Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What Is Wrong With Walmart Bicycles?

Let me break it down for you quickly, just so it's clear: Walmart bikes are crap.

Why is this so? The bike sold at your average department store (Walmart, Target, K-mart, etc) is cheap.  In mountain biking (as with many things in life), you usually get what you pay for.  When you pay $100-150 for a Walmart bike, you are getting a heavy-as-lead bike that is poorly constructed, with cheap components that are going to fall apart with anything resembling regular use.  In bicycling, weight is key. Specifically, low weight is key.  The heavier the bike, the more effort you will have to expend to pedal it.  Now, I'm not suggesting that everyone shell out $5,000 for the lightest race whip on the market. But if you can spend a few bucks more and get a bike that's close to half the weight, then I'd say go for the lighter bike.

Secondly, the construction of these bikes is incredibly shoddy.  They aren't built to withstand serious trail riding.  Bolts and nuts start falling off, components that aren't supposed to move start moving around... it's a bad situation. When mountain biking on serious singletrack, you have to depend on the bike that you're riding, and trust that it is going to do it's job and not fall apart when you're bombing down a rock-strewn mountainside. Department store bicycles can't even withstand a regular on-road commute. (More on that tomorrow.)

The components on these bicycles (one of the worst brands being the Walmart in-house brand "Next") are horrible.  Much high-level engineering has gone into making light, durable, reliable components for real mountain bikes.  When a high-end rear derailleur costs about the same as a complete full suspension Next, well, there is a reason for that.  When buying a bicycle from a good company, one of the things that differentiates between an expensive bike and an inexpensive one is the quality of the components.  The components that come stock on the typical "Walmart Special" bike don't even reach what is considered bottom of the line by the bike industry at large. Why is that bad? When I first started mountain biking, I had issues with constantly destroying low-mid range components due to their lack of durability (and age).  Now, with generally high-level components on my bike, I have fewer issues that require replacement, but I still regularly go through components simply due to the amount of time that I put on my bike.  Bearing in mind that the components that come on the average Walmart Special don't even reach the standard for bottom-of-the-line industry components... that is a very sad, sad story.

Also, as one of my forum acquaintances AK_Dan mentioned, the fit of a bicycle has a lot  to do with how well it performs.  Most of the bikes found at a department store tend to be a one-size-fits-all deal.  One of the major pluses of purchasing a quality bicycle from a reputable shop is getting a bike that actually fits you, due to different size choices and an experienced salesman helping you choose the correct bike.  If you buy a bike at Walmart, you're stepping out on a really weak limb when it comes to bike sizing.

Read the whole series: 
This post is a part of the series "Buying your first mountain bike? Here's what you should and shouldn't do." For a well rounded and informed view of the topic, I suggest reading all of the posts in the series.

What do you think about Walmart bicycles, and the topic as a whole? Please bear in mind that there are another 4-5 posts coming on this topic, and that I will address more points of view later on. But feel free to express your opinion on Walmart Specials. I have talked to many, many people that agree with me and what I've written.  But there are people out there that disagree too, and a couple of them have already left good remarks down in the comments.


Anonymous,  April 2, 2010 at 4:36 PM  

I am a bit disappointed that you make strong statements without providing evidence. Note, I am not necessarily in disagreement with what you are saying. But I would have expected you'd back your statements by facts and data that can be verified.

For unfounded personal opinions I can read MTBR. No added value in your blog.

Greg Heil April 2, 2010 at 5:26 PM  

If you continue on and read the next two posts in the series, I follow up with more reasons. In my opinion, the statements that I have made here are best backed with anecdotal evidence. Read the next post in the series about my (and others) personal experiences with Walmart bicycles:

Anonymous,  April 14, 2010 at 9:23 PM  

I still have the Pacific hardtail from Target I bought 12 years ago. Rode the heck out of it with guys riding $600-$800 bikes. Rode some rough trails. Moved to riding pulling the kids in a trailer as I started a family. Now it's my loaner bike for my friends I drag out with me and I ride my aluminum full suspension Mongoose I bought at a garage sale. It's heavier, but not by much. So far it seems to have the higher quality parts. SRAM derailer, strong brakes.
Something you fail to take into consideration. I ride for fun and fitness. Pedlaing a heavier bike around and up hilles crams a harder workout into a shorter amount of time. Sure, I'll upgrade and parts that break, but I have other things I need to put mu money into at this point in my life.

Anonymous,  April 20, 2010 at 7:23 PM  

My Schwinn Walmart bike was only $200 and has all the same componants as other more expensive bikes. I ride 10 miles of single track every weekend and 25 miles of paved trails weekly. It's only 1 year old and it still works great. It was serviced by a LBS at the end of the season and all was good. I believe you can get a good "Walmart" bike if you do your homework.

Greg Heil April 22, 2010 at 10:32 AM  

Hey guys, thanks for speaking up presenting your opinion in a postive way!

That's what this section is here for. Life would get pretty boring if everyone thought the same thing.

Anonymous,  July 20, 2013 at 5:02 PM  

I know this is extremely old, but I'd like to add something.

I'm mostly a road cyclist, but decided to try downhilling at a local mountain. Didn't want to shell out $80($40 for lift ticket, $40 for bike) and hate it especially after driving almost 2 hours to get there, so I brought my Walmart brand mongoose.

Took it up the lift and went down.

I'll be honest here, real slow first time, fell second time.

But by my third time, I was doing pretty good, keeping pace with all the people who were renting the very nice downhill bikes.

Now, it might be due to skill and the fact that I'm used to riding fast on pothole filled roads...

The bike however handled fine. I wouldn't take it over any big jumps or drops, but it held together quite well.

My only complaint was the seat would get loose and pivot after each run, but I had a wrench and kept fixing it at the bottom of the mountain. The front detailleur got out of alignment but the chain was on the sprocket and didn't really bother me.

Now, am I saying this was a great idea and for everyone? No. When I got the bike, several things were loose and needed adjustment. However being experienced with bikes let me fix that easily. I also have good riding skills and wore all the proper equipment.

The front shock also kept bottoming out and the day after, my handed were bruised.

But all in all, I must have done a little over 20 runs, fell only once(hit the brake on a rock and slid), kept up with people riding thousand dollar bikes, and everything works and stayed on. I had control and couple stop at all times.

Most importantly, I was safe and did not lose control or die.

Moral of the story: if you don't push your skill or the bike to the limited, and are financially challenged like me, a Walmart bike is not a deathtrap. Something start rattling or handles weird? STOP. Period.

Anonymous,  December 9, 2014 at 1:22 PM  

I have found people who defend Big Box bikes have never ridden a real bike. It's the same people who claim their '89 civic with the huge plastic spoiler is the same as an Audi. What you need is pictures, and it shows it clearly, and understandibly faster, with less explaining. I have taken pics of Walmart bikes with welds that look like they were done by a middle schooler, backwards forks, pedals and cranks that are clearly lose, and some of the cheapest metal known. The only decent bikes that show up once in a blue moon are the very few BMX bikes made by real companies like DK, a very simple bike that runs about $200, and has few parts. If you are buying a full suspensionf or $180, you really need to make sure you health insurance is good, because you will need it.

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Greg Heil is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com. He's been writing and publishing online since before blogging existed.

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