Are Walmart bikes really only for kids? Indeed, they can’t all be that bad, right? The answer is Yes. Walmart Bikes have Lower Quality, making them more suitable for only Casual Riding. This limits their Terrain Variety and moreover, Walmart has a One-Size-Fit-All approach, which isn’t very helpful in my experience. The bike is only as good as it fits you, I have learned it from experience. Riding a bike that doesn’t fit can cause all sorts of problems. Let’s discuss how these things can be an issue in more detail.
When I started writing this article about the perils of buying a cheap Walmart bike, my initial reaction was to say ‘Why would anyone buy a Walmart bike for $150 when they could get a good 2nd hand bike for the same price?.’
So why shouldn’t you buy a bike for $300 from Walmart, or Target for that matter? I’m not saying you wouldn’t. I’m just saying, you might want to consider the following reasons first….so here goes.
17 Reasons Why Walmart Bikes Are Only for Kids
1. Huge Profit Margins
A $150 bike isn’t a $150 bike. When you buy a bike you really need to think about profit margins. The store has to make money, and the manufacturer has to make money too. That doesn’t leave an awful lot of room for quality parts. Let’s be generous and say that your average Walmart bike only has a 30% markup. So in reality you are paying a high price point for a cheap product.
That means Walmart is still taking $45 of that $150. Of course, once you add in tax and the fact that the original manufacturer took about $20 or $30, there’s not much left for the actual bike. There’s not very much I can add to that sentence. Your $150 bike is built out of components that cost just over half what you’re paying for it. Is that a bike you really want to own?
2. Lack Of Skills
Department store staff just don’t have the skills or knowledge or experience to help you. In most cases, this is the really sad truth. Just because they’re working in the bike department today, doesn’t mean that for the last 6 months, they weren’t working in the Stationary part of the store. Is that really who you want to be giving you advice about bikes?
3 – No test ride
This is a biggie for me because I have been a victim of purchasing a bike without a test ride which in the end, did not feel what it looked like. I got a mountain bike for women as an anniversary gift for my wife, it had 5 stars, and it looked great in its light blue color. So I bought it. But I couldn’t test-ride it at Walmart Plus. It was available for pick up so I took a leap of faith and bought it. The bike turned out a nightmare to ride. It didn’t fit at all and made weird creaking noises.
You can never know just how well a bike fits you, or how well-adjusted you are to a bike if you can’t take her for a test run. A quick zip up and down the aisle, if you’re lucky just isn’t going to cut it. Unless you want a bike specifically to go up and down a corridor, in which case go ahead and buy the bike.
4. New Bikes Need TLC
They do. All new bikes need a bit of readjustment after about 30 hours of use. Gears need to be adjusted, chains need to be tightened, and brakes need to be calibrated. If you want your bike to last, and be safe to use, this is pretty much a necessity. Most dedicated bike shop warranties will actually cover this. That service is more than likely not going to come as standard on a Walmart bike.
5. Become An Expert About Bikes
This is an upside to buying a Walmart bike. If you want to become really knowledgeable about bike building and maintenance, then you should buy a cheap department-store bike. Cheap bikes are great training grounds for learning how to deal with broken pedals, bent wheels, and busted derailleurs.
I can’t lie to you, you will spend a lot more time keeping your bike roadworthy if you buy a cheap bike. Of course, you might get lucky and get a really decent solid bike. Then again, you probably won’t.
6. Poorly Assembled Bikes
This may come as news to you, but some bike shops will actually charge you to assemble your bike for you in the right way. Well, at least the sincere ones will. Some will just have added the cost of assembly into the overall price tag, others eager for your business will ask for a nominal fee, like $20 or similar.
That’s why when you roll your bike out of a proper bike shop, it tends to work. Department store bikes by contrast will tend to be poorly assembled and sometimes start to fall apart pretty promptly.
7. Put You Off Riding Forever?
This will more than likely be the case if you are just starting out with riding, and you don’t want to spend a small fortune on a bike if you’re still unsure if bicycling is for you. Buying your average cheap Walmart bike isn’t going to help you. Shopping the bike aisle in Walmart is only going to make you less likely to stick at it. Sure, it seems like saving $$$ on a sport you’re not even totally 100% committed to yet might seem like the rational logical choice, but the decision to go cheap is going to go against you.
Go hire a bike for the day instead, or try taking one for a proper test ride. You’ll thank me afterward. You know what here’s an even better idea. Go take a decent bike for a test ride, and then go sit on a cheap department store bike, and see if you can tell the difference.
8. Quality Bicycles Are Worth Repairing
Quality bicycles are worth repairing when they break. They’re better built, the working parts are far more durable, and they’re less likely to break down in the first place.
9. Poor Quality Parts
What do you expect for $150? The parts on the bike are incredibly important. Cheap discount bikes don’t just suffer from performance issues. It’s bad enough that sub-average parts take their toll on your energy levels, but there are also some pretty fundamental safety issues that need to be taken into consideration. There are mostly short travel suspension forks used and you can say goodbye to any kind of internal cable routing.
Brakes on cheap bikes, even Walmart ones that may have been set up properly, are not going to be as resilient as a proper quality bike. Your stopping distance is going to be a lot more as well since they use mechanical disc brakes of cheap quality. If you’re really after an adrenaline rush, or like the idea of not knowing if the next time you break is going to end your life, why not try some base jumping without a parachute?
10. Using Random Bike Parts
Some department store bikes come with parts that you just can’t fix if they break. Some of these bikes will often utilize no-name brand oddball parts that have no orderable replacement equivalent and will cost more to repair than the bike actually costs to buy.
11. Bike Construction
Look, department store bikes just aren’t built for trail riding or serious road work. They’re just not. Just put the words ‘Walmart,’ ‘YouTube,’ and ‘mountain bike’ into Google and see what comes back. It’s discouraging, to say the least. But this is why, I’ve argued above, and will again below, that when considering buying a cheap bike from Walmart, you need to think about purpose. Because that’s what it comes down to, in the end.
A cheap bike is more than likely not going to withstand the physical stresses of anything hardcore. But then they’re not supposed to. They were not designed to be pushed hard, or to their limits. Of course, those limits aren’t all that high in the first place, so you can’t be all like, ‘OMG MY CHEAP WALMART BIKE FELL APART AFTER ONE DOWNHILL BLACK RUN TRAIL!!!!’
What did you expect for $150-300? The components we’re talking about here, aren’t exactly top of the range, are they?
12. Not Dependable
Too obvious? Maybe, but phallic references aside, you need to know that the bike you’re entrusting your life to is dependable. The last thing you need when riding is for nuts and bolts to start falling off when you don’t need them to. Again, with really regular maintenance and checks, you’ll more than likely be ok, but just remember that’s another one of the real downsides to riding a cheap bike; you’ll have to spend more time looking after it, than you would on a more expensive bike.
13. No After-Sales Service
Really? Are you still here? Seriously? Walmart provides little or no after-sales services for their bikes. It varies from store to store and even if they do provide after-sales service, it is very limited. And it’s nothing like that of a dedicated bike shop.
I remember I once took my creek boys mountain bike for a repair and to my despair, I was refused any after-sales service. And when I took to a bike shop I realized that it would be better to just buy a new bike rather than getting this one repaired. Oh well, lesson learned.
14. Bike Fit
Even the most expensive bike in the world is going to hurt you or at least be uncomfortable if it doesn’t fit properly. Pretty much every article out there on the internet, and every ‘proper’ bike shop you ever walk into will tell you the same thing. The single most important thing about buying a bike is that it has to fit you properly. I would argue that this is even more important the cheaper the bike you buy.
The way a bike fits is one of the main things that will decide how well you can perform on the bike. A bike with a perfect fit will be faster, comfortable and you will be able to ride it longer.
‘Proper’ bike stores and staff will have to size you into a bike that fits properly down to fine art. I doubt most department store staff really know how to do this. I mean I’m sure there’s some. It’s not like I’m trying to tar everyone with the same brush, but I’m saying it’s much more likely to be the exception in places such as Walmart. Unless you happen to run into a Walmart bike shop employee who rides bikes in his own time as well, then you’re probably going to be out of luck.
15 – The Frame
Ok, so if the fit is the most important for you when it comes to buying a new bike, then the frame is the most important part of the bike itself. The frame is what determines how well that cheap Walmart bike you just bought is going to hold up over time, and how well it takes to bump along roads and trails and sidewalks. It’s the frame that decides the overall strength of your bike.
Now, cheaper frames are going to be made out of good old-fashioned steel which isn’t as light as aluminum. But steel-framed bikes will in general be quite strong, or at least they should be. A good quality steel frame will take quite a beating and require a lot of abuse to give up the ghost.
But this is another one of those instances where even the steel used in department store bikes can be misleading. Because the quality of the steel overall isn’t normally that great, the actual tubes of the frame have to be thicker to cope with the extra stress. The thicker the tubes, the heavier the bike, the less give in the ride, the harsher the ride.
16. No Resale Value
Walmart bikes have no resale value. So, even if you get a bike and then want to get rid of it because you end up not liking it or it doesn’t fit you, or you simply want to upgrade, you will find it really hard to get a good return on your investment.
17. One Size Fits All
Here’s another reason why buying a department store bike might not work for you. We’re right back to the whole stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap philosophy. Most of the bikes you’re going to find in a department store tend to steer toward the whole one-size-fits-all deal. That’s probably not quite right, but we are straying into the whole, Small, Medium, and Large territory.
Again, you could get lucky and find that you’re just that perfect ‘medium’ fit, so that’s going to work out for you. But what if you’re not?
Why I Don’t Like Walmart Bikes
I mean it’s the whole stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap mentality. Places like Walmart have an awful lot of buying power. Certainly, they have a shedload more than your average bike shop, and even the larger bike shop chains. After all, Walmart is the world’s second-largest retailer. So with that said, surely if a bike costs $200 in Walmart, that must mean the same bike would cost $3-500 in a bike shop, right? So can a bike that costs between $80-200 really be all that bad?
In life, you get what you pay for. Never was this old adage truer than when it comes to bikes. Don’t get me wrong, for a lot of things, cheap versus expensive just because you can afford it doesn’t really matter. Take plastic storage boxes for instance. I’ve always bought the cheapest ones I could get my hands on. Why? Because I’m just using them to store stuff. What do I need with a $20 plastic box that’s going to sit in the garage where no one will see it for ten years when two $10 ones will do the same job?
Maybe it’s a little bit different with a bike, but the point still stands. Because, with bikes, you get what you pay for. But then bikes can also seem to cost a lot of money for what they are; a metal frame with two wheels and some pedals.
It would be so easy with an article like this to just go and flame all the usual stuff when it comes to cheap department store bikes, and you can have no worries on that front because I will. There’s not enough room on this website for everything that’s bad about buying a bike from Walmart. Let’s face it there’s probably not enough room on the internet for all that’s just plain bloody awful about them.
But at the same time, this subject of department store bikes is just a minefield of misinformation, myths, and partial truths. That’s because ultimately it depends entirely on what you intend to do with your bike, and what you’re buying it for. If you want to be a weekend warrior, then these bikes are an affordable option. For instance, I wouldn’t take a cheap bike down some sort of like Beggars Canyon mountain bike trail on Tatooine, but I’d quite happily ride one in the park with my kids.
Should You Buy A Walmart Bike?
This is really the nub of the argument both for and against Walmart bikes. On one side, you have what is for all intents and purposes, a faceless massive cheap chain retail outlet, that doesn’t pay its staff a living wage and sells bikes that are in all probability made by poorly paid workers in China in what is in all probability a less than ideal health and safety work environment. On the other side of the coin though you also have a store that sells cheap bikes that people can afford.
Don’t get me wrong, I dream of one day owning a bike that costs $4000, but in the meantime, I’m quite happy riding my best-in-class budget mountain bikes. I love the way it sounds when I fly past people on their $4000 mountain bikes. It sort of sounds like ‘whoosh [changes gear, applies upgraded brakes for a corner, and] whhoooshhhhhh.’
But what if a cheap bike is all you can afford? That’s cool too. If you’re on a really tight budget and you only have a few hundred $$$ to spare, then what are you going to do? One of the best bikes I ever owned was a busted-up rust bucket I found next to a garbage can. And no, I wasn’t going to win any races on it, but for saving me a load of cash on transportation costs, it was a lifesaver. At the same time, however, I wouldn’t want to tour America on a cheap bike, or for that matter enter a race.
But that’s the thing, not everyone is looking for the same thing from a bike. Children for instance have a completely different set of requirements than most adults. My neighbor came over last week to seek my advice on buying a bike for his kid for Christmas. I asked him what he was looking for, a BMX, road bike? but he replied it has to be pink and have a basket in front. Without a doubt, I directed him to the local Walmart equivalent.
My neighbor is happy. His daughter will get a pink bike with a basket for Christmas. I was glad I could help. In this particular instance, a cheap department store bike was, without a doubt, the best option. But for grownups, the situation changes a little.
But before I go, I feel I should lay down some more caveats. Some of these are going to tie in again with what I said earlier, but I think they’re good enough to mention again.
Firstly, no bike out of Walmart is going to satisfy a hardcore rider. It just won’t. And why would it? People who are genuinely really serious about taking Uprisings as a serious hobby aren’t even going to look at Walmart or other department stores for a bike. And why would they? They’re looking for the best they can get for the money they have to spend. They aren’t looking for a Walmart bike, and Walmart isn’t looking for them.
But then it also comes down to what you want to do, doesn’t it? Not everyone wants to own a bike to go down trails. Some people just want a bike so they can follow their kids around the local park, or ride through the local neighborhood with them. If I only wanted a bike to go around the park then I might consider Walmart.
So if you are just looking for something to commute with along the flat, for short distances, and/or you’re going to be chaining it up subway stations, and money s for whatever reason tight, then maybe a Walmart bike might be a good option. There, I said it again.
But then, If you’re going to spend $150-$300 on a bike, you’d be amazed just how good a secondhand one would be for that price. For $150-$300, you really can’t buy an excellent new bike. And that’s all I have to say about that.