The most valuable bike is the one you use, ride, treasure, spend time, enjoy, delight in looking at, admire the utility, find trouble free, find low maintenance, find fastest, find climbs the best…etc, on and on. I sell some fantastically expensive bikes and own several (deferring many car payments to afford them) but, I am often as happy with a more modest mount and enjoy cycling on inexpensive thrift store finds very much.
Now, it may sound elitist when you find out one of my "modest mounts" costs in the $2000-2500.00 range. I am not wealthy by any means. My dog does not have a mink coat. It is amazing what kind of bicycles you can afford if you spend thirty-five years earning a simple living and putting all your spare cash into the bikes without the burden of alimony or child support. I know dozens of people that own over fifty pro-quality racing bicycles (some decades old) and live by modest means. It's all what floats your boat.
I have met a number of travelers on department store bikes camping and touring great distances. These bikes, as offered, were truly not roadworthy by any half measure. These travelers' tales of woe and substantial mechanical failures would turn most people away from cycling forever—in less than a week. If you ignored safety (bad idea), most of these products just fell apart. As a lad of ninety-nine pounds when I received my first 26-inch wheel, balloon tired, bike I thought it would last forever. I never jumped or abused that bike at all but it, along with three replacements over the years, all failed at the frame from simple riding. None were subjected to touring loads.
It could be argued that department store bikes today are superior to those of old and, in many ways, it is true. The trouble is that when anything is built with price as THE major factor in the design criteria, everything is compromised. Case in point: the new Aluminum Mongoose that a *mart shopper drug into the store the other day—$225.00 and it weighed 48 LB! We normally expect light-weight when there is a move to aluminum! Not on this one. The sad thing is these bikes fail in so many ways, and so often, that repairing then is unaffordable; another poor failure prone bike is purchased as a replacement, and the buying/disappointment cycle is repeated. No one will become a serious cyclist on a bike that does not fully function.
As Peter White pointed out, a department store bike with rebuilt wheels is a heavily modified bike. Often, good replacement wheels cost in excess of the bike on which they would be installed. Is it not the age old dilemma: polishing a turd—outcome doubtful?
I certainly am not trying to criticize anyone's purchase decisions, but everyone that owns a department store level bike would genuinely appreciate a bike shop grade bike if they use it at all. Amazingly (to me), entry-level bike-shop bikes are LESS costly than top-end department store bikes and are not only better equipped, ride better and lighter, but, in addition to being properly assembled, they often have valuable service and parts warranties thrown into the deal!
Avoid false economy. You don't have to buy new either. Now with flea markets, eBay, and its surrogates (not to mention the rest of the prestigious internet) most people can educate themselves and buy a second-hand bike that is of very high quality and very suitable for their use for a modest sum.
Yours in Cycling,
North Road Bicycle Imports
P.O. Box 840
166 Courthouse Square
Yanceyville, NC 27379
toll free: 800-321-5511