Monday, November 5, 2012

Walmart Bicycles and Ethical Salvation


What Would Jim Ride?
If you had over 21 Billion dollars in the bank, what kind of bicycle would you ride? Who knows? I barely have 21 Single dollars in the bank. But if you ask Jim Walton, youngest son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, he might be able to tell you. Because that is how much money Jim-Boy Walton has stashed under the mattress, which would make it hard to sleep at night if you ask me.

                                                                  Direct Deposit
Jim Walton doesn't work for Walmart. Instead he owns and operates several banks, thereby shrewdly cutting out the need to sell cheap crap to misfits like me in order to get his hands on their money. They just give it to him directly. But this ain't about Jim Walton. It is not even about Walmart, exactly. As always, it is All About the Bike. And Christmas. And China. This may take awhile.

Ride Report
Having now pedaled my new Walmart bicycle a little pedaling, maybe a couple hundred miles, I am prepared to report in. I love it. I love it, and everyone who sees it loves it. Everybody asks for a ride and they are always reluctant to get off. It is an intimidating monster at first, a veritable Clydesdale of a bike. But after they take a few laps around the parking lot of whatever saloon I am terrorizing I have created a new customer for the Walmart money machine.

The new bike, if you missed my previous post on the subject, is a Genesis Onyx 29 Beach Cruiser and it looks like this:

That's not mine, I stole the photo off the webinet but it looks like mine.

Hugh Again
And as I mentioned in the New Bike post, I would never have bought a bike from That Place except for the more or less positive experience my friend Hugh had in his bold Fixie Project. And now he is flirting with disaster yet again, looking at all manner of strange creations with two wheels, as well as searching for an affordable 29 inch mountain bike for a friend. In the course of his search and subsequent correspondence with his mildly shocked constituency someone said “But Hugh, your motto is “Rescue, Restore, Recycle! Oh, how could you, Hugh? Oh woe!  Oh woe is me!"  (I might be embellishing a little here.)

But that commenter missed something: Hugh DID in fact rescue, restore and recycle that Walmart bicycle. As did I with mine and will continue to do so as long as I have this bike, I suspect.

An Image Half Formed
When I brought it home the pedals would turn only reluctantly, and after braking (coaster brakes) it took a firm stomp on the pedal to get the cranks moving again. On my first ride to the beer store the handlebars came loose and flopped about like a wounded albatross. But I had my trusty multi-tool with me and I tightened things back down. Then on the way home I was rocking around on the seat like I had already killed those beers and a couple shots of tequila too.  When I got back to the trailer and dismounted the saddle dismounted also. But this was all stuff I had been warned about while studying up for my purchase and I was perversely happy that the predictions had come true. I didn't want to Not Like this bicycle but I would have been confused and disappointed if it had performed flawlessly. But there was no danger in that. This poor steed was a mess from the start.   And now: Christmas!

"...and a train, and a Walmart Bicycle, and ethical salvation."

Ethical EggNog
Today, although we no longer co-habitate, me and the blonde known on these pages as the Blonde remain close friends. Real close. The twins are seventeen now, but not always. Six years ago they were, uh, let's see..Twelve. And due to some of the putrid stinginess of the wealthy contractor I was working for at the time we didn't get a draw check until the last minute and thus found ourselves out there at Walmart at sundown on Christmas Eve. Moments later we were wrestling two shiny new kid's bikes into the mini-van and headed for home. Well, we were actually headed for the Eggnog Store for the ingredients of my Soul Survivor Christmas Blues Breaker Egg and Rum Punch.  Oh, yeah, baby!  Yow!


Everyone Should Get A Bike For Christmas
In those days I was no bike mechanic, I'll tell ya. That was back when I would still drop off at the Local Bike Shop whatever pawn-shop bicycle I owned  to have flats repaired. My knowledge of bicycles consisted of turning the pedals and watching out for buses. (Much the same as now, come to think of it.) But it was Christmas and I just got paid and two new bicycles were on their way home. Parts started falling off the next day and then the bikes simply disappeared and when I would ask later about their whereabouts I more or less got told “Don't Ask.”

What Is The Answer?
So I went back to my habit of buying hopefully higher grade-bicycles at pawnshops and paying bike mechanics at the LBS to tune, tweak, insult and charge me what always seemed like exorbitant rates. This was the Way of the Bike, I supposed, but then I started learning a little more learning and bought some tools and a work stand and now my trailer is more Bike Shop than dwelling place. I learned how to lube and tune and true and patch and I am a different guy now and poor and downtrodden but oddly happy about it all and of course that is primarily due to bicycles.

Ho Ho Ho
But now comes Christmas and somewhere in dark, damp cellars below Big Boxes All the World Over under-trained and underpaid and under-appreciated elves are rapidly slapping together bicycle-shaped objects in a feverish effort to meet demand. These bicycles, products of China, would be sub-par if carefully assembled by artisans like my friend Hugh (or even myself, on a good day.) But they are instead being wrenched together in some haphazard manner that makes me wonder why they even try. Oh yeah. Billions of dollars. Billions of fucking dollars for ripping off the very deserving populace. Everyone knows that place is full of crap but they don't care. Why? Because 'You can take it back.”

(I once read somewhere that Walmart has the deal rigged so they make a little money when something is returned. I don't know if this is true but it makes a kind of twisted sense. Charge the vendor you bought the crap from in the first place a “handling fee” and Hey Presto! The worse your merchandise sucks the more filthy lucre you make.)

My head hurts.


Do I have a point? Not really. Well, yes I do but it would take a series of articles to get to the point. So instead: China.
East Meets West
                                              
                                                                       China Style
Yeah. Now we're talking. Anytime ya find yourself in the mood to get started on a rant, Walmart is a handy jumping off point. But China? Whoo-boy! Human rights violations, constantly pushing their boundaries, polluting like it's 1999...and supplying Walmart. Once again, we have a vision of pure, unadulterated greed on a national level and...They're Communists! Dirty Commie Heathens taking over America one cheap bicycle at a time and polluting the hell out of half the planet while doing it! Who do they think they are? Victorian England? The U.S. Under any given Bush Administration?

Everybody's Doing It
Maybe it is just their turn. But since some people seem to be concerned with “ethics' (uncontrollable giggling) I will straighten all this out. There ain't no such thing. Ethics is just a name for guilt or an excuse for one varmint to arrest, shoot, chastise or feel sorry for another varmint. Is Walmart ethical? They wouldn't be if such a thing as ethics existed. We, (some of us, anyway), have a code of behavior that we live by. Some of us take small pleasure from certain instances of proper action or a job well done. Do we do it because of some ethical imperative? I don't think so. But hey, I live in a trailer. And yeah, I realize that entire libraries could be filled with all the studies, research, and hand-wringing done in the name of the Ethos of Ethics over the centuries but trust me when I say that we human beans have no more sense of ethical behavior than a bucket of amoebas when the chips are down and it is time to eat amoeba soup or die. Maybe THAT is the Original Sin that got us kicked out of Iraq, I mean the Garden of Eden in the first place: as soon as we knew the difference between right and wrong we started doing wrong. And by the way, if I'm not mistaken, China was already up and running and kickin' ass about the same time Eve pulled that stunt with the snake.

Everybody's Doin' It, Doin It...
Sure, China might kill us all with their wacky politics and governmental policies and absolute disregard for human rights or Mother Earth. They probably will. But there is delicious irony in some jackass like Mitt Romney or Jim Walton talking to us about “getting tough on China” when they and their ilk are the very same rotten bastards that created the China Syndrome by exercising, for generations now, such unlimited human avarice that the word “ethics” has become a punchline.

I'm glad we got this all cleared up.

But Seriously, Folks
What I am going to boil this all down to is that a question came up over at Hugh's Blog (sorry, man, I told you to get a restraining order) concerning Walmart Bicycles. I own one now, I love it, and so I am eminently  qualified to expound on the subject. This is it: I don't really own a Walmart Bicycle. I own a Trailer Park Ox29. It started as a Walmart Bicycle, but that was just the parts of the bicycle kinda assembled rather than handed to me in a bag. I rode it, or tried to, to determine if it was crap. It was. I took the rear coaster brake hub apart. It had grease in there, but I swear one of the bearings was in backwards. The brake shoes were misaligned, causing the lock-up problem. I slapped on a whole lot of lithium grease and carefully reassembled the hub. I carefully adjusted the tightness with my cone wrench. This all took less than an hour. Later, after about forty miles, the cranks were about to fall off. I disassembled the REALLY cheap-ass bottom bracket, greased it up and put it back. The lock ring for the BB is sorta integrated with the chain guard and I can tell it won't stay tight. I don't care. I'll just fix it again until I figure out how to make it stay on. But if I replace the bottom bracket with a new one, say a Shimano UN54, I might not be able to remount the Chain guard without some serious rigging. The head set is eternally loose and the bolts seem to be made of some kind of pseudo-metal.

But She's Mine And I love Her Anyway
But: I now have, as I said, about two hundred miles on this bike. I have loved every minute of it. The work I did, as I described above, is pretty much what I would have to do if I were fixing up an old Raleigh or Schwinn. The week I bought this bike there were several enticing bicycles on Craigslist for a lot less money than I paid for the Ox. But none of them were 29 inch-wheeled Beach Cruisers with 48 spoke wheels, fenders and a chain guard. As near as I can tell, it is the only such beast in existence.

I Am Not Alone
There are a couple websites on the Internet devoted to shlubs like myself who actually purchase these monstrosities and brag about it. It is more about bicycle tinkering than bicycle riding, but the tinkering, for some of us, is half the fun. Ethics never comes up.

A Vision of Heaven
But Christmas is coming and I would truly love to see Walmart set up a big corner of their Garden Department , maybe in the back, with a real Bike Shop. One good mechanic with a couple helpers. The helpers could do the assembly and then let the Wrench tune and tweak. I don't know about the lube work in the sub-assemblies but it would have to be done. It could be done and some of those bikes might last a season or a year. I'll be riding my Comstock Ox29 for a long time, because I can fix it myself. But I think that were Walmart to get just a LITTLE more real about bicycles they could Change the World in a different way than the way they are changing it now. They sell these bikes pretty dang cheap. A lot of kids (and overweight parents) would otherwise not get bicycles for Christmas this year if those cheap-ass bikes were not available. If it comes down to a Walmart bicycle or no bicycle at all, then Walmart it is. Perhaps the ethical thing for we in the bicycle community to do is not boycott the Monster, but educate the masses. That would probably work here in America, over there in China and anywhere else on the Planet, as long as it doesn't cost Mitt or Jim any money.

And I will guarantee you this: if such a thing would MAKE money for Mitt or Jim; it would happen overnight.

Avarice trumps ethics every time. Trust me on that one.



Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Dreamland
#84


18 comments:

  1. TJ
    The picture of the kid sitting on Jesus' lap, asking for Christmas presents reminds me, oddly, of a neighbor's sign. It depicts Santa delivering a Baby Jesus. All he needs is an Easter Bunny hopping around near a cross and he'd be set.

    I totally understand the multi-level ethics you're discussing here. I don't have an answer myself. I tend to get all cranky when Hoss starts talking about all the manu jobs that have shipped overseas, and then goes to buy all his crap from Hop Sing at Wally World. They don't get it at all. Never will because they don't want to pay a penny more than they absolutely have to. (Even those that can afford to do so.)
    I realize that some can't but do they really need 4 flat screen TVs, an iPad, and a smart phone?

    I'm with you. If we could get them all on a bike, and it reduces the obesity here, thus reducing the long term health care costs, then maybe the ends justify the means. Let's get Mitt and Jim on that!

    You have me thinking about one of those big tired suckers but then I think about our hills and I get over it. :) If only I lived at the shore.....

    Your pal,
    Brian in VA

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  2. Brian, they make the same bike in a seven speed, thus multiplying the opportunities for malfunction. I thought about getting that one but I really just wanted a neighborhood bike and a beach wagon. Coaster brakes are weird, though.

    Riding this thing is fun as hell, I gotta tell ya. I was cycle-salooning with my buddy Corky Saturday and his nice old trek MTB looked like a kiddie bike parked next to mine.

    I usually stay clear of political stuff but I was trying to wrap my head around what it means to be worth 21 Billion with a B. I realize there are rich and ruthless Dems also (but they were cuter and that whole family is dead now, more or less.)

    But yeah, let's see a GLOBAL initiative on the part of Walmart to put ONE MILLION KIDS worlwide on sturdy and reliable Walmart bicycles. I know you are being facetious about Mitt and Jim but if they did that (and they certainly have the dough) I might shift my political leanings. I won't be holding my breath, though.

    tj

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  3. I propose a drinking game: A healthy sip of your favorite malt beverage every time Mitt Romney says China. That guy cracks me up.

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    1. Whoa! I just read the description of your new bike on the Walmart website. Even the text is from China. The good new is that "The fork is made of high tensile steel and offers more flexibility and stays strong on rough ride."

      I'm not even sure that you can buy 96 spokes in your LBS for less than the price of the Ox. Good find.

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    2. Nick, that's funny. Walmart has so little respect for their customers that they don't even bother with polishing the copy for the on-line ad. I didn't even notice it, I am so accustomed to reading moronic writing on the webs.

      The bike is, indeed, laterally slack and vertically complacent.

      But thanks for coming by and thanks for saying something nice about my new bicycle and its fork.

      tj

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  4. Tim Joe,

    Reading Walmart Bicycles and Ethical Salvation at 4 A.M. this morning was as much of a pick me up as today's first morning mug of Joe.

    The Brains of the Outfit and I stopped shopping at Wally World about a decade ago, because we figured that Sam's kids already had enough money to last them for a while. It doesn't help their case with us that their local outposts helped to deep six some other businesses, now sorely missed. This is not to say that I disagree with your scholarly treatise on Ethics. You have summed it up rather neatly.

    You close with the specific mention of avarice, a word I much enjoy seeing in print. Years ago, I decided that the Seven Deadly Sins would be better names for human spawn that say, the virtues. Who would not get a thrill out of saying, "Have you seen this picture of the twins? Here they are on the slide at the park. Aren’t little Avarice and Lust darling? Oh, and here's one of their baby brother, Gluttony!" Way back when at I.U. there was a friend and co-worker of mine whose parents had saddled her with the name Charity. She was bright and funny, but more than most people I knew in those days, she looked out for number one...is there something (maybe backwards) in a name?

    Hmmm..."rich and ruthless Dems also (but they were cuter and that whole family is dead now, more or less.)" By coincidence, I am about two thirds of the way through Seymour Hersh's, The Dark Side of Camelot. What a feast of venality! A fun read if ever there was one. It was published in 1997, but I catch on kinda slow sometimes.

    Yes, everyone should get a bike for Christmas. It would make this a happier planet, and slow down gasoline sales and bike thefts, at least for a day or two.

    It is now election day, so, as we say here in Vigo County, "Vote early, and vote often!"

    Continue to enjoy the Ox29!

    Bill Hopp, The Anonymous Hoosier



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    1. Bill, I remember the three whores from "McCabe and Mrs. Millar": Shirley, Peace and Charity.

      Oddly enough, I had my hand on a copy of that Seymour Hersh book at the library last week, but put it back. So now maybe I'll go get it and give it a read.

      I just got back from voting myself. Now I am off for a ride in some surprise afternoon sunshine. It was supposed to rain today.

      As always, thanks for stopping by the Park.

      tj

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  5. Yeah a new Tim Joe POST! Always a good way to start the day. Brother you are going to have to start paying Hugh royalties LOL. A literary treat and a "makes ya think" all at once. Since we both know that there is no F-ing way that Walmart will do as you suggest because it might shave half-pennies off their bottom line, I humbly suggest you start "Tim Joe's Walmart bike Re-Assembly" All you need is a few dis assembly elves (paid in beer) a big ol' tub of grease and the tools and work stand you already have. You could hand out fliers to the Proles as they leave Wally world with their BSO's;

    SOME REASSEMBLY REQUIRED

    "When your bike falls apart, don't lose heart, Ol' Tim Joe will reattach that part"

    Keep on rolling on those big ol 29ers Velo Brother.

    Ryan

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    1. That's pretty good, Ryan. Those bikes come pre-diassembled anyway. All ya gotta do is give them a good shake.

      My Old Guru Walt the Homeless Janitor Retired Airplane Mechanic always seemed to have a kid's Wally bike in the stand. I'm pretty sure he was fixing them for free, too.

      It is a sad situation and one that would seem unneccesary. Sigh. Oh well, thanks for coming by and I'll see ya at Hugh's. if I ain't kicked out.

      tj

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  6. Wow! There was a lot to digest there in this post but it was quite entertaining reading! In our small town hiding away from reality, we don't have a Wally world or even a Target. It is about a 45 minute drive down the canyon to indulge oneself in the vastness that is walmart. As for the ethics of shopping there....I can't answer that. Too vast to think about. You have blown me away thinking about Mitt and Walton kids. When is all the money, just enough?

    Our business is simple enough, take care of the customer with products that are an excellent value. The giant companies such as Walmart/Home Depot are just exchanging dollars. They really don't care that much about any individual customer. Your excellent idea of a store location to assemble and repair bikes so the walmart customer gets a operable bike for the kid to ride Christmas, or any morning is something out of a fantasy novel. Harry Potter will be fixing those bikes! Maybe you could set up somewhere in their parking lot. I'm sure it would be a fun deal until walmart security goons descended on you with Mitt style justice!

    Continued enjoyment to you on the OX29! Ride it with that big cheshire grin on your face knowing that with a little investment of bike mechanics on your part you have a great ride for a great deal!!

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  7. Thanks so much for the kind words, Jim. Yeah, while Mitt is getting tough with China, Walmart will be getting tough with me. Part of the trouble with the OX was bearings, which is a sub-assembly and not REALLY the misguided assembler's fault. But it is a cryin' shame all the same. There used to be a big barn out by the airport where this old guy would help kids and homeless guys get their bikes straightened out. That's all gone now. Too many good things are gone around here as our once quiet seaside village has more and more become yet another Orlando playground.

    I would be a far more noble person if I tried to do something about it but I will probably just ride my bike. As always, thanks for coming by.

    tj

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  8. No nobleness here with me either....with the day to day grind of working to keep kids in school at CSU there is not much more time for nobleness after a quick lunchtime ride (weather permitting!)

    If I had 21 BILLION! in the bank like others......I would set up a big assed shop to help people with car repairs, and good tradesmen that would be on call to help people with financial trouble with home emergencies like roof leaks, furnace trouble, plumbing problems, etc,etc. I could find a corner for a good bike mechanic too! I would pay the people real well so you would attract the best workforce and I would hit up corporations and my other rich buddies to underwrite the cost of materials to keep the shops going.
    But no freeloaders! Only if you show you can't pay would the service be available!
    What a dream huh! betcha I could make 21 billion last the rest of my life!!
    But I would still go ride my bike!!

    In fact I dream this sort of stuff up while I'm riding my bike!

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  9. Thanks so much TJ for this hopeful post. We get a lot of cheap, bad bikes in the JCU bike shed, and I always truly believed that any bike has the potential to be a good bike, and do a job for people who need a cheap ride. I am sending this post to my volunteers, because it is inspirational. I think those people in China making those bikes honestly believe they are doing good, and with our help they are. You totally rock, thanks.

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  10. That's very nice of you, Dee. I was at Fat Cyclist looking at his Zambia Project in cooperation with World Bike Relief. I was thinking that there are plenty of communities in the U.S. (and all the world over) that could benefit from such a helping hand.

    I honestly believe that there is not one single person within the entire Walmart Corporate structure who "gets" bicycles. That should be fixable enough. I'll bet BSNYC could get their attention.

    tj

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  11. Hey TJ
    I can't help but be reminded of One of my many favorite lines from the movie Tombstone. And I am probably misquoting here..

    That's what I love about Wyatt, He can talk himself into anything!

    Now a quote from one of MY favorite writers.

    "They sell these bikes pretty dang cheap. A lot of kids (and overweight parents) would otherwise not get bicycles for Christmas this year if those cheap-ass bikes were not available"

    One little problem with your vision of Christmas morning and shiny new bicycles. The average American has no idea how to repair yet alone reassemble their (or their kids) bicycles.
    I am sure these bikes falling apart under these kids as they attempt to ride them Christmas morning will bring much joy to both them and their parents. Not to mention the elation they will feel at the LBS when they find out how much it will cost to rebuild them. Only after the the tech has reminded them what a foolish purchase they made in the first place.
    Having said that. After getting my first good look at the 29er Beach Cruiser... All I can say is Wow! That really is one Bad A$$ looking bike! I completely understand why you purchased it. As to how long it will last, I think that remains to be seen. Maybe you could keep a journal "for say two years" about you wally bike experience.
    Great post as always. Cheers



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    1. Hugh! thanks for dropping by. It is like a visit from royalty. As I re-read my post, I realize that I didn't make clear what I meant by "educate the masses." I have yet another rant coming up where I will try again. The work needed to get one of these bikes halfway right isn't brain surgery. Even the tools are pretty cheap. I'm talking about guys like yourself paying a visit to local school shop classes for a little two day bicycle tutorial. Judi and Domenic are conducting inner city bike repair clinics but that isn't what I'm thinking. In fact, I don't know what I am thinking. I am on the trail of a universal utility cycle to get people started and to get them on reliable bicycles. Just after I posted this manifesto I went over to Fat Cyclist and his World Bike Relief initiative and it made something click in my head. But I hear clicks in my head all the time and this will probably blow over.

      Tombstone, huh? When they film the Trailer Park Cyclist Movie Kurt Russel would be perfect. Or Jeff Bridges. But if I was any Kurt Russel Character it would have to be Captain Ron. Thanks again for coming by, Your Highness.

      tj

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  12. Volkscycle! A few days ago someone from Kmart called me looking for a bike mechanic to assemble bikes in the lead up to Christmas in Cairns. You would like Cairns, really...

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  13. Volkscycle! Yes! That is exactly what I mean, Dee! It should also bear a Schwinn Headbadge, I think...

    I'm not done on this subject.

    tj

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