Saturday, September 6, 2008

Huffy? Yes, Huffy!

So, you are looking for a practical, reliable bicycle for the real world. You want to use your car as little as possible, so your new bicycle will need fenders and a rack so you can ride in the rain and carry groceries. Let’s take a look at your options. You could spend three to five thousand dollars on a custom bicycle from Rivendell, ANT, Bilenky, etc.. Oh, and you’d have to wait months, at a minimum. Undoubtedly, your bicycle would be wonderful, but not everyone can afford the funds or the time involved. Alternatively, you could spend less than $2000, if you were prudent and cost-conscious, in building up a frame from Kogswell, Surly or Soma. Still, not everyone has $2000 burning a hole in his/her pocket. Fortunately, you can also walk into any decent bicycle shop and ride out on a great bicycle for the real world. Even with the added expenses of fenders and rack, you could buy a wonderful bicycle for $500 or less.

The Magellan step-through model

Photo from Walmart.com

But what if $500 is still too much? If this is the case, you might consider visiting your local Wal*Mart and investing $200 in a Huffy Magellan. That’s right, the Huffy Magellan looks like a real bicycle for the real world. From five feet away, even a hard-core bicycle enthusiast would have a hard time finding major differences between this bicycle and similar offerings from companies such as Specialized and Trek.

Good Things About the Magellan:

There are plenty of things to like about the Magellan. The bike has an aluminum frame with what appear to be very good welds. Plastic fenders are included in the purchase price. These look similar to products from Planet Bike. The Magellan also comes with a rear rack which looks like it came right out of the Blackburn catalog. The low-end Shimano and SRAM drivetrain components in the 21-speed setup look perfectly functional The wheels are composed of sturdy-looking 700C aluminum rims, aluminum hubs, tires that remind me of the tires on roadster-style bicycles from India, and stainless steel spokes. The pedals have metal cages and bodies.

The Magellan comes equipped with a rear rack and fenders

Debatable Component Choices:

Some folks will like the adjustable handlebar stem, others will not. There is a steel kickstand mounted to a kickstand plate near the bottom bracket, where many frames have a chainstay bridge. The kickstand will be convenient, but it is not as nice as an alloy model from Greenfield.

The clear plastic chain guard that covers all three chainrings is intriguing. If it works well, it would provide a huge benefit to people who want to keep their pants clean. If it gets in the way of the chain, on the other hand, it could be worse than useless.

If the chainguard works without interfering with the chain, then it could be a very good thing!

I was disappointed by the suspension-style fork by Zoom. I would have preferred to see a rigid steel fork, preferably cro-moly. A nice unicrown fork would be far cheaper than the suspension fork on the bicycle, and it would improve the performance as well. However, I understand that I am not the “target customer” for this bicycle and that some market research team told those responsible for specifying components on the Magellan that they must include a suspension fork. This is unfortunate, but not the end of the world. The suspension fork will probably be viewed as a benefit to most of the people who consider buying this bicycle. If it gets them out of their cars and onto a bike, then it is ultimately a good thing.

The Bad News:

This bike has some design elements and components which scream “Cheap!” Most importantly, this is a “one size fits all” model,” and that size is “SMALL.” Both the diamond (“men’s”) and step-through (“women’s”) frames measure 16” (41cm) from the center of the bottom bracket (BB) to the top of the top tube. The measurement from the center of the BB to the top of the seat collar is 18” (46cm). The effective top tube length on both models measured out at roughly 21.7” (55cm). The adjustable stem will allow for a bit of flexibility in terms of both vertical and horizontal handlebar position, and the sloping top tube could make somewhat taller people a bit more comfortable, but the Magellan will not be a good fit for anyone over 6 feet tall.

Frame size and geometry on the step-through and diamond frames seem to be identical

Typical of bicycles sold in “big box” stores, this model comes with cheap, old-fashioned headsets and bottom brackets. The crankset had a coat of silver paint on it, making me think it was probably steel. But all the other components seemed decent.

Another real issue for consumers who are not mechanically inclined is the lack of professional assembly, and I do not consider a seventeen-year-old Wal*Mart employee with a screwdriver and a pair of pliers to be a bicycle professional. As is the case for all bicycles, if the Magellan is not assembled properly, it will not work properly. If you are intrigued by the bicycle but you do not have experience putting bicycles together, make sure to call a few of your local bicycle shops to find out how much they would charge for assembly. In all likelihood, buying a new bicycle from your local bike shop will cost about as much as buying the Magellan at Wal*Mart and having it assembled by someone who knows what he/she is doing. Plus, if you buy a bicycle from your local shop, it will come with a good warranty and one or more free tune-ups. So, if you are not familiar with bicycle mechanics, I strongly recommend you visit a reputable bicycle store and look at your alternatives.

My Discussion with a Magellan Owner:

I met a gentleman riding a Magellan outside of Trader Joe’s one day. I asked him how he liked the bicycle. He replied that he thought it was great, although a bit hard to get on and off due to the top tube on the diamond frame. When I asked him why he did not buy the step-through frame, he told me that he would be too embarrassed to ride a “woman’s” bike.

The Magellan diamond frame model

Photo from Walmart.com

He also told me that the salesperson at Wal*Mart had said that the Magellan was being discontinued. I contacted Huffy corporate headquarters multiple times to find out if this is the case, but I got no response. I noticed that the Magellan is not listed on Huffy’s website, so I fear that the gentleman I talked to might be correct. If that is the case, let us all hope that Huffy has other “urban bike” models in the pipeline.

It would have been nice to see a "Greenfield"-type kickstand, but at least the Magellan comes with metal pedals

Conclusions:

I did not ride a Magellan. If I did, my 6’6” frame would not have been able to get a good feel for how this small bike performs. Given the “down sides” I listed above, buying a Magellan would certainly involve risk, but the risk would be low. After all, the full purchase price of a Magellan is less than millions of Americans spend on gasoline in a month. Yes, the cheap headset and bottom bracket might wear out quickly, but the frame looks to be well-built, so the heart of the bicycle is likely to be sound. I do not know which factory in China built this bike, but quality control in most Chinese bicycle factories is quite good these days (see my story, “Fifteen Days in the Belly of the Beast,” for details). Decent headsets and bottom brackets are cheap, so if you have to replace the original units after a year or two, the price would not be intolerable.

The bottom line: If you have some mechanical skills and you fit the smallish frame, the Huffy Magellan could be a great bike for you at a very low cost.

18 comments:

Adam said...

Seriously? With the amount of mechanical aptitude required to make a walmart bike function safely and properly, one is better off buying a second hand bike and retrofitting it with fenders and a rack. If you need to buy new, a Giant Tran Send DX at 450 seems like a much smatter choice. At least it comes in sizes. Poor quality cycles with sub par assembly are only going to turn more people away from commuting than get them into it.

phil varner said...

The headset and bb are always the kickers for me on these sort of cheap bikes. They commonly not only break quickly, but are unreplaceable, since a couple bucks can be chopped off the cost. I'd be interested to know if this is the case with these. If that's a British threaded BB shell and a standard headset, this does seem like a good value for the price.

Erika said...

Thanks for the info on the baskets on Flickr. BTW, I own this bike and love it.

Robert Anderson said...

What you said about the skills of Wal-mart personnel is absolutely true. I have a little game that I play on the (infrequent) times I go into Wal-mart. I go to the bicycle section and see how long it takes me to find a bicycle that has been assembled with a BACKWARDS FORK. The last two timss I was in a Wal-mart, it was 2 for 2.

Mike said...

Forbes, Thanks for the detailed opinion found in this article.Your post was the deciding factor in my decision to buy this Bike. I checked one out at my neighborhood K-mart and decided it was a very good Value for the Money($248 assembled). Not to mention, Huffy has a lifetime warranty on its frame if I recall correctly and a pretty lengthy one(warranty) on its drivetrain components as well. I would have preferred 26 inch tires, but hey, for under $250, how much Bike can one realistically expect? One Big item you did not mention was the fact it has a Shock-absorber seat post to soak up the road bumps.I like the front shock system(albeit they shocks aren't the pricey ones)I don't plan on boondocking anyways so this setup should work fine on city streets, my intended use. I also like the Adjustable stem on the handlebars so it looks like a person can really dial this bike in for an exact fit. I am 5'7" with a 29 inch leg, so it looks like this Bike was made for riders my size. As you mentioned, the welds were pretty high quality so if you want to hang on to the Bike for a while and add higher quality components after the inexpensive components wear out, you will have a good frame to work with. I was contemplating a Novara Fusion or breezer bike(both hovering around $1000 after adding shipping costs) so to find this quality of Bike all assembled for under $250 I went for it. Not to mention, where I live in inner city Miami, If someone cuts my Chain and steals the Bike, I'm out $250, not $1000 as would be the case with a Breezer/Novara. This is a fact of life here in the City--Thefts of high end bikes so a plain-jane non-sexy huffy won't draw the attention of bike theives is my logic. I'll drop by for another post after I pick up the Bike and put a few city miles on the rig. Thanks for the good thread on the Magellan.

MisterJip said...

THANK YOU for this post. My GF and I bought these bikes several months ago, and they've been doing great. We did have to make a few adjustments before our first ride (brakes, derailleur, fenders) and get the riding position down by trial and error, but now we ride them to work every day we can. We're planning a longer trip soon and I've been looking for a level-headed review of this bike, mostly for my peace of mind. I know that "bike people" look down on anything from the Big Box stores, but these seemed OK to me. Glad I'm not alone.

Arrow Heart said...

Just bought this bike and love it. Got it on sale for $179 @ Kmart. It did require considerable tightening and adjusting but now it's smooth precise and the ride comfort is unbelievable. This is a solid, modern, well designed bike. I can't believe the "bike people" that still try to compare a $200 bike to a $1000 or even $500 bike. If you need to know that you spent 2 to 3 times more for your bike than the guy that just passed you then buy something else. If you want a great bike at a great price look no further. You won't be disappointed.

andersondailyphoto said...

I am so glad to read your review -- that the Huffy Magellan is mostly good. I got it for $95 at K-mart and the price made me wonder, too, if they are discontinuing. We'll see. I did my first ever 4-mile ride last night and it was wonderful. I have no idea how to do the gears (or even what many of the words you used in the review mean) -- but I hope to learn. :) Thanks for the review.

G. Britton said...

Simply buy a pre assembled bike at Kmart and very little mechanical aptitude is needed except for tightening loose screws. Kmart has a good return policy if you do not like the bike after trying it out for a few days. Wallmart will not take a return 30 minutes after purchase even if the bike is missing parts I found out the hard way! I purchased 3 of the Huffy Magellan bikes at $149 each on clearance (have never seen them drop to $95 like the previous poster) this past year versus the $279 normal price. I like to have spare parts as a new bike is cheaper than new wheels and tires when found on clearance and you do not have to wait for what may be hard to find parts after a few years. I also do not like skipping my 60 mile morning wakeup bike ride every day due to a flat tire or need for maintenance so I just jump on one of my spare bikes. My only vehicle is a Piper Cub airplane so I must have a good working bike. I also purchased the $15 service warranty (could of been $19 I forget which). The service warranty gives me tires and brake pads at no costs and any needed repairs or routine service for the first year. After 8,000 total miles on the three bikes this past summer and spring the only problems are the metal caged pedals in which the metal bends and broke on all six pedals of the three bikes, but then I pedal hard and fast to cover those 60 miles every morning. All pedals were also never greased by the assembler which wears the bearings in the pedals out fast. They are easy to grease and with grease the bearings should last the life of the bike and if you are light footed the pedals should last forever. However $5 hard rubber replacement pedals with similar spikes work fine which is what I switched to even though Kmart offered to give me all the pedals I needed during the service warranty. I choose this model over buying additional Schwinn 5th
Avenue bikes which I also owned one of and wore out in a few months (it was very difficult to grease the crankshaft and the assembler had never greased any bearings on the bike I discovered after the bike wore out). The Huffy is easy to grease the bearings on and I checked and all three bikes other than the pedals had all bearings greased. I also choose the bike because of the cheap plastic chain guard and fenders. These cheap guards and fenders work fine and keep the dirt, chain oil, and road grime off your nice pants. The similar 5th Avenue had no fenders or chain guards and I ruined several hundred dollars of pants before the bike wore out in a few months. Adjusting the derailers every thousand miles or so is also simple. Just search for and watch some videos on adjusting derailers on the web. I am a dumb geologist but only a pinhead or your girlfriend (most women are pinheads when it comes to picking up a screwdriver) could not do a fifty dollar ten minute adjustment. The manual also shows how to adjust the derailer but the videos are easier to understand. However I let Kmart adjust mine for the first year on each bike as I have the spare bikes and they can take their time farming the adjustment out to a local bike shop which they pay for under the service warranty. In summary I found three bikes, all trouble free after 8,000 miles, for a total amount of $447, cheaper than all the kids riding their $700 and up bikes whom I have no trouble zipping by. I have owned over 20 bikes and the Magellan has proven better than the others.

Hugh said...

I don`t know if anyone will ever see this but here goes anyway. I saw these when they first came out and thought they were interesting. But 250.00 for a Huffy. When I can buy a good used older bike at a thrift shop for 20 or 30 dollars. And after 75.00 to 100.00 in parts have myself a damn fine bike.I don`t think so. OK fast-forward two years. I`m at a
department store tonight and see two NEW "old stock" Huffy Magellan`s 99.99 each.And one of them appears to in perfect condition. So tomorrow the store opens at 8:00am.I might be bringing one home in the morning.
Because for 99.99 that is one hell of a nice bike. Cheeers

jimbobm said...

This bike has been discontinued by Huffy as I received an email from them when I asked about a replacement fender for the one I just bought at Kmart for $79. That's right $79! A Hybrid bike with fenders, and a rack for $79 is unheard of.

Hugh said...

I did end up buying the Magellan the next morning for $99.00.Not as great as 79.00 But still a really good deal for a commuter with fenders and a rack.Also Nashbar just had their base fixed-gear bike on sale for 199.00 (msrp 499.99) After an additional 10% off for entering "ON SALE" in the promotional box at check-out. Delivery came to a whopping $5.99. I will probably make a few changes (stem handlebars pedals). Hey I can use the money I get from selling the brakes!

monchhichi_liz said...

Looks like I made a good choice today when I bought this bike. I'm a college student, and I was hit by a car in the fall, causing a lot of damage to me and some to my bike. I have a nice mountain bike (a Trek), but I didn't want to bring that to school (the bike I was hit on was my mom's old bike). I got $150 from the insurance company to repair the bike, but it was so old that it wasn't worth repairing. So, I've been shopping around for a $150 road bike. I bought this Huffy model today for $79 at a K-Mart. With a two-year protection plan it came out to about $97. Pretty awesome deal! It'll be perfect for campus -- especially with the fenders in the rain.

chuman70 said...

I guess I'm the lucky one! I just found a Magellan at my local K-Mart for $63.36 on ultimate clearance. I think it may have been mismarked, but the tag said Magellan Commuter so the manager gave it to me. Lucky me! Can't wait to try it out!!!

Hugh said...

Liz, I hope you have fully recovered from you injuries. And I hope the new bike works-out well for you.
Ride safe, Cheers,Hugh

Hugh said...

chuman 70, That`s a fantastic deal.
You would have had to sneak it out the back door to beat that price!
Ride Safe,Cheers,Hugh

Republican doesn't = Christian said...

I got this bike last summer and our first bike ride was 21 miles. It was very comfortable and easy to shift gears. I love this bike and would recommend it to anyone in the 5'6 - 5'8 range.

Roberto said...

I've had my Magellan for just over a year now, bought one for my wife too for $99 in the spring. I own 9 bikes and I love to tinker and adjust and maintain bikes every chance I get but the Huffys really haven't given me much to do. Recently replaced the tires on mine with wider 700c X 44 CST Servant tires and it just gets better, smoother faster and it can climb off road almost as well as my GT 29r ! Despite having 9 bikes I always find myself taking the Huffy out, comfortable, reliable and the fun factor is always there.