The Bicycle Shaped Object has been a hot topic ever since Asda famously advertised its ‘not for profit’ bikes fitted with forks the wrong way.

INDUSTRY OPINIONS: Should dealers shun BSOs?

But can dealers afford to shun BSOs from their workshops? Or are they another vital source of revenue during the recession? Jonathon Harker asks for the trade’s views…

"I think it all depends on the BSO itself. We never turn any work down and if we can help the customer out, hopefully in the future the customer will turn to you for more jobs and new bikes. We have a set price for catalogue checkovers of £60.00 and if it is not fitted with decent components we will inform the customer before we start that the bike will work to the best of its capabilities.

From here we will give prices for necessary upgrades. Sometimes, as well as the service, you will pick up sales.

If they don’t want to pay the price then that’s fair enough, they can leave. We will service any of the bikes, but it’s to our guidelines. Every BSO that comes in is checked by a Cytech 2 level mechanic, who will point out glaring problems.”

“I work on the BSOs as at the moment, every penny counts. I drop a hint about their ‘bargain’ being a bit of a knacker and try to get them to upgrade to one of my bikes, stating that it would last longer and, for the extra money, be better value.

Asda employed my services last time they were in the mire when they were selling bikes to Joe Public. I had to either correctly assemble their customers’ bikes (for a £25.00 fee per bike) or carry out necessary repairs to keep their customers happy. The spin-offs were pretty good at the time. I also did the same for Safeway/Presto and also bailed out Motorworld branches a few times when they were around. There again, I’m happy to do this as it pays dividends when ‘their’ customer recommends me.

Yes, it is annoying that I have to sell a similar spec bike for twice the price. But after you explain to the customer the pitfalls of their ‘bargain’, some will go with mine. You try to explain that their ‘bike’ is like comparing a Fiat Punto 4×4 to the quality of a BMW X5 4×4. They both have the badge, but sadly, if you try to do the same things as the BMW X5 4×4 in your Fiat Punto 4×4, you’re gonna die!”

“My reaction depends on who brings it in. At one end of the scale is the person who had bought it knowing nothing about bikes and is genuinely surprised and interested when the issues are explained to them. These I will spend some time with and will set up the bike as good as it will go, or make repairs. It’s a good way to get new customers and to demonstrate that a bike shop can be a place where you get good information. Occasionally I do a bit of pro bono work for people who have finished up with a cheap low-spec bike. In all cases I make it clear that I will not be responsible for the future performance of the bike.

At the other end of the scale is the person who brings one in crowing about the bargain they have bought and how brilliant it is and all they want is a quick adjustment on the gears to get them changing ‘just right’. It is usually pretty clear that they are expecting me to do it for nothing. These tend to get anything from a polite suggestion that they go back to where they bought it from to get it sorted to a full on, two barrelled, condemnation of the monstrosity, pointing out how even somebody with my skills could never make the thing work to a standard they would ever be happy with. It depends very much on their attitude, but also on the mood I am in.

On balance I tend to help far, far more than I refuse. I want to have a reputation as a friendly, helpful shop because anything else would not fit my business model. Spending a bit of time helping people to understand their bike and giving them an accurate appraisal of what they might expect from it is a good way of supporting that objective.”

“I work hard to keep my, often low-income, customers’ bikes running well for fair prices, and as such I have to deal with the gritty end of bike quality. Some low-end bikes I come across are, well. okay, but recently even I have begun a ‘not in my shop’ policy. I could name some of the brands [Ed. –but BikeBiz has censored them].

I implement a £20 build from box/new bike check-over charge. If I think a prospective customer may check online prices I point out the value of expert building and the hassle of mail-order when even minor things go wrong.”

"It’s an interesting one. Personally while it’s not our preferred cycle to work on they are important to the industry. The source of the bike will generally be a shop that has no cycle background and as such has no skilled people to assemble or service the bike correctly. Step in the IBD.

We could take the opinion that the bike isn’t worth servicing or looking after. However, it will be putting money in the till which is always important. On the flip side to all this if it allows a person on a limited budget to get into cycling and create a desire for something better, then should we knock it? Personally I don’t think so.

One of two scenarios will occur: Scenario one – the customer calls into IBD for help with the bike. If the bike is new it will generally only really need setting up correctly.

While the components will be cheap they should work and operate correctly,
but the bike will be heavy and longevity will be questionable. Given the
 correct level of customer service, this person will continue to use the shop 
for accessories and servicing. It may just be a toe in the water for them,
with a view that if they get into cycling then they will treat themselves in 
the future.

If the bond between this person and IBD has been established 
then it would seem logical that this person will return for their new bike
purchase, while it may well still be a cheap bike by some IBDs standards it
will now be a ‘proper’ bike. This is a customer that would probably not have
come into the store was it not for their BSO. The IBD will have profited
f rom labour charged accessory sales, and a bike sold.

Scenario two: Bike has been used for a year say, and is in pretty poor shape.
Having not been set up well in the first place, to get it running as it should will need a fair bit of money spending on it. Nine times out of 10 if this is presented to the customer correctly will result in a entry level bike being sold, as it almost the same cost, but the bike is lighter and will last longer due to the fact that most parts are serviceable.

So while to the trade BSO’s are annoying, and no fun to work on, they can
result in a new customer that has ‘got into cycling’ and forged a
relationship with their IBD. This surely can never be a bad thing. We all
make bad purchases from time to time, normally on stuff that we haven’t
researched properly. If you then find someone that can ease you in the right
direction in the future, rather than taking the micky, you’ll have a friend
for life."


"BSOs that turn up in the workshop reveal several things about their
owners. Firstly the owners are admitting to themselves that the bikes do not meet expectations and are in need of help, secondly they are showing an intention of actually do some cycling. Whilst it is easy to demonstrate what a pile of junk they have purchased, it is immensely difficult to move them to actually buy a proper bike!

"They just do not seem to learn, so I understand that many bike shops do not wish to touch these things. Still I think we must accommodate them, because one day the supermarkets will have figured out how to supply decent bikes at low cost and this is where all BSO owners of today will take their business. An independent bike trade that is elitist offers only a too perfect opportunity for the supermarkets to move up some levels, for instance into the growing market of commuter and family cycling."


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