Yesterday at work, I spent a good 20 minutes (it seemed) explaining to a guy why buying a $419 mountain bike from a local bike shop was far better than buying from a guy who was selling and shipping bikes from the Lower-48 (apparently from the back of a truck) or buying a bike from Costco.
New bikes of good quality, with a warranty, adjusted correctly by experienced mechanics. The correct size (he was about 6 ft), follow-up adjustments. Now, what's wrong with buying a bike at Costco and saving a hundred or so? Pretty much that a bike purchased from Costco is the opposite of what I just listed here. What about buying the Costco bike and having our shop do the adjustments? *Sigh* Spend at least $50 making it work right and it's still not the right size.
He asked about buying used bikes and I said that unless you know what to look for or have a friend who is very knowledgeable, you can end up making a mistake by buying the wrong used bike (wrong size; worn out parts, etc). He was a nice guy and I can appreciate trying to save a little money, but he was trying to be too cheap. If you can save a few bucks by buying your cereal at Costco, by all means, do it. But your bike? No way.
As it happens, this morning I made a run to the local Costco. There, between the produce and the frozen foods were a couple rows of bikes. I glanced at them, without really noticing anything right away. Hardtail mountain bikes, hybrid comfort bikes, bmx. All under $400. Then I walked down the row. One comfort bike had the fork installed backward (note to self: bring camera next time) so that the brake was mounted facing the back. No, dear readers, it was not a Manitou fork! I grabbed the handlebar and placed one leg against the front wheel while I turned the bar. It was so loose that I was able to turn the bar easily so it no longer lined up with the wheel.
Vandalism? No. Just maybe a customer will notice that something's not quite right with that bike. Even better, an employee will notice that this bike isn't assembled correctly and would be a danger to a rider. I walked away to finish my shopping but returned to the bikes to check more stems for tightness, noticing that another handlebar was already turned askew. I easily turned a few more bars. I noticed at least one threaded stem (yes, you can still get those) that was more than an inch above the minimum insertion point. I noticed that they still, indeed, only stock one frame size for each bike model.
I don't want you to think I'm only harshing on Costco here, because they aren't the only mass merchant that doesn't hire qualified staff to assemble their bicycles. But I do think that it's unconscionable (if not foolish from a legal standpoint) to assemble something so poorly that it could lead to someone being hurt. I believe it's called negligence. If stores are going to sell something that looks like a bike and is said to perform like a bike, it damn well better be built by someone who knows what they're doing.
ps: dear Costco, please don't yank my membership; I'm doing you a favor here.