A mountain bike for less than two hundred dollars? This is possible at a big-box, mass-market store such as Walmart.
Walmart mountain bikes are of poor quality and not assembled by experts. Buying a cheap MTB can be outright dangerous when you want to ride trails. They’re fine for commuting but aren’t made for extremer environments. Avoid cheap bikes if you plan to do some serious mountain biking.
That’s your answer in a nutshell. Sounds sketchy, right? Of course it is – here’s eleven reasons why.
1. Cheap Price for Cheap Quality
It can be tempting to grab the 199-dollar bike that is, depending on your purpose. If you’re a mom who just wants one so that she can bike alongside her young children occasionally, then it might be good enough. But for a MTB enthusiast or somebody who will use it frequently, considering such a bike will sound like a joke. And no, he cannot expect to win any race with it.
A retail giant like Walmart can offer an MTB at such as low cost because it is bought in bulk from suppliers. Such bikes have cheap components and shoddy assembly that are mostly sourced from China, where they are manufactured by underpaid workers. The affordable price can still be appealing to the budget conscious, but the compromised quality is just not worth it, which makes their lifespan and durability questionable.
Oftentimes, cost-cutting measures are observed by having substandard cables, spokes, and bearings. These are the inconspicuous parts that may seem minor, but are crucial to the bike’s overall performance. When you come to think of it, the risks would outweigh the rewards when it comes to a cheap bike.
While it is possible to buy quality items at a reasonable price, this proves to be a challenge in the case of mountain bikes. For a 150-dollar mountain bike, assuming Walmart has a markup of 50 dollars, plus about 25 dollars in taxes, that will leave only 75 dollars for the actual cost of the bike itself. It’s almost impossible to build a solid mountain bike with that amount, and something’s got to give. And in this case, it’s the quality.
2. Lack of Options
When you are greeted by a sea of seemingly endless options in the bike section of Walmart, look closely. You will notice that they are a dime a dozen, all looking the same. Most of them would be front-suspension types with 26-inch wheels. You will then realize that other types of mountain bikes are missing such as a full-suspension, rigid, hardtail, etc. This insufficient choice is the result of bulk-style ordering.
3. Poor Assembly
A fully-assembled mountain bike usually entails an additional fee whether you buy it from a local bike store or online. Although there are times when this is already included in the sticker price, the buyer is assured he is getting a bike that is put together by a skilled bike mechanic according to its manufacturer’s manual.
With partially assembled bikes being shipped to Walmart, this would mean that when customers buy them, either they are going to do the assembly themselves or the store does, albeit done without the right skill. This is exactly the reason why the bike is at its best when it’s purchased from a legit bike shop.
4. Sales Staff may not be knowledgeable
You might have questions about the bike which may not be answered properly by the staff. The fact that Walmart caters to everything, they do not bother to educate each of their staff for every product they sell – that’s just too much responsibility given their minimum wages.
So when you approach an attendant at the bike section, most probably he’s been manning different areas of the department store for the last six months. Worse, he could be a newly-hired staff who barely has any experience with customer relations, let alone technical knowledge about derailleurs and drivetrains. That is one of the big differences when you buy your MTB at a specialized bike store.
I love visiting my local bike shop, these guys are pros and I always learn something new. It’s a pleasure to visit them and I always have to restain myself from buying something.
5. Can be Expensive
Sure, the mountain bike you got was only 150 dollars, but once it breaks, it’s done. And it may have lasted only months in your possession. Suddenly, the savings you thought you had would actually cost you more.
Good-quality bikes may be priced higher, but it can perform for much longer. And if ever you encounter issues along the way, they can be addressed by repairing the broken parts or replacing them. This is something that you can’t likely do with a Walmart MTB. But when it is possible, you might spend a whole lot more than the 150 dollars you originally shelled out.
The brakes which are very important, may not be reliable for a cheap bike. You might find on the specs that they are Shimano, but they will be the lower-grade ones. Buying a Walmart bike is a risky move, especially if you plan to use the bike regularly. It will be highly unlikely that it can withstand the physical stresses that it will be subjected to when riding it.
6. Limited size Availability
Mountain bikes sold at Walmart pretty much come in one size. Even a sensible person who is not into cycling would know that bikes should come in different sizes to suit many types of bikers. This brings us back once again to the Walmart practice of buying stuff in bulk. Doing so, without much variety, reduces the prices tremendously at the expense of offering just one type of bike that is cloned multiple times.
7. Dubious Frame
The bike’s frame is its main skeleton that keeps everything together. It will determine how your MTB can hold up against the harsh trails it will encounter. In other words, a weak frame will translate to a weak bike.
Cheap bike frames will be typically made of steel instead of aluminum alloy. As such, the bikes become heavy and therefore, difficult to handle. However, you might appreciate that steel is highly durable, yes? But in the world of inferior bikes, you have to use the cheapest parts possible.
So when you say that the Walmart MTB has a strong steel frame after all is deceptive. It’s because the steel would also be the cheap version, which is compensated by making it thicker in order to be more durable. Unfortunately, doing so makes the bike even heavier and harsher when it comes to riding comfort.
8. Service Could be Lacking
After whipping out your credit card to snag what you thought was a good deal of a bike, reality will then strike. Let’s just say that shortly after, problems have begun to crop up. Naturally, your first recourse is to call the place where you bought it, which is Walmart. You will probably be disappointed to know that there is no after-sales service, even perhaps if you only wanted some advice or quick troubleshooting tips, you can’t rely on them.
9. Bad Warranty
When you buy a brand-new mountain bike, it will need a few adjustments after using it for the first 30 hours or so. These alterations include tightening of the chains, calibration of brakes and adjusting the gears. They will ensure that your bike’s performance will be optimized with continued usage. Warranties issued by bike stores typically cover these services, which, unfortunately, you may not be accorded the same if you got your bike from Walmart.
10. Top Brands are M-I-A
Among mass-produced bikes available at Walmart, you’ll find the familiar brands such as Schwinn, Huffy, Mongoose, and the like. As such, having major players like Giant or Trek mountain bikes on display is a fat chance. I would assume no bonafide mountain biker will ever scout his bike at Walmart in the first place; only casual bikers will. But regardless of what type of rider you are, you will be better off visiting a dedicated bike store. Who knows, you could also score good deals from clearance sales, etc. and remain confident with your purchase at the same time.
11. No trial
You are there at the store, seeing the bike in the flesh. However, you will not be allowed to test ride it, which is another crucial factor when buying a bike, most especially if it’s for the first time. This could be a purchase deal breaker, not knowing how the bike will fit you. You cannot test your comfort and feel the adjustment options if you can’t take the bike out for a quick spin. Maybe you can give it a short run down the aisle, but perhaps not without ramming into shelf displays.
I have provided you more than enough reasons not to buy a mass-market mountain bike at Walmart. The fact that you have reached the end of this article means you’re likely new to mountain biking, or someone who has been riding casually without really giving the bike much thought until now. In which case, I hope that I was able to enlighten you so that you can take careful consideration when buying your first (or first serious) bike.
As a buyer, you should also take into account your budget and purpose. You may not be ready for that purchase from a specialized bike shop because of your limited funds. As such, you couldn’t resist buying that 129-dollar bike at Walmart. Just remember that you have already been warned. Have a safe ride and wear a helmet, you’ll need it!