Good looks are not enough
By Jacob von Bisterfeld
It looked attractive; the feel was good; the paintwork executed
in "two-tone"; the chromium plating gleaming and just
perfect; the tires in dazzling multicolour: red, yellow and blue.
The 12 gears should get me over the tallest mountain and run me
effortlessly and fast on the open road.
The name on the frame: Forever.
There was a one year guarantee. And the price was right too.
A teenager's bike for a somewhat mature teenager who is, in fact,
still a teenager at heart.
In short: it was my bike that was sitting there in the shop, screaming:
"Buy me now, buy me now."
I mobilized my new "Forever" and proudly rode "ins
blauen hinein" ("into the blue yonder").
Absolutely no complaints in the first hour at all and this was riding
in real comfort.
The weather was warm, the birds were singing in verdant trees and
the world was my oyster.
However, the first time I had occasion to change the front drive
derailleur (2 positions), the chain flew off.
And yours truly was on his way to the office, replete with necktie,
white shirt and cuff-links.
How to put a chain back without soiling hands and cuffs with copious
deposits of sooty black chain grease?
Repeat performances of such mishap and several unsuccessful attempts
at adjustments made for the first specific "Directions for
use of this bike" which were: never use the open road high
About a week later the right hand pedal shaft fell off which totally
immobilized me and caused me to walk the remaining 5 kilometres
Conventional bikes have a square axle with a lateral hole drilled
through it, to provide a secure and inseparable connection.
Not so on my "Forever", where the pedal shafts were mounted
on a round axle with an "in line" locknut which soon vibrated
loose after which the pedal shaft fell off.
For the remaining 10 or so kilometres, I had to learn the art of
how to get to my destination on one pedal.
The faraway "Forever" service centre was prepared to fit
a new locknut under the terms of the guarantee but as the taxi fares
to the centre would have cost me about a quarter of the value of
the bike and since the problem was caused by poor and cheapskate
design, the free fitted nut was likely to last only one more week
So I drilled a through hole myself, threaded it and screwed a 5mm
bolt in. The shafts are now very secure.
Would you believe it, subsequently the flimsy plastic foot pedals
broke and needed replacement too?
The next calamity occurred when I met an incline at a bridge and
had to ride in the lowest gear.
Sadly, my legs were stronger than the rear gear change bracket as
it twisted 90 degrees upwards under the pulling force of the chain.
Obviously, the bracket steel was just too soft for the purpose.
Then the chain broke; a link-pin had come out and subsequent repairs
could not be remedied as the pin had to be peened over which was
impossible for a roadside repairman to do.
It took three more chain break-repeats and walks home before I managed
to buy a new chain with a conventional lock-clip.
In a few months the bright chromium plating on the handle bars was
reduced to brown rust and the tires showed cracking as if they were
10 years old.
Next I noticed squeaking of the pedal shaft. Further inspection
showed the ball bearings located there had been reduced to dust.
On the first bitingly cold day of this winter, the plastic gear
change lever gave way and snapped off. Obviously, the plastic selected
by the company became too brittle under cold conditions and just
I guess a new gear change lever will knock me back another 50 yuan
plus an hour and a half of my time to have it installed.
And what calamity might befall me then, perish the thought?
My bike is now about half a year old and all the problems suffered
can be reduced to the simple fact that too many entrepreneurs get
into business without the slightest idea about material properties,
good design or engineering. There are simply not enough vocational
school retirees available who have acquired an in-depth knowledge
of good workshop and installation practices. Everyone in China has
a university degree and is great in theory.
Worse, they do not liaise with the technical staff of material suppliers
and do not state clearly the conditions the material is supposed
to be working satisfactorily under.
If the Forever designers had taken that little bit of conventional
trouble, they would have finished with a bike that truly lived up
to the high voluted name, at very little extra cost.
Yet their website boasts accreditation by the ISO 9001 and ISO 2000
International quality and management control standards.
All I can think of now is that the bike has been marketed under
the wrong name. What appears to be missing is the letter "N".
(The author is CEO of a Sino-German joint venture in China)