Budget-conscious shoppers will have noticed this week that supermarket chain ALDI has released a range of cycling-related Mountain Adventure products. Only available until next Tuesday, I was thankfully notified in advance by the @TheWeeklyCycle, who I assume is signed up to ALDI’s weekly mailing list for “special buys™ straight to your inbox so you never miss another great offer again”—thanks for the heads up.
Many bicycle enthusiasts probably wouldn’t even consider purchasing bicycles or accessories from a discount supermarket chain, possibly even viewing ALDI’s budget prices as yet another affront to Local Bike Shops who already struggle to compete price-wise with overseas online stores and bicycle vending machines. But just where does the ALDI supermarket chain fit in to this complicated ethical hierarchy of retail bicycle consumerism?
Online shops obviously lurk down near the evil end of the spectrum due to the fact that a large proportion of their international orders are sold tax-free with high transport miles, making it difficult for local shops to compete on price (and eco-conscious consumers to keep their carbon footprints low). Then there are the bicycle vending machines that offer low prices, but very little in the way of customer-focused service. The addition of the German discount supermarket chain provides yet more competition for specialist bicycle stores.
While ALDI certainly can’t be considered a Local Bike Shop, they are indeed a shop, they do (at least for a week in October) sell bikes and they are found locally (with over 9000 stores in 17 countries worldwide)—even if the parent company is a German multi-national.
Brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht founded the supermarket chain in 1946 and by 1960 had split the company in two. With Theo taking control of ALDI NORD and Karl in charge of ALDI SÜD, they became two of the richest businessmen in Germany. Nowadays each division owns a group of companies including the popular Trader Joe’s chain in the United States.
In order to help you decide whether ALDI’s Mountain Adventure products are worth considering, here’s a quick run-down on all you need to know about this exciting new range.
Crane Premium Mountain Bike Grey & Green - $199
If nothing else, this bike at least provides comfort in the knowledge that Shimano is still producing 7-speed drivetrains, something first released over 25 years ago. It’s a full suspension model, with a platform that, judging by the low-res photos, looks like some sort of generic single-pivot setup with a coil spring and minimal to zero damping.
There really isn’t much in the way of technical specifications provided on either the ALDI website or on the cardboard box it comes sold in—except for the list of tools required to assemble it. Unfortunately I couldn’t bring myself to actually purchase one of these bikes, so I’ve had to make a few educated guesses about what this bike is and isn’t capable of—I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to find its one-size-fits-all top tube adorned with the famous “Not suitable for off road use” sticker.
The packaging makes a very sensible recommendation:
WARNING: IN THE INTERESTS OF SAFETY IT IS RECOMMENDED THAT YOU HAVE THIS BICYCLE ASSEMBLED BY A SKILLED BICYCLE MECHANIC
Given the poorly and partly-assembled state in which I imagine this bike will emerge from the box, I would suggest taking this advice seriously. Unlike a bike purchased from a Local Bike Shop, the ALDI Crane Premium Mountain Bike Grey and Crane Premium Mountain Bike Green do not come with a complimentary free first service so assembling them yourself also means taking full responsibility for how badly they end up being put together.
While the cost of having this bike “assembled by a skilled bicycle mechanic” is likely to be more than the value of the actual bicycle, it is probably a worthwhile investment if you want to get it to a rideable state.
While many mountain bike brands are nowadays shying away from 26-inch wheels (in favour of 29-inch or 650b standards), it’s quite refreshing to see the ALDI brand making a solid commitment to the original mountain bike wheel size. This should, at least, serve to keep mountain biking traditionalists happy.
If current wheel size trends continue, the ALDI Crane Premium Mountain Bike Grey & ALDI Crane Premium Mountain Bike Green might one day be the only 26” cross-country mountain bikes available – Photo Credit Nick Cooke.
Front suspension looks minimal, probably only around 50mm of travel, which evokes memories of the first mountain bike suspension forks introduced back in the early 1990s. There's also a bolt-up rear axle, but this bike isn’t all retro styling and vintage componentry, as evidenced by the quick release front hub and cable disc brakes.
With its carefully selected component choice, this bike should appeal to a very broad range of cycling enthusiasts: old-school mountain bikers will reminisce fondly over the short travel forks and 7-speed drivetrain; trendy hipsters will be totes amazeballs in love with the bolt up rear wheel; dedicated downhill racers will froth over the tricked-out coil spring rear shock; and contemporary tech junkies will be blown away by the disc brakes, cotterless 3-piece crankset and quick release front wheel.
Bikemate Premium Bicycle Helmet - $24.99
At almost five times the price of the $5 Melbourne Bike Share helmet (available from convenience stores and vending machines across Melbourne) the ALDI Bikemate Premium Bicycle Helmet is certainly being offered at a premium price point. That said it does have 22 air vents, compared with 9 on the Melbourne Bike helmet, so you are getting an extra 13 cooling orifices for this 20 dollar premium. In fact, with a unit ventilation price of only $1.14 per vent, ALDI’s offering is actually very competitive compared with something like the POC Octal Aero where you’re looking at more like $99.00 per vent.
It also includes an integrated red flashing LED built in to the adjustment mechanism on the back, a clever innovation that’s surprisingly uncommon on helmet offerings these days.
Tools & Accessories
There are a whole range of accessories including 500 Lumen Trail Lights ($39.99), a Hydration Pack ($24.99), Bike Repair Stand ($39.99), Cleaning Products ($4.99) and a 37-piece Premium Bike Tool Kit ($29.99), which has received some less than flattering reviews here:
“I bought one of these kits last time they came up. Like any other tools, you get what you pay for. The spanners aren't hardened. The chainwhip bent with it's first use. The crank puller actually impressed me with it's poor abilities. You couldn't engineer something to do a worse job."and here:
“Set your expectations low, and you'll be fine.”INOC Cycling Clothing
With an industry-leading acronym, ALDI’s In Need Of Challenge cycle-clothing range begs the question—is your life bogged down by comfort, stagnation and contentment?
If so, then this fantastic range (that includes jerseys, bib-less knicks, gloves, socks, baggy shorts and a rain jacket) might provide you with the impetus needed to burst out of your comfort zone.
At $16.99, the INOC Adults Cycling Knicks feature a “premium Italian made seat pad” and “thick gel insert” for “superior cushioning and vibration absorption” that confirms sweatshop manufacturing is alive and well in the struggling Italian economy. Hopefully the mass-produced discount cycling apparel industry can provide the anti-bacterially-enhanced, vibration-absorbing economic boost that this region so desperately needs.
Both the baggy cycling shorts and rain jacket feature ecorepel® fabric, which is described as being simultaneously water-repellent and hydrophilic, a contradiction that I am, at this stage, still unable to reconcile—however I will be taking this up with my Classical Logic tutor at next week’s contemporary philosophy class.
If indeed hydrophilic, then the fabric would not only attract, but also probably be dissolved by, water.
Could the INOC Lightweight Cycling Jacket & Shorts be the world’s first single-use rainwear garments designed to literally dissolve off your body in the rain? I’m not willing to say for sure, but if so, then this groundbreaking innovation is surely on par with edible underpants.
Surprisingly, many of these offerings are sugar free.
While most other cycling shoe manufacturers have blindly followed oppressive industry standards in shoe/pedal/cleat compatibility, ALDI is challenging convention with the brave decision to offer what is probably the first modern road cycling shoe not compatible with any standard 3-bolt road cleats.
Their road shoe is distinct for its rugged outsole and 2-bolt cleat system, which, on the surface suspiciously resembles most other brands’ mountain bike models. But in reality, compared to traditional road shoes, ALDI's model offers: better durability; enhanced stability for dismounting and portaging over obstacles; and a cleat interface better suited to mud clearing in wet conditions. Basically, if you need to ride your road bike across a pig farm in the middle of winter then these are the shoes you'll want.
Crane Multi Lens Sport Glasses - $9.99
One of the few obvious design flaws in the ALDI cycling range are these sport sunglasses whose warning label states that they are “not for use in solariums.” If there’s one aspect of cycling that can be universally accepted (apart from the fact that the 650b wheel size offers an unbeatable compromise between the improved angle of attack of 29” and the low rotational inertia of 26”), it’s that cyclists suffer from the worst tan lines—or are bestowed with the best tan lines—depending on your viewpoint. ALDI could easily have incorporated solarium compatibility in to these cycling-specific sunglasses, providing an effective way for cyclists to even out tan lines that is slightly less offensive than this method:
The Final Word
Apart from a seemingly overpriced $25 helmet, ALDI offers a very competitively priced range of Mountain Adventure products as well as the convenience of being able to purchase a bike, clothing and accessories during your weekly discount supermarket shopping trip. While you might have to forego the product assistance, sizing advice and mechanical servicing offered at your Local Bike Shop, what the ALDI Mountain Adventure range lacks in terms of quality and reliability, it more than makes up for in acronyms, contradictory jargon and impracticality.
At just $199 for a complete (although only partially assembled) mountain bike, you could realistically afford to just keep buying replacements whenever it needs maintenance. The downside of this strategy being that after this week there’s no indication exactly when ALDI’s Mountain Adventure range will next be available.
My advice would be to get in early and buy up a 6-12 month supply of Crane Premium Mountain Bikes (with moderate usage, about 5 or 6 should be sufficient), a wet-season’s worth of dissolvable rainwear and a large shopping trolley full of clothing and accessories. Hopefully this should see you through until the next Special Buys™ Mountain Adventure week. While it does mean a larger initial capital outlay (that you could have just used to purchase a proper bike from a proper shop) this approach provides the piece of mind that comes with knowing you’ll have a huge pile of shiny new stuff with which to fill your double-garage. And realistically, who could ever put a price on that?