The first experience that I had with a Walmart Special was when a friend of mine asked me to look at their bike and see if I could tune it up. It was a Next, and was in horrible condition. The rear shock was totally shot, fork was rusted up, seat and seatpost just destroyed, and everything else not looking too hot. I had seen how this bike had been stored, and general abuse wasn't the issue. The issue was that those bikes simply were not built to endure frequent use at any serious level.
About a year ago my roommate asked me to do maintenance on one of his bikes that he had purchased at Walmart. His chain was broken, and I was just going to throw a standard sized powerlink on it and send him on his way. The only issue was that because it was a generic department store bike, none of the components were standard size, so it wouldn't work. (Yes, I did have the powerlink that should have worked for the standard size chain for that many cogs.)
A few months later, I was going to load a different Wally World bike that he had bought onto the bike rack on my car. The first issue that I ran into was that it didn't even have a quick release skewer on the front wheel. I had to bust out the crescent wrench to take the thing off. The second issue that I faced in that moment was that the size of the hub on the front wheel was not at all standard size for a mountain bike. In fact, it was too narrow to even fit on my rack! One of the nice things about mountain bikes today is that as an industry, there is more and more compatibility with sizing of components across brand lines. Some things are almost universal. This, bicycle, on the other hand, was not compatible.
My roommate started commuting on his bike to work about 3 or 4 days a week. About 2 months later, I pulled into the garage to see his Walmart rig lying on the floor, with the front bearing total destroyed. Mountain biking on a Walmart Special? Forget it! Cheap bicycles cannot even stand to be used as an on-road commuter several times a week. Forget the abuse doled out by a gnarly web of tree roots! Quality mountain bikes are constructed to handle the abuse over a lifetime. Sure, parts may wear out and break, especially if you're riding several thousand miles of singletrack a year. But a good bike will take a massive amount of use and abuse, and just keep giving.
Vtolds shared a story with us the other day over on a thread on the Singletracks forum:
My personal experience was bad with a Walmart bike, specifically a Next. Cost me literally 70 dollars and was as happy as a clam. First ride was something like 10 miles, everything went good. The ride was on road, never even dawned on me back then to ride off road with it. Every ride after that my non drive side crank arm would fall off. Started getting some ghost shifting for no real reason. After it sat around for a few years, my roommate and now best friend/biking buddy got me into wanting to ride. So I took my bike off road, which was a bad idea. Ghost shifting is horribly frustrating when riding a trail. My crank arm fell off and we were unable to find the nut that holds it on. Ended up using one of the nuts the held the front wheel on. So I literally road home with one nut holding my front wheel on. My back wheel was so out of tru that I had to disconnect my rear brake just so I could peddle.
That was my last experience on that bike. My room mates brother donated to me a old Rigid Steel Schwinn Single speed, until I started to build my first bike.
Yet again, another classic story of the shoddy construction of Walmart bicycles.
Coming tomorrow, this bleak situation begins to look more positive, and I'll cover: "What should I do if I can't shop at Walmart?"
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.
Do you have a story about the short lifespan of a Walmart Special? Feel free to share it below in the comments!