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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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