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Buy the Cheap Bike: A Lesson in Simplicity

Posted by on Aug 28, 2012 | 37 Comments

My friend Trisha is on the brink of moving to California. In the process, she’s buying a bike and asked her Facebook friends for a bike suggestion. The suggestions were predictable- buy a Trek, Specialized, Cannondale… whatever. Many recommended going to a bike shop to get fitted.

I recommended a Huffy from Walmart.

Was I serious? A bike from Walmart?!?

Indeed!

Here’s my rationale:

1. You save money. The bike will cost a fraction of the cost of even a used higher quality bike. For a hobo that values experiences over ‘stuff’, that savings is important.

2. Less chance of it getting stolen. Thieves aren’t idiots. They steal things of value.

3. The crappy Walmart assemblers probably won’t adjust it right. I worked in a bike shop for seven years. Learning to adjust derailleurs, brakes, and spokes is an invaluable skill to develop. It’s not rocket surgery and is something anyone is capable of accomplishing. What better way to learn than out of necessity?

4. Self-handicapping is a great way to learn. I’ve talked to a lot of novice golfers (or runners, kayakers… whatever) that spend a small fortune on high end clubs the size of their head but still sort of suck. They’re replacing the skills of their sport with gear that essentially hides their lack of ability. They would have been better served buying a crappy set of wooden clubs and ancient irons that would have forced them to improve their skill set, then go for the high end equipment. Shortcuts have become the American way.

5. Going the shitty route breaks us of our need to buy approval. Our consumerist culture teaches us to gain the approval of others by purchasing goods and services. We like expensive cars, big  houses, name brand coffee, expensive wines, clothing with designer brands, etc. because it symbolizes our success. Unfortunately it’s a cycle that leads us to buy shit we don’t need, go into debt to buy the shit, work more to keep paying the bills, and stick with a shitty job we don’t like because we can’t afford to quit. When people ask us how we managed to break free to travel and have cool adventures, breaking this cycle was #1 on the list. Nothing helps break that cycle than tooling around on a hot pink Huffy.

There you have it- five reasons to buy the Huffy. Unfortunately most will read the list and automatically build counter-arguments to each point. We are, after all, rationalizing creatures.

In Other News

Today is the official release date of The Barefoot Running Book! If you’re looking for holiday or birthday presents for all your friends and relatives, run out to the local bookstore and pick up all the copies in stock! ;-)

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37 Comments

  1. Dan
    September 2, 2012

    Your Rationale 5′s mention of Consumerist Culture — imho, was set up by central bankers to enslave the masses. Politics is just a sideshow.

    ——————————————
    “If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and their corporations which grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”
    –President Thomas Jefferson —1787

    “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. Already they have raised up a moneyed aristocracy that has set the government at defiance. The issuing power (of money) should be taken away from the banks and restored to the people to whom it properly belongs.
    –President Thomas Jefferson

    “All the perplexities, confusion and distress in America arise, not from the defects of the Constitution or confederation, not from want of honor or virtue, so much as from the downright ignorance of the nation, of coin, credit and circulation.”
    –President John Adams

    “There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by sword. The other is by debt.”
    –President John Adams —1735-1826

    “History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling the money and its issuance.”
    - President James Madison

    “The refusal of King George to allow the colonies to operate an honest money system, which freed the ordinary man from the clutches of the money manipulators, was probably the prime cause of the revolution.”
    -Benjamin Franklin

    “I care not what puppet is placed on the throne of England to rule the Empire. The man that controls Britain’s money supply controls the British Empire. And I control the money supply.”
    -Baron Nathan Mayer Rothschild —of the famous world banking families of UK, Austria, France, Naples, and officially the US since the start of the Federal Reserve Bank in 1913 and that have owned at least ½ of the worlds wealth for the last three hundred years.

    “The bold effort the present bank had made to control the Government, the distress it had wantonly produced … are but premonitions of the fate that awaits the American people should they be deluded into a perpetuation of this institution, or the establishment of another like it.”
    –President Andrew Jackson

    “… you will yet find there is a constant effort to induce the General Government to go beyond the limits of its taxing power and to impose unnecessary burdens upon the people. Many powerful interests are continually at work to procure heavy duties on commerce and to swell the revenue beyond the real necessities of the public service, and the country has already felt the injurious effects of their combined influence.” “The paper-money system and its natural associations–monopoly and exclusive privileges–have already struck their roots too deep in the soil, and it will require all your efforts to check its further growth and to eradicate the evil. The men who profit by the abuses and desire to perpetuate them will continue to besiege the halls of legislation in the General Government as well as in the States, and will seek by every artifice to mislead and deceive the public servants. It is to yourselves that you must look for safety and the means of guarding and perpetuating your free institutions. In your hands is rightfully placed the sovereignty of the country, and to you everyone placed in authority is ultimately responsible.”
 Farewell Address 1837
    –President Andrew Jackson

    “You are a den of vipers! I intend to rout you out, and by the Eternal God I will rout you out. If the people only understood the rank injustice of our money and banking system, there would be a revolution before morning.”
    –President Andrew Jackson The only president to totally payoff national debt to banks….campaign slogan –“Jackson and No Banks” –temporarily ended control of central bank. Assignation attempt was by Richard Lawson who boasted about being hired by European world banks. On Jackson’s tombstone quotes “I Killed the Banks”

    “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in the high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the REPUBLIC IS DESTROYED.” “The money power preys upon the nation in times of peace and conspires against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, more selfish than bureaucracy.”
    –President Abraham Lincoln

    “The Government should create, issue, and circulate all the currency and credit needed to satisfy the spending power of the Government and the buying power of consumers. The privilege of creating and issuing money is not only the supreme prerogative of Government, but it is the Governments creative opportunity. By the adoption of these principles…the taxpayers will be saved immense sums of interest. Money will cease to be the master and become the servant of humanity”
    –President Abraham Lincoln—only president other than JFK to start his own currency, the “Greenback”, to phase out privately owned central banks. He used his currency to fund the Civil War instead of borrowing from the Central Banks at interest. Then he was of course assassinated.

    “Give me control over a nations money supply, and I care not who makes its laws.”
    –Baron M.A. Rothschild—of the infamous international banking family that eventually started the Federal Reserve Bank—died 1874

    “Whosoever controls the volume of money in any country is absolute master of all industry and commerce…And when you realize that the entire system is very easily controlled, one way or another, by a few powerful men at the top, you will not have to be told how periods of inflation and depression originate”
    –President James Garfield —assassinated months later in 1891

    “Before passage of this Act, the New York Bankers could only dominate the reserves of New York. Now, we are able to dominate the bank reserves of the entire country.”
    –Sen. Nelson Aldrich —after the re-instating of a private central bank the Federal Reserve 1913

    “This Act establishes the most gigantic trust on earth. When the President signs this bill, the invisible government by the Monetary Power will be legalized. The people may not know it immediately, but the day of reckoning is only a few years removed… the worst legislative crime of the ages is perpetrated by this banking bill.”
    –Rep. Charles Lindbergh (R-MN)

    “Some of the biggest men in the United States, in the field of commerce and manufacture, are afraid of something. They know that there is a power somewhere so organized, so complete, so pervasive, that they had better not speak above their breath when they speak in condemnation of it.”
    Before his death in 1924 in reference to signing Federal Reserve banking bill—”I am a most unhappy man. I have unwittingly ruined my country. A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit. Our system of credit is concentrated. The growth of the nation, therefore, and all our activities are in the hands of a few men. We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated Governments in the civilized world no longer a Government by free opinion, no longer a Government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a Government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.” –
    –President Woodrow Wilson –who finally signed over the bill, giving authority to the newly re-established Federal Reserve in 1913

  2. Adrian
    August 30, 2012

    I agree in principle but I would stay away from WalMart, SportCheck and other sporting goods stores. They deliver really inferior gear for the money. There should be bike stores in your town that sell inexpensive bikes that will give you a much better bargain.

    I picked up a $300 bike from one of these stores and have been getting a lot of use out of it. Since then I found several other advantages:

    - the low price means that it’s harder to “go wrong”. If you spending a thousand or more you might be spending money on features you don’t care about or don’t need. You aren’t paying for frills on a cheap bike.

    - eliminates indecision. With expensive bikes there are a lot of options, styles, add-ons and features but there are far fewer choices with cheap bikes. You’re buying replaceable transportation, period.

    - modern bike tech is pretty durn good. If you don’t go the very bottom of the barrel (like WalMart!) you can get a reliable, decent bike for very little money that will last just about as long as a more expensive one and will get you around town with ease. The difference between a $300 bike and a $1,300 bike is surprisingly subtle. (I’ve seen bike seats that cost more than my entire bike!)

    - if you do decide that your cheap beater isn’t good enough for everything, your purchase of a more expensive bike will be better informed. And your cheap bike can still be a good commuter. If it gets grimy or stolen, there’s a lot less harm done than to your shiny new carbon-fibre bike.

    • Emily G
      August 30, 2012

      looking for the *like* button

  3. Hurley
    August 29, 2012

    I worked in many bike shops through college. Interesting perspective. I reccommend a good retro bike off of some site. I bought a 1997 schwinn mtn bike for the same price as a huffy. I adjusted, lubed, and cleaned. It loves the trails. This is old, when schwinn was good. Most people spend 2 grand on a bike and hang it up in the garage. Ten years later it isn’t woth a dime.

  4. Mike | Homeless On Wheels
    August 29, 2012

    Great post, and refreshing to read what with so many bloggers trying to convince people that buying top-shelf is always the best plan in the long run. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who’s smart enough to see the value in buying cheap and doesn’t give a damn if my bike (computer, phone, clothes, whatever) don’t have the “right” name on them.

    The same philosophy could be applied to a lot more than just bikes. I try to spend as little as necessary on most things, especially if it is something new I’m trying (see my unicycle comment earlier). I waste less money if I lose interest, or else I learn enough to know exactly what I really need for my next purchase of the same item.

  5. Barefoot TJ
    August 29, 2012

    I have a Walmart Roadmaster. :-)

  6. Pawsy
    August 29, 2012

    I wish I read this before I bought an expensive bike a few years ago that I don’t even ride that often!

    I might get a walmart bike and have it tuned up at my local bike shop because I don’t have the patience to learn how to fix it myself.

  7. Barefoot Running University » Don’t Hide Behind Fancy Tools
    August 29, 2012

    [...] In my last post, I commented on my friend Trisha’s decision to purchase a bike. As far as I know, Trisha isn’t a hard-core cyclist, wouldn’t be using the bike in extreme conditions, and has seemingly internalized to value of experiences over material goods. My suggestion was to buy a cheap bike at Walmart and use the money saved for an awesome adventure. [...]

  8. karen
    August 29, 2012

    It’s not so bad to go cheap-it depends on your level of riding skills. I rode a bottom line mountain bike that I purchased from a local bike shop for years, about 12 years, and eventually put some road tires on it so I could ride it in our local tri at the YMCA! This year I upgraded to an entry level road bike and I love it. My humble opinion would be to go to a local bike shop-the staff is usually very knowledgeable.

  9. Ben W
    August 28, 2012

    Buying an older bike used is a much better way to go. But, that’s an easy answer. If you know what you are looking for and can find a bike with a decent frame and components that are going to last, Walmart will have a cheaper price.

    There are as many styles of riding a bike as running. I don’t think there is a “right answer” that is going to fit all.

    As for getting stolen, I think more new walmart bikes will get stolen than older looking better quality bikes.

  10. Janice Hill
    August 28, 2012

    Don’t you work for one of the most expensive shoe makers? Which means you must think it’s worth it to spend ridiculous amounts of money on “minimalist” shoes. Pretty sure I’ve heard you say it’s money well spent to get the “better” shoe. Why can’t that be true in other areas as well?

  11. niki_in_france
    August 28, 2012

    sorry Jason this time I have to disagree… for stuff like this, I try to buy stuff that is ‘just good enough’, it lets me do what I want to do, but nothing is wasted. I recently bought a MTB, spend about 800E, and this is perfect, its a great bike, I put 70-100km on it a week, but I am no competitive cyclist, so its not a carbon frame, if I was to save a kg or two, probably cheaper to loose them from my body than the bike!

  12. MB
    August 28, 2012

    Buying a bike in Walmart is big-bike-fashion-no-no. Bikes should be purchased in bike stores to help people who really love them.

  13. Emily G
    August 28, 2012

    it depends on the needs of a person. for the casual rider like myself, the Target brand mountain bike works just fine, except for the tires which were replaced with road slicks.

  14. Gabe
    August 28, 2012

    Why not buy used? There’s plenty of good deals on used bikes. Check kijiji or any other board. Plus, it’s environmentally friendlier to keep a bike running than to get a new one while a perfectly good, but older one is thrown in the garbage.

    • Jason
      August 29, 2012

      Agreed about the used bike route.

  15. Brian
    August 28, 2012

    thrift shop bikes usually start around $20.

  16. Rob Y
    August 28, 2012

    Totally disagree. I tried your route and learned: “You get what you pay for”. That Huffy I bought broke into pieces in just a few months, the single speed (fixed gear) Surly Karate Monkey I built up on my own piece meal ended up not costing a great deal more (still way more than high or even mid-end bikes) and I’m still out the $ I wasted on that Huffy. It’s ridiculous to even think you have to go “high-end” or super cheap. Why not aim towards the middle and get something that will last but still not pay an arm an leg for. And BTW, thieves WILL STEAL ANYTHING. At least you’ll have a better bike that won’t fall apart!(keep it locked up or inside if possible).

    Or you could simplify even more like I did. I don’t even ride a bike anymore, instead I picked up unicycling and feel so much more free! Maintenance is a breeze, they’re easy to travel with and for most things you can get around not all to much slower than a cruiser bike (what’s the rush?). :)

    • Jimmy N.
      August 28, 2012

      Unicycling… is that like the equivalent of minimalist biking? LOL

      • Rob Y
        August 28, 2012

        Naw, minimalist biking, to me, would be more like “old school” biking which would be fixed-gear biking. Unicycling is simply minimalist “cycling” as it’s far more reduced form of cycling as it leaves out the redundant extra training wheel. ;)

        • Jason
          August 29, 2012

          I keep forgetting about the unicycling thing. Are there any retail stores that carry them? Being on the road makes online shopping difficult.

          • Mike | Homeless On Wheels
            August 29, 2012

            A few years ago I considered trying unicycling, and in my research found a couple local bike stores with at least one uni in stock, and most bike shops will special order one if you know what you want.

            I ended up buying a cheap used one on Craigslist. I’m glad I didn’t spend much because I eventually lost interest.

          • Rob Y
            August 30, 2012

            Hmmm. With a unicycle I wouldn’t go too cheap. The real cheap ones may be such pieces of *hit that it actually makes learning very difficult! Yeah, online is probably the best way to go. There are a few unicycle stores I know about, Unicycle.com is out of Atlanta so if you find yourself around there you could visit the store. But if you do spot a unicycle around look for names like Torker, Schwinn, Nimbus and steer clear of Sun and other “no name” brands as they aren’t worth it. It is worth it to pay a bit more for better quality unicycle than it is to buy a super cheap one unless you can find a good brand that is used perhaps. The way unicycling is becoming more popular (still a nice sport for sure) you’d have no problem re-selling a middle of the line unicycle if you decide it’s not for you. Contact me offline if your need any more advice.

  17. Rob
    August 28, 2012

    Totally agree. If not Wal-mart, try Craigslist. If the bike is a commuter, go cheap. If you’re looking for something to kill the century rides on the weekend, find a neighbor that is into biking. I’m sure he, or someone he knows is looking to upgrade to the newest Specialized. The analogy to golf clubs is spot on.

  18. Jimmy N.
    August 28, 2012

    My biggest issue is durability – a typical Walmart bike might list a year or two before components will break, rust will form, wheels get bent, etc. You certainly can’t expect to do any serious mountain biking on one. So even from a purely economic standpoint you’re better off spending $300 on a bottom-end bike from a bike shop that will last 15 years rather than $100 for something that will give you a couple seasons. Not to mention that the experience will be much more enjoyable on a “real” bike.

    I do agree with your overall premise though, that buying a top-of-the-line model is unnecessary and counterproductive. It never made sense to me why people would spend thousands of dollars to save a couple grams on their chainring so that they can go out and “exercise.” Nothing wrong with a heavier bike to give you a better workout. As long as it lasts.

  19. fitz
    August 28, 2012

    “Unfortunately most will read the list and automatically build counter-arguments to each point…” Isn’t that your whole objective? Get people discussing?

    I agree with your core premise here, (contrary to my basement and garage inventory) but I disagree in this situation. I wouldn’t recommend someone who wants to learn tennis go learn how to string a racket first. Or even start a C25K program by buying water shoes from Walmart. Even if it is technically sound.

    The entry needs to be easy and buying a bike that is in constant need of repair is a big barrier. I feel in this case you are more likely recommending a $200 paperweight than a $500 bicycle.

    • Jason
      August 29, 2012

      I’d recommend the water shoes… but only after first recommending barefoot. ;-)

  20. Wiglaf
    August 28, 2012

    “We are, after all, rationalizing creatures.”

    Yes, because there are several logical reasons NOT to buy a cheap as shit bike. I’d rather buy a used rusted bike for less that was better quality but needed a bit of work and parts than buy the crap they sell at Walmart.

    • Jen
      August 28, 2012

      I 100% agree!!

    • Jason
      August 29, 2012

      See new post regarding perceived quality. ;-)

  21. Aleck
    August 28, 2012

    Have your friend check out online bike stores (bikesdirect.com is a popular one). They carry a huge selection of non-brand name frames, but with brand name components ~ easily saves 40% & no S&H or taxes.

    • Wiglaf
      August 28, 2012

      Bought a bike at bikesdirect.com. It was a good decision I don’t regret it.

      • Jason
        August 29, 2012

        I’d suggest this over Walmart.

  22. Trisha
    August 28, 2012

    Should I wait until all the copies of your book are used first, though? :-p

    • Jason
      August 29, 2012

      Yes, you’ll save money. And there’s a good chance people will highlight the important parts. You know, the part where I recommend learning to run while inebriated. :-)

  23. Dawsy
    August 28, 2012

    This is basically my rationale for running barefoot…learn to run with nothing and if I want to tweak my performance with a pair of shoes, it’s easier to do since I have a neutral base to start from and the knowledge that I’m running the way my body wants to. Nice article.