So you’ve found the cheap bike that’s perfect for you. Then you find out that it comes in pieces in a box and now you have to decide who is going to put it together. If you’re brave and have some tools you could do it yourself. If you’re not so brave or mechanical you have a few options.
If your buying the bike at a department store you could have them assemble the bike for you. Sometimes department stores offer free assembly and that’s just about what it’s worth. Other department stores charge $20 to $50 to put the bike together. That’s generally about 100% over priced. You can’t really blame the assemblers for this. The problem is that the store pays them by the bike rather than by the hour. The motivation is to get it thrown together as quickly as possible. There is no time for fine adjustment.
The fewer gears there are the less there is for the assembler to screw up. However there are many pictures on the web of assembly horror stories. Forks put on backwards, handlebars up-side-down, rear fenders on front wheels. The one advantage of having the department store put it together is they are fairly sensitive about customer service, and lawsuits, so they will try fix blatant problems. As far as shifter and brake adjustments your not as likely to get much help.
If you’re buying your bike at a sporting good store your bike will probably get more attention, but if they don’t sell a lot of bikes your assembler may not know what he or she is doing.
If you need to be sure that your bike was assembled correctly and aren’t able or willing to do it yourself your best option is to take it to a bike shop. It will cost you, especially since you didn’t buy it from them, but it is your best bet at having it done right. This kind of contradicts the whole cheap bike mentality but if you can’t do it yourself it may be your safest option.
A potentially cheaper, but riskier option is to troll Craigslist for people who fix or restore bikes out of their garages. Some of the folks will not be interested in taking on the responsibility of your bike. Others will have exaggerated views of the value of their talents and charge you bike shop rates. Still other think they know what they’re doing, but don’t. Then there those folks who just love working on bikes any chance they get and will do a great job for you taking only token payment. Score!
One thing I should mention here is that bikes require some special tools but there are some reasonably priced tool kits out there that won’t cost you any more than a bike shop assembly job. Do not buy the cheapest tools you can find. They will break. Do not buy the most expensive tools right away. You may be way overpaying for well-crafted hunks of metal that you will never use.
So there you have it. If I explained things correctly you are more confused than before. With cheap bikes there are no easy answers, and there is a greater sense of personal responsibility. If all this is too scary, save up your money and go to a bike shop.