Mac Liman has been a bike mechanic for 18 years, and has seen her fair share of crappy bikes. As the program director for Bikes Together in Denver, a nonprofit that provides bicycles, repairs, and education courses to members of the community, Liman isn’t adopting the snooty tone of a high-end bicycle shop sneering at your 14-speed Trek with mechanical brakes. She’s talking about the kind of bikes, hastily wrenched together out of flat-packed boxes by people with minimal training, that mechanics have long called bike-shaped objects : Bikes with misaligned wheels, forks on backwards, and faulty handlebars, bikes that break after just a few dozen hours of use and that cannot be repaired.
By her estimation, the crappy bike problem has gotten “increasingly worse over the last 10 years.” But it was the bike boom accompanying the pandemic, and the ensuing wave of people with broken bikes, that spurred Liman to finally do something about it. She started a petition calling on bike manufacturers and major bike retailers to “stop producing and selling bikes that fall apart after a few months of use…We are tired of telling distraught customers and riders that their bikes are made too poorly to fix, and we are tired of seeing these bikes filling up our waste streams. Frankly, you should be ashamed of selling bikes that last some 90 riding hours.”
Liman is hardly the only bike mechanic to see these problems. Josh Bisker, the executive director and co-founder of Mechanical Gardens in Brooklyn, a non-profit similar to Bikes Together, said these “budget bikes,” as he calls them, have been around since at least the 1990s, but feel like “a tale as old as time.” When asked what the problem with them is, Bisker responded, “The problem with budget bikes is everything. They’re literally built to fail.”