ALDI is doing a lot of things well; it has captured the attention of Australian consumers along with a healthy share of the grocery market. But ALDI do more than groceries, they sometimes do bikes and in their July Special Buys, ALDI are selling a men’s road bike, the Crane 700, at a price which verges on “too good to be true.” Since ALDI and other “supermarket bikes” are a frequent topic for discussion on our forums, I obtained a pre-release bike and rode it for a month so I could let you know whether it’s worth a second look, or whether you should just head straight for the cat food.
July is a big month for cycling. The Tour de France motivates people to brave the cooler temperatures, so there is always a surge in bike sales in July. ALDI are planning on taking full advantage of this with their release of the Crane 700 accompanied by a range of cycling gear in the Special Buys program. ALDI have had cycling gear many times before and have even sold a Crane mountain bike and a folding bike. These deals are limited time offers and keen cyclists spread the word quickly when there is a particularly good bargain to be had. This sometimes means crowds of cyclists at the front doors before opening time and always leads to the ‘hot’ gear selling out very fast.
The Stigma of the Supermarket Bike
The term “supermarket bike” is a pejorative term for bicycles sold at supermarkets and department stores such as Kmart, Target and BigW. The number of these bikes sold each year is surprisingly high; some industry insiders say that in Australia more bikes are sold in supermarkets than in bike shops. Supermarket bikes are cheap, they look “the part” (to the general public, at least) and are a convenient purchase, but they are also great rust collectors. The average supermarket bike buyer doesn’t have the background knowledge in bicycles to differentiate a supermarket bike from a bicycle from a reputable bike shop. As a rule of thumb, supermarket bikes tend to end up on the side of the road for the next rubbish collection while quality bikes become hand-me-downs.
The ALDI Crane men’s road bike needs to prove that it is able to escape this stigma and offer genuine value for money. It needs to show that it offers a reasonable level of component and build quality, and it has to have some level of customer service and support. We will examine each of these elements in this review and discover how it rates.
Who is the ALDI Bike for?
In our reviews we typically talk about the target audience at the end, after covering the specifications, features, and the ride. For this review it is worth describing the perfect customer first to provide context. The Crane Road 700 is a men’s road bike, so this automatically cuts out half of the population. A saddle change and some positional adjustments will still allow it to be fitted to women but, despite the noticeable increase in women riding road bikes, men are the primary audience.
The ALDI road bike sits, quite clearly, in the ‘lycra’ category. As a sporting road bike, cycling shorts (knicks) and a cycling jersey will be the most comfortable cycling attire to wear. You can still get away with shorts and a T-shirt though, but when the shorts start chaffing and the sweaty T-shirt clings to your skin you will quickly understand the advantage of upgrading to lycra. And if you are middle-aged, welcome to the MAMIL club -you are now a Middle Aged Man in Lycra, which is something to be proud about.
The ALDI bike is priced at $399 and is an entry ticket into the world of road racing if it’s your first road bike. It could be the bike for you if you are a young adult on a tight budget or if have a few more years of life experience and are keen to get onto a road bike without over-stretching your finances.
If you already fancy yourself as road cyclist and have a road bike or two, the Crane 700 Road bike should not be on your shopping list. Road cyclists strive for aerodynamics and a low weight, even when the goal is recreation and not competition. The Crane is a competent entry level road bike but doesn’t compete at the next level.
She’s got the look
This is a very good looking road bike… cheap bikes often look cheap, but not this one. The looks have no effect on performance or quality, but in the world of road cycling, it is good to look good. On aesthetics alone, it looks like it belongs in the bunch and my cycling buddies all assumed that it was far more expensive.
The glossy black frame features contemporary red (or blue) accents with parts and accessories to match. In an unusual move, the frame doesn’t sport a logo, aside from a small sticker of abstract text on the back of the seat tube that reads Road 700. This works very well.
At a glance, only the pedals with toe-clips are a give-away that this bike is an entry level bike. Most road cyclists will immediately upgrade to clip-in pedals, but if you are starting out, toe-clips are a good way to start.
The Crane 700 Road Bike in Detail
The Crane 700 has an aluminium frame, which is appropriate for entry level bikes, but has been paired with carbon fiber forks, which is a surprising addition at this price point and a real plus. Carbon fiber has become the default material for fabricating mid to high end bicycle frames and forks. One of the properties of carbon fiber is that it has excellent damping properties and will take out more road noise (vibration) compared with aluminium, thus provides a smoother ride.
The frame of the review bike featured clean welds. When looking at aluminium bikes, you look for gaps in the welding or where it’s not uniform; this is an indicator of sloppy manufacturing and is a common trait of typical supermarket bikes.
Read About Frame Sizing: [wpex more=”Expand Section” less=”Close Section”]
With any new bike purchase, you need to make sure that the frame size is correct. While you can make some adjustments, such as the saddle height and position, a poorly fitting bike is uncomfortable and can cause pain and injury. This bike comes in two sizes, a 53 cm medium (M) and a 56 cm large (L). Your height is the most important measurement here and with a simple online bike size calculator you can determine which bike size fits best. If the M or L don’t fit you, then look for other types or brands of bike in your size. Don’t try to make yourself fit the bike, you won’t have a good time.
I had a size M frame which suits my 185cm stature and, by adjusting saddle height and position, I was able to achieve a set up which was close to my optimal position on a road bike. The frame and fork combination gives this bike a long wheelbase (100.5cm) and makes it more comfortable to ride in contrast to an edgy and aggressive race bike with a shorter wheelbase. For context, my own road bike, a Giant TCR, has a 98.5cm wheelbase, but those two fewer centimetres makes it far more agile.[/wpex]
Read About the Groupset: [wpex more=”Expand Section” less=”Close Section”]
Supermarkets typically advertise that their bikes have “Shimano” components, since it’s a well known and trusted brand that makes high end cycling gear. Shimano, however, make components at many quality different levels that have different durability, weight, and mechanical smoothness. The Crane has a mixed groupset and for the gearing it uses latest edition Shimano Claris components. In the Shimano hierarchy of road groupsets, Claris sits at the start of the range and is followed by Sora, Tiagra, 105, Ultegra and Dura Ace at the premium end. On the ALDI Crane bike, the gear shifters, front and rear derailleur, and rear cassette are Shimano Claris.
While the Crane 700 has the entry level groupset, if you look after your bike, your gears, and your brakes, then it will perform well and last. If you don’t look after your bike mechanically, then it doesn’t matter which level of gears and brakes you have, it will wear faster, shift poorly, and under perform. My tip is to learn how to care for your chain, gears, and brakes – it is easier that you think.
Shimano groupsets benefit from the trickle-down effect. The top-of-the-line Dura Ace introduces new technology which subsequently flows through to the rest of the range over time. Shimano Claris has the same style of shifting which you will find in top level shifter, namely the STI levers. STI stands for Shimano Total Integration and means that the brake lever contains two ‘paddles’ for shifting gears. On the right side the gear lever controls the rear derailleur and the larger paddle shifts the gears down into easier and the smaller paddle shifts the gears up to harder gears. On the left side, this is reversed, the large paddle shifts the front derailleur to the bigger (harder) chain ring and small paddle releases the derailleur and moves it to the smaller, easier chain ring.
The typical hand position when riding a road bike is ‘on the hoods’ which means that your hands rest around the black protruding ‘hoods’ of the gear levers which are mounted on the handlebars. It is a comfortable cycling position and provides direct access to the gears and the brakes which you can then operate without moving your hands. When you are ‘in the drops’, with your hand resting in the curve of the (dropbar) handlebars, you also have good access to the brake / gear levers. It is a faster riding position in the drops though generally not as comfortable for longer durations. If you haven’t used this style of gear shifters on a bike, it may take a few rides to become familiar with the positions, however you will quickly appreciate the convenience.
The Claris groupset includes gear indicators to show you, roughly, which gear you are in. This may be useful at the start of your riding experience, though if you start to ride regularly you will ‘ride with feel’ and begin to ignore the gear indicators.
Shimano Claris gives you 16 gears in total, two gears at the front (big and small chain ring) and eight gears on the rear cassette (11 – 28), which is a suitable setup for this bike. High-end groupsets will, in comparison, provide 22 gears and can offer a larger gear range. In practice this bike provides a good range for beginners, though experienced riders would miss the range of gears in the high end.
On the road the shifting was reliable. I should point out that the gears were not perfectly adjusted when I received the bike so the shifting just wasn’t right. I know how to adjust gears so was able to quickly rectify this. Later in this review will discuss the service and warranty for new bike buyers as it is relevant for setting it up, though typically the bike should come with the gears adjusted so you don’t need to touch it. Regular maintenance is important, however, as it is normal for gears to move out of alignment over time. Learning to do this yourself is a wise move.
You can clearly notice the differences between Claris and high-end groupsets with respect to ergonomics and precision, but the Shimano Claris gears are still competent and also help to keep price of the bike down.
The front chainring and pedals are a model named “Ounce” from a brand called Prowheel. (Because of the squarish lettering of OUNCE, one of my cycling buddies asked why the cranks were labelled DUNCE.) They are ‘compact cranks’ (34 x 50) which means that it has slightly easier gearing than standard cranks, so it will be easier to get up hills. On downhills, however, you miss out on the higher gears and higher speeds. The large chain ring has unused bolt holes, suggesting it was manufactured for a triple chainring (3 speeds up front) and has been re-purposed as a double on this bike.
For braking, the Crane has Tektro dual pivot calipers to give you solid and reliable braking power. I rode this bike in very hilly areas and was satisfied with the braking and the ability to regulate speed. I have seen these brakes on more expensive bikes and while the plastic brake release lever and the cable adjustment barrel are a little cheap, it all works well enough.[/wpex]
Read about the Wheels: [wpex more=”Expand Section” less=”Close Section”]
The wheels on the Road 700 are relatively generic and relatively heavy. It would be fair to say that the wheels are reassuringly heavy because it would be a concerned if the wheels on a bike at this price point were light. The aluminium rims sport 32 spokes on the front and rear and are a solid build that that should support heavier riders with confidence. Topping off the wheels are Kenda tyres which have a slight tread that will provide more traction that your average road bike tyre at the cost of speed. The quick-release skewers are robust but reliable.[/wpex]
Read about the Accessories: [wpex more=”Expand Section” less=”Close Section”]
The Road 700 comes with a matching saddle in either the blue or red trim, depending on the frame colour. It suits the design of the bike and is a good start for new riders. For my purposes it has too much padding so I swapped my own saddle onto the bike (which also has a matching red trim).
The drop bar handlebars do the job and give you a fairly good hand position on the hoods and in the drops, though if I could change them I would. On the top of the bar (between the hoods and stem) there was a flatter section and I often have my hands in this position. In this section the bars taper from a larger diameter tube to a smaller diameter tube and simply felt too thin, so it wasn’t a comfortable grip. A quick fix is to wrap more bar tape along this section and thicken it up.
ALDI have toe-clips on this bike’s pedals, which suits it very well. Road cyclists usually opt for clip-ins (cleats), which lock your cycling shoes onto the compact pedals and give you a more exact and consistent foot position on the pedals, better power transfer, and less weight. Purchasing cleats and cycling shoes, along with the rest of the accessories such as lights, helmets, tools, pump, and cycle wear, will increase your outlay. Toe clips are simple, just put on your Dunlop Volleys (or any other sneakers) and away you go. For beginners, toe clips are also easier, as long as you don’t have them too tight that you can’t remove your feet when you stop at traffic lights.
A missing accessory on the review bike was a water bottle holder. You always take water (or liquids) with you when riding. Bottle cages are fairly cheap so I recommend getting one or two. The frame can accommodate two bottle holders.
Read about Upgrading: [wpex more=”Expand Section” less=”Close Section”]If you have the cycling bug, you may want to consider some upgrades. Cycling shoes with cleats and clip-in pedals are the first logical upgrade. This bike would also benefit from lighter wheels. That said, it is an entry level bike and if speed and bike weight start to become important, it would be better value to get a new road bike rather than upgrade parts on this bike.[/wpex]
In my opinion, there are three real highlights on this frame. Firstly, it has internal cable routing, which you would expect only on more expensive bikes. The internal routing hides the rear brake and gear cable inside the frame and makes it much tidier.
Secondly, bolts on the rear seat stays give you the option of adding pannier racks. Though these bolts are not typical for modern road bikes, they provide the functionality and versatility to make the Crane 700 a commuter or light touring bike. Lastly, the frame has a tapered head-tube which means that the tubed section at the front of the bike, through which the forks pass through, has a conical form rather than being a straight tube. While weight savings are not the key priority for this bike, this mechanical interface gives the bike more stability.
Assembly and Customer Service
Before taking the ALDI Crane road bike on the road and evaluating the performance, let’s talk about the overall sales and service to see if this bike really is better than the run-of-the-mill supermarket bikes. Breaking the evaluation into four parts, I want to know if this bike is 1) attractively priced with 2) a reasonable level of quality along with 3) great assembly and 4) customer support.
At $399, it’s fantastic value. There are a couple of competitors such as Reid Cycles and Cell Bikes who have similarly spec’ed bikes at higher prices. With the specifications and features such as the carbon fiber fork and internal cabling routing, ALDI is in pole position.
The duration of the review was relatively short with only a limited time to really test the bike. During the time I had it I found that the quality of the build and components were good; though they are entry level components, they work well. The bike works as expected and provides a good road cycling experience. If you look after it, you should expect a reasonable lifespan.
The out-of-the-box assembly of the bike is not something I was able to trial as the review bike was already assembled when I received it. Most boxed bikes come partially assembled and the customer has to do the final part. ALDI customers don’t have the advantage of a mechanic completing assembly in-store, but they do attempt to make up for it by providing comprehensive instructions, a customer support hotline, and online videos with some assembly information.
The manual is complex because it covers assembly and maintenance of different types of bikes such as MTBs. I would prefer to see a step-by-step manual specifically for this bike.
The actual assembly should be quite straight forward: you need to fit the front wheel, the pedals, seat post, handlebars, bell and reflectors. Tools are not provided so you will need to organise a 4mm and 6mm Allen key for the handlebar (face plate) and saddle, as well as a 15mm spanner (or adjustable wrench) for the pedals and a phillips head screw driver for bell and reflectors.
In fact, to assemble correctly you need a torque wrench (rather than Allen keys) as the handlebar face place specifies a torque of 6Nm. Saddle posts typically require a torque setting of 5 – 6Nm, however this wasn’t specified . Be warned, a torque wrench typically costs upwards of $80 and if you don’t have one you will have a nice little dilemma: do you ignore the torque settings?, do you buy a torque wrench to use once? or do you know someone who can lend you a torque wrench? This is a dilemma you don’t have when you buy from a bike shop, although some online retailers who ship partly assembled bikes in boxes provide a basic torque wrench which will allow you to complete the fully bike assembly to specification.
Though the gears should be setup properly and shift smoothly when you unpack, if there are shifting issues it can appear daunting to rectify. The manual includes a curious warning “DANGER – Modern bicycles are highly technical. Carrying out work on them requires special knowledge, experience and special tools. Do not carry out any work on the bicycle yourself. Take your bicycle to a specialist dealer for repairs, servicing and overhauls.”
To help customers who get stuck or have questions about assembly, ALDI are providing a support hotline which puts them a step ahead of a regular supermarket. If you are completely unfamiliar with bikes, are not a friend of basic mechanics, and don’t have the patience to sift through the manual, you may struggle. My practical tip is to get a cycling friend to help you out. Not only can they ensure that the bike is well set up, they can provide useful advice for riding and may even join you as a cycling buddy on the road.
Though the manual, hotline, and assembly videos seek to help buyers, some beginner cyclists may still struggle. I would prefer to see tools included and a solution for the torque wrench, but buyers need to be reminded that while this bike represents excellent value for money, it comes with the responsibility (or inconvenience) of assembly.
My verdict is that this is the one area where this ALDI bike struggles to differentiate itself from a supermarket bike.
I know what the customer support is like for bikes at Kmart, BigW and Target customer service; it would be fairly described as non-existent. The ALDI bike has standard equipment and sizes meaning that repairs and replacements are possible. Some supermarket bikes have proprietary sizing on parts meaning that repair and replacement is next to impossible or the cost or repair and replacement is more than original purchase price. The quality of the build of the ALDI bike is good, so once it’s properly assembled, it is unlikely to fall apart.
For customers who get stuck, ALDI promise a hotline with a real person to help customers with bike problems. If all else fails, Aldi have a returns policy and will replace or refund purchases within 60 days. This is a “no questions asked” policy which goes well beyond customer rights under Australian consumer law. In comparison, the Kmart, BigW and Target policy is strictly to the letter of the law; if you change your mind, items have to be in returned within 28 days in their original packaging and in a re-saleable condition (unopened, unused) to be considered for a refund or a voucher.
So is it a supermarket bike?
Technically, this is a supermarket bike, however the ALDI Crane bike is able to escape most of the inherent problems of typical supermarket bikes. The generous returns policy gets a big thumbs up because, if all else fails, you will get your money back, rather than the cold shoulder. If this bike is for you, get one of your cycling friends to assist with the assembly.
The ALDI bike is pretty convincing, however this review isn’t over yet. We need to know how it performs on the road first to see if this is a good beginners road bike.
On the Road with the ALDI Crane Road Bike
Rolling in to join my regular riding bunch in Sydney, the ALDI bike looks the part and fits right in. I have to work much harder because this bike is 3.5 kilos heavier than my own carbon fiber road bike. The ALDI bike weighs about 10.5 kilos and to appreciate this weight difference, it would be like comparing a racing car with a four wheel drive.
I am a solid rider in my group, so I was still able to taunt some of the others by passing them up the hills. With faster bunches or on long distance rides, you have to be much fitter than your companions as this bike requires a lot more energy for the same returns. For a beginner however, ride performance and speed is not a priority. I would expect beginners will likely cycle with others of similar ability or solo. This bike will let you enjoy short and medium distance 60 kilometre rides with a feeling of accomplishment.
The bike weight was noticeable going uphill, though the gear range still lets you conquer steep inclines. For higher speed cycling and downhill I easily ran out of gears and had to be content coasting. The bike is not a naturally fast bike – I assumed that the 3kg extra weight would propel me downhill and was surprised that I was slower. The Kenda tyre tread mean that it is a slow rolling tyre and the frame and wheels were not built for aerodynamics. But again, the beginner cyclist suited to this bicycle isn’t pushing the limits and would be well served by this bike.
I felt comfortable with the robust frame which handled descents and curves well. The carbon forks were a real asset and worked well to provide a smoother ride.
While riding, one thing that really bothered me was the knocking sound of the rear brake cable banging against the frame. I know plenty of cyclists who are unfazed by misaligned gears, creaking, and ticking, but if this bike was mine I would use some MacGyver techniques to eliminate the sound.
When I put myself in the shoes of a beginner cyclist who has purchased the ALDI bike, I expect that it will take some time to become familiar with the gears, to find the right saddle position, and to get comfortable with the bike. For the price, you get a lot of bike; it is your entry ticket to road cycling.
Despite the classy paint job, the ALDI Crane men’s road bike doesn’t pretend to be a fast and light race machine. Instead it is a very affordable beginners road bike which is a solid performer. It provides better assembly options than a typical supermarket bike, but may challenge some buyers who will need to get extra help to complete assembly. The ALDI returns policy is reassuring and provide buyers with peace of mind.
These bikes are such good value that they have the potential to sell-out within hours… or sooner.
ALDI store locations: www.aldi.com.au