There is a blog I read from time to time called “Lovely Bicycle!“, an appreciation of bicycles and bicycling written by a rather perceptive blogger. There’s a lot of discussion about the things that make bicycles and bicycling fun, and the writer has developed from a sort of “transportational” cyclist into a randonneur/roadie/cyclist-of-all-trades over the past few years. Since much of what she has to say about design and riding is similar to my own views, I really enjoy reading her blog.
So I thought it appropriate to contrast the notion of her blog, lovely bicycle, with an experience I had last week.
Some acquaintances of mine on a limited budget were given bikes by a non-cycling friend of mine so that they could get around. This non-cycling friend knew that GMC was a good brand (I cannot speak to that) and so he ordered a pair of GMC Denali “road bikes”. I will henceforth be referring to these, collectively and individually, as the Bicycle Shaped Object(s) (“BSO”).
Since I know these particular acquaintances are often out and about in the evening, I offered to install some “be-seen” lights for safety. I got two of this set:
I had heard of BSO like this before, but the first time I laid hands on one was when my acquaintances arrived to have me install the lights, what I figured would be a 5-minute operation.
The BSO is an invention created by a marketer to look like bicycle, and sort of function like a bicycle, but it is not a useful bicycle. Here’s a photo:
Now, that may not look so bad. I have no idea what the geometry is. But the first problem was that the friend had ordered size large, and both of the acquaintances are at best size mediums, so the first thing is that the BSO doesn’t fit. Since that meant that the seatpost was absolutely slammed down, that mean I had to figure out how to mount the tail lights to the oversized seat tube. That wasn’t too difficult, fortunately. But it gave me a chance to look at the rather overworked rear end of the bike. Here’s a photo someone took that sort of shows what I mean:
Those are pretty curvy stays. And they don’t need to be. And that’s characteristic of the BSO; “aero”-shaped tubes that don’t do anything except (maybe) add weight. At least the tires are nice and fat…I didn’t even touch the spokes.
But the real horror was the front end:
Several things to notice here: (1) the handlebar is not made in one piece–it appears to be bolted together from three pieces–one in the stem, and one each for the right and left sides; (2) it uses grip-shift style shifters. I’ve used road grip-shifts, which fit down at the ends of the handlebars. They worked OK–like bar-cons but not quite. These are MTB-style shifters, and on the BSO I examined, the cables were partially wrapped under the handlebar tape. Don’t ask how. Handlebars–which have to bear a lot of force–should be made in one piece and should never have holes in them, especially near the stem.
Shifters on a road bike should be–well, maybe they’re just ugly. But I don’t think shifting both front and rear at the same time should require you to take your hands off the brakes, but maybe that’s just me. Anyway, I had to strap the front lights around the “clamps” on either side of the handlebar, which meant modifying them by disassembling them and modifying the mounts to fit. It worked, but just barely.
But the real killer (and I mean that in every bad sense of the word) was this one. Bicycles with caliper or cantilever brakes can generally use the same type of brake lever. It’s not ideal in all situations, but you get reasonable brake modulation. The levers installed on the BSOs I saw were these:
These are nice-looking brake levers, but they are not designed to work with the brakes that were installed on the bike. They’re designed to work with linear-pull (“LP”) brakes. LP brakes require much more cable pull to stop than caliper brakes. Consequently, levers for LP brakes pull a lot of cable. The result of mixing LP levers and caliper brakes is that the lightest touch on the lever will clamp the brakes hard. You’ve heard of stopping on a dime? In this case, literally true. This means that the rider has no ability to modulate the brakes. They’re either on or off.
And, by the way, this puts a lot of stress on the handlebar, which has to absorb the rider’s weight moving forward.
The result is a catastrophe.
Not only is the GMC Denali an ugly bike, it is an unsafe bike.
Many years ago, there was a car sold in the US called the Yugo. It was so bad that the standard joke was that it didn’t have a rear-window defogger so much as it had a handwarmer. Its sole redeeming quality was that it was cheap.
This is also true of the GMC Denali BSO.
Buy a bicycle instead.