Photo: Lαin, Flickr Creative Commons
I'd like to say that before I go any further, that I did NOT make this purchase without researching the site. The Mountain Bike Review site (and their forums) were a constant source during my research on mountain bikes and their forums are full of questions about BikesDirect. The only complaints seemed to be in regards to customer service (although a couple of commenters who mentioned bikes damaged in the mail had positive remarks about speed of replacements. Several comments were on how fast the bikes were delivered. Since the majority of Motobecanes sold in the US seem to come from this site, the fact that Motobecanes tend to be reviewed very positively is also a good sign.
From what I can tell, it seems that BikesDirect.com more or less is Motobecane. Motobecane USA is not the old French company of the same name, but I think they bought rights to the name for sales in the US. Unlike other brands, there aren't really any bike shops that have deals to sell the brand in their store. There seem to be a few, but they are far from common. For example, Free-Flite is a licensed dealer of Trek and Niner. Roswell Bicycles sells Specialized and Giant. Also, they obviously aren't spending any money on web designers. My guess (since no one online complained about the frames being total crap), is that the fact they don't have to worry about undercutting their retailers, they can afford to sell o the public. I'm guessing they're trading marketability for overhead. There's no brand recognition, no bragging rights for riding their bikes, but they sell dirt cheap without being (supposedly) crap. As for those frames, they're made by the same Taiwanese company that makes most of the frames for respectable brands like Trek and Raleigh.
So, after thoroughly researching and realizing that buying a comparable bike elsewhere was going to involve a significant price increase, I decided to take a chance and buy through BikesDirect.
First, trying to find the bike I wanted was a bit of a pain in the ass. There are bikes from two years ago on there with really good prices but random sizes for midgets and giants. There's also the fact that the bikes built on this frame are like 2 inches taller than bikes in the same size built on this frame. I did finally narrow it down to the bike I wanted to buy. Good components. Seems to be low-level race-worthy, which is a minor priority for me. I want this bike partly to open up off-road triathlons like the Xterra races. The price was unbeatable. I never saw another bike, other than that Novara I didn't like, with a minimum of SRAM X7.
Despite the web design that seems to have been done around 1997, they use Paypal to handle their shopping cart and payment, so that went successfully, and I was charged what they said they would charge (no shipping and handling, no sales tax). I also ordered a shock pump because this should be an air fork (instead of a metal coil spring) and a tool set for putting the bike together. That's right. I have no handyman skills whatsoever and I'm going to try to put my own bike together. We'll see how this works.
There are a few things that worry me. One, I have no skills in putting things together (or much else in the way of practical skills). Two, because of the lack of brick-and-mortar retailers, I wasn't able to test right this bike. What if my math (or their listings) are wrong and the bike is the wrong size? Supposedly I can return it for a refund or exchange, but I also have to pay the return shipping. How much does it cost to shipped a boxed bike? It can't be cheap. UPS say the package is 30 lbs.
On a positive note, that means my bike is under 30 lbs, which seems to be good since the Trek X-Caliber I liked was 31. We'll have to see what things look like when they get here.
In fact, that will probably be my next post. When the bike arrives, I'll post about the delivery and my attempt to put it together. Wish my luck.