Freakanomics on used bike prices
August 17, 2009 3:10 PM   Subscribe

Bicycle Inflation in Paradise? Freakanomics looks at used bike prices in Portland. Interesting reading.
posted by fixedgear (135 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
At the down-to-earth-sounding Recyclery

I do not think that means what you think it means.
posted by dersins at 3:17 PM on August 17, 2009


interesting. but I'm not totally convinced that one would find a huge national variance among refurbished bikes at used, non-coop bike stores. I would bet that the cost of labor for those things tends to raise the price across the country.
posted by Think_Long at 3:20 PM on August 17, 2009


Someone should snap up the entire police auction in Toronto and truck it down to Portland. Assuming you don't die of dysentery you could probably make it worthwhile.
posted by GuyZero at 3:22 PM on August 17, 2009 [7 favorites]


Its true, bikes that go for $300 in LA would go for $500-550 here.
posted by wcfields at 3:24 PM on August 17, 2009


1) last time I checked, a NYtimes blogger complaining about bikes being too expensive in pdx was not the best of the web.

2) that guy knew nothing about the portland bike market. I got my incredible bike for $200. My gf got a completely refurbished bike with all new parts and a retro frame - with free lifetime tune-ups - for $250 from an awesome guy with a small garage shop.

Nobody I know just walks into the Bike Gallery and tries to buy a bike. And why the fuck didn't this guy just rent one? There are a ton of bike rental places in town.

Oh, and real pdx bikers build their own.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:27 PM on August 17, 2009


Let's check the Pistadex.
posted by box at 3:27 PM on August 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Old bike importers, for lack of a better term, can do well to travel around California looking for proper vintage bikes and haul them back to Portland. The 1970s steel monster that is yardsale-worthy in California can net a pretty profit in Oregon.

The same could be said for "used clothes botiques" - places that are in the market for hipster vintage. Rummage around the thrift store distribution centers, where clothing is sold by the pound. Find the kitschiest sweaters, brightest t-shirts of novelty from the 1980s, clean the worst of the stains, and sell them for $20+ each. The big difference between local hipster shops and area-wide bike prices is that the adoption of bikes vs. other options is so wide-spread.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:29 PM on August 17, 2009


Also, a quick glance at your posting history and I think this post probably puts you over the GYOB edge.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:30 PM on August 17, 2009


Don't they have Walmart in Portland? They offer very serviceable bikes for under $100. If you know how to turn a wrench, they'll even last a long time.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:32 PM on August 17, 2009


Dear schmuck who wrote this article: Since you write for the New York Times, you really ought to know that calling a neighborhood "Brooklyn-ish," spurious hyphen or no, makes you sound like a gawking tourist from Iowa.
posted by RogerB at 3:33 PM on August 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


I got my incredible bike for $200. My gf got a completely refurbished bike with all new parts and a retro frame - with free lifetime tune-ups - for $250 from an awesome guy with a small garage shop.

You know that in most cities (excluding SF, Portland, NYC, etc.) you can find a fairly decent (not a shitty Magma/Walmart/plastic bike) used bike from a thrift store for about $20?

I've always wanted to buy a truckload of used bicycles in Louisville, clean/fix them up, and drive them out to SF to sell them for 10x the price. I'm too lazy and/or employed.

If you are in the San Francisco area, I've found the best place to go for used bikes is still the (down-to-earth sounding) Recyclery in San Rafael. You can still find decent old bikes for under $50, I think. They would cost 4-5x that price in the city.

In the meantime, if you’re a Portland or Seattle resident thinking of selling your car and going green, maybe you should drive down to Phoenix and ride a bike back.

Um, now that is really freaky economics. I'd think the gas/flight/car rental for a trip from Portland to Phoenix would certainly offset the cost savings on the bike. Not to mention the vacation time you'd need to bike back...
posted by mrgrimm at 3:36 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


My refurbished, 20+ year old 10-speed--with a brand new seat, but the original Pee Wee Herman handles--cost me $80 from my local bike collective (it was rehabbed by high school students in a training program and then looked over by a mechanic). It gets me everywhere I need to go and is light enough to carry up stairs (there's a lot of bicycle theft in my mid-sized city). The "cool" factor may be low, but it brings me a lot of happiness, as things go.

I don't live in Portland.
posted by availablelight at 3:37 PM on August 17, 2009


I think this is evidence that the times are not nearly as bad as they could be, economically speaking. If true price inefficiency exists in Portland (or wherever), why are enterprising - or desperate or poor - people not putting up a sign "CHEAP BIKES" and underselling the tatooed snobs? Apparently, times need to get much tougher. And why don't customers buy the cheap bikes? If it's because they fall apart on the first mile, that's understandable. If it's political or other reasons - then again, times are not bad enough. If the economy gets bad enough, this price inefficiency should disappear and buyer and seller behavior will change.

Then again, you'd think this argument would work in the health debate, and somehow it doesn't. You'd think if enough people were bankrupted or couldn't afford health insurance, there'd be movement to support reform. And yet, significant numbers of people who are in such a disastrous situation, refuse to support reform. One could say: keep escalating the costs, keep tightening the screws, at some point there'll be a breakdown. Hasn't worked out so far, and at this point, I'm no longer certain that this mechanism works.

In other words: people are not perfectly rational economic agents. Gotta accept that. And, if you can, profit from it.
posted by VikingSword at 3:37 PM on August 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


2N222: The article (more or less) addresses that issue: the Costco has new bikes for $200, but this still doesn't seem to limit the cost of the used bikes.

That said, having put in my fair share of time at my local bike co-op, the box store bikes are utter crap. When they break, they are generally unrepairable. All cables and connections actively resist proper adjustment. These bikes are roughly equivalent to duct taping a shotgun to a skateboard and calling it an automobile.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:38 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


1) last time I checked, a NYtimes blogger complaining about bikes being too expensive in pdx was not the best of the web.

Oooh, best of the web metric.

Also, a quick glance at your posting history and I think this post probably puts you over the GYOB edge.

Nice hat!
posted by fixedgear at 3:40 PM on August 17, 2009 [24 favorites]


Yes, the box store bikes generally cost as much to repair as to buy a new one, and still won't run properly. The wise man buys a slightly pricier, well adjusted used bike with decent components, then gets tune ups from their gear-head friend or just learn to fix things themselves. A good used bike has a far lower lifetime price than a box store bike, and should be infinitely more enjoyable to ride.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:42 PM on August 17, 2009


Nice hat!

Thanks! That's the fedora from the pdx 10th anniversary meet-up, which I biked to on my bianchi I got for $200.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:43 PM on August 17, 2009


I don't understand the hate I'm feeling here for this article or this post (especially from mr. 37 comments there). It's an interesting article with a bit of personal experience and anecdote backed up with some empiricalish data. And I think 'Brooklynish' is a useful, if not especially poetic, quick shorthand for that kind of neighbourhood. Saves time, and we all know the kind of place he's talking about: Hoxton, Queen Street West, Brooklyn...
posted by Flashman at 3:47 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh, and real pdx bikers build their own.

Apparently my snark meter is off today. I'm not entirely sure if you are kidding or not.
posted by Sandor Clegane at 3:47 PM on August 17, 2009


I imagine that since Portland's bike scene is still on the uptick, and because the retro look is fashionable, the demand for used bikes far outweighs the supply. As cycling's popularity levels out and the turnover rate on the retro bikes increases, the prices will go down.

In Amsterdam, which has been saturated with bikes for decades, you can buy a beautiful used bike for under 100 Euros.
posted by martens at 3:48 PM on August 17, 2009


Also, a quick glance at your posting history and I think this post probably puts you over the GYOB edge.

I think you misunderstand the reasoning of GYOB here. People are totally allowed to post about their interests. They just can't editorialize.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:49 PM on August 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Methinks Lutoslawski has a saddle sore.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:52 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


we all know the kind of place he's talking about

What kind of place is that, pray tell? Brooklyn contains many different neighborhoods, including some that are no more like each other than Cleveland is like Beverly Hills. Is a "Brooklynish" neighborhood one that's like Park Slope, or Crown Heights, or Coney Island, or Red Hook, or Bushwick, or Flatbush, or Canarsie?

For that matter, Southeast Portland has more than one neighborhood, too. (But it's a little easier to paint in broad strokes than perhaps the most densely populated and diverse county in the US.)
posted by RogerB at 3:57 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and real pdx bikers build their own.

Apparently my snark meter is off today. I'm not entirely sure if you are kidding or not.


Not kidding. My housemate can build a bike (after he's gathered the parts of course, which is pretty easy given places like City Bikes Coop, the re-build-it center, bike junk yards, etc...) in under one hour. And no, he's not a bike mechanic by trade.

Lots of pdx places offer classes on bike building and DIY repair...that's what pdx is about.

I think you misunderstand the reasoning of GYOB here. People are totally allowed to post about their interests. They just can't editorialize.

fair.


Methinks Lutoslawski has a saddle sore.

Yeah, you're probably right. What can I say? It's almost quittin' time on a Monday. Sorry for being an asshole, but in all seriousness in was a really stupid article written poorly and totally un-researched.

That and I'm fucking sick of all the 'pdx is great' no 'pdx sucks' bullshit articles in the nytimes.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:03 PM on August 17, 2009


PistaDex - Fixed-Gear Apocalypse Watch
posted by filthy light thief at 4:05 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]



Oh, and real pdx bikers build their own.

Yes, bikes are a staple of Portland's pretentiously liberal status quo.
posted by freshundz at 4:05 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Argh, Robin Goldstein you know better than to call this arbitrage:

, I think that in Portland, most people just buy rebuilt bikes locally because it feels right to do so, not because all these everyday bike riders can really tell the difference between Shimano TX-30 derailleurs and M-970 XTR’s.

I would not consider a lot of things arbitrage beyond financial instruments. Even transporting agricultural goods is not really arbitrage because you have the risk of spoilage and transportation costs. We could say that we know the market risks of highly traded goods like wheat, well enough to call it arbitrage and I'd accept that.

Heterogeneous bikes are not arbitrage. Having a TX-30 is different fron a M-970. Whether or not people can tell the difference is besides the point. It is like going into a Neiman Marcus and trying to sell a Dollar Store purse next to a Louis Vuitton. Hey they're the same thing! People won't tell the difference. I do not disagree, but that is not arbitrage.

Look what you see happening in PDX is a perfect example of what happens when a good takes a more visible and central role in someone's life. It becomes a status icon, the minute differences suddenly become important. Having a the better derailleurs begins to take on extra value, far beyond any measurable or quantifiable utility. Look at cars. Take cars and find a performance metric, line them up on a graph. Let's say 0-100Km/h. On the high end you have a Ferrari Enzo that can do it in 3.8s and sells for $650k. On the low end you have a BMW 325i that sells for what, $35k and gets maybe 6-7s in 0-100km/h. So you have a roughly 18x increase in price while performance only improves by 2x. Does it seem rational to you? No.

So you have a city where the rational agents become more knowledgeable and better educated about an asset and you see inflation as they begin selecting better parts for even an average bike? This seems completely normal to me. Similarly you see game packages with all sorts of extras sold at a higher price in a city like Tokyo where you'd see the same stripped down into an Xbox arcade in Wal-Marts across the country.

I think it is interesting that bikes are priced higher in PDX than elsewhere, but it is not surprising that the demand and price for bikes is low in a city like Phoenix where you'd die riding a bike for an hour in the summer sun, than in PDX where it is possible to ride one every day. I hope I didn't miss the point of this article because to me it is seems absolutely ridiculous.
posted by geoff. at 4:06 PM on August 17, 2009 [11 favorites]


People are totally allowed to post about their interests.

No way! People should only post about things they find completely boring and worthless.

:-)
posted by Malor at 4:07 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think 'Brooklynish' is a useful, if not especially poetic, quick shorthand for that kind of neighbourhood.

What's confusing is Portland has a neighbourhood called Brooklyn already. In southeast, just where the blog post linked above is talking about. I had to read this three times before his New York specific reference made sense.

Also, the blog post left out the part where used bikes cost twice as much if they come without gears and brakes. That part makes this MeFi post eponysterical.
posted by Nelson at 4:08 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


My housemate can build a bike in under one hour

This is my pedal, this is my gun, this one for riding, this one for fun.

I was hoping you could build a bike with square wheels or wooden frames.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:12 PM on August 17, 2009


Oh, and real pdx bikers build their own.

Yes, bikes are a staple of Portland's pretentiously liberal status quo.


You're right, man. Fuck us and our pretentious community-minded, eco-conscious, help each other out liberal bullshit MO. We should totally get off our high horse and go buy some Wal-mart bikes made in Indonesian sweat shops that fall apart after the 5th mile just like everyone else in this country...

Puhleeze.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:12 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's a good thing he didn't see Vanilla Bikes. They aren't even taking orders anymore, the wait for one of their custom frames is over five years, and if you have to ask how much they cost, you can't afford them.

*drooooool*

posted by mullingitover at 4:12 PM on August 17, 2009


Thanks! That's the fedora from the pdx 10th anniversary meet-up

That's one of the fedoras I brought to the 10th meetup! Here's mathowie wearing it, too!

Lutoslawski, I know you mean well but I think you're arguing kind of hard on the point—digging in on the article and the subject is fine, but maybe leave the "best of the web" stuff in flag form and hold the metacommentary for metatalk if it needs to happen, etc.

I got my first bike in years and years a few months ago, and I was surprised at the cost—between the general boom in the bike culture in Portland since I was a kid and twenty years of inflation, the fact that a decent low-end new bike from a respectable shop was in the ~$400 range really kind of took me aback.

I'm not much of a shopper and the bike I got should last me a good long time, so I'm not particularly upset about the price, but it is definitely surprising as a newbie to the market to see prices both new and used being where they are. Some of that being the local effect makes some sense, I suppose, though my impression from talking to some bike folks is that retail prices have really just come up in tandem (heh) with overall quality of craftsmanship from where they were a couple decades back.

Certainly the bike boom, and it's general resiliency in a shaky economy, is good news for Portland bikesellers and techs, and I'm glad at any sign that bike use is getting more saturation in town. (I think I saw a sign for Recyclery in a storefront in St. John's recently, in what used to be a tattoo-parlor/art-gallery place, actually. No mention on their website that I saw, but possible new storefront for them? I dunno.)

But it sucks if the side effect of this boom is crappy price barriers for folks who want to bike on the cheap.
posted by cortex at 4:13 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


the freakonomics people are basically morons. they also think that there is no difference between a delicious, ripe, locally-grown tomato in season and a hard, flavorless one trucked in from across the country (except price, of course). i'm not sure why economists seem so eager to apply their theories in ways that so readily showcase their ignorance. it's like if astronomers wrote articles about how a van gogh is the same as a thomas kinkade because they are both made of stardust.
posted by snofoam at 4:14 PM on August 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


Lutoslawski, I know you mean well but I think you're arguing kind of hard on the point—digging in on the article and the subject is fine, but maybe leave the "best of the web" stuff in flag form and hold the metacommentary for metatalk if it needs to happen, etc.

You're right. Sorry cortex.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:14 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think it is interesting that bikes are priced higher in PDX than elsewhere, but it is not surprising that the demand and price for bikes is low in a city like Phoenix where you'd die riding a bike for an hour in the summer sun, than in PDX where it is possible to ride one every day.

Weather is a factor, but I'm not sure how large a factor. Sure, Phoenix is pretty extreme. And yet, I'd argue LA is a better city to ride a bike in than Portland or Seattle (rain), but bikes cost a heck of a lot less in LA. Last year I bought a very nice vintage bike from someone who moved to LA from San Francisco. The seller brought the bike down with him from SF, and then had to sell, and was astonished at how little his bike was valued here in LA - I was his only response on CL, and that was after lowering the price 3 times (I felt bad for him, so I threw in a bit more $ than he asked for). Now, you could argue SF is much worse for a biker than LA - rainy and hilly (comparatively speaking). But perhaps a bigger factor than weather is the fact that SF is smaller (as is PDX) and getting around on a bike is more feasible than LA where you have huge distances more suited to a car; plus perhaps the car/bike interaction is better in those cities compared to LA where drivers are not very educated about bike riders rights.
posted by VikingSword at 4:17 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


PistaDex - Fixed-Gear Apocalypse Watch

I'm sorry, but I'm pretty sure this is the seventh sign of the fixie apocalypse.
posted by dersins at 4:18 PM on August 17, 2009 [11 favorites]


the Costco has new bikes for $200, but this still doesn't seem to limit the cost of the used bikes.


Costco isn't Walmart. Or even Target. However, if you don't have enough sense to make sure the wheels on a bike turn before buying, you will have problems. Even if you have a tattoo'd bike guru to hold your hand.

Yes, the box store bikes generally cost as much to repair as to buy a new one, and still won't run properly. The wise man buys a slightly pricier, well adjusted used bike with decent components, then gets tune ups from their gear-head friend or just learn to fix things themselves. A good used bike has a far lower lifetime price than a box store bike, and should be infinitely more enjoyable to ride.

I don't buy this. Any gear head friend who cannot service a big box store bike as well as a pricier bike simply isn't worth his/her salt. As bikes descend the price ladder, they require fewer specialized tools and knowledge. Then again, I've been surprised how many so called gear heads out there are afraid to open up a coaster brake hub.

I'm not familiar with Portland, but I can tell you around here, big box bikes are extremely common commuters. And by the looks, some have been in service a looong time.

It is probably true that a good used bike will be more enjoyable to ride. But as demonstrated, "good" has no definite price tag. Folks like Goldstein are usually happy to settle for "good enough".

That's why someone in his position gets that big box store cruiser. Which is pretty much what Goldstein actually needed. And if it still doesn't work, you take it back for a new one. No wrenching needed.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:18 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


What kaibatsu said--people who say that department-store bikes are as nice as bike-shop bikes either haven't ridden very far, or haven't spent much time working on bikes.

That's not to say that department-store bikes are worthless or useless--a Yugo will probably get you where you want to go, at least for a while. Maybe a Yugo's all you need, or all you can afford. But to say that a Yugo is just as good as a Honda or a Toyota (you'll notice I didn't say BMW or Porsche or something--bicyclists have a not-entirely-undeserved reputation for snobbery, and this subject can really bring it out), well, that's just not true.
posted by box at 4:19 PM on August 17, 2009


I'm sorry, but I'm pretty sure this is the seventh sign of the fixie apocalypse.

You can ride it while wearing your UO three-wolf-moon shirt. If you managed to get up to 88 mph and get struck by an impulse of 1.21GW, you will then be able to travel back in time and kick your own ass.
posted by cortex at 4:20 PM on August 17, 2009 [10 favorites]


I ride an $8 bike. It is rusty everywhere and many spokes are missing. Single gear. The back wheel is bent a little. I just replaced a tube with 8 patches on it, because I couldn't patch it again.

So what now Portland? What now?
posted by saysthis at 4:20 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why Portland? Is it something in the water? Metafilter and DrugStore Cowboy put Portland on my places to visit - but now...
posted by Samuel Farrow at 4:26 PM on August 17, 2009


Wow. I want my bike to say "Ithaca is Gorges."
posted by snofoam at 4:26 PM on August 17, 2009


I wish that what Lutoslawski is saying about prices was true, but it's not what I've found. I lived in Portland from 99-02, moved away, and just moved back. The prices at City Bikes are about twice what I remember, but not at Alberta Street Co-op. I haven't seen a single bike in Goodwill since being back, and the median price for a decent used street bike with more than one gear on Craigslist seems to hover around $300. That's definitely more than it used to be. Everyone I've spoken to, including a Transportation Manager at the City of Portland whose job it is to organize bike rides, routes, and bike-related festivals, confirms that used bike prices are higher here than elsewhere, and definitely higher than when I left.

After looking through all the usual channels and concluding that there was no way I could spend less than $300 on something that worked and looked like a bike, I did in fact walk into the Bike Gallery and buy a bike. A very friendly, knowledgeable, astoundingly beautiful clerk sold me a Kona Dew for $450 with a free 3 month service contract. I live way the fuck up in the Southwest hills, so I need a bike with multiple gears, otherwise I would have bought their house-brand "Workhorse" for $350-ish and eventually done something about its single-speed issue. I'm happy with it, but in all my searching I never found anything in the usual $200 - $300 range that seemed durable enough to be worth the money.

Real pdx bikers need to get to the grocery store, work, their studio, and home safely after drinking too much. I can weld, paint, write, print, sculpt, cook, code, and fix things, so I'll learn to wrench if I feel like it. Right now, I just feel like having affordable, reliable transportation.
posted by nímwunnan at 4:30 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


2N2222: As bikes descend the price ladder, they require fewer specialized tools and knowledge.

They also deteriorate in durability to the point where attempting to fix them will break them (common with cheap spokes and wheels) and in quality to the point where they lack the manufacturing tolerances necessary to take and hold the correct settings (common with cheap derailleurs.)
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:50 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


There's really nothing inherently different between a big-box store bike and a bike shop bike. *ducks*

Really. You can easily get a fine bike at Costco with lower-end but still decent quality components. It will last you for years with only basic upkeep. You can just as easily get a ghetto death trap bike from a bike shop. You may be more likely to find a bike of questionable quality at Target than at your local boutique bike shop, but to generalize silly. The difference with a bike shop is that the staff on hand will be more likely to be competent and offer better advice about what type of bike you need, fit, etc, not necessarily the bike.

I'm all in favor of people getting a bike anywhere they can, and riding it until they wear it out.
posted by mullingitover at 4:55 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh man, I totally want one of those Urban Outfitters bikes!
posted by GuyZero at 5:05 PM on August 17, 2009


Bikes at the Community Cycling Center start $35 and all proceeds go to help low-income families. This guy has a cash for clunker bicycles program (albeit his bikes are not cheap to start with, save the hipster fixies). Here's another non-profit bike shop that sells cheap bikes. Here's a repair collective that let's you use their work space to fix your bike yourself.


So there you go. Buy a $35 un-refurbished bike from the Community Cycling Center on Alberta, then head over to the repair collective and fix it up all awesome like and you've got yourself a sweet new $35 bike. At most, get the $35 bike and have the experts over at the repair collective overhaul the whole thing for $120 = $155 bike.

Best yet, go to some bike junk yards or troll craigslist and get the parts together, then find a buddy who is a badass mechanic (there's not a short supply), and buy him a growler of HUB and watch him whip out a bike for you.

I mean, really people, sure there are tons of expensive bikes here - 16% of people use bikes as their main form of transportation, so people are willing to spend a little more money on them. But just walking into some bike stores expecting sweet bike deals because the neighborhood looks 'brooklyn-ish' and the employee has a lot of tattoos is not a very good indicator of the actual bike economy here.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:06 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


GuyZero: Someone should snap up the entire police auction in Toronto and truck it down to Portland.

I think you mean up to Portland.

Though really, if anything, it's more over.
posted by jock@law at 5:12 PM on August 17, 2009


So wait...The Free Market doesn't solve all ills magically and instantly?!?!
posted by DU at 5:18 PM on August 17, 2009


I live in Portland, ride a bike ($750 brand new, purchased 4 to 5 years ago,) and enjoyed the article. This is something I've noticed but never really thought too hard about it. After all, Portland is home of the $100 t-shirt and other ludicrously priced fashion accessories. I know many people who work-low paying jobs and eat nothing but ramon noodles in order to save up for $1500+ vintage bike frames. People here just have different priorities.

The top of the market is so high now, that I guess it's not so surprising the low-end scales high too.

And I can tell Lutoslawski is a "real pdx" person since s/he is so quick to define what "real pdx" people do.
posted by elwoodwiles at 5:21 PM on August 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


After all, Portland is home of the $100 t-shirt and other ludicrously priced fashion accessories.

To be fair, most people walking in off the street to buy their first t-shirt don't spend anything like that, nor do they feel any market pressure to do so. The bike thing is more of a practical floor than any such fabled t-shirt will ever be—Lutoslawski's insight into the dedicated cheapster avenues notwithstanding, several hundred bucks is what a bike costs for someone whose whole investment in the situation is "Hi, I want to buy a bike."
posted by cortex at 5:25 PM on August 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


You can get a cheapo bike at a yard sale here in Portland. I got a decent 3-speed off CL for $80. Got another off a desperate ex who really really needed to scrape together money to pay his rent that month. Lots of places to get cheap bikes, just gotta look.
posted by medeine at 5:26 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Um, now that is really freaky economics. I'd think the gas/flight/car rental for a trip from Portland to Phoenix would certainly offset the cost savings on the bike. Not to mention the vacation time you'd need to bike back...

Mrgrimm, I think you, perhaps, missed the part of the graph that showed that the median price for a car was $2100 more in Phoenix, the point being that you would, potentially, offset the price of the trip by the profit made on the car, and have a bike you could sell at the other end for a profit too.

For my part, I'll say this: I own a 2k roadie, and i love it, but it took me a year and half of trial and error to find a reputable bike shop (near Mukilteo wa) that would do my tune-ups and sell me parts and tools without a ton of bullshit upsale tactics that drove me nuts. I do not need a new chain/crankset/cassette every time i take the bike in to have it tuned, sorry guys, i know what wear looks like and how hard i've ridden in the past few months.
posted by OHenryPacey at 5:26 PM on August 17, 2009


"So wait...The Free Market doesn't solve all ills magically and instantly?!?!"

Well, this article has convinced me I need to rent a U-Haul and buy up a truckload of cheap used bikes in the flyover states, then sell them all in Portland, so maybe it is working.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 5:33 PM on August 17, 2009


cortex: True. I just meant that people in Portland are willing to spend more on a bike than people in other markets. I tend to think this has to do with trendiness as much as it has to do with practicality. This willingness has translated to the bike inflation noted in the article. The article, however, connects the price of cars to the price of bikes, which is an interesting angle.

I'm not sure, however, that there is any real scarcity of bikes in Portland, as much as there is a population that, for whatever reason, over-values used bikes.
posted by elwoodwiles at 5:40 PM on August 17, 2009


I'm much happier commuting to work on my ten year old $300 Schwinn than I would be on a $1200 bike because I'd spend all day at work worrying about someone stealing the damn thing. It's not like the more expensive bike is going to get me to work any faster, I still have to stop at red lights and stop signs. And if it's stolen, I can replace it quite a few times before I've spent more than I would on some trendy bike geek rig.
posted by octothorpe at 5:41 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Using the median price for craigslist bikes is completely misleading and obscures the large number of very cheap bikes available every day. Searching for bikes under $100 right now on the Portland list, you can find at least 12 under $100 that were posted just today.
posted by mediareport at 5:43 PM on August 17, 2009


crash, I really want to make some sort of "Invisible Bicycle of the Free Market" joke here but I don't know how to put it together. Please advise.
posted by cortex at 5:43 PM on August 17, 2009


Searching for bikes under $100 right now on the Portland list, you can find at least 12 under $100 that were posted just today.

...and stolen just yesterday...
posted by dersins at 5:48 PM on August 17, 2009


crash, I really want to make some sort of "Invisible Bicycle of the Free Market" joke here but I don't know how to put it together.

You put it together just like a regular bike - You take the invisible wheel of the market and mount on the invisible frame of the market, then add the invisible pedals of the market.
posted by qvantamon at 5:50 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


so are you saying I shouldn't have just sold my old Brompton for $300?
posted by scruss at 6:10 PM on August 17, 2009


so does anyone have a solution to getting a reasonably priced bike that addresses what the author of the original article actually wanted - to ride in portland on a bike (presumably w/o friends with bikes who live there) for a weekend?

while the savvy shopper may be able to get a reasonable bike for daily use if they live there, apparently getting a reasonably priced rental is difficult.

economic opportunity: rental portland bikes (could go with an 'eco-tourism' themed package)?
posted by el io at 6:19 PM on August 17, 2009


There may be some kernel of truth to the piece, but he lost me when he talked about: "a set of moral/aesthetic principles — whether it’s riding a bike with proper disc brakes." Wha? I don't think of disc brakes as cool - but if you're hauling a heavy load they can be key. I say this as somebody who wishes he had them, but not for any aesthetic reasons. I mean, it's not a big deal, but you have to wonder what else he might be missing. Top tube pads? Hello?
posted by chinston at 6:37 PM on August 17, 2009


so does anyone have a solution …

This may be cool in the future if it happens.
posted by floam at 6:38 PM on August 17, 2009


Go to K-Mart, buy a Huffy, ride it for a few weeks, throw it off a cliff when you're done.
posted by localroger at 7:05 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]



They also deteriorate in durability to the point where attempting to fix them will break them (common with cheap spokes and wheels) and in quality to the point where they lack the manufacturing tolerances necessary to take and hold the correct settings (common with cheap derailleurs.)


Not really. It becomes pointless to have them fixed professionally when labor is $50+/hr. This isn't because they are harder to fix or the parts are flimsier. It simply doesn't make sense to dump money into such a low priced machine. There's a good chance the local bike shop won't even carry replacement parts like freewheels or one piece crank bottom brackets, even though those things can be found very inexpensively from internet dealers. If anything, I've found that unless a bike is specifically designed for hard use, the more expensive a bike, the more flimsy, finicky and demanding it tends to be on the owner's resources. A $2k bike absolutely demands the owner learn how to fix things or spend lots of money for someone else to do it for him. This shouldn't be all that surprising. Higher prices are correlated with lighter weight, and lighter weight is correlated with less materials, where things sometimes get too light for good sense. Higher prices are also correlated with cutting edge tech, which puts additional demands on repair tools and know-how.

However, if one enjoys wrenching, as I do, upkeep on big box stores is totally doable. Which is how I came to realize that the the crappiness of big box bikes really involves their very low price, not their presumed low quality.

The inferiority of big box bikes isn't in question. However, claims that they will fall apart after five miles are hugely exaggerated. As I pointed out, they often survive decades with almost no maintenance, and can be seen ridden in my town every day, Huffys, Roadmasters, etc, by real bike commuters (folks at the bottom of the ladder who may have never owned cars) squeaking, rusty, and all.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:16 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


economic opportunity: rental portland bikes (could go with an 'eco-tourism' themed package)?

Many bike shops in town rent out bikes at reasonable rates, as I mentioned earlier. Part of the reason I have no idea why the nytimes douchebag found it necessary to come to portland and buy a bike to use for one week. And a savy traveler would just post something on craigslist asking to borrow a bike for a week for like $50 bucks. Lots of folks have extras laying around, and in exchange for a little collateral, that'd be totally doable.

And yeah, lots of buzz around the link that floam posted. Hopefully that's in the near future for portland.

Go to K-Mart, buy a Huffy, ride it for a few weeks, throw it off a cliff when you're done.

You're probably kidding, man, but just in case you're not - and not to get all but yes actually to get all self-righteous tree hugger on you - this is the kind of insane attitude that's destroyed the earth, the economy, asian and indonesian children, and the collective soul of mankind. Please don't actually do this, unless you're an asshole, or if you do, please be riding the bike when you take it over a cliff.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:18 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]



In the meantime, if you’re a Portland or Seattle resident thinking of selling your car and going green, maybe you should drive down to Phoenix and ride a bike back.


Um, now that is really freaky economics. I'd think the gas/flight/car rental for a trip from Portland to Phoenix would certainly offset the cost savings on the bike. Not to mention the vacation time you'd need to bike back...

I did the opposite of this once. Sort of.

We rode our bikes from Michigan to Maine. To get home, the logistics of getting from the island to a distant commercial airport, combined with the high ticket price of that unpopular and seldom discounted air route meant that we found it more economical to BUY a clunker car (for $800) and DRIVE home. Once there, we sold the car (for $800).

There's little depreciation between 112k and 113k miles.
posted by Herodios at 7:21 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


So riding a bicycle is really really hip in the US? What's next? Drinking a glass of water?
posted by dydecker at 7:37 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


He could've just stayed at the Ace Hotel. The one in Portland has a fleet of dutch bikes to rent for free. I hear a couple other hotels have similar programs.
posted by amuseDetachment at 7:38 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Actually don't answer that. Thinking about it, i can see drinking a glass of water actually being hip as well.
posted by dydecker at 7:38 PM on August 17, 2009


If you are serious, it is more that the US has a bizarre and longstanding irrational hatred for bicycles, and there is a huge culture shock as this starts to disappear in a few cities.
posted by idiopath at 7:39 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


a bizarre and longstanding irrational hatred for bicycles

Or a lack of engagement with them in part as a product of a car-centric commuter culture shaped by transit-unfriendly transportation development in a country with a great deal of surface area and settled areas both urban (sprawl) and rural (isolation) for which bike travel is an unrealistic way to get around, at least.
posted by cortex at 8:00 PM on August 17, 2009 [8 favorites]


You're right about all that, but I'd say it's also true that American culture treats driving as a regular coming-of-age ritual.
posted by box at 8:12 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


so does anyone have a solution to getting a reasonably priced bike that addresses what the author of the original article actually wanted - to ride in portland on a bike...for a weekend?

Again, updated: there were about 19 working adult bikes from $40-100 posted on Portland's Craigslist today. That seems like a solution to me.
posted by mediareport at 8:16 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I mean, posted to Portland's Craigslist today. I don't know if that's an average day for $40-100 bikes, but even assuming 10 cheap bikes posted per day, that gives him plenty of cheap options.
posted by mediareport at 8:18 PM on August 17, 2009


I don't think it's so much a hatred for bicycles, as it is simply looking at them as a toy. I think people see them as great for kids to get around, cute for trails at parks, but "silly" for adults commuting.

It goes hand-in hand with this view of public transportation as a last-resort third class transportation system for poor people.
posted by floam at 8:37 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lots of places to get cheap bikes, just gotta look

In the last month I plucked three bikes out of the garbage, including a well preserved early 60's J.C. Higgins. Total repair cost, $2 for fender bolts.

One went to a friend in Toronto whose bike was stolen, and the other two are going to Burning Man.

Just gotta look.
posted by CynicalKnight at 8:46 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you don't know much about bikes, chasing down deals on Craigslist can come with a lot of hidden costs. I'm all for DIY, especially when it comes to bikes, but I'm also all for bicycles for mechanically inept people with busy schedules, so I don't begrudge them when their best option is retail.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:48 PM on August 17, 2009


Or a lack of engagement with them in part as a product of a car-centric commuter culture

The engagement that is recommended by Clear Channel is to strike cyclists with your car.

Kevin Bray was, well, shocked, when he heard that shock jocks were urging their listeners to run bicyclists off the road. He was horrified when he found out it had happened at least three times since July, in each case at stations owned by radio behemoth Clear Channel — first in Cleveland, then Houston and finally at a station in Raleigh, N.C.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:53 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


It goes hand-in hand with this view of public transportation as a last-resort third class transportation system for poor people.

People think of public transit that way because in many places that's an accurate description. In quite a few places in the US, public transit exists largely to serve the "transportation dependent." Meaning, people who are too poor to have cars, or who have disabilities preventing them from driving, or with too many DWIs to legally drive, plus the elderly and children. By and large, people who can afford to drive, drive. It's faster, more convenient, and feels safer. Driving allows multiple stops -- you can go from work to store to post office to restaurant to home, all without worrying about bus schedules.

Portland is an outlier in this, in terms of many decades of providing decent public transportation and provisions for bicycle commuting. And even there, an enormous number of people either have to drive every day, or choose to because of its conveniences. It took most of a century to build our current car-centric system, and it'll take a long time to change it, if we ever choose to do so.
posted by Forktine at 8:57 PM on August 17, 2009


I love when the NYT sends their people out into the field for one of these breathless "OMG EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD IS NOT EXACTLY THE SAME AS IN UPPER-MIDDLE-CLASS MANHATTAN!!1" stories.

I guess I should be grateful that Portland seems to have replaced L.A. as their favorite subject of ever-so-slightly-condescending bafflement.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:01 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


It is unrealistic and detached to think that any bicycle that is worth a damn is going to cost less than a hundred dollars in an urban setting, and less than three hundred if you don't intend to do any maintenance at all.

Last year, I bought a new road bike at the beginning of the school year for around $800. I sold it at the beginning of summer for $650 to a buyer the first day I put it on Craigslist. I did not lose money in the transaction. A parking pass would have cost $350, gas commuting to class/the store/around town at least that much, and in the end I found that I really love riding a bicycle, subculture or no.

If I owned a Portland bike shop, and this sap came off half as naive as he does when he writes, I'd overcharge him too. The premise of the article comes off as a forgone conclusion. It is like he had every intention of flying across the country to write about how much those crazy north-left coast brand kids will throw down for a bicycle.


Portland is an awesome city by the way, keep doing what you do.
posted by clearly at 9:13 PM on August 17, 2009


I'm also all for bicycles for mechanically inept people with busy schedules, so I don't begrudge them when their best option is retail.

Sure, I don't either. But let's remember what exactly Robin is saying in this piece. He's trying to make a point much broader then yours to score some sort of Freako "isn't economics weird!?" points:

Why does there seem to be no market in Portland for used bikes that are actually cheap?

Then, instead of actually telling us how many cheap used bikes are available *every day* on Craigslist in Portland - i.e., dozens upon dozens, which hardly counts as "no market for used bikes that are actually cheap" - he fudges the data by using median pricing - which of course allows a couple of $3,000 bike listings to effectively make invisible from his analysis the cheap bikes for sale that would undermine his point.

If that's a conscious move, it's despicable. If it's unconscious, it's stupid. I lean towards the latter, but either one works.
posted by mediareport at 9:15 PM on August 17, 2009


You're right about all that, but I'd say it's also true that American culture treats driving as a regular coming-of-age ritual.

Absolutely (if not universally). But there isn't usually a ritual bike-burning involved, so that's somewhat aside the point I was responding to. Americans who don't ride bikes in general don't hate the things at all: they just don't pay much attention to them, period.

he fudges the data by using median pricing - which of course allows a couple of $3,000 bike listings to effectively make invisible from his analysis the cheap bikes for sale that would undermine his point.

Median pricing is useful specifically because it prevents low numbers of outliers from significantly shifting the represented value. Had he used raw mean, your argument would be better.

That's not to say that he mightn't have chosen to just run with the median across the board because he liked the numbers better, but let's not make shit up about mathematics in the process of calling him on this stuff.
posted by cortex at 9:27 PM on August 17, 2009


he fudges the data by using median pricing - which of course allows a couple of $3,000 bike listings to effectively make invisible from his analysis the cheap bikes for sale that would undermine his point

No, you're wrong. Were he to use arithmetic mean pricing, that would be fudging. Part of the reasoning for using medians is to be able to marginalize outliers like $3K bikes.

There are a few other advantages to using medians, but those don't apply to the aforementioned comment.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:33 PM on August 17, 2009


Oh man, I totally want one of those Urban Outfitters bikes!

before you plunk down your hard earned cash...One bike shop's experience with them

I actually am in the bike biz, and my company's bikes are in the "really?people pay that much for a bike?" category. To which the response usually is "actually that's just for the frame and fork"

Bikes are a fashion accessory as well as a mode of transportation. Especially for those of us raised on Schwinn stingray's and Evel Knievel BMX's. Fashion always comes at a price.
posted by billyfleetwood at 9:43 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Interesting article - nice post.

I've been trying to find a cheap, used bicycle in the Portland-ish city where I live, but even a 25-year-old Raleigh is $250.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:47 PM on August 17, 2009


One bike shop's experience with them

Unsurprisingly, they want you to spend "4 bills" to be "safe". What a fucking joke. If lying was against the law, bike shop owner/bloggers like that would be put in jail for life.

Just call it a fashion statement, like buying a Louis Vuitton handbag, and be honest. Hipsters will buy that shit anyway, whether in Portland or Brooklyn.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:52 PM on August 17, 2009


Just call it a fashion statement, like buying a Louis Vuitton handbag, and be honest. Hipsters will buy that shit anyway, whether in Portland or Brooklyn.

Clearly you've never been to Portland and know nothing about bike culture. Portland hipsters are POOR. Contrary to popular belief, they drink PBR because its the cheapest beer in Portland. I don't know where the fuck you live, but no, hipsters don't 'buy that shit anyway.' I'm not a hipster, and I don't particularly like hipsters, but your statements are totally prejudice bullshit. Hipsters are hipsters because they buy things on the cheap, no because they spend a ton of money on fashion.

You've either spent too much time in Williamsburg, read to many hipster articles on the times, or live in the NW hills of pdx.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:17 PM on August 17, 2009


Part of the reason I have no idea why the nytimes douchebag found it necessary to come to portland and buy a bike to use for one week. And a savy traveler would just post something on craigslist asking to borrow a bike for a week for like $50 bucks.

That's (the douchebag comment) sort of harsh, innit? I mean, when I lived in Chicago, both of my bikes (a 3-speed Schwinn cruiser and an 18-speed Huffy MTB) cost under $40 to buy outright - the cruiser was $20 and needed a new tube. It's not as though, for a week's vacation, you can rent a bike for $7/day in any major city, let alone Portland.
posted by unmake at 10:27 PM on August 17, 2009


And a savy traveler would just post something on craigslist asking to borrow a bike for a week for like $50 bucks.

I would never lend out my bike for $50. Not even for a day. No sir.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:29 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have just done some analysis of my own, parsing the last approximately 1500 listings in both Phoenix (the cheapest city he listed) and Portland for bikes. Since I wanted to compare only similar bicycles (to avoid the situation where Portland bikers may just prefer more expensive makes), I selected only listings containing 'schwinn' (the most frequent brand listed in both cities), as well as their prices.

In Phoenix the median 'schwinn' costs $125, while in Portland it is $150. This is significantly less than the 2x difference he posted.

In light of transportation costs, the pricing difference could very well be just a matter of higher demand in Portland for bicycles. Also, I haven't done any sort of statistical anaylsis, so I have no clue what the confidence intervals could be like on these.
posted by Pyry at 10:46 PM on August 17, 2009


Just as a data point on big box store bikes, this is a tandem sold by Sears a few years ago. That's the actual un-'shopped product shot. (Come to think of it, if you take a close look at the current product shot, I'm pretty sure it's a 'shopped version of the one I have.)

It's probably a fine bicycle. It's just... I prefer my bikes to come from companies that know how to assemble them for their catalog photo shoot, ya know?
posted by hades at 11:05 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


before you plunk down your hard earned cash...One bike shop's experience with them

Bike shop wants you to spend hundreds of dollars on a bike, film at eleven.

Seriously, though, is there a reason that bikes like these are widespread and cheap in American cities? These are all over the place in Japan; they have fenders, a chainguard, a light and a basket; and you can find them new for as little as 10,000 yen at your nearest hypermarket. The same goes for folding bikes, though they are closer to 25,000 yen depending on size and weight.

They're made in China, I know -- but still, why can I get an inexpensive, perfectly decent bike for short-range commuting in Japan but not in America? There certainly seems to be high demand for them.
posted by armage at 11:12 PM on August 17, 2009


In Seattle, bikes like those go for more like 150,000 yen.
posted by hades at 11:22 PM on August 17, 2009


why can I get an inexpensive, perfectly decent bike for short-range commuting in Japan but not in America?

Bike stores want you to spend many hundreds, if not thousands, on a racing bicycle with technology you don't need, even though you're not a racer, but a commuter.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:23 PM on August 17, 2009


I'm a fan of the $300-on-up bike store bikes. And I'm not a hipster by any means.

Quality bikes are far easier to fix than cheap ones. You can take apart and reassemble most of one of these bikes with a y-wrench. The wheels have quick release hubs, which is invaluable when you need to fix a flat roadside. Cartridge bottom brackets and headsets last a hel of a long time with virtually no maintenance. Three-piece cranksets are better than one-piece by a longshot. The brakes stop so much better. Shifters stay in adjustment and actually hit the gears you're trying for. A friend of mine was getting in shape and had been riding his box store bike for a few weeks. We had him take a spin on my wife's $300 bike store special, an he was stunned by how much smoother it was. Box-store bikes are put together by... Well, who knows? A bike you buy at a bike store, by comparison, will have been assembled by someone who knows what he or she is doing, and will be adjusted right from the start. Bike shops will also give you a free first tune up and free adjustments for the life of the bike in most cases. My daily ride cost me $900 last year (replacing a 10- year old GT Backwoods) and I love it. In my case, having a hassle-free smooth ride was not only worth the money, it has made cycling enjoyable enough that I'm actually doing it, getting in shape and losing weight.

I don't begrudge those who buy box store bikes. But it's absolutely incorrect to state that a $400 bike is no better than a $80 Huffy.
posted by azpenguin at 11:24 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


For a more appropriate comparison, here's a US importer of actual Chinese Flying Pigeon bicycles. Theirs sell for $300 (plus another $110 for shipping and tax if you aren't in LA). Why aren't these widespread and cheap? Because apparently we can't do that anymore--we've offloaded our capability to make cheap bicycles to China. Buying a Chinese-brand bicycle costs more than twice what it costs to buy an "American"-brand cheapie bike made in China. The closest comparable-quality bicycle made in the US I can think of is a Worksman, and even those are $300 new, at minimum.
posted by hades at 11:55 PM on August 17, 2009


Part of the reasoning for using medians is to be able to marginalize outliers like $3K bikes.

I'll take you at your word, but the point stands: the way he's presenting the Craigslist data effectively makes invisible the fact that there are dozens and dozens of cheap used bikes being offered for sale every day. Which makes "Why does there seem to be no market in Portland for used bikes that are actually cheap?" look absurd.
posted by mediareport at 12:13 AM on August 18, 2009


Quality bikes are far easier to fix than cheap ones.

Nonsense.

You can take apart and reassemble most of one of these bikes with a y-wrench.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

The wheels have quick release hubs, which is invaluable when you need to fix a flat roadside.

This may be true if you don't have that Y wrench. Then again, half the time I need to fix a flat, it isn't even necessary to remove the wheel at all.

Cartridge bottom brackets and headsets last a hel of a long time with virtually no maintenance.

This is one of those things that is true, except when it isn't. Old fashioned cup and cone sets rarely cause any trouble for the likes of Goldstein. It's not uncommon to find a 30 year old crappy bike in the dumpster around here probably never seen a dab of grease in it's lifetime, only needing air in the tires to get it running again.

Three-piece cranksets are better than one-piece by a longshot.

Nonsense. Three piece cranks, assuming they are made of aluminum, will cut weight by about a pound. However, they are more difficult to service than one piece cranks, needing rather specialized tools, and will certainly be no more reliable.

The brakes stop so much better.

This was true in the past when long reach sidepulls and steel rims were the norm. These days, I haven't found the V brakes on a sub $100 walmart bike to be significantly worse than V brakes found on any other bike. It's simply a matter of better designs having trickled down to all but the very cheapest of bikes.

Shifters stay in adjustment and actually hit the gears you're trying for.

I have yet to see a derailer that stays in adjustment at any price. Those clicky indexed things do work better on expensive bikes, I will grant you.

I don't begrudge those who buy box store bikes. But it's absolutely incorrect to state that a $400 bike is no better than a $80 Huffy.

Who said this?
posted by 2N2222 at 12:20 AM on August 18, 2009


There are plenty of bike builders in America, but they are a lot more expensive than chinese labor. Thus the bikes are more expensive.

I have a 10-speedy spirit or some such, that is still around from when I was a teenager(20 years or so. It cost me $45 dollars. I took it for a spin, and there really is no comparison between it and my used bianche.

Also for those of you who want to sell used bikes in Portland. If you make them all work first, you can go to the first day of college classes and usually move a truck load by the end of the day.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:30 AM on August 18, 2009


For a more appropriate comparison, here's a US importer of actual Chinese Flying Pigeon bicycles. Theirs sell for $300 (plus another $110 for shipping and tax if you aren't in LA). Why aren't these widespread and cheap? Because apparently we can't do that anymore--we've offloaded our capability to make cheap bicycles to China. Buying a Chinese-brand bicycle costs more than twice what it costs to buy an "American"-brand cheapie bike made in China. The closest comparable-quality bicycle made in the US I can think of is a Worksman, and even those are $300 new, at minimum.

Talk about hipster bike! Those relics do seem to have a small market in the US. But there is good reason they are relics. Single speed with rod brakes on steel rims and obscure tire size. Probably at least 50 lbs. They are dogs, long since abandoned in the rest of the world about the same time Britain left them to their former colonies like India. Walmart's cheapest have better specs. Even Worksman has enough sense to use more reliable coaster brakes on it's bikes. Like the Worksman, though, the Flying Pidgeon will probably survive a nuclear strike, of that is what one really needs.

I suppose if folks really wanted those things, they could be imported and sold for very low prices. Micargi, a company that markets mostly beach cruiser type bikes, offers one. But why would someone want something like that when Walmart offers this for about $100 and half the weight?
posted by 2N2222 at 12:58 AM on August 18, 2009


2N2222: Dude, really.

I turned wrench at the Davis Bike Church for two years, helping all kinds of members of the community learn how to repair their own bikes. I admit that I have not taken actual statistics, but the box-store bikes were absolutely more fucked in general than the not bike-store bikes that came through. I will grant you that a ten-year-old Huffy is likely very serviceable, but a two-year-old Magna is far less likely to be. I believe that the quality of the box-store bikes has plummeted in the last N years; perhaps this is the underlying cause for our disagreement.

I too very much believe that any bike that can be resurrected and put beneath the warm and cuddly ass of a worthwhile human being is a miracle unto itself - this is one of the key teachings of the Spoken Word we share at the Bike Church. I have scraped calcified salt off every inch of a San Francisco cruiser, replacing nearly every part. I have waded waist deep amongst the corpses of the dead and discarded, and from their tattered remnants assembled Frankenbikes of spectacular assemblage to let loose on the streets of our fine city. My race bike has shifters on the down tube, connecting to a Shimano shifter that does its duty for a Campy crankset. But I also rode for a year on a rust-encrusted Raleigh three-speed that I nursed back to health from scarce more than a frame and fork.

However, these Magnas depend on a substance that resembles steel far less than warm butter. I have seen cranks bend and threads evaporate on these so-called machines. And judging by the weight of these monstrosities, it's as though they believe that pouring in more of this Z-Grade metal will make up for its inherent flimsiness. The stock ball bearings from a Magna after one or two years of use in our famously rainless town resemble cocoa pebbles. This could be attributable to poor materials in the bearings themselves or poor materials in the bottom brackets or just incompetence on the part of the manufacturer in assembling the bike. The world may never know. Likewise, the wheels on these bikes seem unable to hold true, probably due to poor initial adjustment in the factory and a lack of a six-month service checkup.

It is true that such bikes can make their way back on to the road, but our organization has largely moved to scrapping the box store bikes and just restoring the other things that come our way - it saves the Ministers' time, and we still have more bike donations than we have time to restore them. Given the flood of perfectly wonderful old school bikes that merely need a bit of love, there is no reason at all to waste time wrenching on these completely craptastic box store bikes.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:47 AM on August 18, 2009 [10 favorites]


We sometimes, when the hour is late and the Communion wine has been flowing, wonder if Magna is secretly subsidized by the car industry to keep bike culture from really taking off. No one who rides one of these things as a kid or in their small college town would view bike commuting as a reasonable way of living.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:49 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bike shop wants you to spend hundreds of dollars on a bike, film at eleven.

Well, yeah, that part is to be expected, but their specific remarks about the Urban Outfitters (republic) bike was that no amount of money could fix sloppily welded dropouts and easily bent steel. And having had a pretty crappy experience with a cheap bike with that exact problem, i thought it was worth pointing out. I've had a frame snap in two because improperly spaced rear dropouts were putting way too much tension on the frame. Luckily I was pushing uphill,and the fall wasn't too bad. The long walk home sucked though.

I found out after the fact that the frequent flats I was getting was a good symptom that this was bound to happen.The wheel was flexing and pinching the tube. Which Is not a connection I ever would have made. I kept this in mind when buying a new bike, and went from averaging two flats a week to one in the past two years.

And plastic brake lever clamps? I can't see how that's even legal.
posted by billyfleetwood at 1:53 AM on August 18, 2009


Quality bikes are far easier to fix than cheap ones.

Nonsense.


Spoken like a man who has his own mill and metal lathe!

In all seriousness dude, I have an ancient Jeunet (circa Nixon) and a Magna (circa Bush 2.2) sitting in my basement. Both more or less as I found them on the curbs of the greater St. Louis Metropolitan area. Guess which one I think I can make into a usable bike again. Guess which one has a frozen crank and is mostly going to end up split between the guts of a animatronic Halloween decoration and a recycling bin.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:44 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


So hey, somewhat related to all these fixed gear bikes everywhere, what's the deal with the handlebars..? I'm noticing more and more of them have those long, curved bars where you kinda hold them like a wheelbarrow, and they seem like they wouldn't be very efficient to maneuver with; is it just because you can sit up straighter and have less strain on your back and shoulders and stuff?
posted by Jinkeez at 5:31 AM on August 18, 2009


Brooklyn contains many different neighborhoods, including some that are no more like each other than Cleveland is like Beverly Hills. Is a "Brooklynish" neighborhood one that's like Park Slope, or Crown Heights, or Coney Island, or Red Hook, or Bushwick, or Flatbush, or Canarsie?

Like all NYT articles that reference Brooklyn, he means where many NYT readers live, RE: Williamsburg or Park Slope. They don't know about those other neighborhoods.
posted by melissam at 5:32 AM on August 18, 2009



Seriously, though, is there a reason that bikes like these are widespread and cheap in American cities? These are all over the place in Japan; they have fenders, a chainguard, a light and a basket; and you can find them new for as little as 10,000 yen at your nearest hypermarket. The same goes for folding bikes, though they are closer to 25,000 yen depending on size and weight.


Wow, that's about the exact bike I had in Sweden. It was about $200. It wasn't the fastest, sleekest bike in the world, but it was durable and took me all around the greater Uppsala-metro area. It wasn't like I took mountain trails with that thing, but it was perfect for berry picking in the Haga Valley or grocery shopping. Sweden has amazing bike trails though, completely separate from the road, paved well, and in general a pleasure to ride on.
posted by melissam at 5:38 AM on August 18, 2009


A friend of mine bought a box-store bike for commuting.

First, the freaking wheel fell off mid-ride and nearly killed him (it had never been properly tightened). Then, the lack of real rim tape resulted in three flats in rapid succession. Finally, the whole thing rusted up after some light winter riding. You hear the same stories over and over. Heck, sometimes the even come with the fork installed backwards. Which would be more hilarious if it weren't the only example.

Some bike stores are terrible, sure, but your odds of walking away with a bike that's safer, more reliable, and more fun to ride go up astronomically if you buy from them. The only way to save money and still get a decent bike is to buy used and learn some repair skills.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 6:27 AM on August 18, 2009


Gah. If it were the only example...there's plenty more.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 6:32 AM on August 18, 2009


I feel like such a chump for selling my fully operational mid-70's Peugeot U08 to a coworker for $20.
posted by cairnish at 7:58 AM on August 18, 2009


So hey, somewhat related to all these fixed gear bikes everywhere, what's the deal with the handlebars..?

I think it's a kind of faux nostalgia ("fostalgia") for "European" bicycles. It's just a fasion; it doesn't have to make sense anymore than it's what the cool kids are doing.

Speaking as one whose had moustache bars on his bike for years, the bendy bars are, to me, signifcantly more comfortable and easy to ride longer distances with than flat bars. It's all about the hand and body positions. While not as flexible as drop bars (3 positions: bars, hoods and drops), the moustache bars offer at least two positions (levers and handles) which is nice on longer rides. Bars (whithout bar ends) offer only a single hand position. Great for offroad, not so great for centuries.
posted by bonehead at 8:03 AM on August 18, 2009


I enjoyed the article and the histrionics. You can still get cheap (inexpensive) bikes in Philly, although the schmucks on Craigslist seem to think that bicycles don't depreciate in value.
posted by Mister_A at 8:13 AM on August 18, 2009


It's a bit of a shame that the usual advice given to people with little money an a desire to get around by bicycle is "get a used bike, you'll get more for the money." While this may be true, the typical neophyte rider isn't in a position to tell a good used bike from, well, a Wal-Mart special. It appears to me that the price point for a low end bike from a local shop is about $400 or so, at least around here. No thrift store finds or dumpster bikes here, I'm afraid; it's no PDX but there's plenty of people wanting fixies.

I wish I remember what I bought my hybrid bike for circa 1988 or so. I want to say $400, and it's lasted through college, a dry spell, and now a couple of years of daily commuting. This is with Shimano 200GS components, considered low end. After about a year of commuting the shifters seized up and I replaced then with $40 worth of low-end indexed shifters (and new brake levers, the old ones were integrated), figuring if they'd lasted 20 years or so before I didn't need top of the line.

It is a low-end bike store bike, and it's heavy, and it just won't die. While I know there's this trend to ironically make the uncool somehow cool, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that's not gonna happen with hybrids.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 8:44 AM on August 18, 2009


Shouldn't hipsters be driving Hummer H2s now, to go against the grain? Especially Portland hipsters, the worst sort of hipsters?
posted by Mister_A at 9:33 AM on August 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


For a more appropriate comparison, here's a US importer of actual Chinese Flying Pigeon bicycles. Theirs sell for $300 (plus another $110 for shipping and tax if you aren't in LA). Why aren't these widespread and cheap? Because apparently we can't do that anymore--we've offloaded our capability to make cheap bicycles to China. Buying a Chinese-brand bicycle costs more than twice what it costs to buy an "American"-brand cheapie bike made in China. The closest comparable-quality bicycle made in the US I can think of is a Worksman, and even those are $300 new, at minimum.

The Flying Pigeon is also available in Portland at Joe Bike for $259 (single speed) or $300 (3 speed).

You will find a pretty silly price premium on fashionable vintage hipster frames, generally repurposed as fixies. And shockingly, they ONLY HAVE ONE GEAR. But good bikes cost a lot. I ride 10 miles every day, and spent $1,500 on my Cannondale road bike. This is still enormously cheaper than owning a second car, and driving it downtown every day.

Plus, I get the joy of hurtling past preening bianchi riders in the Vancouver/Williams bike lanes.
posted by ladd at 9:36 AM on August 18, 2009


The funny thing about the box store bike hate is that is what 90% of the kids are riding, and they put more use and abuse on a bike than anyone.
posted by smackfu at 9:45 AM on August 18, 2009


Shouldn't hipsters be driving Hummer H2s now

Just to echo someone's previous point, hipsters aren't necessarily monied; it's arguable that a large part of the fixed-gear craze originally came from the extreme ease of maintenance on these bikes. They have fewer moving parts and thus much less to fix. If you're skilled enough to do a track stand (balancing in place on top of the bike), you can accelerate out of a stoplight much faster than someone who has to put their foot on the ground. There's also a slight gain in efficiency to be had by throwing away the rear derailleur, and having to pedal all the time makes one a much more efficient cyclist after a while. If you're in a relatively flat city, you can choose a gearing that will allow you to go fast and still power up small hills without too much difficulty.

These really are perfect bikes for messengers, and anyone who wants to ride fast through an urban environment. Fixies are cheap to build, cheap to maintain, and optimal for their environment. A Hummer is none of these things.
posted by kaibutsu at 9:55 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


they put more use and abuse on a bike than anyone

Really? They put 70 miles a week on those big box bikes, plus, say, a quarterly century or rando? Huh. I am surprised!
posted by everichon at 10:14 AM on August 18, 2009


Plus, I get the joy of hurtling past preening bianchi riders in the Vancouver/Williams bike lanes.

So that was YOU this morning. Well, nice bike.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:16 AM on August 18, 2009


I get the joy of hurtling past preening bianchi riders in the Vancouver/Williams bike lanes.

Fuckin' roadies. An "On your left" would be nice occasionally.
posted by dersins at 10:20 AM on August 18, 2009


Really? They put 70 miles a week on those big box bikes, plus, say, a quarterly century or rando?

They don't maintain them, ride them in the rain, leave them outside, don't use the kickstand, and regularly crash. When's the last time you played chicken on your bike?
posted by smackfu at 10:22 AM on August 18, 2009


When's the last time you played chicken on your bike?

I am glad you asked me that! I play chicken every time some (probably Magna-riding) chowderhead comes at me going the wrong motherfucking way in the bike lane on our town's main drag. My hide, it becomes chapped.
posted by everichon at 10:27 AM on August 18, 2009


Kids also lose, discard, or outgrow their bikes in a year. Sometimes two. Very few of them ride every day, nor log much time in the rain. And the forces involves in their low-speed antics pale in comparison to the forces involved in hitting a good sized pothole at 25 mph. And they tend to have somebody else around to just fix things/pay for things to get fixed when they're broken, a luxury few of us enjoy into adulthood.

Plus, up until a certain age they're mostly riding one speeds with coaster brakes, which are very low maintenance because there's not much to break, but not really relevant to the discussion.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 10:39 AM on August 18, 2009


Fuckin' roadies. An "On your left" would be nice occasionally.

More like an "On your right." Followed by an "I'm pulling left in front of you and the car to your left, as I pass on your right."

Fixie riders don't need to respect conventions. That's square, man!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:06 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I believe that the quality of the box-store bikes has plummeted in the last N years; perhaps this is the underlying cause for our disagreement.

I really haven't found this to be the case at all. Modern Chinese made big box bikes are much better than the American made Huffy and Murray equivalents when I was a kid. No more Wald stems and bearings. Aluminum frames with decent welds are more common. Even single walled steel rims are going extinct in the sub $100 range.

I have no doubt that an old Jeunet is probably more rideable than a five year old Magna. I also suspect the Jeunet was never treated like a disposable object the way most Magnas are.

The only way to save money and still get a decent bike is to buy used and learn some repair skills

Absolutely, for better or worse. Actually, I contend that this is a major reason bicycling isn't very popular form of practical transportation in the US. It's almost imperative that a cyclist learns how to wrench just to be able to ride. This is a major disincentive for many folks. And the need to wrench does not disappear a the price of the bike goes up. In some cases, the higher priced bikes demand even more attention to upkeep.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:07 AM on August 18, 2009


Dr.E.: I'd suggest that the problems you've seen with big-box-store bikes are not the fault of the Chinese factory (which very likely makes high-end bikes too), but the minimum-wage workers in the back of the Wal-Mart who have to unpack the boxes, attach the wheels, brakes, and handlebars, and tighten all the bolts.

By the way, when you buy a bike from a bike store you're paying perhaps $100 for a serious bike mechanic to assemble it for you. You can order non-assembled bikes straight from the Chinese manufacturers through bikesdirect.com (no affiliation, have never purchased).
posted by miyabo at 12:51 PM on August 18, 2009


Dr.Enormous: Kids also lose, discard, or outgrow their bikes in a year. Sometimes two. Very few of them ride every day, nor log much time in the rain. And the forces involves in their low-speed antics pale in comparison to the forces involved in hitting a good sized pothole at 25 mph. And they tend to have somebody else around to just fix things/pay for things to get fixed when they're broken, a luxury few of us enjoy into adulthood.

I realize this is anecdata, but here you go: My parents did me a huge favor and bought me a real bike (a medium-low end cromo steel fully rigid mountain bike) when I was 14, instead of doing the walmart thing. I rode that thing until I was 26. It carried me over a thousand miles on roads and several hundred miles on trails. I did a 160-mile (short, I know) bike tour on it. I've ridden it as fast as 45 mph (granted, it was downhill.) It still lives today as a single-speed conversion.

A wal-mart bike is not going to do that. I can see getting one for little kids (<12), but at least have some kind of bike mechanic look at it to ensure it doesn't fall apart underneath them.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:36 PM on August 18, 2009


A friend of mine was/is heavy into biking, I live in Austin right on the hike/bike trail, I wanted to buy a bike, started looking around. This is in 2000. My buddy insisted that I not buy a walmart bike, told me again and again that I didn't want it, that it was junk and it'd need work and I'd not like it from day one. It seemed somewhat insane to me to look at bikes costing five, six, seven, eight hundred bucks; I'm like "WTF?" But I trusted this guy.

It was the right thing to do, this kid was right on the money.

I ended up dropping right at 700 bucks on a sweet Giant mountain bike. Worth every dime. I've ridden lots in these years and I've seen big box bikes and there's just no comparison. Plus I'm tall, and I needed a bike that fit me, and no box store bike would have come close. And you just don't see box store bikes on the hard trails. Period. There's a reason for that.

This bike is far tougher than I'll ever be, I've gone down many times, roughed myself up, the good trails aren't for graceless mopes and it seems I often am that. The bike is scratched all to hell and dented some but it's supposed to be, it's a mountain bike, it's built to ride. No matter what I've thrown at it the bike just keeps on rocking.

This year I've spent maybe $200 rebuilding it, end to end, many new components, it's like a brand new bike except it's got all the scratches from the years of fun.

I loved this bike the day I got it and I love it today.

If you just want a garbage can to nose around town, hey, buy one. But if you're looking for a bike for the long haul, one that lasts a long, long time with heavy usage, and is worth re-building, spend the money. On top of everything else, the bike is pretty as hell. Like so many other items, spending a few bucks more at the first saves money over the long haul and you'll love the thing to boot, no point in buying something you don't love.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:36 PM on August 18, 2009


... buy him a growler of HUB and watch him whip out a bike for you

These words seemed like English, but I had to verify. Growler seems to be a 64 oz container for drinking beer, probably re-fillable. I believe HUB refers to the Hopworks Urban Brewery, or one of their organic beers.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:39 PM on August 18, 2009


Cheap bikes in Portland at Community Cycling Center. There's almost always 5-12 sitting outside. They're donations and generally in the range of 35-90 clams. Donations waiting to be fixed up. Apparently the author didn't ask enough folks, or only asked pbr drinkers. Shoulda asked someone drinking expensive beer. We generally spend less on our bikes because, well, the beer's what's important. That's where I got my beautiful 10 speed huffy.

And, wow, heads up behinds abound when it comes to pdx and our bikers. There are a lot of poseurs, wannabes, wanks, wags, willies, weiners, und zofort roaming the streets. Main point being, we have a bike shangrila here and yeah, if you want a bike, there's a good chance you're going to be chasing a dwindling supply with larger wads of cheddar. It's what you call economics 101 and we have a burgeoning bicycle economy here in stumptown. I'm proud of it. And the beer.
posted by valentinepig at 5:40 PM on August 18, 2009


[I'm late and probably missed a point or two in following the arguments but I'm oh so invested.]

Gonna up and disagree w the whole gawking at price difference fiasco--which I understand is the premise for a freakonomics blog in the first place--for political reasons, and because they also think that there is no difference between a delicious, ripe, locally-grown tomato in season and a hard, flavorless one trucked in from across the country (except price, of course). Yea.

Thesis: it's not how much but TO WHOM.

While I do appreciate all the debate re bike cost/value;

I wish that what Lutoslawski is saying about prices was true, but it's not what I've found. I lived in Portland from 99-02, moved away, and just moved back. The prices at City Bikes are about twice what I remember, but not at Alberta Street Co-op. I haven't seen a single bike in Goodwill since being back, and the median price for a decent used street bike with more than one gear on Craigslist seems to hover around $300. That's definitely more than it used to be.

..check. But it's a little beside the point here.

I'm also all for bicycles for mechanically inept people with busy schedules, so I don't begrudge them when their best option is retail.

Well I begrudge them full force.
Have we forgotten our duty to vote with our wallets?
You want cheap, buy used, $35 and up. You want better quality, get used refurbished for $150 and up. You want to be cute too?? Start with that royal blue '74 Raleigh frame, a competent mechanic, and throw on a wicker basket, all starting at $250. You want a cookie? Collect parts for cheap (or rusty parts and WD40 for cheaper), read a book, make some friends, sweep the co-op, and DIYourDamnSelf.
...You want to let price and ease be the determining factors, but still want a durable ride, sweatshops and fossil fuels that you're "trying not to burn" in the first place by riding your bike be damned? Fine, go to Targostmart and help the antichrists get richer.

And while I'm at it here's a little something for Lutoslawski. No more commenting while at work.
posted by JaiMahodara at 10:40 AM on August 20, 2009


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