Among the many YouTube channels we keep an eye on is Seth’s Bike Hacks. He’s an obviously skilled rider who focusses more on playing around with bikes over several disciplines, rather than creating super-rad edits, and he isn’t afraid to show himself screwing up occasionally.
In a pair of recent videos, he took one of the cheapest bikes he could find out on trails, and then to do some street trials. The words “shouldn’t have survived this” are unusual to hear in a bike review, and the shopping trolley crashing sounds in the second video are a must hear.
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I actually did a similar experiment with my friend Rich about six years ago: We got a £100 “mountain bike” from Decathlon, then took it around Cannock Chase twice. By the end of that, we’d only had to tighten up a few things but, in his words, it “just didn’t feel right” and despite no visible stress fractures, felt very much like something would catastrophically break rather than seize. You can certainly do without the latest, shiniest, most-carbony bells and whistles, but if you’ve been wondering just how cheap you can go, you can assume with confidence the market offers bikes well below the lower floor for off-road durability.
Seth mentions a message board for buying and maintaining department store bikes, and it’s here. It’s a fascinating look into a very different kind of bike community. While their motto of “You don’t HAVE to spend $1000 to enjoy bicycling!” is arguably true, if you’re going to be thrashing a department store bike over rocks and drops, you’d better be a hardcore fettle-fetishist.