New bike

(Is it green? Yes, very.)

Six years ago, I bought a $360 entry-level “hybrid” bike from a local bike shop. This weekend, I decided to step up to the next level… by buying a $200 big-box bike from Target. Wait, what?

When I bought my last bike, I knew almost nothing about bikes, went into a shop armed with only a little research, and walked out with something. It was a decent quality bike, but there were lots of things I ultimately didn’t like about it. It was billed as a “hybrid” bike, but it would be hard to explain how it was different from a mountain bike. The handlebars were way too high and I didn’t like the curve of them. (The stem was adjustable, and I eventually did lower it down, but that brought it very far forward.) It was quite heavy. The tires were very wide and very knobby. I didn’t like the front fork suspension. It was very high up and the seatpost had its own suspension which took up a lot of space, and as a result the lowest possible position of the saddle was the bare minimum acceptable for me. And while it had a partial chain guard, I never used the front high or low gear.

None of these downsides by themselves were terrible, and I told myself I wouldn’t use them as an excuse to not ride, and I wouldn’t address them until I had been riding more. Well, I didn’t ride much until about the last year, and in particular I’ve been riding at least three times per week throughout the spring, so recently I decided to look around.

I ruled out new bikes as I didn’t want to spend more than about $400. Last weekend was Earth Day, and I biked to the celebration downtown, where the local Kiwanis bike group had brought their inventory. Some of the bikes looked good, but didn’t satisfy everything I wanted. I was planning on continuing looking for used bikes (I had not yet visited the Reno Bike Project), but this weekend somehow ended up on Target’s site. There they had a Schwinn Median bike which looked good on paper:

  • Lighter and lower
  • 700c wheels
  • Tires are wider than a road bike, but narrower than a mountain bike (700x38), and are semi-slick (or at least not as knobby as a mountain bike)
  • 7-speed, no front derailleur, and the front chainwheel is recessed into a nice chain guard area
  • Mostly flat handlebars
  • $200

I found a review of the Schwinn Median which says, “Never has bike had a more appropriate name. It occupies the exact space of crossover between mountain bike, road bike and cruiser.” Given the specs, that is quite accurate, and is almost exactly what I was looking for.

The one at the store was decently assembled, so I bought it. I spent some time adjusting the derailleur and brakes, but the rest of the components were decently aligned and tight. I transfered over the lights, rack and saddle from the old bike, and have been enjoying it.

I still have the old bike, but it’s been downgraded to “Burning Man bike” status.

(N.B.: San Francisco’s Bike to Work Day is this Thursday.)

Now, I’m sure I just spat in Bike Church. I bought a big-box bike as an upgrade, and I’m happy about it? Heresy! To which I reply, meh. There was one bike which happened to satisfy my personal checklist, and it happened to have the name “Schwinn” on it, and was likely assembled by a teenager. The frame is fine. The components are good. The gear system is acceptable. It feels comfortable. And it was priced decently.

I should point out that’s not guaranteed to always be the case. I’d consider myself firmly a bicycle semi-amateur these days, so I at least knew what to look for. Interestingly, while the Schwinn Median has probably sold about a million bikes, there’s not much mention of it online. One of the top results is a blog post by a family showing it off, where the pictures clearly show the front fork was attached backwards.

(N.B.: There is actually a forum dedicated to discussing bikes from big-box stores.)