Quality checks and buying on the Internet
August 20th 2019
The internet has done an amazing job of driving down consumer prices by “cutting out the middleman.” Taken to extreme, this downward pressure can result in super-cheap prices, cheap products in unexpected ways, and complete erosion of the customer-advocacy role that the local bike shop used to perform.
How do you get the best of both worlds–low pricing from the Internet and someone to advocate for quality on your behalf , even for issues you may not ever know about?
Ultimately, what you’re looking for when you order a bike in a box is a fully-functional bike from the moment it arrives and gets unpacked. Sure, you may have to attach a handlebar and a front wheel, but after that, you’re looking for everything to just work together by itself.
That good-ride experience is a combination of two factors: (1) good components that are designed to work well, and (2) a pre-shipping quality check to make sure that they actually do.
Expect quality components.
When I was a teenager, I generally bought only the cheapest shifters, brakes and wheels for my own bike, often second-hand. I enjoyed the challenge of making diverse machinery work together, and had endless free time to tinker with them when they got finicky. When the maintenance got too much even for me, cheap or broken parts were also inexpensive to replace (which happened frequently).
Fast forward to today, and the bike market has changed. The difference between low and high quality is greater. The standard 5-speed rear hub from the old ubiquitous 10-speed bikes is now too restricting even for most low-end bikes. And rapid index-shifting has made gear changes highly responsive, without that grinding sound of being mostly in gear.
Shimano and SRAM have grabbed most of the US market for derailleurs, which are now sold in sets, designed to work together, each with its own quality level. A top-of-the-line Shimano groupset can cost ten times what the low-end Shimano components cost. It’s easy to go overboard on price, but the higher you go up the groupset levels, the less you’ll be tweaking your bike to get it to work work consistently over time.
For example, a simple Amazon search on “Shimano Groupset” shows a range at the low end from $187 for Shimano Tourney to $955 for Shimano Ultegra (and that’s not even the high end.) Meanwhile, an Amazon search for “cheap bike” shows a $98 Roadmaster from Walmart–half the price of the cheapest possible Shimano drive train. Any guesses about how long that will last between breakdowns?
At Flatbike, we aim for the middle of the Shimano groupset family, with Shimano Deore on CHANGE folding mountain bikes and Shimano 105 on the upcoming CHANGE Century folding road bike.
Expect pre-delivery quality checks.
Good quality parts aren’t enough. Even the best components also need to be installed properly and tuned to work together before delivery. Since the start of Flatbike, we’ve had a quality-check routine for every bike that leaves our shop, whether it is built in-house by Flatbike or by the manufacturer (Changebike, LTD) in Taiwan.
Today, that’s a 14-point quality check. And we’ve made a three-minute condensed-view video to show what those checks look like on an actual customer bike in our shop:
Basically, it covers these points:
- Unpack CHANGE bike, check for all expected components, including CHANGE manual, warranty, and carrying case.
- Test operation of both folding locks (top and bottom of seat tube).
- Add axle to front wheel and spin on frame.
- Pump tires (and air shocks, if on bike) and check for tire leaks.
- Test operation of shocks (Mountain bikes only)
- Lube pedal latches and verify tightness.
- Check for scratches, dents & scuffs (frame, wheels, fork).
- Test front and rear brakes for tightness and rub.
- Turn bars to right and check for free-spinning wheel (cable length test).
- Verify tightness of rear wheel.
- Check & adjust shifting operation on all gear settings.
- Assemble seat & post. Insert for fit.
- Inventory and package up any add-on components:
- Carbon downtube protector
- Seat bag for pedals
- Hex wrench set
- Pump adapter
- Flat-resistant tires
- Rear rack
- Rear rack adapter
- Bottle holder
- Folding stem
- Repackage for secure shipping.
We do all those checks on every…single…bike. It takes a lot of time, but that’s how to get to high customer satisfaction.
Expect dealer support.
Dealer support? Aren’t we cutting out the dealer on the Internet?
Well… not really. Your bike dealer might not be around the corner, but even a reseller in another state can be responsive, offer a frame warranty, and stand behind their bikes with a satisfaction guarantee.
At Flatbike, we extend the Changebike frame guarantee to a lifetime guarantee, and offer free US and Canadian shipping and a 30-day money-back satisfaction guarantee; if you don’t like it, return it. That’s why we have an Excellent rating on TrustPilot.
So which full-size folding bike is right for you?
Bob Forgrave is president of Flatbike, an
ecommerce company offering full-size folding bikes
and kits to make any bike take up half the space.