Pros: Price; good balance; easy for a kid to operate
Cons: Horrible brakes; flimsy overall construction
A couple of months ago, my nine-year-old son decided it was high time he learned to ride a bicycle. He saw one he wanted and, upon learning it would only set me back about $80, I figured what the heck. Of course, we wound up with s new, blue Mongoose "Outer Limit" BMX bike. Honestly, this isn't a bad bicycle, but I don't figure it will last long.
Perhaps my sense of perspective is off by more than just a bit. Way on back in 1978, I decided I needed something newer than that faithful Schwinn Stingray that had served me well for a couple of years. I wound up pestering my parents until they bought me a Schwinn Mag Scrambler that cost around $200 and was all the rage back then. I beat the living hell out of that Schwinn and, in fact, it wasn't an uncommon site to see my bike sliding down the street with me behind it. My friends and I spent a lot of time making ramps and jumping over them, flying down backwoods trails and generally abusing our bicycles on a daily basis. That Schwinn never gave me a minute of trouble.
I'm afraid I can't say the same about my son's Mongoose. After having it about a month, we had to take it to a bike shop here in town to get the chain fixed (one of the connecting pins vanished) and repair the brakes. The sad truth is, that Mongoose just isn't all that durable. I figure that's to be expected as this the Mongoose is inexpensive and my standards might be too high -- the Mongoose was built in China with an emphasis on looks, whereas my Schwinn was manufactured in Chicago (remember when Americans made things?) and held up like a top of the line bicycle should. You do get what you pay for, I suppose.
And, the Mongoose sure does have a certain look that my son finds appealing. It looks, well, like a BMX bike with some grippy tires, durable pegs on the front and back for tricks and such and it's a nice, shiny shade of blue. The balance on the bicycle is quite good and my son was able to fly around the neighborhood after practicing on it for only a few days. Furthermore, he's able to get it up to a good speed without a lot of effort and the bicycle is light enough at less than 40 pounds for him to manage it quite easily. Furthermore, the frame and everything else has held up in spite of his initial "training period" during which he spent more time lying in the street than riding on his bicycle.
In other words, this bicycle is a great first bike because it's easy for a kid to pedal it and it's balanced well. In that regard, this was a good purchase.
Of course, there are some problems with the Mongoose. The most obnoxious thing is that the brakes are terrible. Instead of a good, solid coaster brake, the Mongoose is equipped with hand brakes. That wouldn't be a problem, but the brakes are pretty cheap and are prone to fail. The front set isn't that bad, but the back one is tricky. That's a huge concern as a kid ought to be able to crank on those brakes and have the bike stop. The back brakes failed on my son after he'd had the bicycle less than a month, so he wound up stopping with his front brakes and almost flew over the handlebars a couple of times. The back brakes are now repaired to their original condition, but that's not real comforting -- they didn't stop the bike all that well when they were new. Heh. Instead of "brakes" they're more properly called "breaks."
Also, the seat is covered with a thin, vinyl material that rips easily and there's a plastic chain guard that tends to break. The back and front reflectors just kind of fell off at various points.
Fortunately, the handlebars are easy to adjust as is the seat. That's great news, of course, because a boy needs to have his handlebars tilted forward a bit as he grows and the seat needs to be raised, too.
In terms of specifications, this bike is a simple as can be. Naturally, we're talking about a one-speed bicycle with no suspension to speak of and a 20" frame. Fortunately, the wheels spin freely and a child can start this bike off without much effort as it is easy to pedal.
All in all, this was a fine bicycle for my son to start out on, but I know it will have to be replaced sooner or later because it just won't hold up to rough treatment. My boy has never been gentle with his toys or anything else, so I doubt he'll exercise much care when it comes to his bicycle. That's to be expected from a bike that cost $80 so that's not a huge deal. What is a problem, however, is that the brakes are terrible and have to be maintained regularly (there's a feeling of accomplishment -- "Yeah, son. Your brakes aren't horrible anymore. I've fixed them so now they're just terrible! Have fun, kid!") That's just downright dangerous and completely inexcusable.