Should you buy that Wal-Mart bike?

I am an avid cyclist and proponent of cycling for weight loss. Last year I cofounded the Spin Off Cyclists with other weight loss surgery patients. Our group combines bicycle rides and weight loss support. I answer many questions from prospective members as they ponder getting on a bike for the first time or after many years of inactivity. The most frequent question I answer is, “Is it OK to buy my bike at Wal-Mart?”

I usually start my response with, “Well, there isn’t a simple answer but…” I wish I could just give a “yes” or “no”, but several things factor into a person’s decision of what is the right bicycle is for them. Here are three things that I think you should begin with considering during the bicycle purchase process.

A matter of economics

Prices of bikes are all over the board from $69 to $6,000+. A typical bike shop has models from $300 – $3,000 with the average beginner bike in the $400 – $500 price range. That is far above the $69 – $150 Wal-Mart price range. What you are willing to pay for a bike is the biggest factor in most people’s decision. I’ll make a generalization here. Wal-Mart bikes are of a lesser quality and price than bikes in a local bike shop.

What really differentiates that $69 bike from the $3,000 bike? Quality of construction: expect lower end bikes to be made of steel while the higher end bikes are made of aluminum and lightweight composite materials. The high end cyclist watches the weight of the frame and the components. You can expect lower priced bikes to be heavier and outfitted with lower cost, lower technology components. As the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for.”

Fit and comfort

For years I underestimated the importance of the fit of a bike. In my childhood, there were two sizes of bikes; adult and child. Over the years, bicycle manufacturers have developed a variety of bike sizes designed to offer you, the rider, better comfort and optimum performance.

This is where your options at Wal-Mart are severely limited. They may offer a single size with perhaps a female or male frame. Can this off-the-shelf bike fit you? You will need to try it yourself. Take if off the display. Can you stand over the frame? Can the seat and handlebars be adjusted to a comfortable position? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, keep the bike in consideration.

Use and expectations

After price, fit and comfort, you should examine your expectations of your new bike. Are you are a person who approaches buying a bike with the idea that you will upgrade after a year or two? Many people begin cycling with the expectation that they will be the casual cyclist who rides a local bike trail or around the neighborhood a few times a week. If you fit into either of these categories, keep the Wal-Mart bike in consideration. If you intend to build up your cycling and venture greater distances over longer periods of time, I would recommend that you not consider a Wal-Mart bike.

The bottom line

Buy – You do not have $300 to spend on a bike. The on-the-floor bike fits you OK and is comfortable. You plan on riding short distances. You see a bike as a short term investment with no long term expectations.

Not Buy – You have $300+ to invest and want a higher quality bike. The Wal-Mart bike does not fit you. Never buy a bicycle that just does not feel comfortable or easy to ride. You plan on riding longer distances over a longer period of time. You like to buy items that offer longer longevity.

This post over-simplified the bike purchase decision. It was written to specifically answer the question of whether it’s appropriate or not to purchase a Wal-Mart bike. I always recommend that anyone purchasing a bike spend as much time as possible researching alternatives before they make a rash decision. In future posts, I’ll talk about the benefits of buying from a local bike shop and the type of bike that is right for you,

Happy Trails!
Tom Bilcze

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