Are you looking to get your first BMX? Well, entering the world of bike stunts or simply buying one for aesthetics isn’t a bad idea at all. If you are on a budget, there are plenty of cheap bikes out there that you can use well for a while. Department store BMX bikes and road bikes are all the rage right now.
If you go to your local bike shop and ask them for recommendations, the first thing they will say is that you shouldn’t be buying a cheap BMX. When you ask them why, they rattle off a list of reasons a mile long, most of which is in technical jargon you would need college classes to understand. The truth is, cheap BMX bikes are a flight risk at times, just like anything else that you buy on a bargain. The key is to know what to look for when buying one, and what to watch out for when you have bought one.
The first thing you need to understand is that “cheap” doesn’t mean the retail price of the bike, or even the manufacturer. It is the quality of the bike’s construction that needs to be taken into account. Some bikes are sold at a pretty decent price, one that will definitely make a lot of wallets happy, and they last for decades when used right. In other cases, you could find yourself with a broken chain or a cracked derailleur in a matter of days because you went over a bump at the wrong speed. The quality with which a BMX is constructed defines whether or not it is a cheap bike or not.
Related: 10 Best Road Bikes Under 500
1 – The Frame Is Incredibly Important
When buying a BMX bike, the frame is one of the most important factors affecting your decision. Chromoly is one of the strongest, lightest alloys that a BMX frame can be made of. A lot of people seem to think that chromoly frames lead to a bike being way more expensive. The truth is that you can get a pretty amazing chromoly BMX for as little as $250. If you feel like this is still too expensive for you, you can go with a high tension steel frame instead. While it is heavier than the alloy frame, it is still very durable, and a heavier bike has its own advantages as well.
2 – They Won’t Last Forever
This is something people seem to expect when they spend over $50 for a BMX. The truth is that you will get a bike that lasts for a while, but not for too long. Depending on the amount of abuse you subject it to, your BMX will break or fail at some point in its lifetime. This is where the cheapness of the build comes into play. If you have bought a bike that has a durable, solid frame and parts, you will be able to get more out of it. However, you have to expect that a $300 bike isn’t going to last as long as a handcrafted titanium alloy BMX for $2500. It simply isn’t how the world works.
3 – The Small Parts Can Have a Big Impact
Take a look at the components on your bike. Even if the frame is made out of high grade chromoly or steel, there are smaller parts that could make or break your BMX experience. Sometimes even the department store bikes come with stock parts from reputed brands. Does this mean that you are getting an automatically better bike? Of course not! Make sure you check out the reviews for each little part, so that you know for a fact that the construction quality on these is top-notch. However, branded parts are typically better at performing over time than your generic parts with no name or origin.
While checking out the parts’ quality, check out their size as well. A larger sprocket, for example, typically means that the design of the bike is a little older than you should be getting. The smaller the parts are, the less weight you are going to have to carry.
4 – Bad Bikes Try To Lure You In
A rule of thumb for buying any bike is to make sure you don’t get taken in by flashy stickers and advertising. Department stores do tend to advertise their bikes, but it is normal for a bike that isn’t that great in terms of quality to be advertised far more aggressively. Look for the Plain Jane in the department store or the bike shop, and work from there. Whatever you do, do not let the flashing lights distract you from the task at hand.
5 – They Don’t Usually Have After-Sales Support
When it comes to a BMX bike bought from a reputed manufacturer, you do pay a little more (sometimes a lot more) for the bike. However, you do gain the advantage of premium customer support after you have bought the bike. Cheaper bikes have their perks, that’s for sure, and those that you buy on a bargain price from the local supermarket can serve you well too, but nothing matches up to the free replacement parts and the warranty options provided by the bigger brands out there. The best part is that some of them actually have options for low-priced BMX bikes you can use!
6 – They Can Be Pretty Stiff Customers
This isn’t an expression. A BMX bike that you buy for $200 can be very stiff right at the moments when you need it to be flexible. This is because of the cost-cutting measures used to ensure that the bike will retail at a low price. Cheaper BMX bikes can also be overly responsive when you need them to show you some resilience. This moodiness can be very detrimental to your riding experience. If you are using the bike for casual cycling on the road or you don’t use it too often, you can continue on your way. However, if you are someone looking to ramp up your game and get into the tricks and stunts these bikes were made for, you might need to consider a more expensive option.
7 – Carbon Frames Aren’t Always Better
Sometimes, people argue that carbon frames are way better than some of the others like aluminium. Of course, everyone knows that nothing matches up to a titanium or chromoly frame, but for the cheaper BMX bikes out there, carbon frames aren’t uncommon. The problem is that carbon, or high-carbon steel, is very brittle, and tends to fracture easily. If you are looking for a cheap BMX and you find one with a carbon frame, remember that the smallest crack in the material and you are looking at something that could snap at a moment’s notice. Do not shy away from purchasing a better quality frame for a little more money. Your safety matters more than your wallet does, after all.
The Parts You Need To Look Out For
If you are still dead set on buying a cheaper BMX bike, you need to get one that will be a joy to ride, and that will last you a long time. If you want this to happen successfully, you are going to have to take a deeper look into the smaller moving parts of the bike. Some of the cheaper bikes out there have parts that look branded, but aren’t. Some of these include:
These are a major point of concern for anyone buying a BMX bike below $300. The brakes are the first to go when cost cutting measures are applied during manufacturing. It can get to the point where they are basically useless, can’t be tuned and dangerous overall. Cheaper bikes usually use the more cost-effective cable brake system instead of the standard disc brakes.
If you can find a BMX for a bargain price that has brakes made by a reputed company such as Shimano or Tektro, you have hit the jackpot. Make sure that they don’t only have rear brakes either. As a general rule, your front brakes help you stop better than the rear brakes, even though it isn’t advisable to slam the front brakes in an emergency unless you want to go cartwheeling through the air.
For the people looking for a BMX for stunts, the brakes should have a special tool called a detangler, which stops the cables from twisting when you turn the handlebars, getting you stuck and in a lot of trouble.
Depending on the type of cycling you are going to do, you need to pick a crank system that suits your style. Again, if possible, you should look for drivetrains with specific brand names. Some cranks are one piece and others are three piece. 3 piece cranks are more modular, but one piece cranks are better for beginners. Make sure all bearings are sealed for longer lifetimes.
As mentioned earlier, the cheaper BMX bikes are extremely reliant on their frame material for life expectancy and usability. Look for a material that is strong, durable, light and has a low density. Of course, you won’t be able to get one of those light frames that sing with the wind, but you definitely can aim for some high tension steel or even some chromoly frames if you look hard enough.
Buying and Setting Up Your Box BMX Bike
If you order a bike online, it usually arrives at your home in a big box. This is typically assembled to about 90%. You have to do the smaller tasks like putting on the front wheel, installing the pegs, setting up the brakes, handlebars and the seat. According to your own preferences, you may also have to adjust some minor details so the bike fits you better.
If you are a beginner to the assembly of BMX bikes, it is highly recommended that you take the bike to a local bike store so that the assembly is done in the right way. This won’t be free, but spending $50 to get yourself a bike you can actually enjoy riding is something you should invest in. Greasing, tuning and assembling it in the right way is generally something a professional should do, especially if you have to install cable brake detangler units as well.
However, if you are the adventurous DIY type, you could watch a few tutorial videos and set the bike up on your own too. Most of the branded models like Diamondback and Framed come with instructions in the box. These are very basic, and you have to make sure you follow them exactly. Different models have different methods to use, but for the most part the cheap BMX bikes out there are easy enough to set up and get riding.
Overall, as long as you know what to look for and watch out for when you have bought or are looking for a cheap BMX, you should be fine. Always take a look at the small parts, the details, and pay heed to the brakes and frame. If you are considering upping your game to the professional or hardcore enthusiast level of BMX biking, consider a more expensive bike with the better build quality and customer support.