a delicate task to maximise that, without cutting so many corners as to risk put new owners off from cycling entirely! Any manufacturer that can pull this off is to be applauded, and will certainly earn my recommendation.




69 comments:

  1. I think you're just touching a tip of an iceberg. Yes, a comfortable and reliable bicycle is the first thing to get someone riding. But it's also the easiest to address.

    I find that far more important and difficult to solve issues are: (1) infrastructure and (2) weather. Without a proper (safe) infrastructure it would be difficult to convince a novice to commute to work or do grocery shopping by bike. And weather is another problem. For some, even a slight chance of rain will be an argument to drive instead of taking a bicycle.

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    1. It's precisely because it's the easiest to address that I wanted to address it. Manufacturers can get overwhelmed with suggestions that involve a core redesign of their models. But something simple, like decent tyres, is manageable.

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  2. Very well said! I agree, but I temper my approval, with a wee bit of skepticism. Puncture proof tires? What are those? Far more effective and inexpensive from a manufacturers standpoint would be Tire liners (similar to Mr. Tuffy's). BUT with that said, my experience with newby cyclist is that the majority of flats occur not from punctures, but from improper inflation or allowing the tire to go flat as a pancake, then airing it up and the tube getting pinched; only education can fix that!
    I agree about he accessories as well, those in a transportation bike can be make or break in whether the bike gets used or not. When I was a kid I had a English 3 speed bike with a rack, it had one of those spring clamps and when I got it I though it was SO goofy, but dang if I did not use it all the time!
    Lastly, lighting I truly believe that this is the age that Bicycle lighting actually starts to earn it's keep! I had a SON hub for many years and finally got around to lacing it up last year; OMG!! it's great! even with only a 60Lux B&M light it's a wonder! Since that time If converted 7 (yes 7!) of my bikes to Dynamo lights. In fact I won't even build a new bike without a Dynamo on the front! even if you don't ride at night they throw out enough light in the day that you DO get seen! IMHO, ALL bike's should come with them and I am hoping that as more people move to them the prices will come down and encourage even more people to use them! I frequently go on a Sunday evening social ride, initially I did not think too many people noticed my Dynamo Light, but over the last few weeks (getting darker sooner) no ride goes by without someone inquiring about my light and how bright it is! As Martha would say "it's a good thing" - Masmojo

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  3. A while ago I used to comment on the Guardian bike blog; whenever I said there that bikes should come completely equipped, and that customers shouldn't have to immediately throw away the junk their bikes were fitted with to by correct aftermarket equipment, I was berated by other commentators (regular cyclists, mind) who apparently find it completely normal to buy a bike, and then spend another £100 just to get it correctly equipped. No one in a real cycling country (say, the Netherlands, or even Germany) would dream of doing that.

    It all depends how bikes are merketed in the respective countries, as a leisure toy, or as a serious transport vehicle?

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    1. And that's the thing about regular cyclists: They are the ones who stuck with it. The ones who were not deterred by whatever obstacles or inadequacies they faced (and in some cases, were perhaps encouraged by them?). Some may simply be unable to see things from the viewpoint of those who did not stick with it.

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    2. The other thing with places like Germany, Denmark and The Netherlands, is not only are people sold bikes fit for purpose- heavy, but replete with racks, lights, mudguards etc, but a significant proportion of bike shops are devoted solely to parts and repair; the average bike rider, faced with a flat tyre, will drop the bike off to be fixed and take the train, collecting it later in the day. People, just as with cars, are happy to learn the bare minimum to keep their bike on the road and then let experts deal with the more complicated or tiresome (no pun intended) tasks.

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  4. Well thought-out points.

    Funny, the tire thing resonates most with me, and I think it's a big point across all types of bikes and being an introduction to frustration that could be the end of many people's riding experience. I'm probably just as guilty of falling into the category of cyclist that either expects to replace tires right away on a bike or not minding the task of patching, and so I forget that we are all new to it at some point. Honestly, though, I know plenty of people that have tons of miles behind them that still take their bikes in to a shop to fix flats. (I guess if you're already "bike-minded" then you make it a priority, and your flat tires won't languish in the garage until rot sets in.)
    Anecdotal, but my experience shows a larger group of "newbies" are buying expensive race bikes that all come with no-weight tires with absolutely no protection. So they get a flat, and there they are on the side of the road with 1 co2 cartridge (that they don't know how to use) and a self-stick "scab" patch and a look of complete befuddlement. Flats aren't fun, and nobody wants dirt and grease on their expensive new kit. A call is made, a ride is taken, a bike is hung up in a garage. And so ends another promising cycling career...

    If you're buying a bike for transport/commuting, then I assume most people's priorities would include reliability (as you point out), and I can't imagine somebody wouldn't be willing to pay just a few more dollars for better tires if given the knowledge and opportunity to do so. At a consumer-level the price difference between average non-armored tires and average armored tires is not horribly different. At a manufacturer-level, it has to be pretty much inconsequential. At the shop-level, they are missing an opportunity if they do not discuss tires with customers. If a person is spending anywhere from $400- several thousand for the bike, what's another $20-30 for better tires and peace-of-mind?


    Wolf.

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  5. What are the best options to consider if one wants a bike for winter commuting in New England? I want a bike that has fenders, dynamo-driven lights, not too heavy for me to lift onto the elevated bike rack at work (25-35lb), and for which studded tires are available? I am having a hard time finding such a bike.

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    1. When I was looking last year for such a bike, I searched Craigslist for "3 speed" and found a used Linus Dutchie for $350 (it was listed for $400 but had some nicks in the paint, worn tires, and needed new brake pads, so I talked the owner down in price a bit). I bought a pair of studded tires (700c) at my local bike shop for about $120. I transferred my USB headlight and tail light from another bike for the winter, but I may rebuild the front wheel at some point and install dynamo lighting.

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    2. The Rivendell Clementine/ Clem Smith Jr. [review] would be perfect, IMO.

      If you were thinking more budget, then Brooklyn Bicycle [review] , or Simcoe [review]. Though you would need to add lights. For reasons of durability and toe clearance, I would suggest those over the above-mentioned Linus for the purpose.

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    3. Oh, I didn't realize the stock Clem came with Dynamo lighting -- or would one have to add after-market? (Or buy a frame and do a custom build?)
      Priscilla

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    4. As far as I know, you can ask for small changes to the stock build. If you ask them to do an otherwise stock build but with dynamo lighting, this will doubtlessly cost less than getting it done aftermarket.

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    5. I'm not a huge fan of the Linus Dutchie (somewhat "too upright" for my commute, and also doesn't seem very durable given the dings on the paint), but as I was not sure how often I'd be riding in wintery conditions, I thought I'd try to find a used bike and see how it went. I am thinking of either keeping it and rebuilding the wheel with dynamo lighting OR getting one of the bikes you mentioned in your reply with dynamo lighting.

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    6. I bike commute through the winter in New England, though I didn't buy a bike for that purpose; I adapted my current bike to winter conditions.
      Fenders: I recommend Velo Orange stainless steel or alumin(i)um fenders over any plastic thingy that you might find at a bike shop. VO's fenders come in many sizes, are durable, and priced right. Just make sure that your bike has clearance for them, and ideally, eyelets at the forks and the rear hub.
      Mudflaps: an essential add-on for any set of fenders. I recommend Planet Bike's set of mudguards. I went with the Cascadia ATB model to fit my 60-mm-wide fenders. About $5 USD for a set of two mudflaps. Also available in several widths to fit different sizes of fenders.
      T(i|y)res: Schwalbe and Nokian both make good sets of studded winter rubber. I can't recommend studded tires enough for winter as they provide great traction on ice. I can vouch for only the Nokian Hakkapalitta W240 tires as they have gotten me through two New England winters and counting. I do have Schwalbe tires on the rest of the year, so if the quality of their "summer" tires is anything to go by, then their winters tires should be great, too.

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    7. I'm the original poster. I confess, my Boda Boda (acquired in part based on Josette's writings about hers. Thank you, Josette!) has everything: Dynamo driven lights, fenders, cargo capacity, and a set of studded tires. I have ridden it all winter the past three years....but as my need to haul kids has decreased, I have rediscovered the joys of riding a smaller, lighter bike. My beloved Shogun 500 mixte is light, has Dynamo driven lights, and my LBS is ready with the VO fenders...but I am not aware of studded 27" tires...and also hesitate to subject this bike to winter conditions (salt). My husband and kids think that I just want another bike -- and there may be some truth in this as well.

      Priscilla

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    8. Oh my goodness! Priscilla! That's great! :) I too have less of a need to haul kids these days since they are both walking to school nearby on their own now, and I've been using all three of my bikes for various reasons. I ride my old vintage 3-speed on nice-weather days (a 1969 Robin Hood, on which I put Schwalbe cream tires, a Brooks saddle, Kool Stop brake pads, a rear rack, a Wald basket, and lace-up Walnut leather grips). I ride my Boda Boda on rainy days (better braking power than the vintage steel bike) and when I need to haul stuff (kids, groceries) or go longer distances over hilly terrain. Last winter I rode the Linus with studded Schwalbe tires when it was icy, sleeting, or snowing (rode twice WHILE it was snowing with ski goggles on!) and several times on bare pavement when the forecast said it "might" rain/sleet/snow but it didn't. Despite this situation pretty much working for me, I still covet a new bike, maybe to replace the combination vintage/Linus situation — both of which I would sell if I bought a new bike that I loved after a trial period. Something with dynamo lighting (which I have on my Boda Boda and find VERY convenient). Something maybe like the Clem Jr. (though, man, why didn't they stick with the name "Clementine" which is so much nicer!?)

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    9. Hey Priscilla, Fwiw, I have a Shogun 400 mixte with upright bars, which I am convinced is the perfect city bike. I switched out the 27" wheels for 700c wheels to get more tire clearance, and it worked great. Didn't even need long reach brakes, just an adjustment. It's like a less drastic version of a 700c - 650b conversion.

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    10. My first Boston winter (2 years ago-- not an easy one), I commuted on a vintage step through mountain bike equipped with studded 26" tires (easy to fit), planted bike cascadia fenders, and dynamo lighting. I purchased a ready-made dynamo 26" front wheel for about 100 dollars on Amazon and it works very well (I think it shipped from Germany). I killed my drive train that winter, however, and so the next one, I commuted on my Workcycles FR8 using the very same 26" studded tires. The enclosed drive train is very nice to have to avoid grit/rust drive train destruction. I have since repaired the free wheel and chain on the mountain bike and it is still my spare bicycle.

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    11. Oh, Amy -- I had not even thought about converting to 700c wheels... especially if I could pick up a 700c dynamo wheel for the price that Amanda found for her 26" wheel. I should look into this. Thanks!
      Priscilla

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    12. Suomi also has a wide range of winter tires to fit many wheel sizes. I don't know if they have one for your tire size, but check out their site to see if any of them match your wheel size. They use the ISO system (tire width in mm - wheel bead seat diameter in mm) so check your current tires for their ISO markings for comparison.

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    13. Priscilla, I went on Amazon to see if the dynamo wheel I purchased was still available, and it was strange- it appeared that the seller was only posting the wheels in french, so searching was not great when using english. feel free to contact me at alrychel at gmail dot come to point you to an inexpensive 700c dynamo wheel on amazon :) they are bolt on, not quick release, but I prefer that.

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  6. Totally agree. As someone working in a bike shop, I sell bikes with this mindset: buy a comfy bike that makes you jazzed to ride it. There are lots of decent budget bikes out there. However, it is funny how many folks insist on carbon fiber racy road bikes with 105 or better (their roadie friend told them anything below 105 is junk), yet these people haven't ridden a bike in 15 years! Invariably they aren't comfortable and want to throw money on a new saddle or somesusch. They act aghast if I encourage them to work their way up to an aggressive road bike. Maybe this is a Silicon Valley phenomenon.

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  7. Yes on the puncture proof tires!

    My first bike as an adult was an old Schwinn. Reliable choice, purchased from the local bicycle cooperative. It had a slow leak in a tire after maybe two rides. I took it to a bike shop to get a new tube and they convinced me that it was normal to have to fill up a tire every day! I still can't believe I let them convince me of that. And what were they thinking? Silly girl with her silly old Schwinn has the audacity to request the ability to spend money at their bike shop so she can ride her bike? I've never been back to that shop.

    Bike doesn't get used because I didn't feel like filling up my tires daily. In fact, it's still sitting in the back of my garage. A couple of years later I start regularly bike commuting, on another random bike that I acquired. Never got a flat on that one, soon bought another one and now am a competent year round commuter that's able to fix a flat ;). I didn't get there overnight, though, and those little things like flat tires make a big difference.

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  8. Is the conversation about how to best retain potential transportation cyclists or how to make 'budget' bikes better? Many folks who seriously take up the idea of transportation cycling are willing to look for the best bike for their needs and will find a good dealer who can guide and educate them towards what transportation riding is about. Those who are unsure make many excuses for quitting early on, I've never heard of flat tires as the reason but it wouldn't surprise me…Mostly, I think of a good fitting, light, bike with good wheels, appropriate drive train, fenders and lights, and purchased from a reputable bike shop.

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    1. I believe the two things are connected. One thing I have learned over the years of speaking with would-be, but reluctant, transportation cyclists, is that the overwhelming majority are not willing to spend much beyond the $500 mark, no matter what. This is not necessarily because they can't afford it either. There just seems to be a difficulty in accepting that a quality, fully equipped transport bicycle will cost more. And if I fight it by trying to explain the value of this and that and the other thing, they will just go to someone else of advice and get their $500 bike regardless ...which they will very possibly hate. So... in more recent years I have made it a point to try many budget-priced bikes and to have conversations with manufacturers of those bikes, public and private. I do believe that encouraging manufacturers to deliver something with a high "retention factor" within the budget price range is as important for getting more people cycling for transport, as encouraging governments to adapt more bicycling-friendly policies.

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    2. Please, fight your cause. We need to fight on all fronts to make those would-be cyclists into consistent cyclists. My conversations with potential but reluctant transportation cyclist rarely centers on price or budget level bikes. If money is an issue I'll often recommend good quality used bikes but there are certainly many bikes in our local shops for $500 and under. One friend just purchased a hand bag for $1,500 so for her it was not about the money, she just saw me cycling everywhere and wanted to know how she could do it, too. Those are the usual conversations I have and what makes it or breaks it for them have to do with finding safe routes, how to deal with clothing, bike parking, running multiple errands and on and on….I'm happy to report that the ones who give it a go, well, about half end up sticking to it to some sort of consistent degree. I think a bit of adventuresome spirit helps, a willingness to learn as you go and finding a tribe of supportive riders is nice, too. Getting more out there is key so you focus on the machines and I'll focus on the experience. Happy riding.

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    3. Where I usually live in inner Melbourne Australia, the majority of women riding new bikes are riding $250-300AUD bikes from companies like Reid and Samson, and the majority riding older bikes are riding late 70s - early 80s bike boom equivalents - bottom end Peugeots, Malvern Stars etc. They have bought them because they look nice- like a bicycle, not like sports equipment and because they are cheap - if it doesn't work out they haven't wasted too much money. With men it's similar, but tends toward old drop-bar 10 speeds and newer flat bar racer style. The point being that I think most people's research is about seeing themselves in the sunshine, having a nice time, riding to the park, not having to catch public transport (expensive with annoying waits), not so much about the mechanics of the machine that will bring this about. To me that is perfectly reasonable- why should we not want the things that are made for us to just work relatively easily? I think the onus should be on the manufacturers to meet this need, and in non-european countries the most glaring failure is the lack of good lighting.

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  9. Yes please to puncture-resistant tyres by default!! Anyone who thinks flats are “easy to fix” is not standing outside their office at 5pm discovering that they must have run over glass that morning because their tire is now flat as a pancake, and realizing that even if they have a tube and a pump, there’s nowhere to do the fix because they’re on a sidewalk filled with the bustling end-of-day crowd, and it’s chilly fall weather and their hands are going to lose all strength and dexterity even before they get to the difficult bit where they have to push the tire back onto the rim!

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  10. Interesting….the thing that hooked me was not so much the bike but rather the freedom and enjoyment of moving about under my own power. It was the activity itself. Those I know who have tried and given up basically were not 'moved' by the activity, even if they had good bikes. And by the way, my bike was heavy steel everything and very cheap. Once I started to learn more about my needs and moving about safely I began to upgrade until finding my sweet spot of a ride. People who get hooked on anything new usually discover there is something about the activity which enables or affirms…Could be dancing, cooking, climbing, gardening, it doesn't matter, equipment is a small part of the overall and more meaningful experience. Just my thoughts...

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    1. Agree with this, although it may not apply to everyone. I learned to ride a bike as an adult, and even though I started on a very small, basic hybrid, and could barely ride at first, I immediately fell in love with riding a bike, and loved it even while using a so-so bike. I am not a naturally athletic person, and have tried other physical activities, but none have stuck like cycling. Eventually, (pretty soon, actually) as I became more interested and immersed, I learned about the different bike options available, and bought a better bike. Nice equipment certainly helps to enjoy an activity one is already drawn to, but the desire to cycle was already ingrained - despite not having a great bike as my first bike. Also, I still can't fix a flat, and have had to walk some distance as a result - hasn't dampened the love - just part of the adventure of cycling.

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    2. So for you, what does 'retention factor' mean? A friend of mine bought her first bike and decided she was going to use it to get back and forth to school and instead of daily walks/jogs she wanted to also take pleasurable laps around our local park (about six miles per lap on mostly paved routes) so she bought one of the bikes listed on this blog and within weeks was getting more and more frustrated…Things started to rattle, it was heavy on the hills and to get in and out of her apartment, she felt more tired than energized and she started to loose heart so she asked about taking off things….first the kickstand, then fenders and chain guard, anything to make it lighter. Then was frustrated at how difficult it was to take things off, even the wheels required wrenches. So she discovered the retention factor, for her, was a simple and light bike which was more versatile. She enjoyed riding, she enjoys being self reliant, and now we bump into each other everywhere around town on our bikes. She no longer uses the first bike, it became a gift to her mom which means it's parked in the garage. I really believe that being able to hop on her bike and ride makes her happier. Oh, she's since added some lights and lightweight fenders to her new machine but it was her choice, after all it's getting darker earlier and she's very active. A transportation convert!

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  11. I had another thought and just playing Devils advocate here as to why the manufactures may not get behind the idea of "kitting out" a bike. I am currently in the process of selling a house and all the "experts" say paint everything white, remove anything that stands out or is distinctive. The idea is to appeal to the most # of people, let the imagine it the way they want; whereas you might like Pink, someone else will hate pink!. I have a friend and he hates baskets, put a basket on the bike and he will not even look at it twice! In order to get manufacturers to put these things on a bike, first maybe you have to change the consumers expectations!? - Mas

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  12. After market luggage racks are just a bad joke! European bikes often have racks made to fit and work with the look of the bike not a tagged on jokey afterthought.

    What happened to decent mudguards with fixings which do not look like they were cobbled together out of junk found in the shed.

    have builders not discovered hub gears and chain covers, winter with the gears gummed up with muck is horrible.

    Enough with dreary grey and black, give us some decent colour choices! Less text on the frame and wheels is more for me, I want a lovely bicycle!

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  13. I think a driver of this is that manufacturer's tend to invest in higher cost parts on a bike that are easily described/compared to competitors' models and on the list of items that people "should look for" when buying a bike. So people tend to compare rival models based on "cromoloy frame", a particular gruppo level, weight ratings, etc. It's understandable as a new buyer doesn't have much else to go on to choose. I do see more emphasis now on practical things like belted tires on transport bikes which is great. Back in my bike selling says we always did push tire liners as an upgrade at purchase time. Nothing demoralizes a new rider as much as a flat a couple days into "getting into riding". The next most common was people coming in because their bike had been stolen, often because the shop didn't spend any time teaching them how to lock it properly. "You mean I shouldn't have locked it just by the quick release front wheel?"

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  14. Yes! I think this is such a great post! I have never been a lycra-clad 'serious' cyclist but have been a cycling commuter for years at different stages of my life. My current bike is an Electra Townie Go e-bike and some of the features I like best are: robust tyres (zero punctures in 1.5 years and rarely need inflating), built-in powerful dynamo lights front and rear, very strong built-in rear rack. It also helps that the bike makes me smile when I see it, and when I ride it. I'd been a non-cyclist for a decade or so but this bike has me joyfully back on the road. The only thing from your list I lacked was the knowledgeable dealer... it was the only e-bike in a big 'serious' cyclist shop and they had no idea what they were selling. So I had to do my own research. In any case I completely agree with your list!

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  15. Puncture proof tires are the least of issues involved in keeping a newbie interested in cycling for transportation.

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    1. I sincerely believe it is right up there with issues of infrastructure and all that.

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    2. my anecdata have a large sample of bikes not being ridden because at some time they got a puncture that is yet to be fixed.

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  16. It's all about the amount of effort to pedal a bike. Make it light with good wheels, don't worry about the add-ons because they are easy as one progresses. Like your last post, it's not about how one looks, it's about the proper fit.

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  17. Quality inner tubes she wrote. That would be #1 on my list as well. Likely none present but Spin and myself have seen such a thing as a quality inner tube. Quality inner tubes were made by Goodyear Tire & Rubber in Akron, Ohio. Dunlop made some too, if you see the one with the deep bas-relief portrait of John Boyd Dunlop that's a good tube.

    By the fireplace I have my owned since new 1958/9 Schwinn Spitfire with 20" wheels. It has the original tube in the front tire. It has two Bonded patches on it. Ten children grew up on that bike. The front tire is a Goodyear as well, I believe the second tire on that wheel. The rear wheel has had a few tubes and tires, the Goodyear tube in there might be 70s. Carlisle rear tire from early 80s. Those tires had no special armor or belting, there was far more glass on the road before deposit laws and before alternate packaging, and they didn't flat. As an adult I have had the bike up to 30mph (native gearing) and those tires are pretty quick. No shortcoming, just quality.

    Best current tube is Michelin. Good enough to seek them out, not even in the same league as a Goodyear. Availability of quality tubes would make every cyclist's life better, not just novices.

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    1. I am not sure what the deal is with inner tubes these days. Most on the market just seem to be shockingly poor quality, splitting at the seam if you so much as breath on them. Some even come pre-split! Jan Heine has a post about this [here], and my experience has been similar to his - including coming to trust Schwalbe the most. Though I don't remember now whether I've tried Michelin.

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    2. I've landed on Michelins as well. I've not tried Schwalbe, but I have no doubts they are good if they're in the same league as their tires. I've also decided that I'll try Panasonic tubes, as I am similarly assuming (hoping) that the quality will be on par with their tires.

      I started riding in the '70s and I don't recall ever patching a tube as a kid. I remember the Goodyear tubes, I'd pump up the tires maybe once every couple months. You can't find that kind of performance for any kind of money these days. Not too long ago, I found a pretty decent deal on "super heavy duty, thorn proof" tubes, so I bought half a dozen of them. They weighed about 10 pounds each (exaggerating) and the rubber was as thick as I remember the tubes from my childhood being. I was so excited at the prospect of having tubes that wouldn't suck! Except that all but one of the tubes failed immediately at the stem, where they separated as soon as air was pumped in.
      If I come across a tube that doesn't fail at a seam or the stem, I hold on to it until it becomes more patch than tube.


      Wolf.

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    3. Michelin and Schwalbe have the exact same list of defects as other tubes, they just roll a while longer before failure.
      Splits, dimples/pinholes at the valve reinforcement that lead to tears, all manner of incomplete attachment of the valve. In the link to Heine he complains of his new Michelin tube that failed after 1000 kilometers of PBP. It has been ten years since I had a rear wheel tube that lasted longer inside a skinny tire. For most of those years skinny has meant 700x28.

      With wider tires and lower pressure tubes will last longer. If you are personally lightweight tubes will last longer. If you ride slowly or enjoy perfect pavement tubes will last longer. If you are heavy, ride fast, live with potholes, you don't have a chance. The one accommodation that makes any difference is you must match tube size to tire size. In past it was acceptable and common to put a 700x23 tube in a 700x28 tire. Or in a 32. Or in a 35. If you try that now the tube will last just long enough to get to the LBS and buy more tubes.

      None of the defects listed above existed in any tubes before the mid 1990s. Tubes did not split. Valves were always attached properly. The current litany of tube failure was simply unknown.

      I keep trying other tubes hoping against hope. And come back to Michelin. It is faint praise indeed, I can report I have never encountered a Michelin that would not hold air when new from the box.

      Tubular tires still contain good tubes. They are comparatively short-lived, if in 2000 miles on a rear tire I am spared purchase of 3 or 4 or 5 tubes it starts to make sense. Oh yes, it no longer makes any sense at all to patch tubes. Splits and valve failures are not patchable. In the uncommon event of a puncture, the tube will be failing for other reasons soon anyway.

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    4. Like anonymous and Wolf said up there, tubes used to be better. I swear, when I was a boy(OMG, here it comes...) they were stretchier, they always came out of the box with a useful amount of talc already on them, and they smelled like new mowed clover! Well not the clover bit, but seriously, to have a defective NEW tube was a remarkable thing. If we got a bad one in an order we would ABSOLUTELY return it to the wholesaler who would ABSOLUTELY want to see it and give us a credit. Now they just seem to try to make them so cheap as to be like Peanuts, you just toss the bad ones on the floor and grab another out of the bin.

      Since so many new tubes either leak right out of the box or fail at a seam or the base of the stem in a very few miles You'd think more people would do like Wolf and cherish the good ones and patch 'em instead of rolling the dice with a new one.

      If you want Strong Willed, Dependable tubes instead of Sorry-Assed Leaky ones, do what I do; Pick up the tubes other people throw away when they get a flat, and repair them. If they got 300 air tight miles out of it before riding over a nail then it was demonstrably a good one. No thin spots, defective seams or poorly attached valves that are invisible before installing. I get them out of the trash at the LBS(I tell them I make Adult Evening Wear out of them so they don't know what I'm up to and think I'm weird), and sometimes from the side of the road. After the Club Century last Sunday there were at least a half dozen first rate candidates in the recycle bin. If I didn't have 30 of them in 5 sizes at home already I would have helped myself to several that fit my bikes.

      This sounds like Dickensian B.S. but when I was a little kid we got most of our bike parts used from a scrapyard a mile from our house. It was cheaper and had better parts than the Western Auto store in town as long as you knew what to look for, and the thing to look for was a dead Schwinn. They had the best Chains, Pedals, stems etc. But especially Tires and Tubes. To find a junk Schwinn with it's original tires in good shape was a big deal, but even if the tires were shot we'd try to get the tubes. In a world of Cactus, Thorntrees and Goatheads we learned pretty quickly what tubes were worth patching and when we got our hands on one with the threaded brass valve stem from a 50s Schwinn we hung on to it till we skidded clear through the tire and ground a chunk out of the tube itself before putting something newer in it's place.

      Lot's of stuff is better now, but not tubes.

      Spindizzy

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    5. Two of the three roadsters we've had through Friedrich Heights have borne original tubes. A 1960 Hercules (Dunlop) and a 1979 Raleigh (Raleigh branded, manufacturer not known.) Both sets still hold air well, though are now hung up as spares. Schwalbes seem to hold air as well as the antiques. No other tubes I have tried will keep filled as long.

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  18. Interesting choice of photographs to accompany this sermon. Female, pink bike with cream colored tires, so I'm thinking this is about telling manufactures to find ways to connect with this population? Dunno...

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    1. Well, keep in mind the author is female - so for me women are the default, and not some special category.

      The bike is a Bobbin Birdie, a model I probably recommend most often to new cyclists looking for an upright transport bicycle at a budget pricepoint. Extremely high "retention factor." Followed closely by Brooklyn Bicycle.

      The specific bicycle pictured is a demo bike that Bobbin had sent me for review this summer. I asked for pink, because I usually get neutral colours and wanted something different. Meanwhile, my friend Lisa actually bought the demo bike after trying it.

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    2. Bearing in mind a "female" bike can easily be ridden by a man – or a woman wearing trousers – but a "male" bike cannot be ridden conveniently by a woman wearing a long skirt – or a man wearing a kilt, lava-lava, lunghi, etc – then a loop, mixte or other step-through frame seems to be the most universal transport frame design. It seems the manufacturers of scooters and mopeds, from Lambretta to Honda, know this too.

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    3. I'm female as well and still thought it an interesting choice. Yesterday I was waiting on a park bench during a high traffic commuting period and watched cyclists go by…The majority were transportation riders and it was roughly half male and half female and all ages. After reading this I was curious about the choice of bike and any observations I could make the riders. I did not see a single upright bike, in fact in the entire day I only saw one and the woman pedaling it looked the least happy of all riders observed. I don't think she was going far and I'm glad judging my her labored and uncomfortable look. I thought about an upright for my first bike and after trying them decided against it in favor of something a little lighter and more efficient, after all it was going to be my main transportation machine. I also purchased my bike locally which means I got to know the friendly people in the shop who have been extremely helpful with any and all issues involved with getting around, day to day, via my bike. To me that's a high retention factor. I also noticed most bikes were fairly simple, few had fenders and if they did they were add ons. Clothes were comfortable with about half cycle specific and half not (which, btw, knowing one is going to spend a lot more time outdoors and moving about means clothing choice can also enhance or diminish a new riders retention factor) but all looked at one with their bikes.

      I'd like to convince everyone to get rid of their cars and make cycling their main mode of transportation. I think theres lot's of room for better designed bikes for those riding daily in the five to twenty mile range. And I believe if one makes this choice a proper fitting bike that get's along with your style and needs is essential. It's not always a pleasant activity (winds, rain, traffic) and bikes need upkeep to stay happy but the rewards are so worth it.

      But, yeah, I was surprised by the lack of upright bikes as commuter choices and surprised by this happy place photo as the choice for this topic….I trust your friend is enjoying her new bike whether for daily transportation or just getting out on nice days.

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  19. I 100% agree with the suggestion of puncture-proof/upgraded tires on off-the-shelf bicycles in this category. It seems ludicrous to me that manufacturers put the cheapest tires available on entry/commuter/first-time-rider type of bicycles. People who don't ride really don't understand how important good tires are.

    A family member visited last year and as we were walking down the alley behind my home, I commented about all of the broken glass (we have a particular neighbor who seems to enjoy breaking all of his bottles in the alley for some reason - which is another subject entirely) and I mentioned that when on my bike, I tend to enter/exit from the opposite direction because I've received flats due to the glass. His surprised response was, "Glass can puncture bicycle tires?" Truly, when people don't ride, they don't understand that road debris is frequently a hazard to the tires of a bike.

    I've recently taken on a part-time gig at a bike shop and we had someone come in just a week ago who purchased her bike from the shop the week prior. She hadn't been riding it because she got a flat and had no idea what to do with it (fortunately, she's related to the shop owner, so it made sense to bring it by). I assured her that it isn't complicated to fix and that with practice she would be able to do it herself just as easily, reinforcing this fact by sharing that I am one of the least inept people when it comes to repairs on a bicycle and I am capable of completing the task. We even chatted briefly about puncture-resistant tubes, tire liners, and yes, better quality tires. Her response was much like the individual you encountered, and she wondered why they would put low-quality tires on a new bicycle.

    I think it's just an assumption that when we buy something new, it will be perfect in every way - because it's new and it should be. Setting new riders up for failure with inferior tires and/or tubes is a horrible way to encourage people who don't ride to start or continue to ride. Yes, the tires could be changed out by the owner, but it's really not something a new rider is going to think about. S/he is just going to assume that it's ready to roll as is. As a consumer (and even someone who is well aware that I can change the tires out if I desire), I'd much rather pay a few extra dollars initially and have something usable.

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  20. Manufacturers don't care about what you call retention factor. They only care about moving product. Once the sale is done, it's move on to the next one.

    Puncture proof tires would be hard rubber without tubes.

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  21. Yes! Please quit putting crappy tires on bicycles! I know so many people who never rode again after their first flat.

    People also do need to be shown how to use a pump and a pressure gauge. I remember my friend's really lovely Raleigh Sports. She basically never checked the tires. One day a bike shop pumped up her tires and she kept telling me what a huge difference it made. I gave her a pump and pressure gauge.

    Tubes and tires are the first thing I learned to pay attention to when I bought my first adult bicycle (a Trek MB, about $500). The very first ride, 10 minutes in, nail, poof! My ex-husband, bless him, said "Cool! You get to practice patching a tube!" So, yes. good skill to have.

    In 2009, when I switched exclusively to cycling to get around, I quickly learned to replace the crap stock tubes and tires on every single bike. Even a used bike with "brand new tubes and tires." Sorry, I don't believe you, and I hate flats. Yes, I love Schwalbe Marathons (and Fat Franks). I have had one flat because a Marathon is no match for a nail and another because the tube in one of my FFs went.

    I bought a Rivendell Cheviot last year and insisted that it be built with Marathons. The bike shop owner asked me why I would ruin the ride of such a lovely bike with such awful tires. She wanted me to put Compass tires on it. You know what ruins my daily commute? Flats.

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    1. Modern sealants are a very viable alternative to such flat-resistant but horribly wooden tires like the Marathon. I live in Goathead Country (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tribulus_terrestris) and used to buy patches by the box of 100 -- 5 to 7 flats a week with such belted (but decent!) tires as the Schwalbe Kojak was routine. When I installed Challenge Parigi Roubaix, a very light and supple and nice riding tire, I literally fixed 50 flats during the first week.

      With Orange Seal (the current benchmark) or Stan's sealant in my tubes, I can ride even lighter, thinner tires (Compass Elk Pass) on our local dirt without problem; I got my first flat of the year on the Elk Passes the other day after riding on our acequia* access roads, but I simply pumped the tire up and spun it, and the sealant repaired the hole.

      For dirt tires, I use the even lighter (360 grams actual for a 700C X 50 mm tire) Schwalbe Furious Fred, these tubeless, with 4 oz of sealant. After parking the dirt bike after my bosque** ride yesterday, I saw dozens of little wet spots where the Orange Seal had leaked, then sealed, the thorn punctures.

      *https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acequia

      **https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosque

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    2. +1 on Orange Seal. I use it in all my tubulars(NEVER use Stans in tubulars, it eventually dries out clogging your stem and permanently gluing the tube to itself)and haven't had to fix a flat for over 2 years. I'm treating Sew-ups more and more like general purpose tires. It's SOOO good.

      Spindizzy

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  22. Bikes on a budget is an appropriate topic for my situation. This past summer I moved from one neighborhood to another and did not own a car but had a part-time job. A lot of people use bikes and the roads seemed good so I thought I'd give it a try but did not have much money to spend. When I asked a friend about what kind of bike to buy and told him how much I had to spend he just laughed and said I wouldn't find anything good for that price but also said he'd be happy loan me an old bike so I could give it a try and see if it all might work. He set it up and it had a rack and some old bags on it so I could carry stuff….I had no idea how important that was! I used the bike all summer and when I was with friends it could easily have the front wheel removed and thrown in the car so it was always workable when meeting up with drivers and it was late at nigh or me just being lazy ;) I was getting hooked at how workable this was! He was right, when it came time to return it and look for my own bike the shops had nothing close to it in my price range. I tried their bikes but did not like any of them. Many assumed that because I'm female and this was a first purchase I might like their woman specific bikes but no, I wanted one like his! Easily done for $1,100 which was about twice what I wanted to spend. My friend pointed me towards a couple recycled cycles bike shops and I found my gem for the right price. If you're going to use a bike for serious transportation I think the best quality you can afford is wise but it's so much cheaper to go used for a bike that actually turned out better than my friend's. I also added a rack and was gifted the old panniers, so it's now perfect. I don't know what manufactures can do to satisfy my needs for $500 and I'm glad I took the route of borrowing a bike first and then finding a good recycled bike (and local shop) for my first purchase. Just thought I'd share if other readers are in a similar situation. I think everyone has different needs and circumstances when considering a first bike. Doing some research, testing some bikes, and having good friends worked for me ;)

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  23. Wide, cushy saddles and an upright riding position make "comfort bikes" painfully, frustratingly impossible ride for any distance at a reasonable speed (yet they are "the most comfortable" in the showroom). Dealers should be educating buyers to ease into riding and expect their butts, necks, and muscles will need time to adapt to an efficient riding position and saddle.

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  24. When renovating my kitchen I was advised to get an estimate and then double it…I think it's the same with bikes but the up side to bikes is they pay for themselves within a year!! That is something to think about.

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  25. I'd rather hear about bikes you think are terrible in this price range. My list is long for all sorts of reasons.

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  26. I'm quite surprised to hear of any manufacturer providing halogen lamps on their new bikes. I thought that LED lighting had completely taken over the market. It's available at all price points and feature sets these days, so what's their excuse for going with obsolete lighting tech? Personally, I've gone completely over to USB-rechargeable and very bright LED lights and haven't looked back (albeit with an occasional wistful glance at dynohubs and dynamo lamps...)

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  27. It used to be much simpler. If you lived in the States and wanted a good quality transportation bike you bought a Schwinn. There was no possibility of disappointment because everyone knew just what to expect from a Schwinn. Everyone knew how to maintain them. They came with good tires and tubes.

    If you lived in UK or Boston you bought a Raleigh Sports. If lighting and a rack were important you bought the Superbe. And again, you could not be disappointed, you knew what you were getting. And the quality was definitely good. Your local Raleigh agent would care for your cycle reliably.

    In France you got the Peugeot. In Italy the Bianchi or the Umberto Dei. And they were good.

    Now we can have anything we fancy. The price of that is you must be an expert or the bike is unserviceable. And together with anything we fancy there is a load of components made the other side of the planet by workers or slaves who have no idea what that bike part is and what you will expect from it. That Schwinn was made at Cortland & Kostner from 1020 steel that came all the way from the South Side of town, at US Steel South Works. The tires and tubes were from Akron. The Bendix was from Pennsylvania. The Ashtabula crank was from Ashtabula, Ohio. The spokes and pedals were brought over from Germany, Union made nice spokes. The wheels were laced by people who rode those wheels. And so forth. All the people involved in making a Schwinn wanted you to have a nice ride. They knew what they were building and that they would see you on the road. So we gave up a lot when we decided we wanted the world at our fingertips. Together with infinite choice is caveat emptor and a requirement for a whole lot of user knowledge. Make the best of it.

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    1. Perhaps, but by the time I was born in the mid 70's Raleigh were turning out some pretty ordinary bikes.

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    2. Exactly. That is just when the old paradigm breathed it's last. So for your entire life buying a bike has been a scuffle.

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    3. Simon, I think that is a bit unfair to Raleigh.

      True, they had corners cut. But they were still fit for purpose, practical bikes, so long as you understand they were old technology.

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  28. I have purchased numerous new bikes for my wife and I over the last four decades and did not experience tire or tube problems until about 15 years ago. OEMs at some point started to skimp or omit rim strips/tape. We experienced several flats on brand new bikes (mid price range) and realized our bikes were being delivered without rim strips causing tube failures. I have the tools and experience that a neophyte does not to handle such situations. I now always insist that my LBS check for, and install rim strips/tape if insufficient, prior to delivery of any new bike that I purchase.

    Simple omissions such as this must discouraging for a new cyclist.

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  29. I couldn't agree more about the tyre issue for beginners. A year and a half ago I purchased a Bobbin Brownie and began commuting (2ks there, 2ks back) to work whenever there wasn't snow/ice/rain. Since then, I also started riding in light rain and noticed the original tyres are a bit slippy and ordered in better tyres and inner tubes - which sit in my garage while I try to get up the courage to put them on the bike... I've watched the videos, I've talked to people but ..this is clearly a big step for me...

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    1. If you practice putting the old ones back on and off a couple times you won't have to worry about messing up the new ones, in fact, after doing just one you might realize you have "the knack" and go strait to the new ones. I hope the new ones don't fight you but I bet you beat them even if they do.

      COURAGE! You've done harder things, I promise...

      Spindizzy

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    2. Thank you for the encouragement! Either this week... or wait for my son to come home from Uni....

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  30. I agree. The worst thing about cheaper bicycles is the very poor quality tyres which cannot hold much pressure, are prone to punctures and have very high rolling resistance.

    I have toured the Netherlands a few times on a cheap hybrid bike and changed only the saddle and put Schwalbe marathons and high pressure rim tape on, to much improve things.

    The other major problem area in my experience is low-end 6 speed freewheel derailleurs. They do not run straight and are difficult to adjust because there is several millimeters sideways movement as the freewheel turns (you can see it oscillate with the wheel freewheeling - which means you need that horrid disc to prevent the chain going into the spokes). This is not a problem on properly made five and six speed freewheels from the 1980s. So you can replace the freewheel. I ended up converting mine to 8sp cassette using a mech from my parts bin (plus new left shifter and chainset) and have done thousands of km since.








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  31. If you are in the UK, I have been very impressed with the Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative range. Good tyres, well made wheels, and very all-round usable bikes. They're alloy instead of steel, but that's not the end of the world unless you're a bike nerd.

    I am a former bike mechanic. I am dismayed by how many expensive bikes are not really designed to be used. Case in point; I rebuilt the wheels on a £1200 off-the-peg touring bike the other day. They were dreadful. A touring bike needs stronger wheels than anything else, and these were machine built with cheap, nasty spokes.

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