"Toys come in boxes. Real bicycles come assembled and ready to ride."
I don't remember who said that. I'm guessing it was the proprietor or a salesperson in one of the bike shops in which I worked. And I'm guessing the proprietor or salesperson was admonishing someone who brought in a department-store bicycle for assembly or who tried to assemble such a bike and made a bad thing hopeless.
I'm recalling that bit of wisdom, if not the sage who imparted it, because today is Black Friday.
For those of you who are not in the US, this day--the day after we give thanks and exchange heart-warming stories (or get into fights) with people with whom we would not sit at the same table at any other time--and give thanks for, well, whatever. This is the day on which stores--mainly the big-box variety--run "sales" on some of the worst junk imaginable, much of which will end up under Christmas trees four weeks later and in landfills four years--or even four months--later.
The boxes full of stuff meant to be assembled into bicycle-shaped objects are among the sale items I'm talking about. One of the "big-box" retailers--which, thankfully, does not have a store anywhere near me--has offered, on each of the few Black Fridays--a "freestyle BMX" bike with pegs and helmet for $49.99 and boys' and girls' 20 inch bicycles for $29.
If you're a vegan, bear with me for a moment as I use an analogy most people (Americans, anyway) will understand. It's scarcely possible to get a steak dinner, let alone a good one, for $29. Add drinks and dessert and you'd be hard-pressed to keep the tab below $50. At least, that's the case here in New York.
Now, you might be thinking that buying a cheap bike for a kid isn't such a bad idea because he or she will trash or outgrow it within a couple of years. Or you might be on a tight budget (Trust me, I understand!) and are shopping for a few kids or grandkids. I don't have kids or grandkids, but I understand the joy in seeing a kid's eyes light up on Christmas morning. (I've experienced it with my nieces and nephews as well as the children of friends, if that counts.) However, I'd think about what I'm teaching kids when I give them disposable junk.
More to the point, though, I'd be concerned about giving a kid (or anyone) something that's potentially unsafe. In bikes, as in most things, you get what you pay for (up to a point, anyway). Cheap bikes are made cheaply, from cheap materials. Now, if I were buying such a bike for a kid (which, of course, I wouldn't), I at least have some residual level of skill as a mechanic and could at least ensure the bike is properly assembled. However, not everyone who buys such a bike can make such a claim. Nor can some of the "mechanics" employed by some stores that offer assembly.
If you were to bring such a bike to a shop to be assembled, you'll pay enough for the service that it, combined with the price of the bike, will total not much less than the price of a bike shop bike. Shops don't charge what they charge out of spite or to gouge customers: Proper assembly and repair (which bikes in boxes sometimes need) takes time and therefore costs money. And a mechanic in any bike shop worthy of the name wants to take the time to do it right because the shop's reputation rides on the work done in it.
So...If you really, truly, must participate in that orgy of consumerism called Black Friday--which has been likened to the running of the bulls--don't buy a bike, especially one for a kid, in a big-box store. If you're a regular reader of this blog, I don't have to tell you that. But you might want to tell your less-informed (about bikes, anyway) friends and relatives what I've said--or pass along this post.