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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My wife has been riding her bike around the track at the school the last couple of months for exercise, and I was in Walmart the other week and noticed this nice looking Schwinn hardtail. It was a nice teal or blue, and what really caught my eye was that it had a tapered head tube. So I thought about getting it and maybe adding a few things here or there. She rides a Mongoose full suspension with the crappy spring for a rear shock. I just think she'd be better off on hardtail.

Now before everyone starts in on the whole Walmart bike thing, let me explain where I'm going with this. The other day when I was on the Trek website looking at bikes for myself, I checked out some hardtails and I looked at the Marlin 4 for $500-something. It got me to thinking, why buy a Walmart bike and throw a bunch of parts at it when I could just spend a little more and get a "real" bike. But then when I went back and started studying the components I noticed that the Trek really wasn't any better off. Mechanical disc brakes, spring fork with no lockout, straight head tube. Pretty much the same things I was going to change on the Schwinn, I'd want to change on the Trek. So then I started looking at budget models of other brands and they were the same way. So then I started going up in models to get to what I wanted, only to see the price keep climbing. So then it puts me right back to the Schwinn where I can get it upgraded at a much lower price level than buying a decent hardtail complete.

I find it odd that the name brand companies are not using tapered head tubes on all their bikes except maybe their smaller bikes like 24". I'll be the first to admit that you probably don't need a tapered head tube on every bike, but with 1 1/8" forks getting more and more scarce, if you had to replace one either due to performing poorly or due to it breaking, you're about SOL on finding an actual upgrade.

Any way, my point is not to start some war on department store bikes vs LBS because I know how these things go. But it's more to say my surprise at how inadequate I feel the name brand low-end models are. I was doing some searching to see what people had to say about the Marlin bikes and I saw a lot of "they're crap". But let's not pick on just Trek because I saw a lot of other low-end "crap" too.
 

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Your wife who is used to a Mongoose bike probably wont feel the difference between a bike with a straight headtube and coil shock and a bike with a tapered headtube and an air shock. I had a Rockhopper Comp 1x. Straight headtube and coil shock. Hydraulic brakes and 1x9 drivetrain. I rode that bike and did some prettu aggressive trails. The bike didnt hold me back and when i got to the limits of the bike i was able to handle and appreciate a more advanced bike. You also pay for the design and workmanship and weight of the frame. That Schwinn may jave a tapered headtube but its not comparable to my new Chisel frame at all.
 

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I think you just saw behind the curtain.

All bikes are made in the same factories in Taiwan and China. All of them, even the expensive ones.

Mongoose is a brand of Pacific Cycles; they are just ordering frames from the same exact companies as everyone else. I have a Mongoose cargo bike. It's built solid and has a good, well-thought design with lots of mounts and good welds. It wouldn't be any better if the stickers were from a more trendy name brand.

The problem, if it really is a problem, with better Walmart bikes is that SOMETIMES the geometry or the parts standards are outdated. But I'm usually happy with older parts standards and geometry anyway.

Even Jones Cycles has his diamond frames made in Taiwan and assembled in China. I'm not knocking Jones. I want one actually. But if a Jones diamond frame showed up at Walmart with Mongoose stickers on it...it would be the same damn bike. Not "just as good", I mean literally the same.

Personally I like to customize bikes. So I would rather buy a cheap bike and put my own parts on it (like I did with my Mongoose cargo bike and motobecane fat bike), than buy a more expensive bike with better parts that I'm going to take off anyway. I'm an old BMXer, so I don't understand why it's so hard to just buy frames for mountain and road bikes. Sure you can buy frame-only sometimes, but only from certain companies and they always want too much. In the BMX world, it's much more accepted to buy just a frame and the prices aren't outrageous either. It probably costs literally $20 most of these hard tail frames made, but the only way to actually get them is to buy a bike you don't want and strip off the parts and try to get rid of the parts. If that's the game, you might as well buy Walmart and send less money into the trash bin. I'm looking at a Mongoose gravel bike actually.
 

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For starters, with what your wife is doing now, obviously any functional bike would suffice.
Her Mongoose seems a great choice!
But hey, you guys should get what you guys want.

Having said that, I would trust a low paid bike shop employee to assemble my wife's bike way more than any big-box store employee. Now of course you could do a safety check yourselves, but it is a factor worth considering.

Anyway, labor issues aside, the major brands know they are competing with BB store bikes, to a degree, and have responded in kind.
Although their high end technology and design does 'trickle down' to their lower spec bikes, bottom end bikes will generally forfeit a vast performance improvement for the smallest cost savings- hence the 1 1/8 HT remains.
Still, research and design is a big part of what separates the major manufactures from walmart bikes.
It goes far beyond head tube type.

Now it seems like you are comparing 3 things here.
1) Schwinn + upgrades
2) Entry level Trek + upgrades
3) Higher spec bike, upgrades not required
A lot of variables in there, depending on how much you plan on replacing.
But I wouldn't count on a big return from selling your lowest spec take-off parts, lol!

All 3 options amounts to a unique basket of trade-offs and considerations.
Not least is the cost for performance.
Replacement/upgrade parts availability is another consideration that seems relevant here.
Customer support might be yet another one.
Resale value is important to many.

Value is subjective- it all boils down to your ultimate goals for the bike.
Lighter may be funner, but she will get less fitness value per lap!

To conclude, the best bike is any bike you get out and ride on.
 

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One factor to consider is the quality of the build, follow up service (many shops give free post purchase tune up to account for break in adjustments) and general bike-competence of the people providing advice and service. I checked over a cheap hardtail Trek a friend bought from a Trek store and everything was adjusted perfectly. There is surely value in that unless you are the kind of person that prefers to do all of their own mechanic work.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I think you just saw behind the curtain.

All bikes are made in the same factories in Taiwan and China. All of them, even the expensive ones.

Mongoose is a brand of Pacific Cycles; they are just ordering frames from the same exact companies as everyone else. I have a Mongoose cargo bike. It's built solid and has a good, well-thought design with lots of mounts and good welds. It wouldn't be any better if the stickers were from a more trendy name brand.

The problem, if it really is a problem, with better Walmart bikes is that SOMETIMES the geometry or the parts standards are outdated. But I'm usually happy with older parts standards and geometry anyway.

Even Jones Cycles has his diamond frames made in Taiwan and assembled in China. I'm not knocking Jones. I want one actually. But if a Jones diamond frame showed up at Walmart with Mongoose stickers on it...it would be the same damn bike. Not "just as good", I mean literally the same.

Personally I like to customize bikes. So I would rather buy a cheap bike and put my own parts on it (like I did with my Mongoose cargo bike and motobecane fat bike), than buy a more expensive bike with better parts that I'm going to take off anyway. I'm an old BMXer, so I don't understand why it's so hard to just buy frames for mountain and road bikes. Sure you can buy frame-only sometimes, but only from certain companies and they always want too much. In the BMX world, it's much more accepted to buy just a frame and the prices aren't outrageous either. It probably costs literally $20 most of these hard tail frames made, but the only way to actually get them is to buy a bike you don't want and strip off the parts and try to get rid of the parts. If that's the game, you might as well buy Walmart and send less money into the trash bin. I'm looking at a Mongoose gravel bike actually.
The thing is, this Schwinn seems more "modern" than the cheap name brands. It has a tapered head tube. It has the geo. If I'm going to replace the important parts I may as well start with the $248 Schwinn rather than the $550 Trek. That's $300 right there to go towards upgrades
 

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Id be patient and look locally for someone selling a nice used hardtail on one of your local sites. You might be able to find something nice.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
For starters, with what your wife is doing now, obviously any functional bike would suffice.
Her Mongoose seems a great choice!
But hey, you guys should get what you guys want.

Having said that, I would trust a low paid bike shop employee to assemble my wife's bike way more than any big-box store employee. Now of course you could do a safety check yourselves, but it is a factor worth considering.

Anyway, labor issues aside, the major brands know they are competing with BB store bikes, to a degree, and have responded in kind.
Although their high end technology and design does 'trickle down' to their lower spec bikes, bottom end bikes will generally forfeit a vast performance improvement for the smallest cost savings- hence the 1 1/8 HT remains.
Still, research and design is a big part of what separates the major manufactures from walmart bikes.
It goes far beyond head tube type.

Now it seems like you are comparing 3 things here.
1) Schwinn + upgrades
2) Entry level Trek + upgrades
3) Higher spec bike, upgrades not required
A lot of variables in there, depending on how much you plan on replacing.
But I wouldn't count on a big return from selling your lowest spec take-off parts, lol!

All 3 options amounts to a unique basket of trade-offs and considerations.
Not least is the cost for performance.
Replacement/upgrade parts availability is another consideration that seems relevant here.
Customer support might be yet another one.
Resale value is important to many.

Value is subjective- it all boils down to your ultimate goals for the bike.
Lighter may be funner, but she will get less fitness value per lap!

To conclude, the best bike is any bike you get out and ride on.
Keep in mind this is kind of just a project thing for me. Sometimes I have the need to tinker with things, and I don't have anything on my plate right now so it gets a little boring. She probably doesn't even need a bike, but I mentioned it and now she's like a kid asking if I've bought her bike yet. I was going to do some upgrades to her current bike, but it just isn't worth it. I was going to change to some quality V brakes and levers. Get rid of the grip shifters and get some normal grips because she complains about her hands hurting. I hate the cheap square taper cranks so was going to change that. Wanted to change the fork, but it's 1" so that's even worse to upgrade... impossible even.

I thought a hardtail would be more efficient for her pedaling rather than the bobbing she's bound to have now. Plus there's little things like the ability to put a water bottle cage on it. Currently, I have this holder on her seat post but she has to put it on the side of the seat post due to her bottle height and she's avoiding it with her leg while pedaling.

I think she'll like it more, and if she doesn't, Walmart has 90 day returns on bicycles. I'll go over everything once I get it home any way.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Id be patient and look locally for someone selling a nice used hardtail on one of your local sites. You might be able to find something nice.
I've tried that, and there's just not much around here. And if someone does have something decent they still want a decent penny for it...more than a Walmart Schwinn and as much a low end Trek. Plus, realize you're dealing with a woman so the bike has to appeal visually to her (as it would me too), and then convince her that this "used" bike is good.
 

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The thing is, this Schwinn seems more "modern" than the cheap name brands. It has a tapered head tube. It has the geo. If I'm going to replace the important parts I may as well start with the $248 Schwinn rather than the $550 Trek. That's $300 right there to go towards upgrades
You are 100% correct. There's literally no advantage to buying the name brand bike in this situation. Unless it's worth $300 to you, to have a worse bike, just to have those Trek stickers on the downtube.

Another bonus of going with cheap frames is they are less likely to get stolen.
 

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You guys in the US get way better value for money. In Australia its very hard to find even a decent entry level bike for under $1000 (about 750 USD). Dept store bikes are not even close to decent over here. LBS or online is the only way to get a bike that you would take beyond a gravel path. Online is a bad option because bikes often arrive damaged and then you have to send it back for a replacement which takes a couple of weeks. So the only real option is go to an LBS and not expect much change from 1K.
 

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There are very important differences between the more expensive department store bikes and the bottom of the bike shop crop.

Yes, there is some component overlap. The components are not and have never been what differentiates the two. But people like to focus on those things because they're visible and fairly obvious.

Tapered head tubes aren't important. You can fit tapered forks into many "straight" modern headtubes. I have a bike like this. Department store bikes are NOTORIOUS for picking small, cheap details that make you think you're getting more than you are.

The biggest issue with department store frames can't be changed. They only come in ONE SIZE! Dept stores STILL differentiate bike sizes with wheel sizes. It doesn't work that way. They're claiming a 10 inch height difference will "fit" this bike. That's absolute bullshit. There's no way in hell that this frame actually fits people ranging in height from 5'4 to 6'2. It probably fits people in the middle of that range okay. With maybe a 4 inch variation in height or so.

You can address another of the major issues with dept store bikes - the quality of the build - either if you truly know how to build and adjust a bike, or you're willing to pay a shop to do it (maybe $60-$75 or so depending on the shop). You can upgrade at least some of it. Dept store bikes are often traps, though. There's often SOME dimension about the frame that won't fit modern, quality parts. Maybe it's a weird seatpost diameter, or the hub spacing, or the bottom bracket, or something like that. The "product details" don't give you any information about that.

The other way that they become a trap is lower mfg tolerances. So say you want to upgrade it. Those lower frame mfg tolerances sometimes mean that it's impossible to get adjustment quality dialed to the level that the higher quality parts need. This can be especially obvious with the drivetrain, but it can matter for the brakes, or the wheels, or really any other aspect of the bike. Not to mention there are little details that won't be as good. I guarantee that Schwinn isn't looking at things like ride quality and how the materials and construction methods affect it. They're just welding some tubes together into a thing that looks like a mountain bike. It rides, but for rough terrain, it's gonna ride poorly. These bikes always have been better suited as low frequency/low mileage town bikes.

Buying something like this Schwinn or even an inexpensive lbs bike with the entire intent to upgrade it is a money-losing proposition. You're paying for a bunch of parts that you really won't be able to sell because there's not really a market for them. They're cheap enough that anything you CAN get back from them will more or less be wasted through the effort of trying to sell them, plus packaging and shipping costs. If you'd upgrade any low end bike you buy, anyway, and you're looking for a project, then why don't you just buy a frame and build it up?

You don't have to buy a name brand frame (most of those companies don't sell frame-only except maybe in their highest priced frame material, anyway). You can buy Chinese carbon (there are many threads about those, to help you pick a better one). You can buy the "house" brand from just about any of the mail order houses. Various direct-to-consumer brands offer frames. Availability is probably iffy right now, but this is honestly a better option than the dept store Schwinn if you want a project.
 

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For your wife...the Walmart bike is probably an upgrade. I wouldn't spend a dime on upgrades. She won't notice them and as others have said, they may or may not work or you might find they make the bike ride worse. If you want to tinker...at least look at the $500 Walmart Schwinn. That looks like its at least got some standard MTB components and dimensions. Again, now you are not that far off from a low end Specialized, Trek, Giant, etc...

Last question...does she need a Mountain Bike? These $300 Walmart bikes are not really mountain bikes...they are "mountain style" bikes. So why not get her a hybrid? At $500 and she will have good gearing, adequate brakes and appropriate tires and wheels for what she is doing. Alot more fun to ride on a track than an old full suspension mongoose.

Something like this...
Bicycle Wheel Bicycles--Equipment and supplies Bicycle wheel Bicycle wheel rim

 

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There is a issue that has been touched on, that is the size of the bike. The bb bikes are one size that might work or might not. If you get a bike from a shop ,the frames will be available in 3 or 4 sizes. You should get one that fits her and she should be the one to choose it, she one that's going to ride it ,she the one that needs to feel comfortable on it. At a shop she could at least test ride it around the parking lot. Another plus is the shop can make adjustments or change out parts that would work better for her. Also as stated in a thread above ,she doesn't need a mountain bike for the riding she is doing, there are other bike more suitable ,again a shop could help get her on something more suitable.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
There is a issue that has been touched on, that is the size of the bike. The bb bikes are one size that might work or might not. If you get a bike from a shop ,the frames will be available in 3 or 4 sizes. You should get one that fits her and she should be the one to choose it, she one that's going to ride it ,she the one that needs to feel comfortable on it. At a shop she could at least test ride it around the parking lot. Another plus is the shop can make adjustments or change out parts that would work better for her. Also as stated in a thread above ,she doesn't need a mountain bike for the riding she is doing, there are other bike more suitable ,again a shop could help get her on something more suitable.
No, she doesn't need a mountain bike, and I have looked at some step through bikes. But the ones I looked at in an affordable price range seemed to be crap to me. Quill stems and V-brakes. I kept going up until I was in the $1000+ range. Even then the components were OK but the frame was visually yucky.

We have been to the Virginia Creeper Trail which is a 17 mile ride down the mountain. It gives me a little pause having her on a semi-skinny tire, slick, full ridgid bike if we were to go back. It's not too bad but a lot of it is gravel and rocks.
 

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The thing is, this Schwinn seems more "modern" than the cheap name brands. It has a tapered head tube. It has the geo. If I'm going to replace the important parts I may as well start with the $248 Schwinn rather than the $550 Trek. That's $300 right there to go towards upgrades
Seems you are fixated on the head tube and geo. I'm guessing the Trek Marlin 4 has better quality components than that Schwinn.
 
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