A group of bike mechanics has created a petition calling upon large retailers to stop producing 'built to fail' bikes. Often sold from big box stores and online retailers, these extremely cheap bikes are poorly designed, lack durability and are unserviceable.
The petition was set up by Mac Liman, program director for Bikes Together (opens in new tab) in Denver, a nonprofit that provides bicycles, repairs, and community-based education courses. In her 18 years as a bike mechanic, it has become increasingly clear that the production of poor quality bikes, or 'bike-shaped objects', is having a negative effect on the bike industry.
This isn't a snobby slam on low-cost equipment either, the best budget mountain bikes are better than they have ever been with many of the major manufacturers producing excellent options for riders looking for a fun and affordable set of wheels. The problem lies with bikes that are simply not fit for purpose, sometimes failing after only a short period of minimal use.
It's a problem that Liman, amongst many in the bike industry, has increasingly become aware of in the last 10 years. However, it was the spike of interest in cycling brought on by Covid that pushed Liman to address the issue.
The sad reality of these 'built to fail' bikes is that they target those who are interested in starting cycling and people who are looking for an affordable and greener mode of transport.
"These products are harmful to the environment, erode public confidence in the usefulness and joy of bicycles, and waste the money of the mostly poor and working-class people who buy them."
Budget bikes are an extremely important entry point for new cyclists and while the low price is tempting, the lasting experience is often extremely negative and discourages fledgling riders from becoming fully fledged cyclists.
Not only do these bikes present a very real safety concern for those who ride them but they also often create a negative experience when something does go wrong. These bikes are often purchased under the illusion that they are a functional and serviceable product, the reality is far from the truth. Based on first-hand experience dealing with these interactions when customers come into bike shops, the petition states;
"We are tired of telling distraught customers and riders that their bikes are made too poorly to fix, and we are tired of seeing these bikes filling up our waste streams. Frankly, you should be ashamed of selling bikes that last some 90 riding hours."
And the terrible bikes that cause these bad cycling experiences ultimately result in huge quantities of expired bikes needlessly going to waste. In a blog post, Liman covers how to spot a 'built to fail' bike and makes the valid point that there are many bikes from the '90s that still work now, "The job used to be explaining to people how to fix things. Now, it’s explaining why they cannot”.
The goal of the petition is for manufacturers of bicycles to set a minimum durability standard for bicycles to last at least 500 riding hours before breaking down. Manufacturers to design bikes to be serviceable and hold adjustment, with replaceable and upgradable components, and to stop creating and selling bikes that are made to fall apart.
You can read and sign the petition here.