BSO record low

A post on theBSO problem attracted the attention of former rickshaw entrepreneur Jason – cycling is his middle name – Patient, who contributes this happy story… Whilst browsing for kiddy helmets on the cycling section of the TESCO website last March I noticed the attached ‘MTB’ on offer at £58 including delivery.

A post on the BSO problem attracted the attention of former rickshaw entrepreneur Jason – cycling is his middle name – Patient, who contributes this happy story…

Whilst browsing for kiddy helmets on the cycling section of the TESCO website last March I noticed the attached ‘MTB’ on offer at £58 including delivery.


I just was curious to find out if a supermarket ‘BSO’, (Bicycle Shaped Object) could be assembled to be a half decent bike. The attached is the result. Rides fine, and I’m really happy with it.
I’ve added accessories such as the subtle pink mudguards which had been in my loft for over a decade and the rack too.

cyclingly……………Jase

If you haven’t heard of Tesco – a grocery company started from a stall in Well Street Market, Hackney E9 – they are the Microsoft of grocery vendors. Microsoft are the Shimano of personal computers. Shimano make reels for fishing rods.

I quizzed Jason further on the subject of his budget ride…

“The BSO is original parts apart from saddle/seatpost and knobbly tires swapped for smooth. I added rack, mudguards.
The wheels are fine. Did a first true after bedding in and that’s it.
The steel frame tubing is seamed YUK. The matt black paint finish is pretty ‘bullet proof’.

…all good, but the sorry part is…

For anyone trying to set it up from out the box who had virtually zero cycling experience it would have been a nightmare.”

Jason combines full time employment as regional coordinator
for a cycle training company covering Northumberland, with running his famous photo library and producing top-quality images like this one…

jason@cycling-images.co.uk

…if you need nice pictures of people on bikes I suggest you contact him. The framing alone is worth the price of a new bike.

Velorution postponed

Do you remember the fixie storm of the early Twenty-first Century? The first global bike craze of the internet era? When it was raging, at it’s height, I had a crazy dream. If the idea that riding a minimal bike is cool, could cross-over with the tendency of poor, ignorant people to buy the cheapest bike – or the cheapest thing that looks like a bike – available, then something revolutionary might happen?

Do you remember the fixie storm of the early Twenty-first Century? The first global bike craze of the internet era? When it was raging, at it’s height, I had a crazy dream. If the idea that riding a minimal bike is cool, could cross-over with the tendency of poor, ignorant people to buy the cheapest bike – or the cheapest thing that looks like a bike – available, then something revolutionary might happen?
The problem with BSO’s is not that you can’t make a serviceable bike to retail for £69.99. It’s that if the bike has to look the same as one that must cost much more, the budget gets spread too thinly, cheap icing on an inedible cake. If the bike has two wheels, air tyres, brakes, pedals, cranks, chain and single sprocket or freewheel then maybe, if you economise by making tens of thousands, they might be OK. When I saw this bike in 2010……the bTwin Vitamin, made for Decathalon, I just had to buy one; a new bike for seventy quid.

It was rideable, the headset races didn’t fit the frame too well so you couldn’t eliminate all play, if you pumped the tyres up to a practical pressure they started to lift off the rim, but the brake levers and brakes were made of metal and I rode it from Surrey Quays to West Hackney via the West End without any real trouble. If I’d kept the bike I could’ve glued the races in with two-part epoxy and maybe fitted some part-worn hand-me-down tyres, but I sold it on, my curiosity satisfied.

Earlier this year I checked with the Decathlon and found the ‘Vitamin’ is no more…

Our answer to your question :
Dear Mr Field,

Thanks for your message. Unfortunately we no longer stock the Vitamin Bike, and at present there are no plans to restock.

There is no direct replacement, but I would say that our best priced bike is the RR 5.0, which is 99.99. It is a leisure mountain bike, but many people still use it for using in town. It is certainly a good bike for the price.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions.

Regards,
Paul, from your SURREY QUAYS store

…deleted presumably because it didn’t sell.

At least the suggested alternative has rigid forks but if you’re going to offer a bike for under £100 why not spend all the meager budget on essential components?

From what I know of Decathlon I presume this bike scrapes into the category ‘budget bike’? It’s not a BSO, but I can’t imagine it’s very nice to ride or will last long enough to be good value.

The fixed gear boom, it’s successor the ‘cycle-chic’ craze and their bizarre hybrid offspring ‘tweed’, all encourage alternatives to the ubiquity of the derailer. Hub gears, single-free, single-fixed are offered as options by many manufacturers today in a way they weren’t five years ago but the potential, revolutionary moment has, alas, coasted on by.

Better to burn your money

If you’ve never tried to ride or work on one of these, it’s hard to imagine just how shonky they can be. Brake blocks won’t adjust to hit the rim, front derailer can’t be positioned where it won’t rub on a chainring. Inflate the tyres to a practical pressure and they lift off the rim, try and fix a loose headset and you find the target – between too loose and too tight – only exists in theory.


A significant minority of the products sold as bikes in this country – if you include machines  for children it might even be a majority – come into the category of ‘bicycle shaped object’ (BSO).

If you’ve never tried to ride or work on one of these, it’s hard to imagine just how shonky they can be. Brake blocks won’t adjust to hit the rim, front derailer can’t be positioned where it won’t rub on a chainring. Inflate the tyres to a practical pressure and they lift off the rim, try and fix a loose headset and you find the target – between too loose and too tight – only exists in theory.

The worst of these machines are usually sold part-dismantled in cardboard boxes. The box may carry a sticker, ‘this product must be assembled by a trained professional’. No trained professional will touch such a thing. The sticker is there to dodge trading standards.

The difference between a budget bike and a BSO is that the former is built to a price, but built to be ridden, the latter is only designed to sell. Once the customer’s money hits the till, or their payment clears, the BSO has fulfilled it’s function.

The fixed costs of a bicycle are the same regardless of quality, the cardboard box, the shipping from East Asia. The sale price of a BSO covers these costs and a retail margin, leaving almost nothing for the machine itself. If it’s offered for sale in the UK for £89.99 you know that, at the factory gate, bought by the container load, it costs ten dollars. If you already love cycling and know how to use a spoke-key you might get some limited short-term use from a BSO. If not it may easily break your heart.

A conspiracy theory is always over-optimistic because it assumes someone, somewhere is in control of something. If there really was a conspiracy social progress would be a simple matter of finding the conspirators and seizing control of their levers of power. The conspiracy theory can be a useful tool of analysis but it never describes what’s actually happening.

BSOs aren’t part of a conspiracy to stop people taking up cycling, but they might as well be. If you wanted to put people off cycling, selling them a heavy unserviceable lump of ship-ballast and telling them it’s a bike, would be a good way to go about it.

It’s easy to sound snobbish when explaining that cheap products are no use, but really the people who buy BSOs would be better off burning their money. They’d have enjoyed a few seconds heat and light and not be left with lump of scrap, rusting on their balcony, to remind them how troublesome cycling is.

Bikes are expensive. You can buy a new car for £7,000. Compare this to a bike for £350. How many components, and sub-components, in the car? How many in the bike? The car’s fuel pump is more complicated than the bike. How come the little saloon only costs twenty times more than the push-rod?

On a cheap car everything is twice as strong as it need be and the engine moves all the redundant weight around. A bicycle, engineered for rich people like us, is more like an aeroplane or a race-car. Everything is much closer to just-strong-enough, this kind of engineering costs money.

When you understand about bikes this is not a problem. If a cheap car lasts ten years that’s a minor miracle. Aeroplanes last for decades, an old race-car is a blue-chip investment. Give a bicycle basic attention, don’t crash it and it will out-last you. When you’re gone and your descendants are riding around on it, they won’t be worrying about what you paid for it in 2012. If the service-life is measured in generations the steep purchase price starts to look like good value.

If someone flirting with the idea of cycle-travel asks you what bike they should buy? Or even how much they should spend on a bike to get value for money? It’s best to dodge the question. They’re an adult and need to make their own decisions. I suggest passing on these principles…

  • If you’re not sure whether you need a particular feature choose a bike without it.
  • Only buy a new bike from someone who offers a first check-over service – after it’s been run-in for a month or fifty miles – as part of the purchase price.

If the trader doesn’t offer you a service it probably means the bike is not serviceable.

What causes avelopia?

If you ride a bike – and most sensible people do – you must have pondered ‘how do people without bikes manage?’ I can imagine the details of avelopes’ daily agendas – waiting for buses or trains, paying for taxis, enmeshed in the troublesome uncertainties of motor-dependence – but their emotional lives are a mystery; so much patience so little imagination.

If you ride a bike – and most sensible people do – you must have pondered ‘how do people without bikes manage?’
I can imagine the details of avelopes‘ daily agendas – waiting for buses or trains, paying for taxis, enmeshed in the troublesome uncertainties of motor-dependence – but their emotional lives are a mystery; so much patience so little imagination.

The parallel question – why don’t they ride bikes?  – generates a lot of heat in the toyland world of bicycle politics. Some ideologues like to imagine a general reason why more people don’t cycle, overlooking the fact that most English people don’t need a reason not to travel by bike, any more than they need a reason not to eat horse meat. They don’t do it because they’re normal and normal people don’t do it.

There are certainly English people who’d like to travel by bike but are unable to because of the prevailing motorcentric conditions. Children and young teenagers in particular have their autonomous movement restricted by a system that allows reckless behaviour in public space by the motor-dependent. It’s tempting to over-estimate this suppressed demand. The theory that a large section of the non-cycling public are in a precipitous pre-cycling state – only waiting for conditions to change so they can emerge like butterflies from chrysalides – is attractive because it suggests that flicking some national policy switch will release a popular wave of cycle-travel. A wave that will resolve the persistent political conflict around who owns the road and what streets are for, conflict that’s likely to intensify as we grope toward an exit strategy for motor-dependence.

Meeting thousands of people on the point of taking up cycling has taught me the limits of generalisation. Some introduce themselves by saying:- “Of course I’m never going to ride on the road – I just want to go round the park with my daughter for exercise”, others with:- “I need to learn to ride a two-wheeler because I want to get a motor-scooter.” And everyone knows motorcycles are really dangerous.

BSOs definitely provide a barrier to many at the decisive moment of taking up cycling. I’ve run road-side clinics in some parts of East London where all you see are unserviceable, hardly rideable  bicycle shaped objects. Products that weren’t designed to put people off cycling, but might as well have been.

I would never be bold enough to rank –  “I’d like to cycle but I bought a bike and it fell to bits in two weeks” – against other stated causes of avelopia but it certainly exists as a significant practical barrier, a reason from somebody who tried, not a justification from someone who wouldn’t dream of it.

Many (most?) English people never think about riding a bike. If they were to say:- ‘Oh my God I’ll never ride a bike!” That would be progress, at least they’d entertained the possibility. When others are passive on subjects that we care about there’s a temptation to project our feelings onto them. The fact that – in all the hot air generated, all the green ink spilled – on the mysterious subject of why more English people don’t ride bikes for travel, the BSO question receives exactly zero consideration, may confirm a suspicion that most theorising on the subject results from this projection.