Do you want to know which bike brand is the best? I’ll tell you, but please bear with me. The term “best” does not exist. There are various types of bikes, made of various materials, for a wide range of people. What is the best automobile brand? To me, it’s Koenigsegg, which I can’t afford and would never buy, despite my admiration for the car and the company. Never put your trust in or be overly loyal to any brand. Profit drives the creation and demise of businesses.
I have no sympathy for bike manufacturers because I learn from my mistakes. Do not buy a bike based solely on customer reviews. Almost every review on the internet or in the media is either “sponsored” or based on unscientific data. This is the “quality” side of the equation. Making the best bike does not automatically make a brand the “best bicycle brand.” Things break in the modern era, and they should break because the foundation of our economy is planned obsolescence. Sorry about that. If you want a sensible product that isn’t designed to break, get a custom, handcrafted frame and components from Rene Herse and some really good boutique manufacturers. Most of us, including myself, cannot afford such a bike.
Making “the best bicycle” wouldn’t make a brand, “the best” – especially, if you’re in a different country than the manufacturer. I’ve seen horrible distributors ruining great products, great brands, and great companies. I’d settle for less quality if the distributor in my country is better. For many brands, some customers are naturally more privileged: a consumer who bought a 15.000$ road bike will not get the same attention as the one who got a 400$ MTB. That’s why I’d buy a mid-range bike from a mid-range company, instead of top moguls making 20.000$ dream bikes.
Most people shy away from Chinese / Taiwanese companies, thinking their bike is proudly made in the USA, or somewhere in Europe, which is always wrong. Years ago, Merida and Giant were making almost all mid-to-high range bike frames for other brands. Both are based in Taiwan. They make great bikes and frames, which is very normal: with their huge production volume, they can get the best manufacturing equipment, can source the best materials for cheaper, and have the bleeding edge technology before others, so they probably have the best quality control.
We tend to buy our childhood bikes when we grow older; but unfortunately, those brands (generally) went bankrupt, and were bought by some investors who don’t know or care about bikes. Funny thing is, we have dirt cheap Bianchi and Peugeot bikes here, with Tourney groupsets. Bianchi was a common brand, which is nowhere near Italian specs, and Peugeot entered the market a few years ago. They are built under Atala’s license. But on the global market, things are different, Italian Bianchi’s or French Peugeot’s are more premium bikes with higher price tags, at least compared to ones here. Don’t be fooled by the brand name. My biggest regret was not getting a Gary Fisher bike; now Trek pulled the plug, and they are not available anymore. Would I buy a Trek instead? No. There is nothing wrong with Trek in general, but Gary Fisher was a bike, made for bikers, by one of the very few men that defined what MTB is.
Sometimes, where you get the bike matters most. I owned and ran a marine shop, as well as an authorized service. I saw some services denying user warranty claims without even inspecting the issue, which didn’t make sense to me: I was always on my customer’s side, and thought any sane person would do the same. Wrong! They were the ones asking for an extra discount from the distributor, claiming they got rid of “problematic customers” and protected the company. If you’re shopping for a bike, visit some dealers, talk with them, and see how they threat their customers. Dealers with a bad attitude means the bicycle brand in question doesn’t care that much about the customers. Preferably, get bikes and parts from dealers that love riding bikes. They will understand you, and probably will protect your interests if you have problems with your purchases. Stay away from rude dealers.
Check warranty terms. Some terms are very vague. Talk to people about their brand experience. I’ve seen huge companies who refuse to change a 3$ seatpost which is obviously flawed. Read the fine print, if you’re to make a big purchase. Do not fall or “lifetime guarantee” claims: in my country, it’s total crap: you buy a thing with a lifetime warranty, and the manual says: “Lifetime of this product is 3 years”. So, it’s only 3 years, but worse than that, the manufacturer does not have to keep parts after 3 years!
Anything except then the frame and rigid fork, but sometimes handlebars or seatposts if manufactured by the same brand, do not have brands’ warranty. For example, your groupset is under 2 years warranty, be it Shimano or Sram. Campagnolo and Shimano’s XTR and DuraAce components have 3-year warranty periods.
Red flags about a bicycle brand
A bike manufacturer, or a bike brand, is generally a frame maker only – these days, they barely bother to make their own frames! There are just a few exceptions, like Cannondale used to make their own suspension fork, the famous “lefty”, some manufacturers like Trek makes handlebars, seatposts and various bits under Bontrager name – or Scott’s sister brand, Syncros. So, I expect a bike brand to make their own frames, in-house.
There are obvious signs to better stay away from a brand, or be a bit suspicious about it, at least:
- Over-advertising. If everybody in bike media talks too enthusiastically about a bike, that makes me raise my eyebrows. Why? I’m not sure if there is anyone who can recognize the frame maker if we remove the decals. Sometimes, a brand comes out with a slightly different frame, then we see the whole market flooded with the same frame. Even the hyper-sport cars start to look identical.
- A brand that makes a midrange bike with mix-and-match components. Like, SLX rear derailleur with Deore shifters. Do they function badly? No; but it gives me the feeling that they are trying to cover something: they try to make it look better than actually is.
- Brands endorsing their proprietary stuff like non-standard seatposts. I don’t want to pay, say, 200$ to a seatpost, do you? Or, good luck with that if you break it on your world tour. Bikes are not hypercars. They do not need weird-shaped seat posts, or strange dropbars to function properly.
- Brands over-emphasizing technology. The bike industry never contributed anything new to science or technology. In fact, what they bought from automobiles or motorcycles is implemented rather poorly. And they don’t have to be pioneers of technology. Just make simple as possible, robust bikes.
- Brands that adopt anything new almost immediately. Do you want to be a testbed for every new stuff coming out? I don’t.
If you’re heavy…
If you’re heavy like me, read fine prints matter. No matter which materials they use, there is no way to make anything suspiciously lighter without lowering weight limit, as every bike manufacturer try to make their frames, forks, seat posts, handlebars, and even saddles lighter. I trust my Merida because it clearly states their frames are OK up to 120 kgs. Not just Merida, few others, too – but not every brand!
Inspect other components, too, especially seatposts. Again, dealers are important. I’ve seen a dealer who tried to sell a bike that is at least 2 sizes lower to a huge man. The seatpost was extended fully – if it was ridden as such, it would definitely crack where seat tube meets top tube. You know what? They will probably reject replacing it, saying it’s the owners’ fault.