Remembering Our Favorite Stories From 20 Years Ago

Remembering Our Favorite Stories From 20 Years Ago

HOW GOOD ARE DEPARTMENT-STORE BIKES?

Twenty years ago in the May 1997 issue, we set out to answer a question that many riders at the time had and one that beginners still ask us: Can a cheap bike purchased from a department store handle the rigors of trail riding? We went to the big-box retailer, laid down our credit card and had two riders hop on $400 worth of cheap steel to see what would happen.

The experiment was designed in response to letters our editors received from people who claimed their $200 department-store bikes were every bit as good as the $1500 ones we were testing in the magazine at the time. We wrote that we would frequently hear: “Why spend $1500 for a mountain bike when I can get one on sale for $150 at the take-over-the-world, mega-conglomerate store that can do the same thing? And, even better, you can get everything from fertilizer to fertility medication while you’re there.” This is how the experiment panned out.

The “Huff-Master” Huffy Rock Therapy: This bike came with a price tag of $129 and an obnoxious weight of 37.5 pounds—10 pounds more than the typical bikes we were used to testing. Here’s the ride report:

Aesthetics: “Hot.” Huffy went with an ovalized downtube to look racy.

Setup: “Poor.” The brakes were adjusted wrong, and the gel-filled seat was difficult to work with.

Climbing: “Very bad.” Even if the thing didn’t weigh a ton, the gearing was all wrong.

Braking: “Hey, something smells like it’s burning.” The brakes worked, but only if you were on flat ground and moving slowly.

Descending: “Not too bad.” When a bike weighs this much and has little to no braking power, it’s bound to go downhill fast, as long as nothing gets in its way.

Overall conclusion: The Huffy proved to be a fire-road-worthy bike as long as the terrain was relatively flat and not at all technical. We ultimately deemed it was not a mountain bike because “it’s too heavy to get up a mountain and doesn’t have strong enough brakes to get back down. It only looks like a mountain bike.”

The Pacific Conquest SE: This bike tipped the scales over 2 pounds lighter than the Huffy at 34 pounds, but came with a steeper $229 price tag. It looked even more like a mountain bike, with the addition of a suspension fork and better aesthetics. Ride report:

Setup: “Not embarrassing.” The Pacific came with Shimano Altus C90 components and an SR Suntour fork. It looked more expensive than it actually was. It did still come with a kickstand that we ragged on.

Climbing: “A little shaky and heavy but manageable.” The real Shimano Altus components were okay. The Pacific had a usable gear range.

Maneuvering: “Mushy.” The Pacific was “lethargic” in technical sections, but the Suntour fork was an added bonus we liked.

Air time: “Not sure. Bikes in this price range simply should not be jumped,” we said. Test riders were reluctant to get more than a few inches off the ground for fear that something would go wrong with the wheels, frame, axle or other cost-cutting components.

Berm-bashing: The Pacific handled high-speed turning well but felt a little sluggish. The Huffy turned moderately well until we had to use the brakes, which were so weak we found ourselves needing four fingers on the lever to generate any power.

Our two test riders were asked to spend a considerable amount of time on these two machines against their will. By the end of the test, they found themselves jumping for joy that they had finished the project and could go back to their “real” mountain bikes.

Limited air time: We simply couldn’t jump the Huffy. It was too heavy and clunky. The Pacific was air-worthy, but after a few attempts, we abandoned the exercise. There is no telling how long the Pacific could have held up to a real MBA test. Our riders were too afraid to put it through the paces.


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