Friday, June 1, 2012

BikesDirect long-term report ("Motobecane Mirage Pro")

In October, 2010, I watched a guy ride off on my old Giant road bike.  I complained about it here.  In February, 2011 I bought a BikesDirect "Motobecane Mirage Pro."  Here's Will-J helping me put it together.

Every word of "Motobecane Mirage Pro" requires quotation marks.  It's a "Motobecane" made by Kinesis Industry Co. Ltd. in Taiwan - actually, it isn't even made by Kinesis Industry Co. Ltd., but rather by another company for Kinesis Industry Co. Ltd. (and onto which the licensed Motobecane name is applied).  It also isn't a "Mirage," but rather a real bike (in the sense that it exists - some people would argue that it's not a "real" bike, thereby adding another layer of ironic quotation marks).  And there's absolutely nothing "Pro" about the bike (including it's rider).

But it was relatively inexpensive (about $400), and has held up pretty well through my daily commute, as well as a few longer rides like the Triple Bypass.  People like to bash on BikesDirect, as maybe they should.  However, prospective purchasers may find a review based on an actual year and a half of average riding useful.

What is BikesDirect (and why do people hate it)?  BikesDirect is a mail-order bike company that sells bikes with with licensed/funny names from the aforementioned Kinesis Industry Co. Ltd.  In turn, Kinesis Industry Co. Ltd. makes frames, forks, etc. for not only BikesDirect, but Diamondback, Felt, Jamis, GT, Trek, Kona, and others.  Here is a fine article by Velonews about the "myth of origin," i.e. the reality that most mass-produced bikes come from a handful of Taiwanese factories.  A quote: "The notion that Specialized has its own factory in Taiwan, and Trek has its own, and Scott its own, is simply false."  So, ideally, what you're getting from BikesDirect is a frame/bike that you could buy from Trek (or in my case, probably Fuji or Jamis), but on the cheap.  The trade-off, ideally, is you have to deal with the licensed/funny name, a few rough edges, and the opprobrium of bike snobs.

Why did I buy a BikesDirect bike?  In short, because I found bike-inflation astonishing, and bike salespeople off-putting.  A bike comparable to my humble (Taiwanese) $450 Giant from 2003, with functional low-end components, now costs $850 or more.  This assumes I could get one at all - the tendency is for bike salespeople to deride these models as "beginner bikes" and for bike shops to not carry them.  I was hard-pressed to find a bike that fit me for under $1000, which is ridiculous given my needs/abilities (remember, I am the guy the sommelier told not to spend more than $10 on a bottle of wine because I'd be wasting my money).  BikesDirect turned the bike-inflation clock back to 2003, or before, and I could thereby successfully replace my transportation post-theft.  I picked the "Mirage Pro" because it was on sale and was one of the few models without a triple chainring in front - I decided I was tired of futzing around with adjusting the front derailleur to make the triple work.

With that run-up out of the way, what did I get?  I got a traditional (not compact frame) aluminum road bike with a (Shimano) Sora front derailleur, a (Shimano) Tiagra rear derailleur, random Tektro brakes, carbon fork, and Vuelta wheels (with Vuelta apparently being the BikesDirect of wheelsets).  It had some no-name stuff (seat, handlebars, etc.), but surprisingly an FSA carbon seatpost.  Can I tell the difference of riding with a carbon seatpost?  No, I cannot - but it seems nice nonetheless.  BikesDirect threw in some disposable aerobars and enough reflectors to light Times Square.  The only real negative were the Continental Ultrasport tires, which are apparently made of cheese - I threw them away after about a week and got real tires.  It arrived surprisingly fast - in about a week (and free).  Note that although BikesDirect still sells the "Mirage Pro,"  it's a different bike now - it has a compact frame, triple chainring, and no Tiagra rear derailleur (but has better shifters).

The bike was largely assembled, and it took me (and Will-J) only an hour or two to get it ready to ride.  The instructions were hopeless (included inapplicable diagrams of canti brakes, etc).  I suppose you could have a mechanic put it together for $50 or so (if you could deal with the possible stink-eye due to not buying a bike from his shop).

How is it?

It's okay.

It's definitely a "better" bike than my old Giant.  Its best day was riding the Triple Bypass and posing on Vail Pass with all the disco expensive bikes - those bikes looked better, and those bikes probably rode better, but we all rode from Evergreen in about the same amount of time.

Why just okay?  It's just not very good geometry, at least for me.  I miss the looong, relaxed ride of the Giant, while the head angle is too steep for me on this bike.  Not that I was expecting perfection for the price, but that's my criticism.  Another issue is the gearing.  I avoided getting a triple, but also didn't get a compact crankset - I simply need more gears to ride Colorado-size hills.  One of these days I'll get a bigger cassette.

What you probably want to know is that I don't have a BikesDirect horror story - no catastrophic frame/component failures, slipshod quality issues, etc.  The "Motobecane" could just as well be a "GT" or "Schwinn" (which makes sense given the "myth of origin" issue).  After 18 months, it's doing fine.  I don't anticipate having to replace anything major.  Even the wheels have stayed relatively true (a surprise, given my urban/pothole commute).  In short, it's a great value - I got a functional road bike for the cost of a single-speed.

In sum, I would probably buy a BikesDirect bike again (assuming I don't have the money for a hand-made bike, which will undoubtedly be the case).  Next time I would pay more attention to what geometry I was getting into.  I wouldn't spend any more on components, as what I have is working fine.  I don't know anything about their mountain bikes, but assume it's more of the same.  I do question buying one of their high-end models - once you're talking about spending $2000 on a bike, I'd certainly want to ride it first (and would generally be a lot fussier about the details).

UPDATE 2015! 

While defunct for two years now, the Heavy Hiking blog continues to rack up the hits (albeit largely from bots).  This remains my most popular post, and I thought a long-term riding update may be useful for folks considering Bikes Direct:

The impetus for the update is my Motobecane’s first major tune.  I was considering buying a new ride, but ran into the usual bike shop nonsense: (1) store employees using me being tall to push hard-to-sell too-large frames, and (2) catering only to rich Freds by deriding anything under $1,500 as a “beginner bike.”  I was surprised to find the ride quality of said beginner bikes (costing more than the annual per capita income of a dozen countries) equal or inferior to my “bad” Bikes Direct model from 2011.  With that in mind, I spent a bit of money with the fine folks at the Denver Bicycle Café to replace the cables, rear cassette (adding a few teeth in the process), chain, improve the fit a bit, fiddle with bottom bracket, and generally clean it up after a few years of hard duty.  I added new Continental Gatorskins, and will also be replacing the now-mushy seat.

I don’t know how many miles I put on this thing in the first four years – maybe 5,000?  This includes repeated commutes to Boulder and now the Tech Center from Denver, winter riding, a Triple Bypass, and several city rides.  I still like the overall quality and components, and still dislike the relatively tall gearing and aggressive geometry – both of which I should have looked into further prior to purchase.  I would still recommend the bike – and Bikes Direct generally – to prospective purchasers.  However, the overall trend of endless bike inflation appears to have struck them as well – a comparable model now costs several hundred dollars than my bike.  The biggest surprise of the tune was how much the new tires improved the ride – I did not understand how bike tires (like all tires) oxidize and become brittle over time. 

One note on bike resale value.  In contemplating a new bike, I belatedly realized that the resale value of my prized Motobecane is so low as to basically render it unsellable, while name brands retain their values quite well over time – in short the Bikes Direct stigma continues.  So, I could have bought a Trek “beginner bike” for $1,000 (back then) and sold it for at least $500 now, or “saved” that money upfront on the bogus-name “Motobecane," losing it on the sale end.  The choice depends on one’s view on style (no mean consideration in the road-biking community), the time value of money, the possible incremental ride quality improvements of the name brands (if any), betting on the bike not getting stolen or destroyed, etc.  My own belief is bike inflation will continue and I will recoup at least the sale price when snooty bike stores boost their “beginner bike” (or now, “gravel bike”) up over $2000.  Viva La Motobecane! 


Bob Skeletor said...

It is encouraging to hear someone who is not one of the bike snobs give an honest assessment. A bike that meets or exceeds one's minimum requirements at a reasonable price should not be sneered at. The buyer should be commended for the judicious management of his money. I think any one spending $1500 on a bicycle should have his head examined, unless he is a competitive cyclist. AND any one who wears spandex cycling gear with faux sponsorships are seriously delusional and need to get a life. There should be a law stating that you DO NOT have to share the road with those pompous a** holes.

Eyster Family Four said...

I've been riding a 2011 Motobecane Le Champion carbon with full Ultegra for the last 2 years. Over 10,000 miles and no issues except for a broken rivet on the front derailleur. Even the mechanic at the local bike shop called it a fluke. It was a fantastic ride and the price at Bikes Direct couldn't be touched by a long shot.
In the last month, I bought a Motobecane Le Champion titanium frame and had everything switched over. The carbon was much "tighter" and more stable, but at the expense of ride quality - the titanium is much softer and smoother which is exactly what I was seeking since I also use it as my daily commuter. And comfort is #1 when putting on 300-350 miles a week!
In summary -- Motobecane bikes compare well against name brand bikes that cost 3x as much. Also, Bikes Direct was inexpensive, quick, and provided good service.

(Sorry, didn't want to steal anyone's thunder -- just wanted to post my opinion of Motobecane and Bikes Direct.)

Ryan Hopkins said...

I have had a Mercier galaxy for years from bikes direct. Tires pump to 90 lbs, The wheels spin, the gears shift, brakes work, it's somewhat light. What else do I need for a smooth road? Great value. Now there mountain bikes that's a whole different story. I'll pay for name brand goodness

derek said...

I too purchased a Motobecane from back in 2006. I bought a Fantom CompDS full suspension mountain bike. It came with RockShox Judy forks and Aria 2.0 rear, Shimano Deore/XT derailleurs, Truvativ crank, Ritchey headset/seatpost/seat/handlebars, and Avid BB5 disc brakes. Not a bad component set!!

In almost 9 years, the frame is still perfect. The ride quality is quite good despite being too small for me. I'm sure a brand new Santa Cruz or Intense frame would blow my little ride away, but at least I can still afford rent. I have never regretted making this purchase. I lived in Louisiana (not exactly known as an MTB hotspot) at the time, and the LBS there wanted almost $2500 for a similar setup in a "name brand", not to mention tax and the hassle of waiting for them to order it. I had my Motobecane delivered in 3 days flat and was riding by that weekend. I would purchase again in a heartbeat.

Jose Hernandez said...

Really like what you say. I just bought a Motobecane Mirage commuter from bikes direct and it's my 3rd bike from BD. I feel the same way that there are many out there who still believe that you have to pay thousands of dollars to have a good bike and it has to be one of the known name brand bicycles.