Previously I have both defended and condemned the supermarket Bicycle Shaped Object. On balance, I didn't see too much harm in them, even if they only provide a valuable lesson in getting what you pay for. And I've even been vindicated in my argument that they may work as a "gateway drug".
But then I tried to maintain a kid's Huffy that we'd been given. It was a nightmare. Just getting the brakes to align was an exercise in excruciating frustration. As it was a hard garbage find, I suppose I can't complain too much. (I hasten to add that I was not the hard garbage finder, merely the poor sap who had to maintain the thing when it was passed on to us. It is amusing to note that when it went out on our hard garbage pile—in pieces—some other unsuspecting victim took it away.)
That might sound a bit negative and a bit harsh, but how else can you explain this bike?
I don't know the first thing about design, but even I can tell that this is a terrible bike. I mean, a curved seat tube can look really cool, but only when it's actually needed for wheel clearance. And when extra reinforcement is required to stop the seat tube from snapping off at the top tube, that's not good design. And when that seat tube is shifted so far that you need an extra post to mount the front derailleur, that's not good design. Those front shocks don't really look like they're up to much. And that sticker near the head stem on the top tube looks suspiciously like one of those ones that say "Not to be used for stunting or other hard riding"—if the bike's not up for it, why make it look like it is?
There are probably other design errors on this bike that I haven't noticed but even I can see that this bike is butt ugly.
Beauty and the grease
Unless you're into farm machinery, on most measures a mountain bike is a pretty ugly thing. But we love them because they do their job well, and from experience a mountain biker comes to appreciate what is beautiful in those chunky beasts. On the other hand, a Dutch step-through is self-evidently a beautiful object, and perfectly suited to it's task of urban transportation. But it won't be the weapon of choice for a sporty weekend warrior, whose object of desire might be the Cervélo S3, or for the bike tourer who covets the Surly Long Haul Trucker.
The bicycle is one of those wonderful things that manages to combine beauty and function, even if one or both may be in the eye of the beholder.
Things that are both beautiful and functional delight us.
Things that are functional without beauty deliver for us.
Things that are beautiful without function distract us.
Things that are neither beautiful nor functional disappoint us.
And perhaps that's Huffy's biggest sin: there really is no excuse for making the noble bicycle into something so hopeless—and so damn unattractive.