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‘Getting what you pay for’ could mean a dangerous bike

December 15, 2016

It used to be that I’d warn people, “You get what you pay for.” The admonition came when they’d tell me they were getting a great deal on a bike they’d ordered online. Recently, after checking out “the deal in a box” for several customers, I started warning people that they don’t want to “get more than they pay for,” as in more trouble.

At times, I join a lot of people who believe we have too many laws. But when I see companies making a profit while endangering the safety of people I know, I start thinking, “There ought to be a law.”

Wordsmiths, with the help of company liability lawyers, no doubt, know how to phrase things to where consumers will hear what they want to hear while missing carefully crafted disclaimers.

The problem is complicated during the holidays. Consumers lower their guard because they tend to see a bike as just another toy that their child can “play” with. Instead parents and grandparents need to see a bike for what it is: a human-powered vehicle. Please note, Chapter 7 of the Idaho motor vehicle manual is dedicated to human-powered vehicles.

Walk with me through the “danger zone” that starts with deceptive advertising. I accepted three bikes ordered online. The consumers ordered the bikes because the manufacturer wrote that, “Our bikes are 85 percent pre-assembled.” There was no mention that the 15 percent left for the consumer included properly installing the headset, handlebars, shifter and brake adjustments, etc.

Time is money which meant the manufacturer taped a few pieces of poster board on the frame and called it good. There wasn’t one piece of Styrofoam padding. Several advertisements on the outside of the boxes hyped: “loaded with value; perfect choice for recreational ride and family fun; dedicated to providing safe and durable” recreation. Supposedly, all the consumer needed were, “two adjustable wrenches, two screw drivers, one pair of pliers and one Allen wrench.”

As a certified bike mechanic, here’s what “fun” I found that awaited my customers:

n All six wheels were out of true, wobbling like bad potato chips (remember, lack of padding).

n Five of six wheel axles were too tight, acting like extra brakes.

n Derailleur adjustment piece was about to fall off one bike.

n Four of six derailleurs (one front, three rear) would not shift properly.

n Three of six directional tires were installed in the wrong direction.

n Multiple bolts were improperly torqued.

To round out the woes, I took in a fourth bike that had been purchased at a “big box” store. The purchaser took it back for a “free tune-up” shortly after purchase because their son was frustrated. You see, they had gotten “extra,” too. I found an axle cone wrench wedged into the outside of the axle. Worse yet, the wheel still wobbled. I removed the wrench, gave it to the bike owner as a “memento” and then properly, and safely, adjusted the axle.

As you might suspect, tools left in bike wheels can be a ticket to the emergency room.

I am not suggesting that everyone purchase a bike that requires one to take out a second mortgage, particularly when the bike is for a growing child. I do advocate that consumers realize that a particular bike can offer decades of exercise, recreation and chances to meet like-minded people. However, that’s only true if one is meeting people on the trails and roads, not in the emergency room.

I sometimes regret being right. Several years ago, I told a cyclist they had two choices: listen to me or meet our healthcare professionals in the ER. To my dismay, the rider was taken to the ER several hours later and had surgery.

So, please listen to me. It can save you money. If one chooses to order or buy a “cheap” bike, have a cycling friend with you to provide guidance and explain the bike’s limitations. When the bike arrives, if you’re not mechanically inclined, make sure someone with bike knowledge checks it out.