I formally decided to get a BikesDirect bike and then move the parts over to a new frame with a more reasonable set of wheels in the next few months.
The thing about a BikesDirect bike is that, once you ignore the pleasant fictions that the bike industry would like you to believe about how BikesDirect bikes are really bikes you might find in a bike store with a list price and how there is some sort of magical potion that a name brand spreads on their bikes that makes it somehow not something assembled from parts made by a fairly small number of parts-making companies into a frame made in China or Taiwan… well, you spend a few hundred dollars less than you might spend at a local bike store for a similar bike. Except that, often times, if you aren’t completely self-sufficient and the bike shop does what they are supposed to, you will end up receiving several hundred dollars of abstract value from the bike shop. Things like making sure that the bike is actually dialed in. Which involves making sure that you get what you were wanting to get and that any parts that aren’t the right size or shape have been replaced. And giving you at least a few free adjustments.
Thing is, some of us are self-sufficient and prefer it that way. If the derailleur is not shifting right and I’m in the middle of a 200km+ brevet, I’m going to want to hop off and spend a few minutes with a multi-tool instead of needing to find my local bike shop.
Anyway, the bike comes to you in a box, already mostly assembled. You are expected to then tighten some screws and bolts in the correct order to the correct tightness, adjust the brakes and derailleurs, and such.
Some of the details are a little sketchy. The manual is pretty much useless. It contains a generic set of instructions that include things like how to adjust a threaded headset, even though the bike is threadless and how to mount the kickstand, if not already mounted, that the bike doesn’t have room to mount and doesn’t come with. If you don’t know what you are doing, you probably will end up having to take the bike to a bike shop and you will probably not come out ahead. But it does come in close enough adjustment and big enough pieces that you won’t be spending hours getting it together and adjusted.
The frame looks decent. Clean weld beads, holes in the right places, etc. The fork is carbon fiber. I’m vaguely plotting to replace both the frame and the fork with something built around long-reach caliper brakes without the carbon fiber. But it looks to be OK for right now.
One of the general complaints is about the wheels. I’m not sure if people are upset because they are too heavy or don’t roll right or what. Mine came with Vuelta VXP Pro wheels. They are low-spoke count, bladed-spoke, aero-rim wheels. I’m guessing that they are too heavy or not aero enough for the racing types, but my critique is mostly that I’d rather have 36 spoke wheels because I know you can break a spoke or two without rendering the wheel unrideable. On the other hand, they are staying fairly evenly tensioned every time I check.
The groupset is mostly Ultegra 6700. I hate, with a passion, the little shifter button on the hoods that Campy shifters and the lowest end Shimano shifters use. I’ve tried both the SRAM and the Shimano shifters and either one works fine. I wanted a triple crank, which SRAM doesn’t offer. And I rather much like how the Ultegra 6700 routes both the brake and shifter cables underneath the bar tape and didn’t want to wait for the latest 105. The crankset, ironically, is made by SRAM (more precisely: TruVativ) and the brakes are Tektro short-reach calipers. The cassette and chain are 105-level.
It also comes with mostly Ritchey “cockpit” parts (bars, stem, headset) and a FSA seatpost that’s either steel or aluminum that’s then wrapped in carbon fiber… mostly for looks. The saddle is one of those generic low-end saddles, suspiciously like the one that came with my Fuji. None of this is glaringly wrong to me.
It came with extra parts, some of them spares, some of them the wrong parts, some of them just generally useless bits. The wheel reflectors are the wrong kind and won’t mount… assuming you can actually mount wheel reflectors on this kind of wheel in the first place. I mounted the front reflector because I figure it’s handy to have but left off the rear reflector. There’s a complete spare derailleur hanger and a spare set of red bar tape. I didn’t even bother trying the pedals it came with. They are some sort of cheap generic SPD-like pedal. They might be compatible or might not be, I’m not totally sure. I put on some real Shimano SPD pedals instead.
It’s important to handle the basic details of a new bike… like having the saddle and pedals and bars at least roughly correct and having mounting points for the gear you expect to carry… set up first. I already ordered a lot of the basics like extra mounts for my lights and bottle cages. Before I was even finished actually assembling the bike but after I’d made sure that it was the right standover height, I put the rack on to make sure it fits because I just don’t ride bikes without racks.
I’ve left some details for later, however. For example, I really do need to swap out my saddle, but the one I’ve got is OK.
I think I’ll probably end up swapping the cassette out sooner or later. The cassette is a 12-25, and I probably need the biggest sprocket to have 2-3 more teeth. Problem is that I’ve got the leg strength to turn the pedals up an 11% grade but don’t presently have the cardiac endurance to keep it going. Especially if I want to do a brevet, where it’s really not a good idea to go all-out uphill. I suspect that, over time I’d be able to switch back to 12-25, assuming I continue to get more awesome. I also figure I’ll get some fatter tires, given that there seems to be room for some of them.