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All department store bikes, that I have witnessed, are mountain bikes. Many of them are even full suspension and some feature dual-crown forks.

Why the lack of BSO (Bicycle Shaped Object) road bikes?

  • 3
    Because the BSO buyer likes 'cool' things more than functionality and there is no place for a 200mm bright red coil shock on a road bike. They are essentially an impulse buy for people that have no real interest in biking – Andy P Apr 13 '16 at 12:35
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    Most BSOs are sold to kids (or their parents). They are not into road biking or commuting but rather into jumping curbs, riding up/down whatever hills they can find, etc. Plus the suspension and other whiz-bangs looks neat. You can buy BSO road bikes (I believe that Huffy still sells some) but you have to look around. – Daniel R Hicks Apr 13 '16 at 12:48
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    Don't forget about the "GMC Denali Aluminum Road Bike" – renesis Apr 13 '16 at 14:10
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    For those not familiar with the term, BSO means Bicycle Shaped Object, a derogatory term used to refer to cheaply made low quality bikes (often sold in department stores). – Johnny Apr 13 '16 at 16:40
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    This question makes me slightly misty-eyed, thinking about the ten-speed road-style BSOs I had from when I was about twelve until my mid-twenties, ages ago. They were all I could afford, of course; I liberated one from a bike rack after it had been abandoned for several months. Those lousy chromed-steel rims were impossible to keep true, and braking in the rain took such a long time! Every one had a bent pedal spindle that I couldn't afford to replace... – rclocher3 Feb 7 '17 at 17:50
15

When shopping for BSO bikes, people are just looking for a recreational ride that is a once in while, which leads them to focus on the sticker price. Looking at a mountain bike they then get to thinking "Hey, I can ride this around town. I can take it off roading if I wanted too.", so more bang for their buck.

They also tend to look at the other components of the bike, hard narrow saddles just look uncomfortable, drop bars make one think they need to lay down to ride, thin narrow tires surely can't be a as comfortable as fat tires, and "why is there no tread pattern on this tire, it is just for nice weather racing".

  • 4
    I think the second part is the biggest reason. I've heard constant worries from people new to the sport that they couldn't balance on those skinny tires, or that drop bars make you bend over too much. You can get bikes with drop bars like touring bikes that are almost as upright as a mountain bike or hybrid, and after a few rides you don't even notice the tire width anymore. A skinny saddle (not extremely wide) is a lot more comfortable on long rides than a big fat one. – Kibbee Apr 13 '16 at 13:03
  • @Kibbee They don't know that drop bar height can be adjusted, and that the drop bars provide comfort and efficiency. I don't have a bike with drop bars but I have drop bar envy! It's true though that the narrower profile of drop bars makes it harder to steer around obstacles at slow speed. But there are wider drop bars. – Kaz Apr 13 '16 at 18:04
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    I do have a gripe that drop bars are "pushed" a bit too hard, for the mid-range buyer. First off, the bars are installed too low (looks "meaner" on the floor), and (since quills went bye-bye) it's not easy to raise drop bar. And, while different-shaped drops are theoretically available, in practice you can't find them. Plus many mid-range buyers would be perfectly happy and well served with a flat bar. – Daniel R Hicks Apr 13 '16 at 21:21
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    "Just looking for a recreational ride that is once in a while" is awfully cavalier to the many who buy BSOs to get to work, school, and the grocery store, yes even in the US. Lots of people who need a bike for transportation don't have the big bucks for a quality bike. The usual advice for such people here is to get a quality used bike, but one can be skinned alive by craigslist sellers if one isn't a knowledgeable buyer. Bike repair co-ops are surely wonderful, but those are generally only found in big cities. – rclocher3 Feb 7 '17 at 18:16
14

Many BSO's are styled like mountain bikes, probably because the mountain bike features tend to be appealing to people who don't know a lot about bicycles. Consumers buy these bicycles even though they will never use them on anything resembling a mountain trail. A thick frame, thick, knobby tires, and suspension make a bicycle look rugged. The appearance of ruggedness is cheaply achieved with inferior components that don't last, are poorly serviceable and heavy. This is because the mere appearance of anything is cheaply achieved with a prop which looks like the real thing. If consumers believed that road bike features comprise the best prototype for an all-purpose bicycle, then BSO's would be road-bike-shaped objects.

Even the very mass of a bicycle could be associated with ruggedness. Consider that Beats by Dre headphones were found to contain metal weights that serve no purpose other than to make the product feel more massive. This is because the consumer who knows nothing about audio or electronics thinks that a pair of cans that weighs more must be better. (Though there is a point there: better loudspeakers tend to have more massive magnets, which make them more sensitive.)

(With regard to tires, there seems to be a widespread belief that the mountain bike tires will grip all kinds of surfaces better, including asphalt: in other words, that they are safer. This is quite unfortunate. Consumers should be educated, for the sake of their own safety, that smooth tires provide the best grip on a wet road, in addition to offering a smoother, quieter ride with less rolling resistance).

Someone shopping for a road bike is different from the crowd, and probably more knowledgeable than the average consumer. Possibly much more knowledgeable. They won't be duped by low-quality components.

7

It's much easier to make a chunky looking frame cheaply than to make thin tubing cheaply. The heavier everything is supposed to be the less obvious it is that the BSO is not what it looks like. One key give-away is that the mountain bike is always marked "not suitable for off road use".

Road bikes also have to use more expensive components, specifically brifters (combining brake and shifter units in a single mechanism) where mountain bikes can use the separate brake and shifter mechanisms, even though they are often combined into one assemble to reduce the number of steps to put the bike together. The same difficulty occurs when building cheap but effective caliper brakes, although the BSO solution there is IME to fit cheap and ineffective brakes (the shop I worked in spent a disappointing amount of time trying to find an affordable fixed-gear bike that wasn't a BSO).

What I has seen a lot of is more expensive BSOs that look like road bikes or fixies, but despite paying two-ten times what a BSO normally costs, they are still not usable bikes. Most were steel framed, and often used Chinese "4130 CroMo" tubing (which if you see it unpainted is the wrong colour, and is both weaker than and fatigues faster than proper 4130). In Australia a BSO can be had for under $50 if you shop around, and normally run up to about $200-$300. But during the fixie fad we saw BSO-grade fixies costing up to $600 that we couldn't service for all the usual BSO reasons. One was "fixed" by rivets through the drive cog into the hub, for example... and it was brought into the shop because the rivets were loose.

2

A lot of people think that narrow tyres are dangerous for anyone other than experts, and that the narrower the tyre, the more likely they are to fall off.

They also don't appreciate that there can be disadvantages in having suspension.

1

In addition to the other answers, the BSO appeals because it is not like the bikes in the purchaser's history.

Many BSOs forgo the traditional diamond frame in favour of big chunky monotube designs. These bikes look nothing like the 70s/80s ten-speed, or the Raleigh 20 style, or the grifters and BMXs of my youth.

So when the parents want something "better" for their offspring, the different look appeals.


In complete opposition to the above statements, we also have the retro beach cruiser or coffee cruiser bikes. These are a little above a cheap BSO, and have a sit-up-and-beg posture combined with sweeping handlebars and relatively few gears. The pricing is about double what a cheap BSO costs, but the appeal here is the nostalgia and a "this is what older people ride" mentality.

1

This could well be a regional variation. I tend to see that most BSOs are "fast hybrid" commuter style bikes. Straight handlebars, soft saddle, wide road tyres and road suitable gearing.

The mountain bikes that were so cool in my youth (1990s) have largely faded out and road bikes with drop handlebars that my father remembers dominating in his youth are coming back in.

  • In my area (Vancouver, Canada), I see lots of road bicycles with road-UNsuitable gearing. Even the odd "Mega Range". Drop handle bars, sleek frame, thin tires .. and 30T cog??? it's completely stupid. One category of BSO's around here are the "cruiser" bikes. These are complete pieces of crap. – Kaz Apr 19 '16 at 2:26

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