In case you aren’t aware, there is a company called Bikes Direct that sells bicycles right to your front door without the hassle of going to your neighborhood shop, and at a discount to
Here’s the pitch: There are literally hundreds of models to choose from, all at around 50% off MSRP, with free shipping and no sales tax! 80%-90% assembled, only takes 15 or 20 minutes to put together.
While in theory this sounds like a good idea, I have two major issues with this business model.
First, most people who buy bikes from BikesDirect.com are simply looking for the cheapest possible bike and don’t have the slightest experience or qualifications to assemble a bike from the state they are shipped. Many are too cheap or stubborn to pay a professional to assemble it for them.
Second, because BikesDirect.com owns all the brands they sell, they can jack up the ‘MSRP’ to twice what a bike of that quality would actually cost, discount it 50% and sell it for more than it’s actually worth. This makes bicycles at legitimate bicycle shops seem ‘overpriced’, even though local bicycle shops offer much more than BikesDirect.com can.
These bikes are received by the customers in exactly the same condition that a bike shop would from a manufacturer. Here’s what happens when our bike shop receives a new bicycle: It takes an experienced professional bike builder an average of one hour to assemble a new bike. It is then checked over thoroughly by a second mechanic before going onto the sales floor, and before it is delivered to a customer gets checked a third time. At our shop, the bike is completely gone through, including but not limited to:
-adjusting and regreasing hubs and headset
-aligning the derailer hanger
-pulling and regreasing the bottom bracket
-truing, tensioning and stressing the wheels
-pulling, greasing, reinstalling the cassette
-lubricating all cables
-setting brake pad position and brake cable tension, pre-stressing cables
-setting derailer limits and B tension, stressing cables
When the customer tries to put their bike together by themselves or with a friend who ‘knows all about bikes’ and it inevitably turns into a horrible death trap, they bring it to us and expect that it will cost no more than $20 to finish. They usually just roll it in and ask if we can ‘adjust the derailers’ on their Motobecane, Gravity, Dawes, Windsor or Mercier. This is a dead giveaway, because BikesDirect.com owns these brands and is the only place to get one.
We charge $85 for a bicycle assembled from a box. 75% of the time when I’ve told this to a customer, they expect a discount because the bike is already mostly together. Not really, it’s actually more work because I’ll have to take it all apart again and start over, because we check everything.
Several times I’ve seen customers bring their bike into the shop and noticed that one of the following is wrong:
-fork installed backwards
-handlebars installed upside down
-brake pads hitting tires
-brakes missing a critical part rendering the entire system inoperable
And these are just things that I notice WITHOUT touching the bike. Most of the time these people have no idea that anything is even wrong. Who can blame them? They aren’t trained mechanics and most have no experience assembling a relatively complex machine like a modern bicycle.
The other situation goes something like this: A customer brings in his week old bike that has the drive-side crank stripped. He needs a new crankset AND bottom bracket because the OEM crankset is so cheap and obscure that we don’t have replacement parts. With parts, tax and labor he ends up spending up to $200 to make his bike functional again, negating any savings from buying his bicycle direct and still having no service warranty.
BikesDirect.com has bought the rights to several brands that were either defunct or struggling, and slapped their decals onto bargain basement Taiwanese or Chinese frames picked out of a catalog with a mix of cheap to fancy parts. They advertise an MSRP that is outrageous and then ‘discount’ them to a price that seems amazing. There is no actual MSRP, because there is no other place to buy these bikes!
Any reputable bicycle shop includes some level of after-the-sale service, at minimum sizing the customer to their bike and doing an initial tune up after a few hundred miles to make sure everything is settling in properly. BikesDirect.com gives some guidelines for sizing and setup, and then you’re on your own! Any money you save by skipping the middleman we as a shop get back in assembly, service and fitting costs. Overall, unless you do all of your own maintenance and know your fit numbers, it’s a bad deal to purchase one of these bicycles.
I certainly believe in a direct-to-consumer business model. When I worked at Rivendell, we would fully assemble and check each bicycle, minimally disassemble it and carefully pack it. The bike IS ready to ride in 15-20 minutes. The same goes for PUBLIC bikes, who I’ve also done work for.
The main problem I have with BikesDirect.com is that they are putting products into the hands of people who are unqualified to safely assemble them, while undercutting legitimate bike shops and driving down the perceived ‘acceptable’ price of bicycles.