I saw the ads a few years ago in the Sunday papers and nearly shot coffee through my nose. What in the…? A brand-new off-road bike for $399?Yep. There it was. Closer inspection of the ad showed precious little in the way of information, and the photo was small. Further study revealed a fork suspension. Good. No rear suspension. Bad.The more I looked, the cheaper the “off-road” bike appeared. A sprung saddle, an engine that would look at home in a lawn mower and no front brake. I dismissed the bike as junk and turned my attention to Garfield in the funny pages.Yet more of those ads began to appear over the last few years. Pocket bikes for $199, go-carts for $449 and even two-seat dune buggies for $2299! I just shook my head. Until, that is, my friend Ralph, proud as could be, showed up at my house on his brand-new 90cc quad. The thing had an electric start and didn’t look too bad for only $799. Since we live in Baja, the lack of roads was the reason he chose an ATV in the first place. He could leave his car parked most of the time and use the cute little quad for beer runs and local jaunts.A few days later, he asked to go trail riding with me. After all, the quad was billed as a Baja Motorsports vehicle on the decals. I stuck to the easier trails because Ralph was a novice at the sport. We rode around for about a half-hour before we stopped for a breather. Ralph said his quad was handling sort of funny. I checked it out and quickly located the problem: A pool of oil had formed under the rear of the swingarm. Since most swingarms are not oil-cooled, there was only one possible source for the oil: the shock. The thing was blown. How it had blown was beyond me. We had traveled on fire roads and trails, which were so easy that I never had to stand on the pegs.Later, back at my garage, we took some plastic off the quad and did some inspecting. Hmm. Welds were sloppy enough to rival the early Spanish bikes of the late-’60s. Low-quality fasteners were everywhere. The brackets holding the plastic on were nothing but flat, mild steel that bent with light hand pressure. All of a sudden, Ralph’s bargain quad began to look like less of a bargain.Ralph said he would contact the auto parts store where he had purchased the miserable thing. Bad news. Those fine folks had no parts in stock. Where could we get the spares? They gave us a phone number. After a lot of holding time, the lady told us that parts were back-ordered and she could not take our parts order over the phone. She suggested we check back in a few months. Effectively, he was screwed.The next time I went to San Diego, I stopped in a number of auto parts stores that had these sorts of bikes for sale. I saw all manner of cheap dirt bikes of all sizes up to 200cc, a bunch of scooters, all kinds of small buggies and karts and a bewildering variety of quads. They were built in China, India, Taiwan and some in Korea. The one thing they all had in common was they were dirt cheap.I cornered a salesman and asked him about the availability of parts. He hemmed and hawed, then said, “Well, actually, we don’t stock the parts. But we can give you a phone number and an e-mail address where you can order anything you might need.”"OK. Let’s say that I buy this fine-looking electric motocrosser over here. And let’s say for the sake of discussion that I need a rear brake. How long would it take to get one?” I said rear brake since the “motocrosser” in question had no front brake.He looked a bit sheepish. “Uh, well, they’re very responsive to your requests, or so I’ve been told.”"Hmm. In other words, you have no idea when I might get the part, do you?”His eyes darted right and left, then he took a deep breath. “Look, I just sell these things.” His voice lowered, “Between you and me, why don’t you get a dirt bike from a regular dealer, you know…like Honda or Kawasaki. Something like that. OK?”OK, indeed.After a full day of looking at the cheap bikes and talking with the salesmen, I came to the rather obvious conclusion that these “things” were sold to rank novices. People who sort of, kind of, maybe some day would want a dirt bike, but only if they could get it for song and a dance. They had no idea that things would wear out or break via normal use. They’d just get on their bike and ride it into the sunset, helmet optional, T-shirts fluttering in the passing air, their flip-flops curving gracefully over the pegs.And the bikes themselves have welds that looked like melted candy bars, bars that appeared to be taken from a 30-year-old chopper, frames made from discarded lawn furniture, paint that seemed to be thrown on rather than sprayed and technology that made your basic claw hammer look like a rocket ship in comparison. In other words, junk.And the worst of this is that the people who buy these things will, for the most part, irritate regular folks. They’ll ride up and down sidewalks, blitz vacant lots, cruise along roads, take the core out of their mufflers, spin doughnuts in camping areas, try to pop wheelies in front of hikers and, in general, act like ill-mannered louts. These people will unwittingly get riding areas shut down for the rest of us.The people selling the cheap bikes could care less about dirt riding. They’re in it purely for the bucks. They buy these things by the container and sell them like hamburger. Do yourself a favor: Instead of buying one of these inexpensive pieces of dung, pop the bucks for a used brand-name dirt bike. Or just save your bucks and buy a new one. The money you spend on the el cheapo bike is money you might as well throw away. Period.