Complete bikes are the gateway drug to BMX. The easily accessible, affordable option that can later be built upon when riders are ready to fully commit to the addiction by shelling out the cash for the higher quality of custom made premium goods.
Over the past few years there has been a rise in both popularity and quality of complete bikes, allowing for expansion in participation and growth in interest for the sport.
Complete bikes have been around for years but their quality continues to reach new levels, providing solid options for rookie riders getting into the sport. "In the early '80s, some companies were putting out complete bikes built on USA-made frames which were high quality for the time," explains Building Distribution CEO Chris Moeller. "Until the mid 2000s the majority of complete bikes got pretty bad, and then in the last five years things have really improved." Brand manager Allan Cooke of HARO Bikes agrees, "In the past, even the top of the line completes coming out of Taiwan were junk. The manufacturers in Taiwan have stepped up their game over the last ten years and it's not uncommon for a complete to be $500, under 25lbs and very reliable."
Lighter, more durable completes made with aftermarket parts are now giving riders a solid piece of equipment for a good riding experience at an affordable price. "I see complete bikes as an entry into our aftermarket parts," says Zack Phillips, President of Kink Bikes. "After the first or second bike our goal is for them to transfer some of their complete parts and then upgrade certain parts with aftermarket items. Talking with bike shop owners, it seems kids sometimes upgrade their bike before even walking out of the store with new grips, seat or pedals."
"We are showing our shops that they can make money selling BMX with great margins, no minimums and a buyback program for everything we sell." – Zack Phillips, President of Kink Bikes.
Complete bikes are not meant to rival custom built bikes, nor is it likely that they will ever reach that caliber. They are simply an accessible way to get riders hooked on the sport at an affordable price point – and also a way for riders to replace a stolen or broken bike at short notice. Phillips explains, "Riders now have the option to purchase good brands that come with quality components. Our entry level bike starts at $249.99 and looks like a pro level bike with 3pc cranks, 25-9 gear ratio and is a great way to get into BMX. We even make a great 18 inch for the younger guys with the same options."
Consumers aren't the only ones getting a deal from complete bike sales, they also set up future business for retailers. "We are showing our shops that they can make money selling BMX with great margins, no minimums and a buyback program for everything we sell," says Phillips. "Also, employees can be knowledgeable without investing much time in learning about the product." Michael Brennan of Animal Bikes points out, "The kid with the brand new complete is going to need new parts sooner or later. He could want some new bigger bars as soon as he buys his bike or in a month down the line he could need a new tire. There will always be demand for individual parts."
Completes also help the support of core manufacturers as well. "With the core brands making completes, a kid that's into a company like Cult, Premium or Kink can get a dialed bike for $450 or less when in the past they had to spend a grand to support those type of brands," says Haro's Allan Cooke.
“Riders will always want to customize their bikes, it's part of the lifestyle." – Cult's Robbie Morales.
As mentioned earlier, however, completes will never completely rival a custom built bike. Once riders get a taste for what they like and how their bike affects their riding style they will be eager to feed their addiction and build upon existing equipment to reach new levels. "Anytime you build a bike from the frame up you are getting exactly what you want in every aspect," says Rob Morgan of Alienation. "When you choose to go with a complete you settle for what the manufacturer has chosen for you. [Complete bikes] help rookie riders get into BMX cheaper and easier. Once they get serious they will go for aftermarket parts and build their own bike to their own style." The Building Distribution's Chris Moeller agrees, " There will always be riders that want the best of everything. And those types of riders want specific things form specific parts on their bike. It would be impossible to build a complete bike for a rider with that specific set of needs."
As riders evolve in the sport and the addiction grows deeper, their bike begins to reflect them as a rider. "Riders will always want to customize their bikes, it's part of the lifestyle," says Cult's Robbie Morales. "It's their personal bike built part by part." Michael Brennan of Animal Bikes adds in, " Some [completes] will have good pieces here or there but you will never get the same quality as putting one together yourself. Completes are designed as a whole and costs have to get cut somewhere. When you build up a bike you are buying the best parts not cutting corners to save dollars. Building your whole bike will always be the strongest way to go."
Although completes are meant to eventually lead to a serious commitment to the sport of BMX, does the growth in quality and accessibility of these pieces of equipment risk turning BMX into a more mass-produced mainstream "everybody's doing it" kind of thing? "This is a balancing act," comments Kink's Zack Phillips. "If we don't make complete bikes that people know about then we are giving up a part of the BMX market that is important to us and should belong to BMX companies. On the other hand, if we are a small, ultra core company, then we might have the best bikes in the world, but not as many people will know about us. So it is a balancing act." Brennan adds, "In some aspects yes [it does feel mainstream] when you see six kids riding the same black and purple complete bike. But again, it is a start for them to get into it and see what they want to do where they want to go from there."
So where will the future of completes go from here? As the sport advances and brands work to keep pace with updated equipment, both sides of the BMX completes argument have emerged, and will continue to develop. "With labor costs increasing in China people will be testing the waters of other countries like Vietnam, India, Bangladesh etc. for manufacturing," says Cooke. Cult's Morales adds, "Better quality and prices have to be raised at some point and it's not the brands making more money it's the cost of good rising. Also, with companies willing to accept such low margins the complete game is going to get harder for smaller brands. Hopefully companies, distributors, and shops can work together to remedy this situation."
Focusing on advancements in convenience for riders, Kink's Zack Phillips predicts, "BMX bikes will continue to improve and get better. The old production was the same model, same bike specifications for three years with only a color change. Since BMX exclusive companies have started such a progression in the BMX bike marker each year there are many yearly updates and improvements to each model. This makes the cycle much faster and better for the rider."
"Most of the new brands are being run by people that actually care about the sport of BMX, not just the bottom line," says The Building Distributions's Chris Moeller. "Prices will go up as the manufacturing playing field around the world begins to level due to a higher standard of living in rural Asia and global environmental regulations. Eventually we might even be able to build an American made complete bike and sell it for a competitive price. That would be cool."