Schwinn, the Bicycle

This weekend I stopped by my favorite local bicycle shop and it got me thinking. So let me spew some Andy Rooney nonsense on you:

  • Schwinn (bicycle) dealers have had it hard since Schwinn’s 1990s 2001-era (see comments) decision to sell inferior bikes under the Schwinn name in big-box stores. You can argue all day that even top-end Schwinns are made in Asia now, and/or nothing compared to their former glory, but the general issue is that there is a marked difference between what’s sold at Schwinn dealerships, and what’s sold at Wal-Mart. Schwinn corporate maybe has a lot to answer for, but their dealers always seem totally right-on to me. They love the brand, they love cycling, and they know their stuff. Incidentally, that’s everything a good scooter shop should be.
  • So, it says a lot (and it’s probably a good thing) that very few Schwinn bicycle dealers sell Schwinn scooters. Maybe the scooters weren’t even offered to the bicycle dealerships, but it seems more likely that a Schwinn bicycle dealer is uniquely positioned to realize that Schwinn will slap their name on anything, AND that even in hard times, it’s best not to sell something you can’t support 100%. The two products have little in common, it’d be like a car dealership deciding to offer steam-powered tractors. They’re both vehicles, but the parts supply, technology, customers, and expertise do not overlap. At all.
  • Schwinn’s making some tentative steps into e-bikes. They’re playing it pretty conservative, but that’s probably smart. It’s interesting that some bicycle dealers have jumped on the e-bike (UM, E-Go, etc) bandwagon, and others avoid them like the plague. I’m really curious how that market develops.
  • Bicycles are, like scooters, a great example of “You get what you pay for.” Sure, certain brand names will artificially jack up a price, but when it comes down to nuts and bolts, you can see the differences in quality. Scooters or bicycles, the cheapest asian models are assembled and sold by unskilled retailers without any support or personal contact. They’re made of components that are often second-quality, and sometimes dangerous. They feature outdated technology, or superficial imitations of current technology.
  • Short term savings matter little when you can’t source a replacement part or constant niggling problems keep it off the road. A good bike or scooter costs more, but comes with long-term support, a personal relationship, and quality. Parts and accessories will be available for years. Vina bought a 40-year-old Austrian three-speed at a garage sale for $10. I have a 15-year-old Schwinn cruiser, our local bike shop can get us any replacement part we need. But every time we’re in there, someone wheels in a three-month-old Wal-Mart bike with a cracked weld or some goofy mechanism that can’t be repaired or replaced. Sound like any scooter shops you’ve been in lately?
  • The cries of elitism come into play in both markets, too. But looking at the bicycle world is a good way to distance yourself and see that in an underegulated market (oh, the laws are there, but not the enforcement!) you end up with bottom-of-the-barrel deathtraps competing with top-end luxury models, and you start to understand why insiders are frustrated with all the junk out there. Cheap bikes rob sales from knowledgeable dealers, threaten consumer safety, and turn potential fans away from the hobby before they even get started.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, spend any time in a respectable bike shop, and you’ll see folks strut in with a credit card and buy a $4000 racing bike because “I was thinking about trying a triathalon” This, too, happens in scooter shops, and usually ends with Mr. “I don’t need a helmet, I’ve been riding dirt bikes since I was a kid” dropping his new Vespa 300 before he makes it out of the parking lot. And in both markets, there’s always the “audiophile-quality” “better” parts available for upgrades. Again, common sense prevails, but few people have it. I like to think that when you buy a well-designed product, the engineers that designed it knew what they were doing, and if you find yourself needing to upgrade, you shoulda bought a better one in the first place.
  • Last note: You always see people asking “What’s a good scooter can I get for $500.” For $500 you’re just getting into the juicy part of the bicycle market. Who would want to be on the road on a motor vehicle that costs less than a bicycle? A lot of top-quality custom bicycles cost more than scooters! And you could use the exercise!

4 thoughts on “Schwinn, the Bicycle”

  1. The rapid progression of component technology and availability of exotic materials has pushed the price of new quality bikes too high, too fast. Even some cheap box store mountain bikes have some nice features and decent performance from those parts compared to 10-15 years ago. But there is just something off about them that I wouldn’t want to rely on it under too much strain. But your comparison of your old bikes is a bit like apples and oranges. Most of the junk is not single speed plain old bikes. They add on unnecessary components to drive a spec sheet. In a sales war, the spec sheet can not compete by just writing, ‘wonderfully simple’ for line after line. I think the whole single speed craze is a backlash from the 600 – 2000.00 component group system. It’s just nice to pedal and go then stop. Less parts is less to go wrong. (same as the beauty of the two stroke) Yet people still want to spend money so there are vintage steel frames with a Brooks saddle and titanium axle hubs. The correlate that does not match is that there isn’t an option for a more simple model of motor vehicle. You can’t go out and buy the analogous ‘cruiser’ model like you did, when shopping for a scooter. It’s complicated good stuff or complicated junk. Not to bash your shop, but if you can’t get just about any replacement part for your 15 year old cruiser from a good hardware store, I’d be surprised.

    In my opinion, the most important parallel is how people buy expensive objects, use them very little, then sell them for a song several years after they get bored. I found a really nice used bike for a friend a month or so ago. She was about to buy a new bike for between 550 and 700.00. I found a nice used model from a few years back for just under 200.00. It didn’t have disc brakes like the newest model, but other than that it was like new. Though a big difference is that a bike doesn’t need a carb cleaning after sitting for 4 years in a garage.

    I think I may have just out incoherent-ed you.

  2. I bought a Kmart bicycle about six years ago. Two years in a row I rode it 3200 miles. It now has a little over 10,000 miles on it. I replaced a few tires,spokes, (from riding it with a flat instead of pushing) one chain, derailer (free from a bike I found in the ditch. Does this mean I was stupid because I can’t brag about how light my bike is, or how much I paid for it. I don’t ride for pleasure, only for exercise.
    P.S. I’m 71 yrs old & still work 50 hrs a week.

  3. The nice thing about said know-it-all who drops his new bike in the dealer lot is:
    A) Good for a laugh
    B) Local dealer (hopefully) has already got his money and gets a sale.

    Their is a world full of idiots that are going to buy bikes whether they should or should not. Small dealers cannot afford to be picky on who they sell to, they can only hope the know-it-all only hurts himself and not others if and when something bad happens.

    Unfortunately a sale is a sale. I’m sure bicycle shops get the same crowd. Due to the motorcycle industry focus on “no replacement for displacement” They both get to share the same over-buyer who must have the lightest bicycle with kryptonite infused nano-bot metal components so he can ride it once, or the 1700cc V-twin when you know that a good 350 single will propel his ass to bike night just fine.

  4. Schwinn was not sold in box stores until they were purchased by Pacific Cycles in 2001. The mid-late 90’s was the high point of their phoenix IMO. They had great products there.

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