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Who is the first person who came up with the appellation, "Bicycle Shaped Object" (BSO) referring to very inexpensive and very poorly built bicycles sold through mass-market department stores?

Bonus question: And is it international? We use BSO in America and I've heard b.se members from Australia and New Zealand use it, but is it used in the UK and Canada? What do people in France or Japan or other countries call BSOs?

If the bonus question makes this question too broad then I'll withdraw the bonus and make it a separate question.

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    I would assume that in France they call it the O de BS. – Daniel R Hicks Feb 6 '17 at 22:42
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    I've been accused of having eau de BS! – RoboKaren Feb 6 '17 at 22:51
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    Note that bicycle shaped object doesn't appear in google ngram: books.google.com/ngrams/… – RoboKaren Feb 6 '17 at 22:53
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    When given in its full form it's self-explanatory, and would be understood by any native speaker with a concept of varying quality in bikes. The style fits well with British engineering parlance (I've heard bad tools described in almost identical terms by old hands). But I picked it up here, and my father, who's been cycling in the UK since the 60s, doesn't seem to have come across it until recently. – Chris H Feb 7 '17 at 8:17
  • Neither does it appear on ShledonBrown.com, even in the glossary. That seems surprising and to me suggests a fairly recent coinage, or a UK source. (note that googling BSO site:sheldonbrown.com does return hits, but they're music-related) – Chris H Feb 7 '17 at 10:42
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In German, I have never heard anything similar. I think one reason is that everyday cycling is more common and many people have a cheap, battered bike to get to the railway station or the local shop, so you could argue that most bicycles you see in town would be seen as BSOs by UK cyclists. It doesn't make sense to invent a new term for something that is common and already has a name.

When you observe bikes in town, in the UK (where I live now) you can rather clearly see two distinct groups: high-end bikes for the sports market (and people dressed accordingly) versus really cheap ones (often students in uni towns). In Germany it's much more a continuous spectrum with a lot of middle ground of various urban bikes, so it would be difficult to draw a boundary.

Most people buy bikes in the local bike shops, but shops tend to have a wide variety from cheap, simple, factory-built ones to high-end custom-built, so the fact that they are sold in LBSs isn't necessarily a criterium for quality or price.

Another factor is that "BSO" is a term that is a bit arrogant and derogatory, sends the message: "You are not doing it properly", which is what bike advocacy groups really want to avoid. In Germany, cycling is very much seen and promoted as everyday activity, and the cycling groups want to avoid terminology that would people off. It's better if people cycle on a cheap bike than not cycle at all. It's possible that the cycling sports community in Germany has derogatory terms for non-sportists, but I don't think it's common outside. Again, in UK the community is different and more sports-oriented (although that's beginning to change, in the last 5 years or so).

  • I think you make some good points (so +1) but the cheap, battered bikes can actually be good quality but old and not well looked after (e.g. one of mine). Although you can't do much about complete rubbish components ("brake shaped objects"?), even a BSO put together by a bike shop will be better than the same bike bought in a supermarket and assembled by a novice. Do you have a term for the supermarket bike? Aldi-special? I've seen that applied to bike accessories here in the UK. – Chris H Feb 7 '17 at 10:38
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    @ChrisH Good point, of course the battered bikes can be good quality (I have one like that too...). I guess what I mean is that it's not so easy to see what's cheap and what isn't (unless you're an expert with lot of knowledge about components), whereas in UK there's more a distinction between those who don't care much versus enthusiasts with good bikes who also keep them clean and shiny, so they obviously look good. "Aldi bike" ("Aldirad") is good suggestion, sounds familiar, although I think they are not so common (Aldi sells more accessories than full bikes). – Stephan Matthiesen Feb 7 '17 at 13:04
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    The only term I remember hearing is "Baumarktrad" (hardware store bike). I don't know how common the term is. – linac Feb 7 '17 at 16:38
  • I assume Germany has better safety laws and better enforcement of laws to prevent 50-100 euro bikes from being sold at discount supermarkets. Heck, you don't even have that many discount supermarkets! – RoboKaren Feb 7 '17 at 17:54
  • I'd like to blame consumer protection laws. Germans often actually ride their bikes and it isn't good business to sell bikes that need to be replaced after a few weeks. – ojs Feb 7 '17 at 18:05
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Just answering the first question, google says the first use was in January 2001 in the UK:

Google screenshot

They link to WhyCycle which refers to a page by TheCyclingExperts titled "The Bicycle Shaped Object." Since both sites are UK sites, the first use on the internet seems to be from the UK in 2001.

It's not clear if the Cycling Experts came up with the term themselves or if it was in use before 2001.... I'm actually surprised that Sheldon wasn't the originator.

Sidenote: This other site dated 2009 also says that the term originated in the UK:

Cycle Blog UK

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    +1: I am cautious of this approach as in my experience, the internet often attributes historical events to the first event widely recorded on the internet (usually the first happening is recorded between 1995 and 2000ish, when the internet became widely used) and the myth self perpetuates. – mattnz Feb 6 '17 at 23:51
  • I agree, so I hope someone can use a different methodology to find an earlier use. But at least we have a baseline of 2001 -- so any earlier than that will override this one. – RoboKaren Feb 7 '17 at 0:04
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    It looks like there are older uses on uk.rec.cycling, but the only site I can find with a sensible search is usenetarchive and I ran out of free searches before I could pin anything down -- If anyone has access to soemthign better it might be worth a shot. – Chris H Feb 7 '17 at 9:26
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In Russia, the term for BSO is "ашанбайк" (ashan-bike).

It's named after one big supermarket which primarily sells food, but also BSOs.
There are a lot of places in Russia where it's possible to find BSOs, but specialized bicycle stores usually don't sell them.

BSOs are rarely seen on streets (at least in St.Petersburg), probably because riding BSOs is harder than bicycles and people just give up and use public transport instead, because in Russia public transport is cheap. This may change in near future though.

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Here is an answer from India...

BSO (Bicyle Shaped Object) is a term virtually unknown here

Even hobbyists and serious cyclists are usually not aware of this term

The only people who know about it are the ones like me, who spend time reading about bicycling when not riding out there!

What do we call a bicycle? A Cycle

A Bike is a motorbike!

Supermarkets don't sell bicycles here, only LBSs (Local Bike Shop) do

We do have our share of bad bicycles but they do not even come close to the worthlessness of a BSO

MTB style frames? Cheap dual suspensions? Y-Frames? Glittering multi-coloured stickers? We have them all but they still are not BSOs!

Because, they never have bad brakes and other critical components

They are just bad bicyles, but they can easily withstand a few thousand kilometres and harsh tropical climate without much fuss

The worst we get is rattling noises from loose metal mudguards and creaking noises from the cheap suspensions

What do we call them? Cheap cycles

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    This would explain why a lot of people from India post off-topic question about motorcycles here. – krzyski Nov 6 '17 at 14:53
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In Poland "BSO" term is not widely recognized, nor used. This site is the very first place I've encountered it. I guess in non-english speaking world the situation is similar.

If one will translate this term to polish, taking into account cultural context, it would be "wyrób roweropodobny", what, when translated back, whould mean: "bike-like product", "bike substitute product", "fake bicycle", as we had "fake chocolate", "fake cheese" and so to describe cheap substitute of some goods. This term is not widely used.

What is widely used as equivalent of "BSO" in Poland is "rower marketowy", what, generally speaking, means: "bicycle from supermarket".

The polish translation of "bicycle" whould be "bicykl", BUT this word is rather old fasioned and obsolete. We use word "rower", which comes from polonified name of british company "Rover" owned by John Starley, that were exporting its early production here in 1885.

  • If you mentioned a "supermarket bike" in English ("Walmart bike" in the US) that would give a very similar impression to BSO. – Chris H Feb 7 '17 at 10:39
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I'm from the UK and we definitely use the expression BSO and I've certainly known the term since the very early 90's. As other posters have said, it normally denotes a very cheap bike from a department store or chain store and can be recognised by nearly always being made from poorly MIG welded steel tubing rather than the TIG welded alloy, cromoly or even titanium of more expensive 'proper' bicycles.

  • welcome to b.se! Do you have any evidence for BSO existing pre-2001 - which is the earliest anyone else had found? If you can post something definite, I'd love to award you the correct answer. – RoboKaren Jun 6 '17 at 15:16
  • Nothing concrete. I was a student in Scotland in the very early 90's and me and all my mates rode custom mountain bikes and really lived the 'bike life' because we were students and didn't have cars. We used the term then, I'm pretty sure. – Guy Wood Jun 6 '17 at 15:56

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