Over the years, I’ve owned about 5 Walmart bikes including a couple of mountain bikes, a BMX, and even a beach cruiser. As a kid, they were the only bikes that my family could afford. People like to trash Walmart bikes for their questionable build quality, poor reliability, and low performance. Are they really that bad? In this article, I examine the pros and cons of buying a Walmart Bike.
Walmart Bike Pros
- Price- This is really the only reason to buy a Walmart bike over any other. In terms of price, they just can’t be beaten. Walmart orders enormous quantities of bikes. This allows them to undercut pretty much any bike shop on price. You can buy a complete bike with gears for under $80. Walmart sells kids bikes for under $50. That’s probably why my dad bought all of my bikes there.
- Selection- Walmart offers something for everyone including mountain bikes, beach cruisers, road bikes, E-bikes, commuters, women’s bikes, and kids bikes. They offer bikes in every wheel size from 16 inch to 700c and 29er. Whatever style and size of bike you need, Walmart offers a suitable option.
- They are new- When you buy a bike at Walmart, you’re getting a brand new bike. There will be no scratches, dents, or wear and tear. No components to be replaced or upgraded. Some people just prefer to buy new. Having said this, you can get more for your money when buying a used bike. The downside is that used items can have problems or need some work.
- Walmart’s return policy- If you’re not happy with the bike, you can return it within 90 days for a full refund if you have your receipt. The bike just has to be in the same condition that you bought it. For more info on returns, check out this article from savingadvice.com.
- A warranty may be available- If you wish, you can buy a 2-3 year warranty to cover your bike if it breaks. I recommend you don’t buy this plan as product warranties are usually a ripoff. It is a product that’s available if you like.
- Walmart bikes are great for people just getting into cycling- Why go out and spend $1000+ on a bicycle if you don’t know if you’ll ever use it? You can buy a cheap Walmart bike, ride it until it breaks, then buy something of higher quality. If the bike just ends up sitting in your garage collecting dust, then you aren’t out too much money.
- Replacement parts are easily available- Most Walmart bike parts are standard. If you brake pads wear out, you can go to any bike shop to buy replacements. If your shifter cable brakes, you can easily find a new one. Walmart doesn’t service bikes but they do sell most replacement parts that you’re likely to need in their stores.
- Most parts are easily upgradable- If you want to install some higher quality components, you can easily buy new parts and put them on. Most Walmart bikes use name brand Shimano or Sram drivetrains. Brakes, wheels, levers, and most other parts are standard.
- Walmart bikes are great for kids- Why spend a bunch of money on something the kid will just grow out of in a couple of years? They don’t know the difference between a quality bike and a cheap bike anyway.
- It’s a bike- If all you can afford is a Walmart bike, don’t feel bad about it. At least you’re getting out there and riding.
Walmart Bike Cons
- They may be less safe- This is my biggest concern with Walmart bikes. Because they are made from cheaper components, failure is more likely. You don’t want to be bombing down a hill at 30 miles per hour when your wheel decides to taco.
- Sometimes the bikes aren’t properly put together- The guys building bikes at Walmart aren’t really bike mechanics most of the time. They’re just employees following the manufacturer’s instruction manual. They may not know how tight to tighten certain bolts. They may not know how much grease to put in the hubs or bottom bracket. After buying a Walmart bike, you’ll want to go over it yourself or have a bike shop take a look to make sure everything was put together properly. I have heard of people finding that the hubs lacked grease or the headset wasn’t tight enough. This is also a safety concern.
- Cheap parts- While the components are generally made by a major cycling brand like Shimano or Sram, they are low end. They may even be made specifically for Walmart bikes. These cheap components are less durable, need to be adjusted more often, and don’t perform as well as higher-end alternatives.
- Some parts are non-standard- To save money, some parts are made to be a slightly different size or style than the standard in the cycling industry. Because of this, you may have trouble finding certain replacement parts. For example, on many cheap bikes, the handlebar diameter is smaller than the current standard of 25.4mm. Many Walmart bikes use the old 22.2mm standard. This makes finding compatible grips and accessories a bit more difficult.
- More maintenance- Low-end derailleurs and shifters require frequent adjustment. Cheap brake pads and tires wear out quicker. In order to keep your Walmart bike on the road, you must budget more time and money to keep it running properly.
- Most Walmart bikes only come in one size- This is a problem if you’re not of average height. If you like the looks of one model but it’s not your size, you have to choose a completely different model. Name brand bikes come in a variety of frame sizes to fit most riders. In order to get the proper riding position, the frame has to fit you. You can adjust the handlebars and seat height a bit but to get a better fit but the frame has to fit you. Riding a bike that doesn’t fit properly can be uncomfortable, and can lead to joint pain or damage.
- You need to know a bit about bicycle maintenance- If you don’t, you’ll end up spending more in the long run than if you had just shelled out for a bike shop bike. Having to pay a bike mechanic to adjust your derailleur or replace a brake cable adds up. To make owning a Walmart bike economical, you’ll have to learn some basic bicycle maintenance. Anyone can learn to replace brake pads or adjust a derailleur.
- You can’t get the bike serviced where you bought it- Walmart and other department stores just sell the bikes. They don’t have a bike service department. If you need to get some work done on your bike, you’ll have to take it to a bike shop.
- Reliability issues- Lower end components that come with Walmart bikes break down more often and need more frequent adjustment. You don’t want to get stranded or miss an important meeting because your bike failed you. If you’re relying on your bike to get you to work on time, you may want to consider spending a bit more and buying a bike at your local bike shop.
- Low resale value- Bikes, in general, don’t hold their value very well. Even a high-end bike is worth 40% less the moment you bring it home. Walmart bikes are even worse. Don’t expect to get much back when you’re ready to sell it. After a season of riding, your $99 Walmart bike might be worth $20.
- Durability issues- Walmart bikes work fine for cruising on a flat surface. Off-road all bets are off. Parts can shake loose. Your fork could fail. Catastrophic failures are rare but are much more common on these low-end bikes.
- The bike won’t last as long- A good bike can last a lifetime with proper maintenance. Bicycle tourists have ridden the same bike for over 100,000 miles. Sure, they replace parts as they wear out or break, but it’s still the same bike. Walmart bikes just don’t have that kind of longevity. Frames rust. Parts break. Sure, you can replace everything as it dies but at some point, you’re just better off buying a higher end bike. Expect to get a few solid years out of your Walmart bike. They are kind of disposable.
- Low performance- You’re not going to win any races on a Walmart bike. Generally, the frames are decent. Low-end components hold you back.
- It’s a Walmart bike- Some cyclists are pretty elitist. They won’t respect someone riding a Walmart bike. I think these kinds of people are pretty lame. They are out there though.
Some bike shops won’t work on them or will just give you a hard time- Once, when I was about 8 years old, my dad and I went into a bike shop with my Walmart bike to have a flat tire repaired. The guy just kept trash talking my bike the whole time we were in his shop. He claimed that it was going to fall apart, that the suspension was junk, etc. I’ve grown to hate bike shops because of this condescending attitude. These days, I buy all bike gear online and do my own repairs and maintenance.
Who Should Buy a Walmart Bike?
As you can see, there are more cons than pros. Walmart or big box store bikes aren’t for everybody. In fact, most people are better off buying a used bike or saving a little longer until they can afford a name brand bike. There are, however, a few occasions where a Walmart bike is your best option.
- Your budget is less than $100- This is the price point where Walmart bikes are the best bargain. You’ll have trouble finding a decent bike anywhere else for less than $100. Even used bikes cost more unless you get lucky. If a hundred bucks is your absolute max budget, head on down to Walmart.
- You don’t plan to ride often- If you know you’ll only ride a few times per year, a Walmart bike will work just fine.
- You want a single speed bike- Because they are so simple, single speed Walmart bikes aren’t a bad buy. I have a beach cruiser that I bought at Walmart for $99. I’ve ridden that thing for years and never had a problem with it. I also test rode my friend’s fixie that he bought at Walmart and it felt pretty decent for the price. It’s hard to screw up such a simple bike.
- Kids bikes- They outgrow bikes in just a year or two. It’s not worth the money to buy your kid a nice bike until they’re fully grown.
Walmart Bike Alternatives
If you plan to use your bike as your main mode of transportation or have a budget of around $300 or more, you’re better off staying away from Walmart bikes. Here are a couple of alternative options:
In my opinion, buying a used bike is the best option for anyone on a budget. Decent used bikes start at around $150. If you get lucky, you can find a quality used bike for less than $100.
Loads of people buy nice bike shop bikes with plans of going riding every weekend. They quickly find that they don’t have the time or simply aren’t interested in cycling. The bike ends up collecting dust in the garage for years or decades. If you shop around a bit, you can find nice lightly used bikes for a real bargain of a price. Some good places to look for a used bike include:
- Facebook Marketplace
- Garage Sales
- Thrift Stores
- Sporting goods stores
- Your friends or family
Both of the bikes that I currently own, I bought used. My Schwinn High Sierra that I converted into a touring bike had been sitting in some guy’s garage for over a decade. It was in excellent condition. I bought my Fuji Touring bike used for less than half of the retail price from a guy who decided he wanted a touring bike with disc brakes. It had less than 100 miles on it. I bought both bikes on Craigslist.
Entry Level Bike Shop Bikes
All of the major bicycle manufacturers such as Trek, Giant, Specialized, etc. offer entry level bikes. These usually start between $300-$400 and offer a pretty good value for the money. When compared to a Walmart bike of the same price range, these name brand bikes have:
- Upgraded components- These offer better durability and longevity. They also won’t need to be adjusted as often.
- Better frames- Some Walmart bikes have sloppy welds or bad paint jobs. Name brand bikes companies offer better quality control.
- Better support- You can take the bike back to where you bought it for repairs and maintenance if necessary. As an added bonus, when you buy a bike at a bike shop it usually includes a free service. A mechanic adjusts the brakes and derailleurs after the first 100 miles. This has value.
- The prestige of owning a name brand bike- Every cyclist knows and respects the big name brands for example.
I would much rather have a cheap name brand bike than an expensive big box store bike. Even if the department store bike includes fancy features like disc brakes or suspension, you’re better off with a basic name brand bike.
Bike Share Program
Many cities offer bike sharing programs where you pay a fee to rent a bike by the minute or hour. These programs are getting more and more popular around the world. Pretty much every major city offers a bike share program these days. This is a great alternative to buying a bike for some riders. For example:
- Commuters- You don’t have to worry about locking your bike up while you’re at work. Just rent it when you need it and return it. These are also great for mixed modal commuters who ride the bus or train in addition to cycling on their commute. You don’t have to worry about bringing your bicycle on public transit.
- City riding- The city bikes that are generally rented are great for stop and go city riding. They feature low top bars to make getting on and off easier and baskets to haul gear.
- People who don’t ride often- If you just want to take a ride along a bike path in your city once in a great while, It may be cheaper to just rent a bike when you need one rather than owning your own bike. That way you don’t have to worry about maintenance.
- People who live in a small space- Some apartments in big cities are tiny. A bicycle would take up too much living space. If left outside it would get stolen. In this case, bike share programs allow you to ride without having to store a bike or worry about theft.
- People who are short on cash- Maybe you need an inexpensive way to get to work but you don’t have $200 to spend on a bike. Bike share programs are a great temporary solution. Once you save up enough, you can buy your own bike.
There are a few drawbacks to bike share programs. Oftentimes the bikes aren’t in the best condition. People just don’t treat things that don’t belong to them very well, unfortunately. Some cities just don’t maintain the bikes as well as they should. This leads bikes that are unsafe to ride. Before taking the bike, briefly inspect it to make sure it’s in decent condition. Things you should check include:
- Handlebars- Are they tight? Is the headset tight?
- Tires- Do they have enough air?
- Wheels- Make sure they aren’t loose.
- Brakes- Make sure they are properly adjusted.
My Experience with Walmart Bikes
Over the years, I’ve owned 4 or 5 different Walmart bikes. As a kid, I rode a cheap Walmart mountain bike for years without any problems other than a few flats and a broken pedal. Of course, the bike had some issues. It shifted roughly no matter how many times I tried to adjust the derailleur. The suspension was also pretty poor useless. Even with those issues, the bike got me around my neighborhood just fine.
During college, I bought a $100 single speed that I used to commute and for grocery runs. I rode the bike for a year before selling it and upgrading. My one complaint was that the brakes were pretty weak. I ended up selling it for more than I paid for it.
Today, I own an OP Roller beach cruiser that I bought from Walmart for $99 in 2010. This is probably my favorite bike that I’ve owned. The only issue I’ve had with that bike was a flat tire. The bike has held up shockingly well.
Final Thoughts on the Pros and Cons of Buying a Walmart Bike
Walmart bikes aren’t nearly as bad as people claim them to be. As a kid, I rode my Walmart bikes hard and didn’t really have any problems other than needing to adjust the derailleur once in a while and replace broken plastic pedals. If you take decent care of the bike, it will hold up just fine for many years.
For an example of what a Walmart bike is capable of, check out this YouTube video of a guy riding a $100 Walmart bike across Florida.
With all of this being said, if you have a budget of $200 or more, I recommend you go with a used bike or even splurge on a bike shop bike. You’ll save yourself a lot hassle and may even save money in the long run. For the $100 price range, Walmart bikes can’t be beaten.
Do you ride a Walmart bike? Share your experience in the comments below!
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