Ask the Audience - The Bicycle Shaped Object Strikes Again

Ask the Audience - The Bicycle Shaped Object Strikes Again


Above: Spot the entirely non-deliberate mistake. The horror, the horror... (image

We explore the murky, badly assembled world of the Bicycle Shaped Object

Supermarkets are great for stocking up on your weekly tucker, but not so good, it would appear, at assembling bikes. You’d think that after that infamous ‘forks on backwards’ newspaper ad that they’d take note. Sadly evidence points to the contrary. Last night the author walked into a large supermarket- that-shall-remain-nameless only to see an £89 bike (colloquially known as a BSO – Bicycle Shaped Object) with its forks on backwards and its handlebars mounted upside down. I just had to share my amusement/horror on Facebook and it quickly became clear that I was not alone in my experience, as one-by-one followers shared their tales of bicycle assembly misadventure.

Facebook follower Daniel Jones was first to trump me, claiming he saw someone at his local supermarket putting the cranks on the wrong way around (i.e. the chainring on the left!) and wondering what to do with the chain. Norman from Hanley had also spotted a bike with forks the wrong way around in his local well known hypermarket, with the sign “Ready to Role” hanging from its unfortunate handlebars. Marc Thuenissen saw a bike with the cranks set at 90 degrees (rather than the standard 180) to each other. GB Cycling Team technical guys, take note – they might be onto something! Sammie Andrews found a bike pictured online with “the wheels the wrong way around” showing that there’s a fair amount of creativity out there when it comes to getting things drastically wrong.

Drastic is the word, especially when it comes to the potential consequences of actually riding one of these poorly made, poorly assembled beasts. We can all have a good laugh at faux-pas like these, committed by people who haven’t been given the necessary training to do their jobs properly but behind the laughter there’s a serious safety issue. Low-quality, poorly-assembled bikes will, at best, put off new cyclists for life, or at worst, expose their unsuspecting riders to the risk of serious injury. Daniel Jones put the point eloquently; “On a serious note these people are in charge on most kids’ safety on a bike (in respect of supplying a safe bike) and they are far from near the skill and respect to do it.”

Facebook follower Ashley Brookes also made the point that even with a BSO assembled at home by someone with reasonable skills, producing a safe, usable bike was difficult. Ashley reported that “the parts were so cheaply made the bottom bracket, headset and rear wheel had 2-3mm of play, riding over 12mph was almost impossible with the amount of movement from the loose parts...”

The £80-100 bike has been in the news for a few years. Ever since large supermarkets began to introduce low price bikes to their ranges, their poor quality and build has been exposed. The bikes have featured on BBC’s Watchdog consumer show and have even spawned a consumer blog website - dedicated to warning people of the dangers of the BSO.

While committed cyclists would spend £100 on a set of quality winter lights, for many, the magic ton is still perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a reasonable price to pay for a starter bike. Whilst it’s true that you get what you pay for, it’s not right to say that for £100 you get what you deserve, especially if that £100 bike is dangerously misassembled. If you buy a cheap bike, you should perhaps expect compromises in performance but not safety.

Two sides of the ‘you get what you pay for’ argument were neatly summed up by Simon who wonders “How can £100 be expected to buy a rideable bike! You'll struggle to get two pairs of trainers for that or two concert or theatre tickets. People need a reality check when it comes to pricing on certain products.” Simon is probably right in terms of the public’s spending priorities however Clive Kent responded, citing manufacturers’ spending priorities, pointing out that the majority of low end, ‘BSO’ bikes tend to be ‘dressed up’ with features from higher end bikes – “I think you may get what you pay for, but can still get a reasonable bike for £100 if you keep it simple. If some bike manufacturers - which seem to dominate in some big chains - do away with the crazy springs and aesthetically oversized tubes, they could probably build solid value bikes with simpler manufacturing.”

If you’re on the lookout for a cheap starter bike then our advice is to avoid the dreaded BSO and stump up a little more for a more serviceable machine. We’ve got a whole section of the website dedicated to Beginners, with advice on bike buying, cycle training and more. We also recommend buying your bike from a reputable bike shop with industry standard trained mechanics. We’ve got a list of those on the website here.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to a lively debate on the BSO.

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