Are we being fleeced?
as a workshop manager at a very busy bike shop belonging to the UK's largest "quality cycle retailer" (hint: not Halfords)
I would say from my first-hand experience that companies have definitely cut quality control in their off-shore manufacturing in the past 1-2 seasons
in the workshop we PDI (pre-delivery inspection) all bikes we receive from our suppliers, we have to make sure these bikes meet British Standards for road-safety
we have noticed recently that the quality of wheels on complete bikes is decreasing, both on entry level bikes and mid range bikes from all brands
this requires additional mechanic time to true the wheel, before the PDI is complete
I've had brand new boxed bikes from "big brands", where the wheel rim is damaged beyond repair as the spoke nipple was ripped through the rim wall by the wheel building machine, or the freehub body is so wobbly that the gears cannot be indexed.
other items we are having increasing problems with are poor quality gear derailleurs (from both Shimano and SRAM), poor quality gear / brake cabling, bad disc brake bleeds (on all brands) and the poor quality of unbranded components including v-brakes, mechanical disc brakes, wheel hubs, bottom brackets and finishing kit
basically where the bike company has cut costs by using cheaper parts, to maintain the bike's pricepoint
the manufacturer lowers their QC (which is a genuine cost) assuming the bike shop will pick up their slack
where a £450 bike would have had a shimano bottom bracket and shimano v-brake calipers in 2008, it now has an unbranded bottom bracket which goes rough before the FOC (4-6 week first free service) and constant rubbing from the brake pads on the rims as the unbranded v-brake calipers cannot be balanced using the spring's screw adjusters
its a casualty of increasing costs for manufacturers, and the reduced buying power of British Sterling
there are very good value, tough parts on the market (like Shimano SLX) and it really pays to be a smart shopper when choosing kit, use the correct tools (how many home mechanics have facing tools, a torque wrench and actually follow service intervals for suspension parts?)