|Good value for the self-assembler|
Hardy Menagh 10/8/11
The author is in no way associated with any of the businesses in this article, nor was he compensated for writing this review
When a car ran a stop sign and demolished a newly refurbished vintage bike that had become my preferred ride, I decided it was time to treat myself to something brand new.
There was a small insurance settlement for the destroyed bike and my damaged helmet and bike clothes. I could afford to add a little more cash but I still couldn't pay bike shop prices for a halfway decent road bike.
The other option was to buy a partly-assembled bike from an online retailer and finish the build myself, something I would prefer to do anyway. No one cares more about the way a bike is tuned than the rider and if you're confident about assembling and adjusting bikes, which I am, you should be the one to do the work on your bike.
If you don't have the skill, tools or inclination to assemble the bike yourself, the only other option you should consider is having a reputable bike shop mechanic do the job. Don't, absolutely do not, have the online retailer assemble the bike. Just be aware that by the time you pay a mechanic to assemble your bike, true the wheels and tune it up, you might be better off buying a bike from the shop and getting a good guarantee.
The guarantee from a online retailer is just usually a refund of the purchase price. You pay return shipping and lose whatever you spent on having it assembled. If the bike shipped "free", your refund will have the shipping cost to you deducted and there may be a sizeable restocking fee. You'd probably be better off just reselling the bike.
If you buy a bike from a local bike shop, many of them will also do your first tune-up free, after you've ridden the bike for a specified time.
What I Needed
Of primary importance was a bike that could do hills so a triple crankset was an absolute requirement. Beyond that, I wasn't too particular, provided it was a drop-bar road bike that fit me well, it didn't have a shoddy frame or really cheap components and it wasn't unusually heavy.
I looked at the offerings from Performance, Nashbar and Bikes Direct but finally settled on the Vilano Forza 1.0 from Road Bike Outlet.
What You Get for the Price
For $600, this 27-speed Vilano bike has an unlabeled double-butted aluminum frame and an equally generic 12k carbon fork. Although it was advertised as having Shimano 105 components, in fact the components list said it had Tiagra components with the only 105 part being the rear derailer. It was about $50 more than a similar bike offered by Bikes Direct which had Shimano Sora and Tiagra parts and I figured it was well worth the extra cost.
I knew I'd need to replace the saddle and pedals and probably the tires. On a bike in this price range, the saddle is usually very basic but allows the bike to be ridden if the rider hasn't acquired a saddle that fits his or her posterior. The inexpensive Kenda tires help to keep the price of the bike attractive and would probably suffice in the short term but might also mask the bike's true potential. The pedals aren't horrible and if I didn't use clipless pedals, I might consider installing them.
While still being painfully aware of the recent accident that created a need for this bike, I did some web searches. I was particularly interested in finding information about the integrity of the nameless carbon fork. I couldn't find anything negative about the fork or the bike so I ordered it. It was shipped a day later and arrived at my door 4 days after it shipped, in perfect condition, traveling by UPS Ground from St. Augustine Florida to Upstate New York.
What's in the Box
On opening the box, the first thing I was glad to see was that the frame was painted white, like the picture on the website, not gray which was indicated in the description. Having been hit by cars twice, in my bicycling career, I wasn't enthusiastic about a road-colored camouflaged bike. Why make it any easier for them not to see me?
The bike was well packed and protected with foam, cardboard and plastic spacers made for the purpose.
A separate small box held the stem, pedals and toe clips, front brake calipers, front wheel skewer, front and rear reflectors, the small parts necessary to finish the assembly and the manuals for the bike and all of the Shimano components.
What was not as Advertised
When you spend several hundred dollars based on the belief that you're getting exactly what you want and you get something else, "disappointment" doesn't adequately describe the feeling.
The FSA Vero crankset was advertised on the website as having 52/42/30 chainrings. This crankset had 50/39/30 chainrings. The 56cm and larger versions of the bike were advertised as having 175mm crank arms. This 56cm one had 172.5mm arms (which is not really significantly shorter).
The Kenda tires were advertised as being 700c X 25. These were 700c X 23.
The cassette was listed as being 11 - 25. The one on this bike was 12 - 25.
In each of these cases, the parts that are pictured on the website are what you get, not the ones that are listed. Is this more than a little deceptive? Yes, I think it is. However, the differences don't decrease the quality of the bike. For the most part, they only lower your top speed. For me, getting up the hills reasonably quickly is more important than a rapid descent. I did email Road Bike Outlet to point out the discrepancies and ask them to advertise the bike truthfully. Update 10/10/11: Road Bike Outlet emailed me to let me know they have fixed the errors in the descriptions on their website.
Putting it all Together
Road Bike Outlet has how-to videos, hosted on YouTube, which may aid in the assembly of the bike. I didn't look at them so I can't comment. I'm also not going to give you any tips for assembling the bike. In fact, I'll refer you to the late Sheldon Brown's web pages for specific adjustment procedures. There's nothing out of the ordinary about the way this bike goes together. If you get stuck or need more advice, don't email me. You should take the bike to your local bike shop and have them finish the job.
What I will do is point out some things I found on the bike I received, that needed attention. An experienced bike mechanic would certainly catch these things. A first-time assembler might not.
The wheel bearings were too tight with the wheels off the bike. On the bike, they would have been way too tight, causing premature bearing surface wear. The cones on both wheels on this bike needed to be backed out roughly 1/4 turn. Your experience may differ.
The rim strips are flexible plastic, heat-joined inside the rim. I've never seen this material used before. I think they'll work for now but I plan to replace mine with Velox when I change the tires.
The wheels needed truing, the rear one, badly.
Prior to truing the wheels, it's a good idea to make sure the spokes were crossed correctly. Two of the spokes on the drive side of the rear wheel on this bike, crossed under, instead of over their cross spokes.
In the big chainring, big sprocket combination (which you should never shift to), the chain was 3 links too long, allowing for 5 links of overlap, including the Quick Link.
The factory-installed rear brakes and the derailers needed adjusting.
The bike you receive may or may not have these problems. Just don't assume any of the factory settings are correct.
My first test ride was a short 6 miles but it included two hills, one of which was fairly steep. The bike felt smooth on the road, handled and shifted well with no surprises. Tight U-turns were easy and stable. It shined on the hills seeming to take them more easily than any of my other bikes. The only problem I encountered was poor braking. I think this will improve a little as the pads wear in but better quality pads would be a major improvement and that will be a priority. I look forward to doing my next century on this bike. It should be a real pleasure. If further riding causes me to back off from any of this, I'll add an update.
The Vilano has good lower-mid quality parts that work fine.
The flat white paint job is even and smooth.
The frame and fork seem sturdy.
The handlebars are wrapped at least as well as I could have done it.
There are no unpleasant surprises in the way it handles on the road.
All up, before accessories, the bike weighs about 23 lbs., not bad for an aluminum-frame bike.
The price is attractive.
The frame has ugly raw welds at the joints (It's no Cannondale, but then it doesn't cost like one either).
The upper gears are lower than advertised.
The saddle is disposable but most riders don't stick with the saddle that came with their bike anyway. I think it's smart to cut corners with parts that most likely won't be retained.
The tires are bottom end, a corner that I don't think should have been cut.
Most of the factory adjustments have to be redone. Even a wheel on this particular bike, wasn't built correctly.
The brake pads are not adequate to the task of stopping the bike.
A minor negative point is the included front and rear reflectors. The font one, intended to clamp to the handlebars, will necessitate rerouting a brake cable if you do. The rear one, intended to clamp to the seat post, mounts at the wrong angle for this bike and can't be adjusted. If reflectors are required in your locale or if you plan to ride at night, you'll have to find a pair that work with this bike. The reflectors that come on the wheels, should work fine but I took mine off because I hate the things and I don't plan to ride this bike at night.
As mid-level Chinese bikes go, this one isn't bad for the money, provided you can do the assembly work yourself. Most of the faults lie in the way it was advertised and I tend to think that was just sloppy web page editing, probably due to carelessly modifying or updating an existing page for this bike. If you were really counting on the specifications being as listed, this could be a deal breaker.
Time will tell how well this bike holds up but I can see no quality issues that would lead to premature failure. Build it, ride it, enjoy it!
Back to Hardy's Reviews
Back to the bikes in Hardy's Back Room
Copyright © 2011 Hardy Menagh
All rights reserved