Big Box Store Bicycles Meant To Fail
This headline on a Google News feed caught my eye: “Mechanics Ask Walmart, Major Bike Manufacturers to Stop Making and Selling ‘Built-to-Fail’ Bikes -The problem with budget bikes is everything. They’re literally built to fail.” 
In an urban setting, one can find these bikes laying abandoned on the side of the road. I have found a couple myself and reported them to the police who had no record of a bike theft so I attempted without success to make them rideable so I could donate the bike to someone who could use it.
I have experience with this issue from two different perspectives- my youngest son once had a part time job assembling these bikes and I once volunteered to work on some bikes at the local urban league.
My son was an experienced cyclist, having started mountain bike racing with me when he was ten years old. As a young adult looking for work, he came across a contract company that went around the region to the various big box stores and assembled their bikes for them. Ostensibly, the assembly mechanics should know what they are doing. My son did know what he was doing, as a biker and working with me on our own bikes. But as the article points out this is not always the case. The situation became even worse for consumers in our area because the big box stores couldn’t always guarantee when the assemblers would have access to the bike or when the bikes would be delivered. So rather than pay the contracted assembly techs who came to the store at the required time to stand around with no bikes to put together, the big box managers opted to eliminate the more competent contract service and have their own employees assemble the bikes.
My experience illustrated a different aspect of the budget bike industry from my background in manufacturing. I have been in the automotive industry since 1999 on the shop floor and as an industrial, manufacturing and quality engineer. The problem I experienced wasn’t shoddy parts, but rather the “because most of the parts are mounted or attached in atypical and semi-permanent fashion, they cannot be replaced with other standard parts like normal bike parts can.”
I was president at the time of our local mountain biking advocacy organization and had been quoted in a local news article. The local Urban League training center, which had a dormitory with recreational opportunities, asked me to come look at their stable of bicycles and get them rideable.
What followed, when I volunteered, was a four hour effort to make six rideable bikes out of about fourteen!
Of particular illustration is the fact that the stable of bikes included six Royce Union road bicycles- all the same make and model, except….
As I began to try to work on these, perhaps using one bike as the parts bike (taking parts from this bike to make one of the other bikes rideable) I began to notice that several of them had one kind of crankset while two of the others had a differing crankset and the last one completely different! (Crankset is the mechanism on which your pedals are attached and turn when you pedal the bike).
I know how tooling and re-tooling can occur in a factory. I also know from experience how fast acquiring new manufactured parts could happen at that time in Taiwan and China. What I concluded was that as the plant manufacturing these models ran out of a given crankset, they immediately acquire more, but different, parts from another crankset supplier. The plant likely re-tooled the area of the bike on which the cranksets are mounted and resumed churning out bikes with a different crankset. This made it impossible to move parts from one bike to the other during my volunteer repair operation.
Quite frustrating, but illustrates what the article discusses as consumers bring these bikes into a local bike shop for repair only to be disappointed that it is not possible. The consumer bought a $300 and now it is not rideable. Spending a couple hundred more at their LBS (local bike shop) would have resulted in bike that would last decades.
Now most of my bikes cost considerably more. I have a 1978 Puch Pathfinder “touring bike” which I bought in 1978 for about $400 which in 2022 terms equals about $1700. My mountain bike (2006), cyclocross bike (2007), road bike (2009), and gravel road bike (2022), all cost between $1400-$1600 at the various times I purchased them. My Puch is still eminently a rideable bike as is my 15 year old mountain bike on which I have made numerous changes and upgrades over the years- going from a triple chain ring on the front to a “1X” drive train, new fork, different wheels. That is what the mechanics in the story are arguing- that even budget bikes should have some interchangeability for parts and components.